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The World Series

October 30, 2007

Filed under: event,life — Terry Wohlers @ 17:59

I’m not a big baseball fan, but it was impossible to ignore the Colorado Rockies this October. No one expected the team to go nearly as far as it did. My family and I got caught up in it all and wanted to attend a World Series game, so we did. The Rockies did not do well in the series, but they did almost everything to perfection to get there. In the end, the team was outmatched by the Red Sox, a ball club that has been playing the sport for 106 years, compared to 16 years for the Rockies.

The “World Series” name has bothered me for some time and it was even on my mind when we attended Game 4 Sunday night. I’ve often wondered how the rest of the world feels about the name, given that it doesn’t involve any teams outside North America. What right do we have calling it a world event when only our small corner of the world is involved? To answer the question, you need to do a little research, which I did.

The World Series was launched in 1903 and has been an annual event ever since, except for 1904 and 1994, according to Wikipedia. Near the beginning, North America—particularly the U.S. —was the only region of the world where highly skilled baseball was played. In fact, professional baseball was found only in the U.S. for decades into the 20th century. The World Series name, more or less, accurately reflected the championship playoff and it became deeply engrained over time.

Should the name be changed because other countries now play the sport at the professional level? That’s not for me to argue. I do know that changing a name of this magnitude is not likely to happen. In fact, I’ve never heard it discussed in any public forum. So, for those of you outside North America, I hope you can tolerate this grandiose name that we fling around. And, I hope you now better understand why we call it the World Series. I certainly do.

Most People Cannot Design

October 14, 2007

Filed under: additive manufacturing,future,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 08:20

Historically, additive fabrication (AF) has been used for applications such as modeling, prototyping, and making patterns for silicone rubber molds. In recent years, a growing number of companies have used it for custom and replacement part manufacturing, short-run production, and even series production. Research by Wohlers Associates shows that “rapid manufacturing” using AF has grown from 3.9% in 2003 to 11.7% in 2007.

As this trend continues, we can expect to see a much wider range of audiences embrace AF for the manufacture of almost everything imaginable. This activity will be supported by AF systems that dip down to $5,000 in price. When this occurs next year, these compact manufacturing machines will show up in unexpected places. Individuals operating from a spare room in their homes will manufacture one-off parts and finished products for a broad spectrum of customers.

Growing interest in AF could lead to anyone designing anything and then having it manufactured in an affordable way for the first time. Of course, there will be limitations in size, dimensional accuracy, and material options, especially with the inexpensive systems. The biggest limitation of all will be the abilities of the people doing the design. Most consumers do not have the basic knowledge and skills to create an interesting or useful product. What’s more, the average consumer has little interest in creating new designs, let alone the desire to learn how to use design software.

Even so, entrepreneurs will capitalize on a wealth of opportunities presented by low-cost AF. As they better understand the design deficiencies among the population, they will develop approaches to personalized design and manufacturing with specific limits built into the process. Nike’s nikeid.com provides a glimpse of how this might be possible. This beautifully created website permits you to create a custom pair of shoes quickly and affordably. Within a few minutes, you can personalize shoes using a range of interesting colors and you can add a school mascot and two-digit initials to the shoes.

In the future, many websites will appear that offer libraries of objects. An individual might select a vintage car, for example, from a library of automobiles. This person will be given the opportunity to select the style of wheels, headlights, front grill, hood ornament, and color, and indicate whether it is a convertible or hardtop. The site will allow you to make other design changes, such as altering the curve of a fender, but within preset limits. Making these kinds of changes would make the model car truly custom. A few clicks later, your collectable will be in the queue for production and shipment.

Indeed, AF will be used to produce custom products by a wide range of consumers. As the price of these “personal factories” drop, the idea will expand into new businesses that may be difficult to fathom. Most consumers cannot design, so tools will become available to assist them with the process of creating one-of-a-kind products.

Note: The international conference titled The Custom Manufacturing MegaTrend: Where China and the West Fit In will be held on December 7 at EuroMold 2007 in Frankfurt, Germany.

Google Alerts

October 1, 2007

Filed under: Internet,review — Terry Wohlers @ 12:48

I bumped into a guy recently at an industry event that had the following to say: “The single most important piece of information I picked at this time last year was the availability of Google Alerts.” The tip came as a response to a question from a CEO that asked, “What can users of 3D printing do to stay up-to-date and educated on some of the latest announcements and events in our industry?”

I’ve been using Google Alerts for years. The free service works like this: At www.google.com/alerts, indicate the term(s) that you’d like to have the service track for you. You can indicate the frequency (as they occur, daily, or weekly) and ask that it consider news, blogs, video, or groups. Or, you can request that Google follows all of these categories. Google then emails to you a link to the web page that contains the term, along with a couple lines from the page that includes the term.

Google Alerts is one of the most useful web-based tools. The fact that it is free is surprising to its users. It is easy to use and the information it uncovers is invaluable. It’s like having an army of researchers at your disposal, around the clock, seven days a week. Even they would not be able to canvas the world in such detail and breadth.