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Carl Bass and IDEAS

May 28, 2011

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,event,future — Terry Wohlers @ 14:20

I was presented with the opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk. I had never met him, so I jumped at the chance. I found that he is not the typical chief executive of a $2 billion company. He was down to earth, very focused on our conversation, and did not seem rushed, even though an event with special international guests was about to begin.

Unlike most executives, Carl gets his hands dirty, literally. He likes to create and build stuff, such as baseball bats for a Little League team that he has coached. He also uses design software and produces parts with 3D printing. His company owns and operates several 3D printers and he and his employees are excited about how the technology could develop in the future.

I was very lucky to receive an invitation to attend a special Carl Bass event this week at the beautiful Autodesk Gallery facility in downtown San Francisco. Initially, I had mixed feelings about it, only because it partially conflicted with the successful RAPID 2011 Conference & Exposition held in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It turned out that I made the right decision to accept the invitation. Before going to Autodesk, I attended the Maker Faire in San Mateo, along with about 95,000 others. This, in itself, was an intriguing and worthwhile experience. I also caught an interesting presentation by Carl Bass at the Maker Faire.

The Autodesk program was a part of its relatively new IDEAS: The Innovation + Design Series—a “think tank” format made up of hand-picked individuals from around the world. The event was titled Reimaging Manufacturing: The Technologies Driving the New Industrial Revolution. It focused largely on the making of objects and products with 3D printing and how this technology might change the face of manufacturing in the future. Among the relatively small group in attendance were Chris Anderson of Wired magazine, Neil Gershenfield of MIT, Mitch Free of, and Ping Fu of Geomagic.

The discussions were stimulating and the thinking associated with 3D printing and additive manufacturing was much more advanced than I had anticipated. Many of these people are not “contaminated” by the additive manufacturing problems and limitations of the past. Those in attendance, including several Autodesk executives and Carl Bass himself, have strong and interesting views of where these tools might go in the future and how they could shape entirely new markets, opportunities, and business models. I felt very lucky to have been a part of it, but sincerely wish I could have stayed for the entire event.

Health of U.S. Manufacturing

May 15, 2011

Filed under: manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 07:42

The February 28, 2011 issue of Plastics News explained that the U.S. continues to lead the world in manufacturing output. It is ahead of Germany and Japan, and exceeds China by 40%, which I found surprising. The source of this information is economic futurist Jeff Thredgold. He said that the output per U.S. worker is three times what it was in 1980.

The report from Thredgold and Plastics News is at odds with a March 15, 2011 article published in, a site that provides news and commentary from Asia. It said that after more than 100 years of dominance, the U.S. was surpassed by China last year as the world’s top manufacturer. The article cited IHS Global Insight as the source of this information. It went on to say that China secured 19.8% of total manufacturing in 2010, compared to the U.S.’s 19.4%. Japan and Germany were a distant third and fourth.

Meanwhile, the February 1, 2011 issue of the Daily Executive Briefing published by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers stated that the U.S. is by far the number one country in manufacturing, out producing China by more than 40%—consistent with Thredgold’s estimate. The May 5, 2011 issue of the same publication then reported that the U.S. will retake the lead in manufacturing by 2015, according to the Boston Consulting Group. So who or what does one believe?

In fairness to those producing and reporting this information, each source has its methods of conducting market research. Digging into the exact methodologies might explain the discrepancies, but market researchers usually do not disclose their methods for competitive reasons. My conclusion is that the health of U.S. manufacturing is very good, whether it’s in first or second place. From what I see and hear, companies that survived the Great Recession are now thriving and some are doing exceptionally well. Let’s hope it continues.