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Solidimension Finally on a Roll

August 31, 2004

Filed under: additive manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 08:54

Since 1999, Solidimension of Be’erot Itzhak, Israel has been developing a 3D printer based on the lamination of PVC plastic. The unit is slightly larger than a desktop document printer and is priced at about $27,000 in Japan. It uses a pen plotter mechanism to deposit a solvent and to cut successive layers of plastic. The appearance of the models have improved dramatically over the recent past.

When I visited Solidimension in January 2001, the company was in the process of manufacturing 10 machines for beta testing. To the best of my knowledge, few of these machines were placed at customer sites. In March 2003, I was informed that the company was once again manufacturing 10 beta machines. Over this same period, the company had undergone several management changes and its direction and future were unclear.

The company is now on track, in a big way. Last year, Solidimension quietly formed a partnership with Graphtec Corp. of Yokohama, Japan. Graphtec is a leading manufacturer of precision imaging products for the sign, graphics, and CAD industries. In February 2004, it was announced that the two companies had signed an agreement for the distribution of Solidimension’s XD700 3D Printer in Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Australia, Germany, France, and the UK. (On 28 September, Graphtec introduced the machine to the UK market at an exhibition in Birmingham, England.)

Most recently, the two companies signed an agreement whereby Solidimension would deliver 900 3D printers worth $18 million to Graphtec. That’s right: 900 of them! As of early August, the company had reportedly sold 85 machines, including a small number in Europe. The product is being sold by Graphtec under its own brand name in Asia Pacific and Europe.

SME is a Different Organization

August 14, 2004

Filed under: review — Terry Wohlers @ 14:28

In the 1980s, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers had 80,000 members. Today, SME has about 37,000 members. When membership was at its peak, individual members would frequently attend chapter meetings, conferences, and seminars conducted by SME, and would benefit from SME as a primary source of information. 

Times have changed. No longer does a manufacturing professional need to attend a program, buy a video, or subscribe to a publication to obtain the latest on a particular technology or subject related to manufacturing engineering. The Internet has made it possible to receive updated information at almost no cost from the comfort of an office or home. This has presented SME and other societies and associations with the challenge of offering something special to attract and retain members.

I have always strongly believed that one of the greatest benefits of belonging to an association, or attending a conference or meeting, is meeting people, strengthening relationships, and exploring opportunities for new business. Some of the same can be achieved with email correspondence, list servers, and Internet discussion groups, although to a much lesser extent.

SME knew that it needed to do something to engage and retain its members and attract new ones. That’s when it formed the Manufacturing Enterprise Council (MEC) in 2000 to study the problem and propose a solution. The MEC has since helped SME “renovate” its association and membership structure through a major reorganization. SME’s 12 associations, including the Rapid Prototyping Association (RPA/SME), are currently being transformed into the relatively new Technical Community Network, launched in 2001, that consists of seven umbrella groups called communities. One of them is the Rapid Technologies & Additive Manufacturing Community, the new home for RPA/SME members.

When I first heard about the new structure, I was unsure about the steps that SME was taking. RPA/SME is near and dear to my heart, having been a part of it from the beginning. As I asked questions and learned more about the Technical Community Network, it became clear to me that the old association structure had served a useful purpose, but it was time for retirement. The society desperately needed to find ways to involve members and add value to being involved.  

The leaders of each technical community are forming tech groups that focus on special interests and technical subjects. These tech groups are becoming a vital part of the new structure. Members and non-members participate in them through conference calls, live meetings, and email discussions. For example, the Rapid Tooling Tech Group is in the process of creating software that will help individuals select the best tooling solution for a particular problem. Manufacturing professionals are getting involved because they can see that real problems are being addressed and solutions are underway.

It’s too early to know whether the Technical Community Network will boost SME’s membership numbers to levels of the past. To date, the results are encouraging. The society is engaging far more members than it had prior to the change, although it’s not yet known exactly how successful the new structure will become. Some 47 tech groups have developed or are under development within the seven technical communities. This, alone, is impressive. To learn more, or to join one of them, go to http://www.sme.org and click on “Technical Communities” found in the blue navigation area.

Joel Orr’s Book is a Masterpiece

August 2, 2004

Filed under: review — Terry Wohlers @ 11:08

A remarkable piece of work. An amazing collection of thoughts and ideas. These words refer to Structure is Destiny: The Dandelion Paradox, a book authored by consultant and visionary Dr. Joel N. Orr and published recently by ZEM Press. A major part of the book discusses greatness and what it is (and is not) to be great. Much of greatness, Joel believes, comes from how an organization is structured. Most are organized in a hierarchical fashion, like pyramids where great people are buried, he proclaims. Joel proposes a family-like structure that he compares to the growth and self-replication of the ordinary dandelion. “Great organizations promote individual greatness, are structured like families, and founded on the respect for individual rights,” Joel explained in the opening of the book.

Anyone can relate to Structure is Destiny and benefit from the principles that are so gracefully detailed in it. Some of the pages that resonated with me most are those that discuss accountability, honesty, integrity, and commitment. His words came to me at a time when I was (and still am) recovering from the betrayal of a friend’s trust. I began to highlight sentences and found that I was highlighting entire pages. I felt that they were written specifically for me. Others have given similar accounts of Joel’s extraordinary ability to speak and write. I have had the privilege of knowing Joel personally for more than 20 years and have utmost respect for him as a person, for what he says, and for how he conducts his life and business. 

Many of Joel’s thoughts, and the expression of them, are profound. Joel has a very special way of weaving into his publications and public speaking subject matter from across wide-ranging disciplines, people, and periods of time that grip your attention. His new book is an exceptional example of it. 

Indeed, Joel Orr is a genius in every sense of the word and his new book is a reflection of his brilliance. I recommend the book to those who want to consider a much-improved way of restructuring their organization, whether it is a small, family-owned business or Fortune 500 company. The ideas also apply to professional societies and associations, clubs, government agencies, and other types of organizations. Every organization, regardless of size, age, or focus, should consider its principles. To learn more about the 206-page softbound publication, visit http://www.structureisdestiny.com.