Blog Menu

Time with John Holdren

September 29, 2012

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,event — Terry Wohlers @ 18:48

I had the privilege of spending a couple hours with John Holdren yesterday. Dr. Holdren is the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). In this role, he serves as President Obama’s assistant and top advisor on science and technology in the U.S.

I found Dr. Holdren to be incredibly bright, personable, and a good listener. He understands the importance of innovation and manufacturing in the U.S. We are lucky to have people like him, Tom Kalil, Tom Kurfess, and Gene Sperling at OSTP. Kalil is the Deputy Director of Policy and also serves as the “head of innovation,” according to Holdren. Kurfess is on a one-year assignment at the White House as Assistant Director for Advanced Manufacturing. I’ve worked with both and they are first class. Sperling is the Assistant to the President for Economic Policy, a cabinet level position. I was lucky enough to meet him at the official announcement of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII). The ribbon cutting ceremony for NAMII in Youngstown, Ohio was three days ago, with about 200 people present.

Yesterday’s meeting with Dr. Holdren was part of a small and informal roundtable organized by and held at the Center for Renewable Energy and Economic Development (CREED) in Golden, Colorado. CREED is a part of the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The event was chaired by Stephen Miller, president and CEO of CREED. He did an outstanding job with the meeting.

When introducing myself, I briefly discussed additive manufacturing and 3D printing. I mentioned a couple benefits of the technology, including the savings of material for metal parts, compared to machining them, which can result in 80-90% of the material becoming scrap in the form of chips. I also mentioned the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation and NAMII. OSTP is closely involved with this new activity.

An important part of yesterday’s agenda was 15-20 minutes of comments from Dr. Holdren. He discussed a number of issues for the U.S., including the vital importance of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. He underscored President Obama’s belief that it is the single most important activity for the future.

I was thrilled when he spoke of the importance of additive manufacturing and 3D printing. And, he visibly lit up when he began to discuss it. He explained that the technology is a win, win, win for our country and mentioned how impressed he was by some aerospace parts he saw recently that were 3D printed in titanium. He did not know that two titanium parts, including a hip implant, were sitting an arm’s length from him and in front of me. I later showed him the parts and gave one to him, as well as three other parts. He expressed interest in the hip implant, so I promised to send one to him.

After meeting with people like Holdren, I am encouraged by the direction of our nation in science and technology. He and his team understand the importance of engineering and manufacturing. Holdren and others at the roundtable enjoyed overviews of two Colorado companies and how they expect to impact the future use of energy. One is Fabriq, which provides wireless, computer-based dimming of lights in buildings of all types. The other is EcoVapor Recovery Systems, which provides vapor recovery technology for oil and gas wells. Companies, such as these, coupled with good people in Washington, give me hope and optimism for the future of our great nation.

The Tipping Point

September 15, 2012

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 00:11

Malcolm Gladwell is the author of several bestselling books, including Outliers: The Story of Success, which is one of my favorites. Ten years ago, he authored a book titled The Tipping Point. Gladwell describes the “tipping point” as that moment when an idea or trend crosses a threshold and spreads like wildfire.

Has additive manufacturing and 3D printing—I use the terms interchangeably—reached the tipping point? The accumulation of activity over the past 12 months suggests that it may have hit this important milestone. The technology is receiving unprecedented attention by corporations of all sizes, the investment community, and government agencies around the world.

Two factors may be contributing. One is the use of the technology for parts going into final products. OEMs and suppliers in aerospace, medical, dental, and some consumer products industries are working diligently to identify parts and products for production by AM. Companies such as Boeing and Lima Corp. can point to examples where additive manufacturing is transforming the way in which they design and manufacture.

The other factor is the dramatic growth of “personal” 3D printers, which are those priced under $5,000, but more typically in the $1,000 to $2,000 range. This market segment has grown from 355 units in 2008 to an estimated 23,265 units last year, as published in Wohlers Report 2012. This activity, coupled with high end applications in aerospace, medical, etc., has captured the attention of the mainstream media, and they can’t seem to get enough of it. This is creating awareness and fueling interest among the masses. For corporations not yet using it, executives are asking, “Why not?” and this is creating a flurry of questions and research.

It’s not easy to know when a class of technology has reached the tipping point. Yet, as each month passes, it’s becoming apparent that additive manufacturing has indeed reached it. This means that new business opportunities in many industries could develop at a breakneck pace. This would lead to even more interest, investment, research and development, new products, and broader and deeper application. Now could not be a more exciting time to be a part of this exciting industry.

Idea 2 Product Labs

September 2, 2012

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,education,future,life,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 09:30

The Idea 2 Product (I2P) series of labs is an initiative that was launched in South Africa last year. The labs consist of CAD workstations and 3D printers for hands-on learning, experimentation, invention, and new product development. The primary goal of the labs is to offer opportunities for professional and economic development, especially in underdeveloped regions of South Africa and other parts of Africa.

The I2P initiative is the brainchild of professor Deon de Beer of Vaal University of Technology (Vanderbijlpark, South Africa). I have known Deon for 17 years and he has a track record of success with about everything he touches. If there’s a single individual responsible for helping to launch and grow additive manufacturing and 3D printing in South Africa, it is Deon. He has gained the respect of countless people from industry, academia, and government in South African and around the world.

Deon launched the first I2P lab at VUT in mid 2011 with the installation of 20 personal 3D printers—a historic first worldwide. (A personal 3D printer is one that sells for less than $5,000, but more typically $1,000 to $2,000.) He also created a smaller I2P lab with two 3D printers in a rural area of South Africa. He has ordered 70 additional 3D printers (20 have been received thus far) for four new I2P labs at educational institutions that are similar to community colleges here in the U.S. In parallel, he is creating I2P labs at three VUT satellite campuses and two more at science centers.

Deon has big future plans for I2P labs. Based on his past and current support from the South African government, I have no doubt that he will succeed. Deon envisions I2P labs across the African continent and already has tentative plans for labs in Zambia, Mozambique, and Botswana. In the meantime, he sees the potential for labs at up to 22 universities, 50 community colleges, 25 private institutions, 20 science centers, and many secondary and primary schools in South Africa. He is also gaining support for the first I2P 2Go mobile unit that would take 3D printers on the road to remote areas.

The impact that the I2P labs could have is almost beyond calculation. Each lab could introduce hundreds of people of all ages to CAD, design, product development, and manufacturing. This could lead to a dramatic increase in new ideas, new products, and new mini economies that would lead to improving economic conditions in underdeveloped regions. Rural areas living in poverty conditions could develop products that they could sell on “main street” within their community, as well as to neighboring communities. I applaud Deon’s efforts and fully expect that he and his I2P labs will make a dramatic and unprecedented difference.