Friday, April 4, 2014

Technology: 3D Printing - A Glance Into The Future

(Drivebycuriosity) - Yesterday I saw the future. I visited the "Inside 3D Printing Convention" at the Javits Convention Center, New York City (mediabistro). This is a kind of global traveling circus which shows new developments in 3D printing - "the third industrial revolution" - around the world. The convention comprises a row of speeches about the state of art in the industry and an exhibition where the producers display their machines & programs.

This year´s show was larger than last year`s, more exhibitors (producers of 3D printers, software and materials, now around 25) needed more room. This shows the growing importance of the new technology and may also be a response to the stock market rally of the leading providers in the recent 12 months: 3D Systems Corporation (NYSE:DDD) gained more than 70% (google) and Stratasys, Ltd. (NASDAQ:SSYS) climbed almost 50% (google).

But the technology is still in an early phase. The displayed 3D printers looked a bit like microwaves but they are much more sophisticated. They all have a moving part which resembles a sled, but this device is much more complex. Watching those "sleds" - which are steered by some software - reminded me a bit of icing a cake. But I guess, the picture of a spider, who spins its web by emitting silk, is more appropriate. Anyway the displayed machines use cables of plastics or metals which get melted inside. Then their jets - which are working like the glands of a spider - are adding layer on layer which produces any kind of shape the software demands.

The exhibition showed a piece by Ioan Florea. The artist used 3D printing technologies, nano-materials, and his original transfer technique to customize a classic Ford Torino. I guess you won`t meet this car on the streets, but the gives an expression how the technology can be used already.

According to Wikipedia the 3D printing technology is used in architecture, construction, industrial design, automotive, aerospace, military, engineering, dental and medical industries, biotech (human tissue replacement), fashion, footwear, jewelry, eyewear, education, geographic information systems, food, and many other fields (wikipedia). The industry aims to produce almost any product designed particularly for each consumer with the low cost of industrial mass production.

The convention - and the exhibition -  attracted a lot of visitors: Engineers, consultants, stock market analysts, geeks, curious bohemians and TV reporters from Fox and other media. I plan to visit this convention again if it comes back to New York City sometimes.

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