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Chief Executive is Good for 3D Systems

January 31, 2004

Filed under: additive manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 09:56

At last month’s EuroMold 2004 exhibition in Frankfurt, I had the opportunity of spending some time with Abe Reichental, 3D Systems’ president and chief executive officer. He was hired in September 2003 to help the company climb out of its hole. Reichental came from Sealed Air Corp., maker of the popular Bubble Wrap packing material, where he served as vice president and general manager of the company’s Shrink Packaging Division.

Reichental is what the company had been lacking for some time. He has a fresh, get-it-done outlook and connects well with people. When I read the backside of his business card, I knew that he was not your average manager. Listed in red are five company priorities and at the top are customers. Some would argue that before Reichental’s arrival, customers were near the bottom. Other key priorities are cash flow, operational excellence, and innovation—areas in which the company had performed poorly over the past two years.

Reichental has made several management changes that should help the company. Kevin McAlea became senior vice president of Global Marketing, a change that should have occurred two years ago. Reichental has been successful at recruiting top managers from Sealed Air, such as Stephen Goddard, who is now vice president of Global Operations, and Robert Grace, 3D’s new general counsel and secretary. Other top-level changes include the addition of Fred Jones as chief financial officer and Bob Kayser as vice president of Global Sales. Ray Saunders, previously in charge of Operations and Development, became senior vice president of Global Services.

Combined, these changes should go a long way toward restoring customer confidence and loyalty, and I truly believe that the company is getting back on track. Time will tell, however, whether 3D’s board reacted soon enough to the company’s devastating decline.

There’s No Place like South Africa

January 17, 2004

Filed under: entertainment,life,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 10:26

I’m currently planning my fifth and sixth trips to South Africa. Except for the travel distance, I’m really looking forward to them. If you’ve been there, you know what I mean. The people are friendly, the food and wine are great, and the scenery and wildlife are spectacular.

When you visit the country, a big game safari is a must. Plan to spend at least three nights in a camp at Kruger National Park. This wildlife refuge is located in the east along the border of Mozambique and is the biggest and best. You will see everything from lions, cape buffalo, and wildebeest to rhinos, elephants, and baboons. The experience is absolutely amazing and unforgettable.

If you are a veg head (i.e., vegetarian), you may not appreciate the fine South African cuisine as much as me. It’s not unusual to have two or three meats, such as pork, lamb, and chicken, at a meal. They serve some wild game, but not as much as you’d expect. The red wines there are among the best anywhere and inexpensive.

On my first visit, I recall a visit to a convenience store and being helped by a clerk. He was a young black gentleman, probably in his mid-20s. He smiled, asked me how I was doing, and genuinely seemed to care. He went on to help me and wished me a good day when I left. You rarely get such good treatment from store clerks in many other parts of the world. This cheerful and helpful nature is typical throughout South Africa.

I was told that $1 was roughly equal to 1 South African rand a few decades ago. Less than two years ago, $1 would buy 10 rand. Today, the exchange rate is about $1 = 7.3 rand, so you can imagine how far the dollar will go. In November 2002, lunch for 10 adults at a very nice restaurant with a beautiful view (soft drinks and beer included) came to $23 total ($2.30 per person), and three people had beef steak.

Beautiful mountains and valleys, rivers and lakes, vineyards, breath-taking coastlines, game reserves, an abundant supply of natural resources, good educational institutions, wonderful and well-educated people (South African inventors are among the top 5% internationally) ….. South Africa has it all. At the same time, the country is not without its challenges, such as unemployment, a staggering number of HIV and AIDS victims, and a lot of crime some areas.

In 2000, a group of South Africans from industry and academia founded the Rapid Product Development Association of South Africa (RAPDASA). It focuses much of its attention on rapid prototyping and tooling. The association is planning its fifth annual conference scheduled for the week of November 2, 2004 in Bloemfontein, located in the central part (the heart) of the country. So, begin making plans now.

For a detailed account of my first trip to South Africa, visit http://wohlersassociates.com/safrica.html.

Mission: Space

January 10, 2004

Filed under: entertainment,life,review — Terry Wohlers @ 15:48

Have you ever envisioned yourself in a space vehicle and landing on the moon or Mars, but know that it probably won’t happen in your lifetime? The next best thing is Walt Disney World’s new “Mission: Space” adventure ride at Epcot. Believe me, it’s nothing short of spectacular. If someone would have blindfolded me, took me for a long car ride, and than sat me in the Disney simulator, I would have sworn I was on a space shuttle. They’ve made it so realistic that you believe you’re launching into space, with the rumbles, vibration, and 2.4 Gs of force to go with it. And the high resolution displays give you incredibly realistic visuals.

Mission: Space is somewhat of a technical marvel. To build a simulator that accommodates a few astronauts is an achievement, but to build one that can handle 160 people at once (4 centrifuges x 10 capsules per centrifuge x 4 people per capsule) is something special. Fortunately, I had the opportunity not only to ride it, but to get an up-close look at its back side. Michael Siemer, an engineer at Disney’s Ride & Show Engineering, was responsible for the design and production of the space capsules, and was my host. Michael explained that in designing and prototyping the ride, Disney tapped some of the best resources available. Among them were NASA engineers, a well-known simulator and centrifuge designer, and several past and present astronauts.

So, if you don’t expect to launch into space anytime soon, but would like to experience the thrill, visit Epcot. I promise: You won’t regret it!