When I saw Fabbaloo’s title for their coverage of 3D Systems at CES on Twitter last night: “3D Systems Launches …… Everything!” I couldn’t stop myself from laughing out loud. I’m a big fan of Kerry — his knowledge and his sense of humour. On the ‘everything’ front, it certainly seemed that way, what with 3D Systems’ introduction of a plethora of consumer facing 3D printing products, services and apps, that have blown everyone else, including their nearest (but certainly not dearest) competitors out of the water this week, but don’t write Stratasys off quite yet — I hear there is something big coming at the end of the month at SolidWorks World.
But back to the new reveals from 3DS, all coming to market this year, which include ceramics, prosumer jetting technology, ipad scanning and FOOD! Attractive, edible — non-tummy-turning 3D printed food. It seemed to cover pretty much “everything”, but that was all before what must surely be the final CES hurrah from the company (although at current rates you would hardly bet on it). The latest announcement came last night as 3DS’ CEO, Avi Reichental personally introduced global entertainer, entrepreneur and philanthropist will.i.am as the company’s new Chief Creative Officer to a rapt crowd.
Apparently this is a real job with a real leadership role for the celebrity, who has been charged with inspiring, shaping and driving “all of 3DS’ initiatives to mainstream the use of 3D printing through major collaborations with creative brand partners, innovative global campaigns and educational grand challenges designed to grow the popularity of 3D printing.”
Given his status and profile with an international creative industry network thrown in for good measure, it is not inconceivable that will.i.am will be able to immediately extend the reach of 3D printing, already on an astonishing upward trajectory of its own, into select high-end fashion accessories houses, leading entertainment and life style brands and key corporate sponsored educational and sustainability initiatives.
He seems pretty stoked about the venture anyway, saying: “3D printing lets you get involved, be a part of the creative process and the story of the items you make. For me it’s a dream come true to work with 3D Systems, the company that invented 3D printing and launched an entire platform that all other industries depend on. I am so thrilled to begin to fuse my creativity and experience with the technology that is poised to change how we create, make and express ourselves.”
Similarly Avi: “We’re excited to partner with a pop culture influencer of will.i.am’s calibre who really gets 3D printing and its potential. will.i.am is a global tastemaker who embodies the essence of creativity and entrepreneurship, and we are fortunate to have him as our guide on this exciting journey.”
This week, I have to say, I do feel like there has been another shift. After all that has gone before over the course of the years — bigging up rapid prototyping, convincing people that additive manufacturing was real, the hype around 3D printing and moderating it — now it does feel like consumers can engage with 3D printing with a reduced risk of disappointment, a risk that, for a variety of reasons, always needed to be pointed out. It still does really, but the shift I can see, has happened because of the monumental efforts of 3D Systems, led by Avi, who really does believe consumers are the key market and has done for a while, even in the face of antagonistic disbelievers. All those acquisitions are just now starting to come together and fuse into a product range that truly does look as though it will democratise 3D printing in line with the company’s vision. None of this negates the more immersed industrial sector, the superior 3D printing technologies that it demands or the different approach that it needs either. Consumer engagement levels are going to vary over the next year or three, inflated expectations are still a concern, but the point is, I really think we’re moving past consumers just talking about it excitedly, and onto doing it! It won’t just be 3D Systems that benefits either — they will pull many of the smaller players along with them. This is good for the entire 3D printing industry.
Image Credit: @On3Dprinting