About Me

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

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.


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.

Tuesday 19 January 2010

Stratasys is Playing with the Big Boys

News has just reached me, via press release, that Stratasys has fully engaged with HP, with the two companies signing a definitive agreement whereby Stratasys is going to develop and manufacture an HP-branded line of 3D printers based on Stratasys’ patented Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology. The plan is for HP to begin a phased rollout of the 3D printers in the mechanical design (MCAD) market in selected countries later this year, with the right to extend distribution globally.

During the recent past (probably going back to mid-2008) I have had numerous conversations that have been geared around how and when 2D printing and 3D printing companies would find some synergy. While some more cynical individuals have intimated that there were no real grounds to draw parallels and assume that 3D printing could ever follow the growth curve of 2D printing, I have believed for a while that it was only a matter of time before the two hooked up in one form or another. I have to be honest though, I didn't think it would be these two!

Scott Crump, Stratasys CEO and Chairman, now "believe[s that] the time is right for 3D printing to become mainstream.”

Ok, well, many people have been saying that for years, and beaten down with cries of "hype - it will never happen." The thing here is that he is backing this comment up with support from a huge, globally recognised brand. It could be a real turning point.

My only reservation about this announcement is the application area. MCAD is a good place to start, and could bring 3D printing centre stage in industrial circles (which is, I think, the aim) but it won't necessarily take 3D printing mainstream.

Another key enabler, as Crump mentions, is HP's "sales and distribution capabilities", something that the 3D printer vendors have struggled with.

All in all, an extremely interesting development, but as ever, we have to wait and watch to see if it fulfills its potential. And, realistically, it is going to be at least a year before there will be any real signs of how it's going.

Monday 18 January 2010

Could THIS be the Killer App for 3DP?

A fascinating post on the REPLICATOR blog [//replicatorinc.com/blog/] by Joseph Flaherty [3D Printing and beyond] highlights how Disney is 3D Printing (3DP) some of its most beloved characters using the Zcorp colour technology. The availability of printing single models in multi-colour is key to this application, and it is taking longer for the other vendors to catch up with this concept than I originally anticipated when I first saw ZCorp's colour offerings.

Flaherty also suggests the possibility that Disney could be key a player in "broadening the awareness of 3D printing tech via the coming revamp of their stores and theme parks." After all — who doesn't recognize the Disney brand? Love it or otherwise, most of us have been captivated by at least one of the Disney blockbusters, personally or via our children/grandchildren and Disney has a massive market share in its field, not to mention hundreds of potential outlets.

Debate about how to bring 3DP into the mainstream consciousness — both in terms of engineering/manufacturing and the consumer at large — has recently focused on finding a 'killer app', one that captures people's imagination and becomes a 'must have' item. Of course, many consumers are generally not necessarily concerned, or even interested, in 'how' something is made, but as Flaherty implies, if 3D printers were on site at the Disney theme parks and/or in the flagship stores then children and parents would be able to watch as their own, personalised models were created.

As with so many 3DP concepts over the years, this is speculation, but I intend to watch this one closely, I would love to see this happen!

Friday 15 January 2010

Back to the Future at TCT 2010

Many of the 'usual suspects' from the additive manufacturing (AM) world — you know who you are! — will know that even when I left Rapid News Communications, the publishing and media company behind the TCT Magazine and Annual TCT Live event on which I had a permanent position, I stayed involved on a freelance basis with the coordination of the 2009 Conference on AM. I am delighted to be doing the same for 2010!

I have absolutely no regrets about the decision I made at the end of 2008, but as far as the manufacturing calendar of events goes, TCT is in a very small minority — probably on its own — and is definitely one of those shows that once you get caught up in it, you find you don't want to miss it when it comes around again. I realise that I am talking from a position of bias, but I have worn out a substantial number of shoes walking show floors in my time and I believe I have enough experience on which to make this judgement. I think there are a number of reasons why TCT stands out on the calendar for me. Primarily, despite year on year growth, it is very different to the super-sized, soulless exhibitions that one can attend with halls and halls of exhibitors, because it draws together a real community of professionals focusing holistically on advanced product development and manufacturing. It's also a show that doesn't pretend to be anything other than what it is, and it is done well, providing an exhibition, conference and tutorials; together with many other useful on-site resources. Moreover, and this is significant, most people who attend TCT in any given year will remember it long after they return to their desks, and will be able to recall their time there, even many years later (the event is in its 16th year). Often the result of a successful business contact coming to fruition, this is also invariably to do with the fact that TCT offers a unique face-to-face opportunity for social/business networking for a fantastic and growing community that are not afraid to let their hair down when the business of the day is completed!

Ice and Age

As any UK residents will be aware, the snow and ice that has blanketed the country for the last couple of weeks has brought with it a host of practical problems that we are not too clever at dealing with! Whether walking, driving or commuting by any other transport, the delays and difficulties are endless until the thaw begins. For more elderly citizens there are the more somber issues of just being able to keep warm eat enough food. The only thing we are really any good at in this weather is playing, and the joy of that has worn off pretty quickly!

For me, this weather has also triggered fervent family battles that demonstrate the different priorities of generations. My (soon to be) teenage daughter has implied that her father and I are positively geriatric because we would rather she be warm and safe when out of the house (ie attired in thick coat, hat, scarf, gloves and, heaven forbid, wellies). Her clear priority, meanwhile, is to maintain a cool image and to be as unburdened as possible around the school she attends (no lockers!). I can understand this, to a point, no one wants additional baggage (literally) — but sometimes it is necessary, along with the inconvenience.

What has struck me most about my daughter’s position is how convinced she is that she is right and that we are wrong. There is little room, if any, for negotiation in her thought-process. Everything that she knows within her world is enough to make her absolutely certain. I can remember being that sure of myself too. However, age and experience now convinces me that I can always learn more because there is always something new — or there is a new way of looking at an existing concept. Furthermore, I think we can learn the most by listening to other people — from our own and from other generations. This is true in family hierarchies, but it is also true in any business situation. Experience is a valuable and important asset, but youth — with its vibrance, creativity and new ideas is vital too. Bringing the two together successfully is the hard part.

Wednesday 13 January 2010

Dimensional Improvements to uPrint

I've just received notice of the updated uPrint Plus 3D printer from Dimension Printing, part of the Stratasys stable. It looks the same as the original machine released last year, and aesthetically, it would definitely fit unnoticed into any design office. The major upgrade, along with a slightly bigger build volume and a new smart-support material, is that the uPrint Plus prints models in a range of colours.

ABSplus is the material that the printer utilises, and until now, this has only been available in standard ivory. Seven more colour options have now been added — red, blue, black, dark grey, olive, nectarine or fluorescent yellow. You can only build in one colour at a time! With two resolution settings for printing (0.254 mm and 0.33 mm) I am looking forward to seeing some of the parts that come off the machine, which, just in case you were wondering, costs just under $20,000.

I will sit them next to the Z-corp colour models that I have (part of my collection over the last 15 years) and some RapMan parts that are made in ABS (red, blue, white) and I will feedback my thoughts here as soon as poss!

Tuesday 12 January 2010

Yet another interesting dynamic raised on the RP-ML

Yes, okay, you might be forgiven for thinking that I do little else other than read posts on the RP-ML. It is a side line, I promise, I do work as well!!

It does raise interesting issues in the world in which I spend much of my time though, and therefore sets in motion different thought processes that I can unleash here.

Battles are starting to rage on the forum, and it has highlighted the vast chasm that exists between the "real" world of industry and the more "idealistic" domain of academia. The irony being that developments in one often depend on the other — and that goes both ways. They coexist, with a tenuous connection that is vital to both, but with levels of suspicion, and even outright antipathy, which are immediately obvious when the two come together.

In my experience, neither side is opposed to raucous debate over a few pints when in the same room, but looking back, I don't think the issue has ever been resolved fully — neither will it be. I have spent much of my working life somewhere between the two and as a result I have respect for both and can see the value of both. In the oft hallowed halls of superior academic institutions (across the globe) the desire for knowledge (and recognition, let's be honest) drives technological developments in an environment that positively encourages all boundaries to be pushed to breaking point, with fairly deep pockets to fund such activities. In the realms of industry, and manufacturing in particular, things have to be made, and they have to work — reliably — often on tight budgets; so if there is a proven way of doing it — why reinvent the wheel?

Well, you can probably see where this is going ...... the point is that additive manufacturing would not be where it is today without the research and proven results produced by leading universities in the field. Similarly, without pioneers in industry using and proving the technologies for real applications, the whole industry would come to nothing.

They are inter-dependent on many levels, but neither side will ever really like that fact.

What's in a Name?

I mentioned the RP-ML last week, and it really is seeing a huge volume of posts over recent days. If this continues one might even be able to label it a full-on revival of the forum that had been seriously waning.

Talking of labels, that is just what the latest debate on the forum is covering. Once again the topic is what terminology is universally acceptable for additive processes. The thread has been met with the inevitable howls of anguish from individuals on the list that have seen/heard this discussion hundreds of times before. I did respond to the initial post posing the question as I am strongly of the opinion that this is an important issue, regardless of how many times it comes around and how long it takes to get a unanimous verdict. However, my post seems to have got lost in the ether — it may turn up, it may not — but having my own 'ether' space I have therefore decided not to waste the time spent writing it and post it here.

Under the thread title: Re: [rp-ml] milling=am?, it went as follows:

It's interesting, and inevitable, that this subject raises its head again. It will rumble on for some time yet — probably years rather than weeks or months. It's the nature of an emerging industry, and that is what we are all a part of.

Lino was absolutely right, a thread ran on the RP-ML at approximately the same time last year, titled: [rp-ml] International Terminology Standards. The thread was started by Terry Wohlers, in preparation for an upcoming ASTM meeting to try to start to establish universally accepted standards.

There are so very many variables here that it is hard to condense it all into a concise overview, but I'll give it a go.

The term Rapid Prototyping is the one that is most recognised as a result of its longevity. The problem with it is that "prototyping" does not cover all of the applications of additive technology today, for casting (Rapid Casting), tooling (Rapid Tooling) and final production products (Rapid Manufacturing). Originally, it was used to differentiate additive prototyping from traditional forms of creating prototypes, but now it seems to incorporate any method of making prototypes very quickly. This is another reason why many of the 'additive die-hards' have back away from the term!

Furthermore, there is a school of thought that "Rapid" is not correct terminology — for any additive application — because the processes themselves are relatively slow compared with other traditional and established manufacturing processes such as milling/machining etc. The "Rapid" was originally used to convey faster product development times and speedier time-to-market overall.

The quest last year seemed to be for a universal umbrella term for the additive technologies, of which 3D printing emerged as a clear contender, along with Additive Manufacturing on the responses from the RP_ML membership. I believe I am correct in saying that the ASTM meeting resulted in the consensus of Additive Manufacturing. Personally, I think that the additive processes themselves have gone in two different directions, the higher spec machines capable of manufacturing production parts (Additive Manufacturing), and the lower spec machines for concept and functional models (3D Printing / Rapid Prototyping).

What is interesting in the latest thread is that it has been started based on a quest for classification of additive AND subtractive processes, with both being accepted as legitimate options.

I don't think it is about hierarchy, it is just about labelling, and therefore clarity. Personally, I believe it is important to debate and ultimately establish the terminology, as it is the lack of clarity that has contributed to the slow understanding and therefore uptake of the technologies themselves (along with other factors such as entry level price points and patents - as discussed last week).

It's just my opinion of course, and subsequent posts from others involved in the ASTM and the resulting committee suggest that the industry is much further down the road to universal acceptance than I had anticipated (which is a good thing). However, disseminating, distributing and implementing the committees decisions still needs more work. There is still much confusion out there — hence the repetitive threads.

Additive Manufacturing is, it seems, the final decision, and is being used as the catch-all phrase for additive processes, regardless of application (prototyping, casting, tooling, manufacturing etc). I can get on board with this, I certainly don't think it is wrong, I would say, however, that as of today, I am not 100% convinced. I still think the industry is going two ways and I don't necessarily think it is vital to keep the two together. I think that the additive manufacturing and the 3D Printing markets can develop, grow and flourish with different "labels". It might even make them stronger!?

Trip Down Memory Lane

Yesterday was a nostalgic day for me, it turned out to be a good day in more ways than one, if a little challenging at times. Living in a beautiful and semi-rural part of North Wales my reasons for visiting our great capital are few. And when I do go, my usual transport of choice is my car — my space, my music, my company! Can't beat it, even in a traffic jam or full-on gridlock! That said, with an appointment in London scheduled for yesterday afternoon and a forecast of several more inches of snow, the UK road network and dwindling grit supplies held no appeal whatsoever. So the train it was!

My journey — one that would provide excellent material for any half-decent stand up comedian — began with a just-in-time arrival at Chester train station, literally, two minutes to spare, I hadn't even sat down before the train started moving. The anxiety of the will I / won't I make it had just started to subside, as I wriggled around in my less than spacious seat trying to get comfortable, when the strangest sounds started to register! The gentleman sat next to me (who had politely overlooked my wriggling) glanced at me a little apprehensively but my glance back must have been equally as worried. We both realised around the same time that the sounds were emanating from a more elderly gentleman sat behind us, and the sounds were the result of him having absolutely no qualms about sniffing, snorting or breaking wind at will! After the event - highly amusing, at the time, not so much! After two hours and one minute (bang on time) I arrived in London, the old boy had fallen asleep around Birmingham and I am adept at blanking out the sound of snoring!

And so on to the tube, which is where the nostalgia comes into play. In my university days I was adept at tube journeys, having to traverse London on my way home, or to visit numerous friends who had chosen London as their place of study. Yesterday, I was thrown into a bit of a panic when after one stop an announcement was made that the train was going no further due to a broken down train further up the line. Trains would be severely disrupted for the next few hours! Consulting my diary underground map I figured three more tubes and I could get relatively close to where I wanted to go!! No other line took me to my intended destination. I did it. And I was only an hour late. A minor achievement in the scheme of things — but it felt good and brought back great memories that I hadn't visited in a while.

And just in case you are interested: I had a good meeting, and my return journey, three hours later, was uneventful, peaceful, and even allowed for a leisurely coffee at Euston station!

Thursday 7 January 2010

Working and Writing Well

During the last 48 hours I have received a couple of emails asking me why such sketchy posting in 2009!?

After the momentary euphoria — directly proportional to the realisation that at least two people (that I had not prompted and that are not related to me) had read what I had written — I had to concede that the blogging and forum concepts really do work. People like them, people use them, and if they are good enough, lots of people use them.

The answer to their question was really in the 2009 posts themselves! I was not convinced, I didn't really believe, and because of that it always slipped to the bottom of my list of priorities! During the recent holiday period I spent some time reading some blogs and monitoring some forums and decided that I would give it a go, a real go, and take it seriously by putting in the time and effort, on the premise that I had nothing to lose. I earn my living by writing in a quite formal way on a fairly serious topic, and it is quite appealing for me to have an outlet (apart from my journal) whereby I can write in a more relaxed way on any topic I choose, if I so choose. I am in good company, there are many, many writers and aspiring writers out there — just one exemplification of this is the Linked In group for writers and editors, which has in excess of 1300 members with new people joining everyday. It can be extremely motivational hearing other people's success stories and picking up useful hints and tips.

It's still early days for me, obviously, but it's fascinating on many different levels, and, it seems to be working — well, more than I thought this time last year anyway. Who knows, by this time next year I could have doubled my readership ;-)

Stay warm — could go down as far as -20˚C tonight.

Tuesday 5 January 2010

3DP: What will the future be?

Having posted on the RP-ML (rapid prototyping - mailing list) fairly late yesterday evening in response to an extremely interesting thread (that got started as the result of a benign, but slightly distasteful offer by an RP-ML member to supply an stl file of the would-be Detroit bomber's face) I found myself unable to sleep in the early hours of this morning as I debated the future of 3D printing and additive manufacturing — with myself.

And, oh yes, I am more than aware of how sad that is!!!!

In my post, I stated that I no longer believed that we would one day see a 3D printer in every home — with people ordering any stl file they may wish from the internet, of any given consumer product or replacement part. This vision has been greatly expounded during the last decade by many excited individuals prophetically revealing the future of 3D printing, myself among them at one time. I had since arrived at a more balanced view that this was unlikely, because as much as it sounds like a good idea, the concept of millions of households trying to 'print' 3D products in polymers, metals or any other material was simply unrealistic. Most lay people struggle with getting Word and A4 paper to do what they want without wanting to throw the devices through a window, much less manipulate stl files and get the desired result from a 3D printer in the desired material(s).

However, my post also applauded the enlightened approach of spreading the word about 3D printing by putting the technology into the hands of students — not just those at university — but children as young as 5, as I mentioned in yesterday's post. It's already happening here in the UK. You may have picked up on the fact that I think this is a really great way of channelling young people towards the fields of design and engineering. However, the thing that was keeping me awake last night was the thought that if we keep doing it, and in a few generations time 3D printing (and other advanced technologies such as 3D CAD, rendering, 3D Scanning and simulation/VR etc) become common place in our schools, and children are happily familiar with them, why would they not be confident about having them at home as and when they acquire their own homes?

So, have I come full circle? Am I back to thinking that the potential for this technology is as big as I once believed, in terms of the target market being anyone and everyone, rather than the more tempered opinion of it being relevant to every company that is involved with developing new products?

Well, it was 2.30 am, and despite the passing of time I am not sure which way I'm going on this yet. In reality, I'll probably traverse a few more circles, maybe engage in some heated debates as there are strong feelings on both sides of this argument, but the answer is probably not going to emerge in my life time, I do like being a part of the history though!!

Incidentally, the RP-ML is a great forum — it can go quiet for months at a time, but when it kicks off, it really kicks off. There are many knowledgeable individuals on there, many from the earliest days of RP, some that believe it will solve all the world's problems and some so cynical I laugh out loud as I read their posts. I highly recommend it for anyone involved with, or interested in, any type of additive processes.

Monday 4 January 2010

A New Decade — A New Outlook?

2010! A new year, a new decade — a very good time to reflect and to look ahead. I can't quite believe how fast the last year, indeed the last ten years have flown by. Probably a sign of my age, but let's not dwell on that.

Happy New Year to anyone reading this in the next week or so. I really do hope that the next twelve months will be as happy and as engaging as the previous 12. As I take stock, I am quite astounded that I have spent a whole 12 months now working for myself, and it has gone so much better than I could ever have imagined this time last year. I love it. Particularly the fact that I have been fortunate enough to work with some truly inspirational people, promoting companies and products that I genuinely believe in. All but one project that I worked on throughout 2009 was focused on the additive manufacturing (AM) / 3D Printing (3DP) industry, which is probably not that surprising really, but I am truly delighted to still be so involved in this fascinating and dynamic industry sector.

Keeping abreast of all of the news and updates is a little more challenging than it was before launching RPES, as the information no longer lands in my inbox, I have to actively search for it. That said, the breadth of my knowledge is still growing and as the result of signing a couple of NDAs with my clients I am also extending the depth of my knowledge, and it is compelling, to say the least.

I am not yet convinced that 2010 is going to be as easy as some commentators predict, I think there will still be a distinct cautious approach to business. However, overall AM & 3DP has fared quite well (comparatively speaking) and I do believe that these sectors will continue to move forward and grow this year.

One company in particular that I think will have a major impact on the uptake and therefore growth of the 3DP market is A1 Technologies. As I mentioned before, I am lucky enough to be working with a number of companies that I personally believe will make a big difference, and A1 Technologies epitomises this for me. The company supplies a range of quality but low-cost hardware for product development — specifically 3D printers, a 3D scanner and 3D interactive software (http://www.rap-man.com/index.asp). And when I say low-cost, I mean very easily affordable for ANY budget. And just to clarify, when I say quality, I mean extremely competitive with comparable products that cost up to 10x as much. This is the key to unlocking the potential of these technologies, providing high calibre products at a price that virtually any company is able to consider. The hard part is convincing people that it is for real and that the products themselves are not inferior just because they do have such a low price tag. Overcoming the skepticism is a major mission for me this year!

The other angle that A1 Technologies is approaching increased uptake from is that of education and getting the technologies into the hands of students — tomorrow's engineers — and not just those at university. By increasing awareness from primary school age upwards, the availability of these technologies will infiltrate the consciousness of a whole new generation of designers and engineers, engaging minds that may not have considered engineering as a career path. The pay-off from this approach will take some time to achieve, but there is no doubt that the pay-off for the product development industry and manufacturing in general, will be huge.

2010 is going to be a really interesting year and I am very much looking forward to it.