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Ewloe, United Kingdom
Writing, tweeting, debating and occasionally getting a little over-excited about 3D Printing. But always aiming to keep it real!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Something A Bit Different within the 3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing World

At this time of year (post Euromold) there is generally a great deal of buzz and internet chatter about the new additive manufacturing / 3D printing developments that were announced at the German design and manufacturing show. Many vendors favour Euromold as the launch pad for their newest machines and/or materials for understandable reasons.

However this year, despite a couple of "new" [for new read 'different sized'] machines (3D Systems, Objet) and improvements to materials, is a year of incremental improvements and the buzz just doesn't seem to have manifested itself. The loudest gasps seem to have emerged from the announcement that MTT is splitting its activities — with the German and the UK operations going their separate ways. Interesting, but really just company politics. It will take some time to see where that is going and the intent behind it.

Similarly, Bits from Bytes seems to have hit the wrong note by producing a pink version of its RapMan kit and branding it the 'RapChick'. Gimmicky tokenism is NOT what this industry needs. I did start to write my ranting response down, slept on it, and thought better of it. Deleted the lot. I'll just go with this much more reserved paragraph here, and also reference a much more mature and productive response from Ann Marie Shillito of Anarkik 3D: http://annmarieshillito.wordpress.com/2010/12/06/virtual-3d-world-is-very-bright-and-tangible-but-not-pink/

Anyway, to the point of this blog post — something that came to my attention this morning and made me really sit up and take note. It came via REPLICATOR [replicatorinc.com], a blog post that today was awash with information. But pick through it carefully and you find a fascinating nugget detailing "Giant 3D Printed Chairs." I've seen chairs before — but not quite like this. The original article is from Suzanne Labarre at Co.Design [http://www.fastcodesign.com/1662793/giant-robot-prints-chairs-from-ground-up-refrigerators-video].


The whole project is the work of a Dutch design student, Dirk Vander Kooij (nice name and I really like his hair!!). He has obviously worked this design concept up in a 3D CAD package, but then this remarkable young man has used his knowledge with some ingenuity to breakdown some old fridges into usable material that can be deposited layer by layer (sound familiar??) via a rusty old robot arm. And it really is rusty, as you can see in the video. The robot can be programmed to produce the chairs in a variety of sizes, shapes and colours, all at low resolution, at approximately two hours per chair. If, like me, you are starting to do the sums in your head, there is some serious potential here. Now there is no indication of how long it takes to break down the fridges or how long it took to refurb the robot and so on, which would all need factored in. However, the latest news update is that Dirk is offering these chairs for sale at 800 Euros each. And as Suzanne points out, if the machine was running round the clock, it could produce 4000 chairs a year — that is a potential turnover of 3.2 million Euros. Anyone else just spluttered into their coffee?? My guess is the chairs possibly won't sell like hot cakes in the current climate at that price, but this is a true example of an additive manufacturing application coming from left of centre and I truly hope it becomes a big success story for Mr Vander Kooij.

The video demonstrating the process in action is entitled "Endless" which I am taking to refer to the possibilities here. I am now wondering what could be achieved with a bigger budget and state-of-the-art robots in a clean room facility.

Friday, 22 October 2010

TCT Live 2010 — A worthwhile trip.

The fog is starting to clear following a successful TCT event at the Ricoh Arena earlier this week. This is a show that I have been involved with in one way or another for the last 15 years, and the 2010 edition was, it has to be said, a triumph — in terms of organisation and results.

TCT has continued to grow in terms of its physical size and visitor numbers year on year, and 2010 was no exception. The industry's worst kept secret was also launched on the second day of the show, with the announcement that in 2011, TCT will move to the NEC in Birmingham to run alongside MM Live once again, as well as Interplas — Rapid News Communications' latest acquisition.

Although no longer directly employed by RNC, this year I was commissioned to draw together the conference programme on Additive Manufacturing and it was a good line up (even if I do say so myself). The subsequent feedback has been very encouraging from delegates at the conference during the two days as well as notes dropping in my in box since. (Almost worth the sleepless nights!!)

Walking the halls was also very positive, virtually everyone I met and spoke with was infinitely more up beat than this time last year, although it should be said that quite a few of them were tracking the CSR as it was delivered on Wednesday afternoon on their hand-held devices. Nobody can quite define how the impact will roll out into industry, but business seemed brisk on the show floor.

The other thing that struck me was that TCT continues to gain prominence for the additive technology vendors — for AM and 3D printing. The majority of vendors have always had a presence at TCT but now the CEO's are showing their faces and not just sending minions!

All in all a valuable three days away from the office.

Friday, 8 October 2010

3D Systems Buys Bits from Bytes — A Significant Manoeuvre for 3D Printing?

On Tuesday the news broke that 3D Systems had acquired Bits from Bytes (BfB). This strategic move is not surprising in itself, and is precisely the sort of acquisition that 3D Systems is renowned for — and seemingly very good at. I'm thinking back to the middle of last year when 3D Systems acquired Desktop Factory.

So the company has bought up two low-end 3D printing manufacturers and all of their IP in just over 12 months.

I suspect the dust is settling all round — the news has been spread far and wide across all the usual distribution channels, but there has been surprisingly little commentary on this. It's taken me a few days to formulate my own thoughts into some sort of order on this news, and it's definitely not clear cut yet, but here goes ....

Despite the surface similarities of the two acquisitions there are also some huge differences. The Desktop Factory machine, despite clever marketing had never actually reached the market, it was more about acquiring R&D and a very good marketing professional (Cathy Lewis, formerly CEO at Desktop Factory, is now the marketing spokesperson for 3D Systems). Bits from Bytes on the other hand has been shipping 3D printers — the Rapman kit and latterly the plug & play BfB 3000 — through various global channels to some acclaim for two years, with an ever increasing order book.

My first ruminations were on the motivation for these acquisitions. Call me cynical, but I could not help but wonder at first if the company motive was to buy the low-end 3D printer vendors to suppress sales, and protect market share within the whole additive manufacturing (AM) industry. 3D Systems does have a reputation for being aggressive and pretty closed off to journalists and customers alike. But although hard to interact with, it is hard to deny the success the company has achieved with additive technologies. I have come around to thinking that there were probably different motivations for each acquisition rather than one holistic subversive conspiracy!

Desktop Factory was hitting the headlines at a similar time to the 3D Systems V-Flash 3D printer — both hailed as the answer to the industry's needs in terms getting a foot on the AM ladder. Indeed the prospects of both were great but neither ever seemed to fulfill the promised potential. For Desktop Factory lack of financial backing and some technical / production issues prevented the company from actually reaching the market. The technical problems may yet be resolved, but the Desktop Factory concept has still not materialised into a working machine for sale. For the V-flash — well no one ever did get to the bottom of why the launch date kept getting postponed. However, the machine did finally filter through, but lost some credibility as a result; plus the market dynamic had shifted significantly too with the arrival of working 3D printers under £5000, namely the Makerbot, RepRap and RapMan. Since then there have been more changes with the arrival of the UP! 3D printer and the BfB 3000.

So why has 3D Systems bought Bits from Bytes (BfB)? Well, as stated, 3D Systems is very protective of its position in the AM industry. It is one of a very small minority of AM vendors that occupies space selling across the whole spectrum of machines — low to high end. Stratasys is the other, but does not have a product offering under $10,000. I suspect that the V-Flash has not met expectations — internally or at large — and therefore the BfB product line was an attractive proposition in that it was a ready-made, working solution. It has been bought as a going concern, and the 3D Systems announcement asserts that the Bristol, UK-based BfB facility will be undertaking business as usual. The 3D Systems website has the BfB machines on its product selector feature already too — and they are the only machines offered under $5000. Not something the company could offer last Monday!! I can't see the BfB brand disappearing as too much is invested in it, but based on historical performance I don't think it will remain without some sort of 3D Systems trademark for very long either.

This is beyond a doubt a significant development in the 3D printing arena. How far it will penetrate remains to be seen, but with the competition heating up things are getting very interesting again.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

It's Good to Like what you Like and to Do what you Do...

This recent post by Brock Hinzmann on the rp-ml list really struck a cord with me:

"I've always found it interesting that artists often call their works 'experiments' (as in 'Experiment in White on White No. 9'), while scientists often discuss their experiments in terms of the 'state of the art.' Some artists are very purposeful and tell me it's art if the person that makes it says it is and anyone who calls themselves an artist is one. And some artists probably don't even think of themselves as artists so much as a person following a muse in their head to bring forth a mind-body experience of one sort or another. The art can grate on the senses, it can lack craft or skill and it can be highly offensive to some beholders, but it is done for a reason that is art. Making an exact duplicate probably is not. The great thing about RP is the ability to experiment. I try not to be too judgmental these days about artists or art critics. However, I prefer critics (of paintings, of sculpture, of movies, of music concerts) who can clearly state their own biases and assumptions, which I can compare against my own biases and assumptions about art. I like what I like."


It resonated for a couple of reasons, first, because I agree with it. I no longer like to be told what is good or what is bad — art is a good example — I would rather decide for myself, but understanding other people's perspective is, IMO, a good thing. It doesn't have to be the same as mine though. 


Second, it took me back to another conversation I had not that long ago about the additive manufacturing (AM) industry. The slow growth reality, compared with the hyped predictions of 15 years ago was a central theme and what could be done to push the technology harder, wider and faster. Typical stuff really. But one of the comments that has stuck with me is that — "it won't happen like that, people do what they do" [with additive technology]. In other words, the general population of existing AM technology users — whether the application is prototyping with 3D printers or manufacturing or something inbetween — have grasped the technology and only use it to fulfil their application — nothing more.

I kind of got a sinking feeling as this hit home. I don't agree with it in full because it does not take into account the individuals that I have met who passionately believe in this technology and spread the word at every opportunity. Also, things are still moving forward, and I believe they will continue to do so. The article on 3D printing in the New York Times (one of the US' largest circulation daily newspapers) yesterday proves this point nicely. Growth is slow and the minority of AM evangelists is still small and while I have been struck by the truth of the statement that — often of necessity — 'people do what they do', it is not such a bad thing. I actually like doing what I do — I hope you do too.








Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Chameleon Case Study



I wrote this recently, and it's a great design story with 3D printing built in. Plus I really do love this jewellery. 

Talented Designer Produces Unique Jewellery Range with a Touch of Advanced Technology

The Chameleon 3D Design Package from A1 Technologies was central to the development of Farah Bandookwala’s intriguing range of Jewellery, which was exhibited recently in Edinburgh and London. 


‘Original’ is a word that is often used loosely, but it is wholly appropriate when describing the jewellery created by Farah Bandookwala. Moreover, this originality is built in to Farah’s jewellery — not only is it original in its aesthetic appeal but also in the way that it is designed and made. This talented Masters graduate has just completed two exhibitions in Edinburgh and London with her jewellery ranges that are as unusual as they are eye-catching. The exhibitions were the culmination of Farah’s Masters of Fine Arts (Jewellery) at Edinburgh College of Art following a Bachelor of Design Degree.

The jewellery ranges that Farah has created — “Grow Your Own Bubbles” and “Parasite” — include captivating pieces in their own right. What might not be so immediately obvious is the fascinating journey that the designer has travelled, to date, in the design and development of the pieces. Each piece of jewellery that Farah has created comes from a dual exploration that is central to her work. In her own words, Farah explained: “My work explores the possibility that identity is a fluid entity and aims to allow the user to convey this changing sense of self over time. Alongside this I am also looking at the impact of new technology on human relationships with material culture.”
Introduced to 3D digital technologies during the course of her studies, Farah was designing using 3D CAD fairly early on. However, a placement in 2009 at Anarkik3D — the software developer of Cloud 9  — ensured Farah encountered a different way of designing and creating in 3D: haptic modelling, which enables users to touch and manipulate their virtual 3D models and to connect with them in a tangible way.
During that placement Farah worked with Cloud9 and the Falcon haptic device to understand and experiment with haptic modelling, — the same complete haptic 3D modelling package that A1 Technologies now supplies as Chameleon.  Consequently, Farah now credits that period at Anarkik3D as the origins of her developing her identity as a designer and since that time she has continued to investigate the use of haptics for creative design, with extraordinary results.
Fascinated by the physical interactions with her designs, Farah was able to use Chameleon to subvert the technological process — which is fundamentally mathematical — to create forms that look entirely organic. Farah’s own take on this is that she has created a “purposeful paradox.”
Chameleon’s haptic qualities allow creative people to physically interact with the virtual material. It is both tactile and intuitive. The direct appeal for Farah with using this medium to design her jewellery is the ability to see — and feel — the input in the outcome. Quite simply, her jewellery designs could not have been created any other way.
Using Chameleon alongside a traditional 3D CAD package, Rhino, Farah found that the differences between the two software packages were extreme. Most notable was that while the 3D CAD offered control and precision with surfaces, it just could not compare with the ability to freely sculpture the shapes by directly deforming and manipulating surfaces to create the desired morphing. Indeed it is the freedom of the software that is one of the greatest attractions for truly creative design, with no constraints. The bangle illustrated below is a good example of this.
The fundamental physical interaction of the design stage led Farah to explore the best way to physically create a true representation of her jewellery designs. This journey brought her to 3D printing (3DP), a method of manufacturing that has developed significantly over the last decade from its origins in rapid prototyping (RP) to a validated method of production of parts in plastics, composites and metals. 3DP enables the production of complex shapes and parts directly from the virtual computer design — eliminating the need for machine tools and/or tooling or wax models. For creative applications, the design freedom that this offers over traditional methods of manufacture is remarkable; however, using 3DP in conjunction with Chameleon, the result is truly liberating.
In 2009 Farah secured sponsorship from Shapeways and Laser Lines to prove her designs using 3DP. Her jewellery was produced on different 3DP machines using a range of materials including nylon and stainless steel. 
 The Parasite series is a range of jewellery that is intended to become part of the body. Beautiful pieces there is also something distinctly uncomfortable about them — a trait that has been achieved by growing them — using 3D printing — on a machine.

The “Grow Your Own Bubbles” range was conceived to be an adornment that can be re-assembled in various ways as the wearer’s sense of self evolves.
Looking ahead to the future Farah will be considering the potential of clients wishing to wear her jewellery being presented with the opportunity to download and 3D print their own units as they desire them. This is still a speculative aim, but as 3D technologies penetrate more deeply into the consciousness of the general public, it is not beyond the realm of possibility, particularly as A1 Technologies is pushing the boundaries of 3D capabilities, incorporating the Chameleon haptic design product, 3D laser scanning and 3D printing, with a 3D studio package starting at under £2,000.

Biography of Farah Bandookwala
Born in Bombay, India in 1987, Farah moved to New Zealand at the age of 15. Both of these vivid cultures have strongly influenced her work and encouraged her interest in the vastly different approaches to design as a medium for expressing identity across these societies. Farah completed a Bachelor of Design Degree at the School of Art and Design at Christchurch Polytechnic Institute in 2007. Farah has just completed her Masters of Fine Arts (Jewellery) at Edinburgh College of Art. 





Thursday, 5 August 2010

An Uninspiring Consensus on the Future of 3D Printing from the Trade Press

A fair proportion of my time is spent reading — whether in print or online — as there is a great deal of information and endless opinions about additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing (3DP) available these days. I like to keep up, partly because it is good for my business, but also because I like it! I do sometimes miss the more classical material that I used to lose myself in, prior to two children and running my own business, but sleep deprivation is something I don't cope well with. 

Anyway, the reason for this post? A noticeable consensus between the two Editors of the only two trade magazines that focus heavily on AM and 3DP in the UK. And strangely enough, both aired similar opinions when discussing the arrival of the two new ZCorp 3D printers (see previous post). 

In a blog post dated 27th July, entitled 'The Rise and Rise of 3D Printing,' James Woodcock, Editor of the TCT Magazine stated: 

"Some see the ultimate goal for 3D Printers to be on every desk next to your home computer. I don't see it happening myself, but I realise that could be a 'one computer in every town in America' type of statememt." 

And then, today I was flicking through the latest print edition of Develop3D and came across this commentary from Al Dean, Editor: 

"The mass adoption of 3D printing has been talked about for some time, but I'm not entirely convinced that everyone is going to have a 3D printer in their home for a good long while .... if at all." 

The similarity in their opinions is striking, but notice that they both include a get-out clause!! 

Having been there myself, it is a tricky course to negotiate. One can't be too negative, there are clients to consider after all, and they sell these machines and pay your bills!! On the flip side, if you go out too positive then you risk credibility. 

For my tuppence worth, I am still where I was about 6 months ago, I think that the volumes of machines sold, starting at the entry level sub-£5k machines, will continue to increase. System and material performance will be incrementally improved, as will usability. This will open up the rest of the market and when one or more of the system vendors taps into a universal application and is in a position to scale up their own production, then at that point the universe will be the limit!

For positivity and a genuine interest in making this happen — my vote goes to Shapeways. This is a company that is doing AND saying, albeit online only. I wonder what would happen if they went into 2D print???? 









Monday, 2 August 2010

3 New 3DPs

So a few days away from it all, with the smart bit of my phone switched off, and I come back to three new additive manufacturing (AM) machines and an inbox groaning under the strain of undeleted messages!


/Aside/ The aim of the time away was quality time with the children before they took off for independent adventures at summer camp. Having a bolt hole in a beautiful location on the coast of the island of Anglesey, North Wales, courtesy of my parents' love of the place half a century ago, and hard work to acquire a place there, is something for which I am eternally grateful. The third generation of our family is now completely besotted with the place. A safe haven that allows for freedom and adventure. The quality time did not quite pan out as I had envisaged, however it was 100% quality nonetheless.  It turned out that all my two needed for "the best week ever" was the freedom to roam with their new BFF's, material for building dens, regular fuel stops, the odd plaster and an occasional snuggle (the power of which should never be underestimated). The only discord originated from the disparity in what was deemed to be an acceptable time to end the day and get ready for bed. We came back on top of the world.


So, the new AM machines — a new entry level 3D printer and two more from ZCorp (100% ZCorp) in the mid-range market.


The two new machines from ZCorp are the lowest priced offerings from the company. A fact that, coming quite closely after the uPrint, sees many of the predictions from the last decade — of how the competitive landscape will shape the industry and what it can offer in terms of improved performance — coming to fruition. The two machines in question are the ZPrinter 150 (monochrome, priced at £10,900) and the ZPrinter 250 (multicolour, priced somewhat higher, at £17,900). With this announcement, ZCorp is highlighting lower prices and higher specs, claiming that they 'print 5–10 times faster than other 3D printing technologies, with the unique ability to print multiple, stacked models simultaneously.' Obviously, the other big selling point — for the ZPrinter 250 — is its capability of simultaneously printing in multiple colours. What did make me smile was the swipe that ZCorp took at the entry level machines. Check this out: "Unlike low-end 3D printers, the new ZPrinter 150 and ZPrinter 250 are: easy to use out of the box; build 3D models with five times the resolution; and have the industry’s lowest operating cost (lowest cost per model)."


At this point, I would dispute the last claim in that list, but will try and get some actual facts and figures together before I wax lyrical, the stacking capability may just swing it in ZCorp's favour. 


And despite ZCorp's prickles at the increasing volumes of 'low' end systems, this competition is all good. Besides, there is another 'low' end contender coming into play, priced under £1,000 (sort of). 


The UP! system comes from a company that seems to be overly fond of alliteration and wants to remain shrouded in terms of its origins. UP! is a Personal, Portable 3D Printer and is being marketed as a 'micro-factory for Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime.' Okay, cynicism aside, the machine itself looks quite interesting (and different), plenty of pictures and standard spec info at the pp3dp site: http://www.pp3dp.com/. However, little to go on in terms of who, why and what is behind this development. And the $1500 price tag, it should be noted, is only for the first 100 system sales, after that, the RRP is $2990. 



Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Piecing the ZCorp Puzzle

So back in May, ZCorp introduced a 3D printer — the Zbuilder Ultra. Actually, they called it a 'rapid prototyping machine'! I usually jump all over press releases such as that, but in this case I held back. Even on the first read a couple of things struck me as odd — the release talked about the DLP technology employed by the machine, a complete deviation from its traditional technology base for its ZPrinting range of 3D printers, but there was not one single mention of "new", "revolutionary" or even "improved" technology. Now that is beyond odd for an announcement like this. The second thing that occurred to me was how similar the image of the machine was to the Envisiontec 3D printers. It seems I was not the only one to notice that!

Reading the press release more closely, it was extremely carefully worded throughout and prompted me to do a little digging and wait and see what emerged. Sure enough, an anonymous tip declared that ZCorp and Envisiontec have come to an agreement and Envisiontec is the manufacturer.

I have no idea why all the cloak and dagger theatrics are deemed necessary. It is not a huge surprise that machine manufacturers are looking to join forces at some level following the Stratasys / HP announcement. Moreover, these two are a good match. Envisiontec's technology is extremely competitive on accuracy and speed and has made significant in roads into the jewellery sector as a result. ZCorp offers full colour options and has a good market profile. By initiating a collaborative agreement, both companies are strengthening their position ahead of a shifting market dynamic.

Personally I think that their positions would be even stronger if they were just upfront about the whole thing!

Monday, 14 June 2010

Clever, Canny or Just Cynical and Gimmicky?

So 3D Systems and some of its distributors are offering trade-in deals for a ProJet 3D printer.

The logic of replicating a very successful business model is undeniable, whereby users of 3D printers can 'trade-up' to a ProJet. Beyond the logic of the idea and the gimmicky rhetoric, which goes something like this:

For a limited time only, we will credit you up to US$15,000 toward the purchase of any new ProJet 3000, or a new ProJet 5000 3D Production System when you trade-in your existing 3D printer.

... the reality is that the customer will be surrendering their exisiting 3D printer for up to $15,000 off a new ProJet, that costs in the region of $60,000.

Furthermore, 3D Systems also lists the equipment brands that can be traded in:
  • Stratasys
  • Dimension
  • Objet
  • Z-Corp
  • Envisiontec
  • 3D Systems' InVision series 3-D modelers. 
Obvious choices perhaps, but it begs the question, if this offer works, and even one person takes it up, what will 3D Systems do with the old machine(s)??? 

Any suggestions?



Sciaky Goes Above Radar

With its presence at the upcoming International Conference on AM at Loughborough in July, Sciaky is taking it's EBFFF technology into the mainstream consciousness of the Additive world. EBFFF — or Electron Beam Freeform Fabrication, which the company shortens to EBF3 — could make a big impact because it seems the thing that makes it different is that it is a big technology. 

I cannot find any specific information on part dimensions at this point, maybe that will be part of the unveiling at Loughborough, but deposition rates are quoted as ranging from 15 to 40 pounds of metal per hour — depending on the material and application (of course, this is standard patter). This deposition rate of metal, if accurate, is a significant increase from what has been available to date and could be the key to success here. Add to this the material choices — titanium, nickel, stainless steel and refractory alloys — and the application base becomes even more interesting. 

Sciaky’s historical pedigree is founded in electron beam welding, a technology that is used in industries such as aerospace, defence and manufacturing so the company has all the right contacts for introducing the first large scale Additive Manufacturing process.

The other angle that caught my attention is the PC-based control system, which according to Sciaky, takes advantage of the company’s extensive experience using integrated CNC motion and process controls.

Sciaky is a subsidiary of Phillips Service Industries (PSI) so backing and further development should not be an issue.

I suspect this is one to watch. 

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

The Only Way Forward in British Politics?

We have the big picture established, with the details to follow.

The Tories and the Liberal Democrats have formed a full-on coalition, which has been achieved following serious and comprehensive negotiations. Compromise on both sides and a real flavour of hope and optimism. That is my own sense of this result, the two parties in question seem largely to have bought into it too, and there is even a notable number of Labour MPs that concede this was the only stable way forward. Of course, you can not please all of the people, all of the time and there will be dissenters.

With two young, dynamic, positive personalities leading this new era in British politics the potential is great, along with the weight of expectation. They both hold pertinent ideologies, and ideology is all very well, even admirable, but this country is faced with some difficult realities. And it is the realities that need to be dealt with. With this in mind, the fact that no one party holds a majority means that the issues and the problems will all be faced on middle ground out of necessity. I really like this idea. Recent history has demonstrated to me that one party pushing through ideologies with a majority has not worked well. This might!

It will not be easy — it is unlikely that passionate, sometimes arrogant and self-interested, personalities will change overnight. Passion is good. Arrogance and self-interest is unhelpful. The dust needs to settle, but that watershed moment I mentioned yesterday may be here as the face of politics and politicians (literally and figuratively) changes. Will it be for the better? I truly hope so.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

I Have to Voice my Opinion on this Political Mess .....

After years of apathy on matters political, the UK population seems to have become more engaged thanks to the results of the recent general election. From a personal point of view, I have always used my vote, strongly believing that as part of a democratic society, I had a duty and a responsibility to do so. That said, it has always been with more than a hint of indifference because of the nature of politicians over the last 20 years (the time I have been eligible to vote).

It is the nature of politicians and NOT the nature of politics that subdued my interest. For years the theatrical performances from front line politicians that have towed the various party lines fuelled my frustration — I am sure I am not alone in my desire for a party (or even an individual) to stand up and tell the truth, the whole truth: the good, the bad, and the downright ugly, and to deal with the problems we face head on with dignity and character.

There was a brief window of opportunity last Friday, as the results of the election came through, where real hope for a genuine renaissance in British politics glimmered. A hung parliament, it was what we had been told was coming but no one quite believed it. Once confirmed, my personal opinion was that it was possibly a result that could see the three major parties reassess, and push politicians towards putting country before party and self-interest. The need to negotiate and compromise could potentially result in a parliamentary situation that would prevent a repeat of the operational dictatorship that the Labour party has effectively enjoyed during the last 13 years that has resulted in some near on catastrophic legislation — the ramifications of which are not fully apparent yet.  

Delusional, is the conclusion I have come to.

Me, that is!!

Momentarily the rhetoric sounded right — the statesmen-like performances sounded different with a subtle shift in parlance and politicians engaging in straight-talking. Within a day it had become critically apparent that it was just the start of a new game! Party priorities, self-interest and power-hungry UNELECTED individuals are still wielding their poison, mostly behind closed doors; this, together with indecision and a lack of real vision are the characteristics that define this generation of politicians.

"Strong, stable, principled governement."

That is the verbiage that is coming from every party! I whole-heartedly believe that's what we need, and I am sickeningly aware that it's not what we are going to get.

There is one option that offers the vital stability, but even now it is not clear that the UK will get it.
Strong — unlikely.
Principled — just who do they think they are kidding???

Principles do not rate very highly in the Westminster bubble. Along with morals, ethics, truth and standards; principles have pretty much been obliterated amongst parliamentarians, shamefully replaced by sociopathic, power-hungry, fame-driven, money-grabbing individuals who are only too happy to believe their own press.

The key missing skill — the ability to listen.

The press analysts, pundits and comedians have got plenty of material to sink their teeth into, but it doesn't really help and the confusion is profound.

I am loathe to let the hope die completely, I still await the watershed moment that we need to fundamentally change the nature of the politicians we elect and by association, clean up the political arena in which they operate.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Timely Update!

Oh, the joys of technology — NOT.

So, my excuse for not posting recently ....... complete and utter frustration at my inability to comprehend the inner workings of my computer and software. The blogging software I use boggles my mind, to the point where I gave up for a while. A little help later, and I think it is on it's way to being sorted.

We shall see. I am much calmer now though, and it is time to play catch up.

Things were pretty quiet for a couple of weeks in the additive manufacturing (AM) world, a few snippets here and there, but they seem to be hotting up again now.

The Stratasys/HP partnership that was announced at the beginning of the year has followed through quite quickly on its promise, with the first Designjet 3D machines released today. Serious distribution through Germany, France, the UK, Italy and Spain is set for next month. This is great news, and as I said at the time of the original announcement, will likely see 3D printers penetrating deeper and wider into industrial markets. 


Shapeways is 3D printing with glass! A major breakthrough on a material level — this will find a host of applications that were previously closed to 3D printing. I suspect the majority will be on the 'arty' side of things, but this is a growing application area that is driving some of the new capabilities of 3DP and should never be dismissed. 


Continued development of the RapMan 3D printer has just seen the launch of the new BfB 3000 fully assembled, fully capable 3D printer — retailing below £2000. This is massive. This is precisely what everyone has been saying that they are waiting for. I really want to see how the news of this spreads — hopefully as far and as fast as possible. Essentially, as far as I can see, this machine bridges the gap between the "hobbyists" (still don't like that terminology) and the commercial machines. For a good (alphabetical) list of the two, see the Fabaloo post on 17th April!!! Excellent position to take at this point, I fully concur. 


Terry Wohlers has also recently posted an excellent piece of writing on his Wohlers Talk blog. It addresses the decades old recurring issue of terminology in this sector. (Full post here: http://wohlersassociates.com/blog/2010/04/changing-a-name/). Terry offers a compelling argument, and I mostly agree with what he says. I am yet to be convinced that it will stand the test of time, but I will go with it for now in the interests of community and growth. My own instincts still lean towards a split — AM and 3DP. 


A very brief round-up, but my computer and sanity permitting, I'll be back with more commentary very soon. 















Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The Alaris30 on Japanese TV

Objet has played a blinder here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6oqQNTSy4I


[Hat-tip to G Sachs via the RP-ML]


I have to say, in my opinion Objet has dominated the additive sector in terms of marketing strategy, coordination and synchronicity.


And you just have to admire the enthusiasm of the Japanese! The negativity and procrastination that prevails in Western cultures is perhaps one of our most serious limitations. 







Increasing Competition — Never a Bad Thing

Things are really starting to heat up at the lower end of the 3D printer market. Another sub-£1000 model has just been launched on to the market. It's rather bizarre name is Cube.ly — I kind of get it, but I am not convinced the name tells the world what it is and what it is trying to do. Vague noises about this one have been creeping around since February and I've been trying to find out a little more, but it's not forthcoming.

When I say vague noises, the various blogs and tweets that I have seen have all been saying the same thing, virtually word for word, ie regarding its being a derivative of RepRap, the way it is to be built, cost, and the rather startling ambition of a sales target volume of 10,000 by the 1st January 2013. Despite lengthy searches and a few phone calls, I am struggling to find out more. Nothing on building parts, materials, accuracy, speed. All the key parameters that people need to know to build parts or to compare on a like for like basis with alternate machines in the same price bracket.

So, where are we at today with 3D printers under 5k?  RapMan, Makerbot, Fab@Home, RepRap and now Cube.ly.  At times like this I REALLY wish I had a crystal ball ......


In truth, all these systems can probably find a place and get good market share, but when this (widespread 3D printing) takes off, as it surely will some time soon, I can't wait to see how it plays out.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The BBC Has Seen & Tweeted

Regarding my post a week ago, the BBC seem to prefer tweeting to blogging .....

http://twitter.com/BBCAmos/status/10044219130

The net is spreading wider and it is so gratifying to see the responses and watch people get hooked on the technology.

Friday, 12 March 2010

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Wednesday, 10 March 2010

BFB RapMan is Manufacturing Parts

Commissioned to find and write a compelling case study on the BFB RapMan, I knew it would not be a hard brief, in that uptake is pretty rapid at the moment. However, what I was not expecting, was to come across a user that is employing the kit form of the RapMan machine to manufacture end-use components! I was staggered, I have to say. This is immense. An additive technology, under £1,000, is producing plastic components for a finished product. Granted, the volumes are not huge — yet. But, the potential is there.

I am currently waiting for approval to get this story out there into the public domain, but just as soon as I do, I will be posting it here, as well as sending it as far and wide as possible.

Monday, 8 March 2010

I love it when this happens ....


..... when the light suddenly goes on for someone! 

Edward Machin from 'The Manufacturer' recently visited GKN and EADS on the same day. He blogged soon after. What he saw at EADS seems to have blown his mind. The following is just a snippet of what he wrote, but the full post can be viewed here: http://www.themanufacturer.com/uk/content/10276/We_are_the_dreamers_of_dreams

"Additive layer manufacturing (ALM) effectively ‘grows’ components layer by layer from a powdered material, be it plastics or metal....
Very simply, this stuff shifts the shifts that paradigms shift. Yes, these terms get tossed about like cheap orange frisbees at the first sign of a British summer, but genuinely, people, and to co-opt Lincoln Steffens, “I’ve seen the future, and it works.” Moreover, with its genesis in Rapid Prototyping’s underlying technology ALM appears to have found a soulmate in the direct manufacture of net-shape and high performance aerospace components.

The ALM project at Innovation Works, EADS’ research and technology production facility, is headed up by Dan Johns. A charmingly infectious chatterbox, he wastes little time in introducing me to a selection of structurally superior, ultra-efficient (with a percentage of raw materials reniserted into the stock in powder form) and aesthetically beautiful structures — in a way that carbon fiber-reinforced polymer seldom is. Did I mention drastically reduced lead times, to boot?

His team of technological merry pranksters, with breakdancing ecological evangelists and ex-national table tennis champions among their number, are perhaps more remarkable still. Now, I’ve never been one for sentimental blubbering, but the guys and dolls at Innovation Works truly live and breathe this stuff, and it shows. Heck, I’ll just say it; tis a beautiful thang." 

Following on from the recent article in the Telegraph covering EADS Innovation Works, I also happen to know that the BBC are interested in what is going on at EADS too. In terms of proving the reality and not just the hype — EADS really is leading the way and taking it much wider than it has EVER been before. 



Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The Transition Period

As a long term advocate of additive technologies I have been through the peaks and troughs associated with an emerging sector. However, I have never before been witness to the growing momentum behind these technologies that exists today.

It is not possible to point to one single factor, which is probably why there is strength behind the momentum as opposed to 'hype'. Rather, it is now possible to identify a cumulative range of events and circumstances that are contributing to this escalating energy behind both 3D printing and additive manufacturing.

As the world tentatively heads out of recession, albeit teetering on the brink with economic commentators uncertain about which way the cards will fall as of yet, the vendors of additive technology platforms have fared pretty well. Some better than others, as would be expected, but what it very telling is that none have gone into administration. All of them have managed to keep their heads above water. Stratasys recently released its end of year results for 2009, and the general pattern is probably similar across the board, in that unit sales were down on the previous year, but still healthy enough. Cost cutting and belt tightening helped to buoy up the figures some, and overall the rhetoric was positive. An industry that can demonstrate positive results after a devastating year — economically speaking — only points to further significant growth at a faster rate as global circumstances improve.

Awareness is another significant factor in this building momentum. It's been a slow process (akin to wading through treacle at times) but it is now spreading at an exciting rate. There is much more talk, debate and understanding of the additive manufacturing concept. From a personal perspective, I am finding that I rarely have to explain the concept itself anymore, as most people that I speak to have heard about it and grasp the basic idea. Rather it is a case of explaining the different processes and the range of capabilities. This is progress!

A further significant pointer that I became aware of yesterday is that a large retail outlet that has picked up on the technology. PC World posted an article on its website: http://www.pcworld.com/article/189880/affordable_3d_printers.html. It refers directly to HP's interest in 3D printers and I imagine this is what brought it to the company's attention. Also, the article talks about 3DP and AM as a technology of the future, but it is talking, and more to the point, it is taking the message wider. Just think of the number of people that would never come across a manufacturing or technology website but will visit the PC World website. There could be many more 'Eureka' moments as a result!

Many of the blogs relating to 3DP and AM are also becoming much, much more prolific with their posts. A great many of them distinguish between the industrial strength processes (Stratasys, 3D Systems, Objet, ZCorp et al) and the 'hobbyist' platforms (RepRap, Fab@Home, Makerbot and BfB RapMan etc). The hobbyist platforms being those 3D printers that come in kit form. I am not sure if the 'hobbyist' label works for me, I don't think it conveys the full potential of these machines, but I get the point and the differentiation.

As of today, I think the sector is mid transition — somewhere between niche and mainstream — and moving faster than it ever has before!

Friday, 12 February 2010

No Single Product Development Tool is King

For years (and years and years) I have tried to promote the message that no one tool within the product designer’s toolbox is more vital than another. The key to successful product development is to combine a number of advanced tools to achieve a propitious result.

My particular area of interest and knowledge is additive technology — for prototyping and for manufacturing — but within the discipline of product development this is only one component tool that can help to improve the overall process.

Off the top of my head, 3D design software, 3D scanning hardware and software, simulation software and 5+ axis machines are all advanced tools that are competitively available on the market to designers and engineers looking to enhance their product development procedures.

Within each ‘tool’ category there are a host of choices — product capabilities, costs and vendor selection are important issues, as is whether to invest in house or contract out — but the point I am making here is finding the right blend of technologies rather than picking up on one of them and believing that it will solve all problems!

As an example, there have been rumours rumbling around that some of the problems besieging Toyota in recent months are because the car giant has depended too heavily on simulation methods for testing. If this allegation is proven, this makes my point extremely well. Simulation is a brilliant tool; the developments in computing power and software interface make it a fast and accessible way of testing products under any conditions. That said, it cannot and should not fully replace physical testing with a physical model. Simulation can reduce the number of physical tests by arriving at an optimum solution faster and more economically than the traditional cycle of ‘make and break’; but it cannot be used in isolation.

Understanding how to integrate advanced technology tools for product development provides the most solid foundation on which to build an overall process that is most likely to bring success.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Attractive Matrix Applications


It was only a matter of time before the applications started filtering through for the Matrix 300 3D printer. I saw this machine when it was introduced over a year ago and it was launched commercially at the end of last year, at the TCT show. I had heard on the grapevine that there had been some sales of the machine and I am not surprised that things are going well.

The Matrix, from Irish company Mcor Technologies, is a 3D printer based on LOM (Laminated Object Manufacturing) technology. At the time of its introduction, this did raise some eye brows, because the original LOM process from Helisys died a death around the middle of the nineties and seemed to be forgotten. However, the Matrix differs from all of its competitors in a couple of interesting ways.

First and foremost, the printer itself requires a similar capital outlay to mid-range 3D printers (around 25,000 euros), but unlike every other machine out there the consumables are cheap and easy to access. The machine uses A4 paper (80 gsm). Which leads onto the other very attractive characteristic of the printer — it is extremely eco-friendly. Surface finish of the Matrix models are proving to be very competitive too.

Janne Kyttanen, Founder & Creative Director of Freedom of Creation has been producing some stunning models using the Matrix, his comment being; “Most refreshing stuff I have seen for a long time." 'Stuff' referring to the 3D process, not his own models.

The picture of his iphone cover above is a clear demonstration that there will be much more to come. I have long been a fan of the sculptures and products that the FoC guys produce, but it's always been out of my price range. It will be interesting to see if the retail prices of the FoC Matrix models are modified in line with their material costs!!!?

When Wohlers met Cameron

James Cameron that is, not David!

Terry Wohlers recently witnessed James Cameron being interviewed at the recent SolidWorld event, talking knowledgeably about 3D software and 3D printing in particular. The interview was followed up by a 1-to-1 conversation.

The full post can be found here: http://wohlersassociates.com/blog/2010/02/james-cameron-uses-3d-printing/

The gist being the positive effect on the 3DP industry when people so much in the public eye know about AND talk about the applicability of these technologies.

What was also very interesting was how Mr Cameron is renowned for "getting his hands dirty" in order to make stuff, both early on in his career as a machinist and even now, as (one of?) the world's greatest film directors.

This may sound strange coming from someone that has only worked with words her whole life, and watches in amazement from the sidelines as the real (and often dirty) work is carried out by the true pioneers of 3DP, but this is key! The desire to make things and to practice and learn. Innovation is born of an inherent creativity together with hands-on practical knowledge. It's not exactly a fast process, but one that fosters enthusiasm, passion and determination over a life-time.

I was talking to Dan Johns of Airbus recently (who, incidentally, was the ALM evangelist behind the Telegraph article I posted about last week) and this was central to his thinking too. I am sure he will not mind me saying that he does not profess to be especially academic, but as a child he spent hours and hours in his Grandad's shed, playing with a host of different tools and making things — all sorts of things. From this his passion for engineering and manufacturing was born. His imagination was totally captured by the emergence of rapid prototyping in the early 1990's and the potential that he saw then prompted him to take the time to fully embrace the capabilities and the limitations of the processes. His understanding through practical, hands-on experimentation, has driven these technologies to unprecedented depths within one of the largest Aerospace companies in the world. He freely admits there is still much work to be done, but his fascination and zeal for all things additive is only increasing as time passes.

Drive, passion and dirty hands — the roots of success. Without them, the rest of it cannot grow.

Friday, 5 February 2010

The Press is Starting to Pick up on 3DP/AM

The chatter about whether or not 3D printing and/or AM is or will become mainstream has been centre stage again of late. Is it mainstream now? No, of course it isn't! That said, the mainstream press here in the UK are starting to pick up on just what these technologies can do. Indeed, just today, two articles on the subject have gone live.

Stateside there has been more mainstream press visibility with articles in some of the major daily titles, and the Jay Leno effect has had positive repercussions with increasing profile.

Today, the Daily Telegraph ran an article in its print edition outlining the impressive ALM capability at Airbus / EADS in Filton and how these companies are driving innovation and research with additive manufacturing applications that are currently undergoing the lengthy testing necessary for flight.

The Times Live also ran an online opinion piece of journalism, with a slightly tonge in cheek tone, but one that easily captures the imagination of people not familiar with 3D printing. They might need some ST knowledge though!!

http://www.timeslive.co.za/opinion/columnists/article293024.ece

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

The Optomec Position

Today Optomec will introduce its Aerosol Jet Display Lab System to the American market at the FlexTech 2010 Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, USA. The system has been designed and developed for the production of next generation touch screen and display applications.

Optomec is a company that intrigues me. Its proprietary LENS additive process has been around for many years and is well established and utilised among savvy clients in advanced sectors such as aerospace and defence. The applications for the LENS process have proved diverse — manufacturing and repairing high value metal components from aircraft engine parts to medical implants. However, the company often seems to fly below general radar levels, quietly going about its business.

The Aerosol Jet Display Lab goes a step further than LENS, it is an advanced additive platform that utilises Optomec’s patented Aerosol Jet technology, which in turn enables high resolution deposition of a wide variety of materials including conductive nano-particle inks, insulators, dielectrics, polymers, adhesives and other advanced materials. The system can print onto a wide variety of flexible and rigid substrates.

Despite the US launch today, a number of customers in Asia, including a leading industrial electronics research institute and a leading touch screen company, have already purchased and taken delivery of their Aerosol Jet Display Lab systems, which are being used to develop applications such as bridge/jumper circuits for bus lines on ITO/Glass, edge circuits for handheld displays, and fully printed Thin Film Transistors.

According to Optomec, the benefits of the Aerosol Jet Direct Write technology are the multi-material, fine line (<10 um) printing capability which eliminates many process steps/costs associated with current photolithographic and vacuum based display manufacturing processes. Also, the Aerosol Jet Print Engine can be integrated into automation platforms to meet high volume display production requirements. Multi-nozzle dispensing heads can be configured to meet specific end-user throughput needs. The additive process employed by Aerosol Jet technology reduces environmental impact by minimizing waste and chemicals that are prevalent in traditional electronics’ manufacturing processes.

The company has released a huge amount of information — with very little fanfare — all of which has even greater implications for future development.

The things that really stand out for me are:

• the high resolution deposition of nano-particles
• companies in the middle East are already using the systems
• multi-material deposition
• < 10 ┬Ám printing capability.
• and last, but by no means least, the system was developed for a specific application, and Optomec launch direct to its target market at FlexTech, an event dedicated to flexible technology for electronics and displays.

Basically, when a company bylines itself as "the world-leading provider of additive manufacturing systems for high-performance applications" my instinctive response is, 'yeah, yeah, you and every other AM vendor'. In this instance though, with a significant and very noticeable lack of hype around the company, I am inclined to agree that Optomec is making huge strides that are ahead of the game.


[NB: I have absolutely no commercial / financial interests in Optomec or associated companies.]

The Solido Announcement

Solido, true to its word, unveiled its new pricing structure for the Solido SD300 Pro 3D printer at SolidWorks World 2010 yesterday. It is not quite the watershed price that some would have liked to have seen, but it is certainly well below the $5000 benchmark that Desktop Factory was aiming for this time last year. At $2950 Solido seems to be making the right noises to draw a crowd and has, on the face of it, laid down the gauntlet to the rest of the market.

There is a sting in the tail though, unfortunately. That price is for the machine only! The full Value Pack, which includes the printer, 8 (XY) cuttings knives, 4 magnetic pads, 24 modelling kits (modeling material, glue cartridge and anti-glue cassette), SDView software, a 12 month warranty and 12 months free software upgrade and hotline support, costs $14,950.

Not quite the leap forward that is needed to prompt new users to give this a go.

There is not a huge amount of 'chat' going on about this either, which is generally a good indicator of impact for an announcement like this. There was more said pre-announcement than post. Compare the couple of mumblings (including my own) about the actual Solido news with the tirade of commentary that followed the Stratasys/HP announcement a couple of weeks ago.

I do think that Solido has a sound product that produces good models, however, regrettably, I think the company has missed an opportunity here at a key time in the history of 3D Printing, and that this is more PR stunt than a real effort to broaden the 3D printing user community.

I understand how a product has to be commercially viable, it needs to make money. That's a given, that's business. That said, I don't know how much of a margin is involved here, although I could probably make an educated guess. But while Solido is effectively an SME, it has some powerful backers and I believe it would have been in the company's long term interests to take a bolder stand.

[NB: I have absolutely no commercial / financial interests in Solido or associated companies.]

Friday, 29 January 2010

Advocating Additive Technology and Change is on the Horizon

As the Editor of the TCT Magazine I was a 100% advocate of additive layer technology. Partly because it was my remit and partly because I caught the bug. Now, it is wholly through choice, although often more tempered by cynicism. I have been wondering of late where this cynicism has come from.

By nature I am an optimist, so can I be optimistic and cynical at the same time? The answer is yes I can. I am cynical about some of the predictions and claims about 3D Printing (3DP) and Additive Manufacturing (AM), these days. I now have a tendency to reserve judgement until I see proof, or establish a strong belief system, before I start waxing lyrical. That said, I am very optimistic about the future of additive technology.

A couple of posts back I positioned myself on middle ground, with a good view. That has brought with it an accusation of sitting on the proverbial fence and acquiring splinters in uncomfortable places. In view of this coming close on the heels of a very exciting meeting I had recently, I am going to vocalise some of my optimism and go on the record with a couple of predictions of my own.

I am not at liberty to disclose any of the contents of my meeting — yet — suffice to say, it prompted this post.

IMHO:

The current additive technology field will diversify, it's already started and it will become much more defined. It will go in two directions with two clearly identified markets — prototyping (3DP) and production (AM). I am not quite so bold as to put a precise date on this, but within the next 5 years. Sooner if Stratasys/HP make good on their promises and the price of concept modellers goes into freefall with the other 3DP vendors scrabbling to compete with RapMan, Solido and Makerbot and regain some of the market share that they will surely lose in the short term.

Things are going to change, and they are going to change in a big way, for AM; and the changes are going to come from left of field. Currently AM activities are viewed as a fringe activity, a process for OEM's with deep pockets or artistic types to 'play' with. As of today, this is a misguided perception, with a host of real applications that one can point to and say, "No, the capabilities of AM technologies are real and they make a real difference." The one that stands out for me is the use of titanium human implants built using the DMLS process from EOS, but there are many more. The problem is, there is no one application that makes enough people sit up and take notice. The applications do not make a 'big enough' difference. Volumes and infrastructure are key limitations.

However, this WILL be turned on its head in the mid-term. I am absolutely, positively convinced of it. Around the year 2013 I fully expect to point people back to this post and say I believed!

All optimistic and cynical comments welcome ....

Solido Heading Under the $5000 Benchmark

The thing with this 3D printing industry (and probably many others) is that developments take place incrementally, and therefore movement seems slow! Then all of a sudden, lots of things happen close together, and everything seems to start moving much faster.

Following on from the Stratasys / HP announcement last week, the airwaves are buzzing with the news that Solido will be announcing a new price structure for its professional 3D printer, the SD300 Pro, which allegedly will be "significantly under $5000," and according to the rumour mill, could even go sub-$1000. The formal announcement is to be made next Monday at a press conference at SolidWorks World 2010, in Anaheim, CA, USA. Unfortunately, I had to send a negative RSVP (would have loved to have been there) but time and funding would not allow it.

Solido had hinted at this move at the end of last year at Euromold in Frankfurt, so it is not a complete shock, and the pricing of the consumables is not likely to change much, and will be where the company will be able to make some money. Particularly if the volume of sales on the machine increases following this announcement on Monday.

The Solido process is a pretty nifty one, based on the laminated object manufacturing (LOM) process, and frequently overlooked as a result. But the company has done a good job of increasing its profile in the last two years and with this well-timed event (whether by design or coincidence) will surely gain maximum exposure.

Friday, 22 January 2010

The Dust Settles on the Stratasys/HP Announcement

It's been a couple of days since Stratasys announced its definitive partnership with HP — enough time for dust to start to settle. The markets, the commentators and users of 3D printing technology went into overdrive in the 24 hours following the announcement, which was to be expected, and was probably a primary aim of Stratasys in making the announcement.

There are, of course, polar opposite and rather extreme schools of thought depending on who you talk/listen to. On the one hand you have the enthusiastic "sea change" posse, who categorically see this as the moment that the 3D printing market will change forever. They are battling the more reserved and cynical crew that view this announcement as a publicity stunt that has seen Stratasys stock soar by an unprecedented 44% following a dismal financial year in 2009.

I have to say it, I love being a part of this industry. I really do. It excites me and it frustrates me in equal measure. The thing I have learned though is not to jump too far either way when something big happens, and make no mistake, however this Stratasys deal plays out, it is big!

There is something to be said for the middle ground, okay I possibly sound like the Clover ad, but it is the place where one can see most clearly — in all directions. At this point in time I can see that the announcement has brought Stratasys (in particular) and 3D printing (in general) centre stage. That is a great thing in itself. However, as I mentioned in my previous post, we have to wait for some months for the machines to hit the market when the real impact can start to be measured.

Also, while it is the lower end range of Stratasys machines that HP will be selling (Dimension/uprint), there is still no real visibility on the spec of the machines that HP will be selling. Personally, I don't think this is too much of an issue. The FDM process is an established and reliable one that will turn the heads of people that are being introduced to 3DP for the first time. The key to unlocking greater awareness is HP's ability to take sales & distribution much deeper than Stratasys, or any of the other 3DP vendors for that matter, into untapped markets. This is what excites me about this announcement.

Taking stock, I am of the opinion that the announcement is one amongst many factors that are driving the 3DP sector forward. Another vital element of this, as I have expounded for a while, are low cost 3D printers. An analogy that works here is by considering how the 3DP market could operate in much the same way as the housing market. Few first time buyers will (or can afford) to buy a £1,000,000 house with everything that they think they want or need. They get onto the property ladder by starting small (and less expensive). Once they have made the initial investment, they then upgrade at a later date. Recent history shows that without first time buyers, the housing market stalls. This is how I see 3DP. It needs lots and lots of first time buyers, starting small to get a full understanding of the capabilities and potential of the technology. Once that understanding is in place they can take stock and upgrade in line with their requirements — the whole industry benefits! The higher general awareness will also mean that new applications will invariably follow, and I'm going to say it again, and that killer app could emerge!

The desire by many commentators for 3D printing / Additive Manufacturing to be THE dominant force in the way we make things sometimes works against their good intentions. I hope that by raising awareness and uptake of 3DP it will become ONE of the dominant forces and fulfill its great potential that largely remains untapped.