After the workshops on Wednesday, with a copy of the full and final conference programme and having seen the exhibition space materialize on the same day, my hopes were high for the Inside 3D Printing conference and exhibition at the Jacob Javits Convention centre in New York on Thursday and Friday. And I was not to be disappointed. What transpired was a couple of days of 3D printing focused insight and excitement; professionally organized to deliver participants — whether exhibitor, speaker, delegate, networker or any combination thereof — with opportunities aplenty.
Personally, the greatest difficulty I encountered was balancing my time between the two excellent conference programme streams (the ability to split my self in two would have been a welcome bonus) and getting to meet people on the show floor — exhibitors and visitors alike.
Being in New York for the first time inevitably meant that I was going to meet people that I have “known” for years, without having met them face-to-face — this proved to be the best reason in the world for making the trip. In the Internet age, I know I am guilty of taking easy and instant communication for granted, but what this trip did, well attended as it was, is reinforce that there is no substitute for meeting people in person.
Back to the conference programme, which was expertly put together by Stewart Quealy of Mediabistro. Having had the pleasure of Stewart’s company, among others, at dinner on Tuesday evening, it was clear that the time and effort that had gone into producing such a broad and relevant 3D printing line-up was considerable. Having been there and done that, Stewart deserves full credit for pulling it off, not to mention some lovely networking touches as part of his VC duties in the auditorium. The 3D printer giveaways were well received and generated palpable excitement in the packed out room, but didn’t come close to creating the same buzz as when Stewart encouraged all delegates to turn around and introduce themselves to someone close by. Lots of feedback suggested this had worked beyond superficial hellos and got people talking and making new, real contacts. For example, I introduced myself to the marketing manager of Hersheys and I have his card, nice chap. He also has my card “for when they announce the real details of the partnership with 3D Systems.
Talking of, 3D Systems’ inimitable CEO, and regular keynote speaker on the 3D printing event circuit, gave the first address at this conference with his usual panache. After opening on a personal note about inheriting his passion for making from his Polish grandfather, it rather tickled me when, oh so casually, he dropped in the line: “We invented this space about 31 years ago.” This was accompanied by a slide showing the very first part ever 3D printed, by Chuck Hull, on an SLA platform.
Outlining primary drivers for the 3D printing industry, as well as highlighting inspirational case studies, for me there were a couple of important takeaways from Avi’s presentation. One was in relation to the “complexity is free” mantra – which, as Avi explained, he used to think was all about personalization! But, he said, “I was wrong.” He now believes this includes manufacturing high volumes of products that can not be produced any other way!!
He then cited Project ARA, from Google, which having been announced, will launch sometime next year, and involves high speed, high volume 3D printing producing 10’s of thousands of identical products per day on continuous systems, in collaboration with 3DS. Quite a feat, if and when they pull it off.
Two other major themes that Avi covered, which also emerged as topic trends over the two days — both in presentations and in conversations with different people — were education and the opportunities 3D printing brings. While great opportunities exist for large, multi-national OEMs right through the product development process, those same opportunities are also available for small companies and even individuals. Brent Stucker had touched on this the previous day in his workshop and many people I spoke to are looking to capitalize on them, hence their presence at the show, in part.
Avi rounded up with another great one-liner: “We are no good at predicting the future – we are making it.”
I was also able to interview Avi later in the day, it’ll be up soon on 3DPI.TV.
One of my personal highlights was meeting Brian Federal in the flesh. I have known Brian for some years, having conducted some European based interviews for him while I was still freelancing for his documentary film about the “3D Printing Revolution.” Originating from his combined passion for the technology and film-making, Brian has been on a long journey that has taken him far and wide, speaking with some of the biggest names across the industry. His presentation at Inside 3DP gave delegates some insight into the film, with some original “digital sketches” teasing the audience about what will come in the full film. It’s going to be amazingly comprehensive, if the trailers are anything to go by.
Another presentation that was full of passion was given by Christine Furtoss of GE Global Research. And while there was not much depth to the presentation in terms HOW GE is actually using additive manufacturing, the audience was left in no doubt that investment was considerable in the technology and it is playing a big role in product development now, with a view to a similar level of application for manufacturing in the future.
A key take away from Christine’s impassioned delivery was the “opportunity to set new standards and get a new generation engaged with manufacturing like never before.”
Neri Oxman was the second strong and inspiring woman in a row to present at Inside 3DP. Unusual in itself, but welcome. Neri reviewed her work with MIT and her exploration of functional materials based on her inspiration from the natural world and material regeneration within a 3D printing framework. Citing, of course, her fascination with mythology as well as her personal exploration of material and 3D printing solutions for carpal tunnel syndrome.
The other stand out presentation was given by Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk, on the morning of the third day. I have covered this in a separate post as it was impossible for me to condense it into a paragraph or two and do it justice.
Across the two days I did spend a lot of time on the exhibition floor, both at the 3DPI booth, and visiting the stands to talk to vendors. I heard numerous times from people who had been at the first NYC edition of this event last year, just how much bigger this was, and yet just as busy, if not more so. Indeed, both days, the stands were hard to reach easily, with crowds three deep waiting to see more and talk more.
As platinum sponsor, 3D Systems unsurprisingly took up the most floor space. The glaring omission was any Stratasys branding, profiling of the company’s portfolio was left to reseller Cimquest. More than a little bit odd, I must say, particularly considering that NYC is MakerBot’s home turf. Similarly Shapeways. Both companies had sent representatives to host workshops on day one, but this did nothing to quell the gossip. I heard a number of theories as to why these companies were absent. Regardless of specific tittle-tattle, some that had merit and some that definitely did not, the overall consensus was that it did give the impression of disinterest and aloofness at a premier event in a premier location.
Mcor, as ever, had a spectacular presence at the show. What it lacked in size (compared with 3DS) it more than made up for in personality and colour. The guys were constantly inundated, and the interest in the full-colour 3D printing process that utilizes standard A4 paper was phenomenal.
I also stopped by to talk with XYZ Printing, makers of the Da Vinci line of 3D printers who had the second largest stand; Solidoodle, the lovely Joe and Zac from Afinia and — believe it or not — BotObjects. Yes, they were there, in person with a fully functional machine. I finally got to speak with Martin and Mike in person, and ended up chatting for the best part of half an hour. They are shipping now, much to their relief, and the relief of their customers; delays were caused by production and testing issues — they weren’t the first and certainly not the last to experience that, I imagine. But when pressed about the perception of the company by the outside world as a result of their marketing strategy, they were wholly unapologetic. It’s their strategy, their business, they see (and say) that it is working, and that’s good enough for them — they don’t give a jot about what anyone else thinks. So, while I don’t necessarily agree that their strategy is the best one, I respect their right to it and came away thinking they are not bad people, just extremely thick skinned.
Perhaps the most surprising exhibitor for me was Xerox. If it had been HP or even Epson, I don’t think I would have been as surprised (neither were there by the way). However, stopping to speak to Rebecca McKechnie, Director of Business Development for Xerox Research Centre of Canada, this is a different 3D printing market approach for Xerox. It is all about R&D into materials development — filament, resin polymers, composites, essentially whatever the market needs. And the company’s 40 year resume in this area is very strong, but until recently it has been based on fulfilling internal demand at the global corporation, Rebecca told me. Now they are looking for partners in the 3D printing industry.
There were so many other American friends and colleagues that I met, it would be very hard to do them all justice here in this short space. But highlights were Mike and Danielle who I correspond with umpteen times a day on 3DPI. Even more beautiful beings in person. Todd Blatt, of Tinkerine, with the George Washington bust. That was spectacular, I could have stayed touching that all day. Todd was very active in the Maker Summit, organized in parallel to the main conference sessions, and a wonderful advocate at that. Interviewing Ioan Florea about his car and house was another wonderful experience, such a nice guy. I still need to finish transcribing that, but the the remnants of jetlag are making that more difficult that it should otherwise be.
It was brilliant to meet some of 3DPI’s other regular contributors too. Both Gary Anderson and John Hornick were in attendance (and involved in the programme) — both lived up to their reputations and it was nice to chat without having to press send.
It was great catching up with Ulf Linde of Netfabb. We compared jetlag — he won, made me feel like a bit of a wimp actually.
Hod Lipson was another personal highlight for me — such a knowledgeable guy and true gentleman. His advocacy of 3D printing over the years, backed by action is beyond admirable. Similarly Michael Raphael of Direct Dimensions, who kept me smiling, even when I was faltering with tiredness.
Meeting Ron Rose was another highlight, a guy that has had success in a previous life and is now looking to do good with 3D printing. He searched me out to tell me about his new venture, a website, currently in beta called 3DP4E.org. The formal launch is coming later this month on April 24th at New York Tech Day. Designed to be an information hub for the 3D Printing and Digital Fabrication Community, the intent behind the site is to develop a comprehensive resource for academic institutions interested in implementing digital fabrication into their curriculums — a service provided to all for free.
And thus education within and about 3D printing came to the fore yet again. There was also a panel session dedicated to it on the programme. Called ‘Lessons Learned: 3D Printers in the Classroom’ the panel consisted of Haytham Elhawary, Director of Zahn Innovation Center; Tom Meeks, Training Director of the YouthQuest Foundation; Joseph Scott, VP of Scott Associates; and Laura Taalman, Professor at the Dept of Mathematics & Statistics at James Madison University. Identifying the gap between 3D printers in the classroom and then incorporating them into learning the panel discussed how to address this disparity.
The biggest barrier comes down, unsurprisingly, to educational standards and bureaucracy and the glacial speed of change in the education system(s) — the plural referring to countries other than the US. It is a global problem.
The solution, discussed informally, is to fight the standard curriculum and go beyond what students have to know and actually get hands on! Again, unsurprisingly, there was a consensus that nothing is better than to experience learning with a 3D printer — there are some teachers that do go out on their own to get creative and work around the standards. But this brought up the question: what about the kids that don’t have a creative teacher! It’s a lottery.
Another important take away was that failure is VERY important as a learning mechanism. None of this “there is no wrong answer” nonsense. Tom Meeks attitude was: “If you’re not failing, you’re not trying!” Success means nothing if you haven’t failed first and learning why something didn’t work and working out how to fix it is an essential learning experience.
Couldn’t agree more.
Across the two days, I was bowled over by the number of people that made a point of searching me out to tell me how valuable a resource they found 3DPI to be. When I mentioned it to a colleague they asked me why I was surprised? I didn’t really have an answer, suffice to say that I was, and continue to be, genuinely grateful for the ongoing support of our readers. At the end of the day the wonderful team I work with do what they do for you. So if you see us out and about at shows or just want to drop us a line to let us know what we can do better — please do. We’re stuck in our own bubbles more often than not and it’s great to get your perspectives.
Also, watch out for a review of Inside 3D Printing NYC in pictures coming later in the week.