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Favorite Products of 2008

February 28, 2009

Filed under: review — Terry Wohlers @ 12:11

As I have done in the past, I’ve identified a few products from the past year that have been as good or better than expected. Here goes ….

1) Seagate portable drive. The 250 GB FreeAgent Go portable disk drive from Seagate is slick, especially compared to my older portable drives. It measures 11 x 80 x 130 mm (0.45 x 3.15 x 5.1 inches), weighs 170 grams (6 ounces), and fits in a small pocket. A USB connection is all that is needed for both power and data transfer. It works particularly well for backing up and storing data off site. I purchased two, each for $65 (with discounts). The product is also available in a 500 GB version.

2) HP laser printer. The LaserJet P2015d printer from Hewlett-Packard is an excellent product. With a discount, I paid $333 for it. We’ve had it for six months and found it to work beautifully in a small office. We paid $1,995 for our last (and first) laser printer—the LaserJet 4M—and it lasted 20 years. The new printer is smaller, lighter, faster, and quieter than the old one and it prints on the front and back of the page. The toner is slighter more expensive than before, but it’s still inexpensive compared to inkjet cartridges.

3) ThinkPad laptop. I liked my Panasonic Toughbook a lot, but after more than four years of use, it was time to hand it down to one of the kids. After considerable research, I purchased the ThinkPad X300 for $1,999. I use it almost exclusively for travel, so size and weight were very important. It is only 22 mm (0.87 inch) thick and weighs 1.45 kg (3.2 lbs). Yet the screen measures 340 mm (13.4 inches) diagonally. The other features are good too, except for one: The standard battery provides only about two hours of use and I was led to believe that it would last about twice as long. I’ve done everything possible to minimize the use of power, except for switching off the wireless radio because I use it a lot. Even so, I like the computer and I’m glad I bought it.

4) Spore Creature Creator. I’m not a video game player, but this is an exception. My interest in it is from a custom product design and manufacturing perspective. Spore Creature Creator allows you to create intriguing creatures in minutes that can then be manufactured on a color 3D printer from Z Corp. Go to if you’re interested. Without spending any time learning how to use the software, I was creating interesting creatures in less than five minutes and having fun doing it. Best of all, a version of the product is available for free at

I appreciate when companies produce and deliver products that exceed my expectations. Over the past year, four computer-related products stood out above the rest. Thanks to Seagate, Lenovo, HP, and Electronic Arts for making life a bit better for their customers.

3D Printing at SolidWorks World

February 14, 2009

Filed under: additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,event — Terry Wohlers @ 09:03

I attended this week’s SolidWorks World 2009 in Orlando, Florida. If the event had a theme, it would have been 3D printing. You didn’t have to look far or listen long to see or hear about it.

In his keynote presentation, Jeff Ray, CEO of SolidWorks, discussed a start-up company that had designed a wind turbine for homes. The model that Ray showed was produced on a PolyJet 3D printer from Objet Geometries. Ray gave the model to special guest speaker Sir Richard Branson, the English industrialist best known for his Virgin brand of more than 350 companies.

Jon Hirschtick is a founder of SolidWorks, was the company’s first CEO, and continues to serve as group executive. In his keynote, Hirschtick named 3D printing as one of four key trends that will impact the future of CAD. The other trends were touch/motion user interfaces, on-line applications, and video game technology.

Two SolidWorks customers—New Balance and Sony Ericsson—presented after Hirschtick’s keynote. Both talked about the value of 3D printing and showed example after example of its importance. And then, an individual from toy manufacturer MEGA was recognized and this recognition showed MEGA’s work with 3D printing. I was beginning to think that I was at a 3D printing event. The Partner Pavilion (i.e., exposition) included machines and parts from Envisiontec, Dimension/Stratasys, Objet Geometries, 3D Systems, and Z Corp. And, a few service providers were also on hand.

And, when I thought I saw it all, two engineers/entertainers from Discovery channel’s Prototype This appeared on stage. Mike North, a mechanical engineer, and Joe Grand, an electrical engineer, showed and demonstrated some of their inventions from the television show. What else did they discuss? You guessed it: 3D printing. When the producers of the show discovered the power of 3D printing technology, they wanted to build everything with it.

I walked away with the distinct feeling that CAD companies are finally “getting it.” Hirschtick stated that 3D printing will become a key part of the CAD designer’s daily experience. “If you haven’t seen 3D printing lately, you haven’t seen it,” he said.