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A 3D Printer for Kids

October 15, 2011

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,education,entertainment,future — Terry Wohlers @ 08:20

Finally, a 3D printer for children. Well, it’s not yet available, but it’s in the works. Origo, a small startup in Belgium, is in the conceptual phase of product development. The goal: to offer a product that’s attractive to 10-year olds, and to make it as easy to use as an Xbox or Wii. The estimated price of $800 may be a little steep for kids and their parents, but it’s a starting point.

For more than a decade, I’ve sensed that a large market could develop for a very low-cost 3D printer targeted at children. Young people use their imagination to create objects of all types. With so much digital content now available, and a lot more in the works, a 3D printer would be the ultimate device for creative play and entertainment. A recent article published by Singularity Hub said it could be the last toy you’ll need to buy for your child.

In February 2010, I had a short meeting with James Cameron, the producer of Avatar, Titanic, The Abyss, and many other blockbuster films. Knowing that he is a user of 3D printing, I asked him about the idea of an inexpensive 3D printer targeted at children for entertainment. He responded by saying, “Absolutely,” with interest. This is a verbal endorsement that carries some weight.

Indeed a business opportunity is out there for Origo and others to develop and commercialize a safe and simple 21st century ThingMaker for children. A price range of $100-200 has been in my mind, but maybe people would pay more for an elaborate toy that could produce almost any shape.

As the saying goes, the devil is in the details and Origo is faced with many. To reach a level of volume that drives cost and price to a minimum, the effort would require significant investment in engineering, manufacturing, market development, distribution, and support. It’s a giant mountain to climb, but I hope company founders Joris Peels and Autur Tchoukanov, both young men, are able to raise the capital needed to succeed. Peels is a former employee of Shapeways and i.materialise and a contributor to Wohlers Report 2011.

Additive Manufacturing Education

August 6, 2011

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,education,future,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 08:13

Additive manufacturing (AM) is going places that many of us never anticipated. Frankly, I believe we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. The more I explore the future potential of AM and 3D printing technology, the more excited I become. I truly believe that AM will develop to become the most useful technology for the development and production of products than any other.

The need for AM education and training has never been greater. That’s why I’m excited about the NSF-funded National Center for Rapid Technologies (RapidTech) housed at the University of California–Irvine. I had the privilege of attending this week’s seventh national workshop (RapidTech 2011), which involved about 50 educators from across the nation. To the best of my knowledge, this is the only national effort focused on preparing high schools, community colleges, and other institutions of higher education to include additive manufacturing and related technologies and processes in their programs.

RapidTech has partnered with the National Resource Center for Materials Technology Education (MatEd) at Edmonds Community College—another NSF-funded program. The collaborative project aims to prepare educational institutions across the U.S. to teach the new AM standards being produced by the ASTM International F42 Committee on Additive Manufacturing Technologies. Already, terminology and file format standards have been published, with many more in the works. The work by MatEd and RapidTech could have a profound impact on our nation’s understanding and use of additive manufacturing technology and the industry standards that support it.

My hope is that Washington will continue to support RapidTech, MatEd, and other educational programs that concentrate on AM. This work will help to develop a workforce of technicians, engineers, and others that understand the potential of AM. These people will be among those that will develop, integrate, and use new-generation AM systems and materials. This will go a long way in ensuring our nation’s success in product development innovation and manufacturing for years to come.

Universities Create Wealth

April 30, 2011

Filed under: education,money — Terry Wohlers @ 06:23

Someone once said that our university system is the envy of the world. I don’t know whether this is true, but I do know that we have many special institutions of higher education within our borders. One is Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an organization that has produced more than I would have ever thought.

MIT graduates have founded 25,800 companies, according to the January 22, 2011 issue of The Economist. These companies employ 3.3 million people and generate annual sales of $3 trillion, according to the article. This is more than three times the gross domestic product (GDP) of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Finland, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, and many other countries.

Another article in the same issue of The Economist stated that 41% of millionaires worldwide live in the U.S. This is an extraordinary percentage when considering the world population. The article went on to say that the world’s most wealthy are entrepreneurs that started a business.

Our university system has undoubtedly contributed greatly to entrepreneurism, which has led to personal and national wealth. If one university can do what it has done—albeit MIT—imagine what the more than 4,800 colleges and universities spread across the U.S. are achieving. Regardless of what you might hear from others, supporting higher education is a wise investment.

An Impressive Facility

January 22, 2011

Filed under: additive manufacturing,education,manufacturing,review — Terry Wohlers @ 16:19

I’ve had the opportunity to visit many educational facilities over the past 20 years, but I have never seen anything like the Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology (SiMT) in Florence, South Carolina. This new, world-class building offers the best of the best: an 800-person auditorium with a 2,700-watt surround sound system; a conference and exhibition center that can seat 800 people at tables; classrooms and CAD labs with the latest audio/visual equipment; and a beautiful executive boardroom. Top management at Fortune 100 companies would salivate over the place, including the dramatic lobby and open floor plan.

SiMT offers equipment and space for design, prototyping, and manufacturing. The 3D/Virtual Reality Center is one of only six Interactive Digital Centers in the world. Separately, two spacious labs house four large-frame additive manufacturing systems, including a new Fortus 900mc from Stratasys.

A visit to the facility earlier this week refreshed my memory of how impressive it really is. SiMT held a very successful forum on additive manufacturing in February 2010, which I had the privilege of attending. Planning is now underway for the second forum, which is scheduled for April 19, 2011. Add it to your calendar and plan to visit this one-of-kind facility. I hope to see you there!

South African Bright Minds

November 9, 2009

Filed under: additive manufacturing,education,event — Terry Wohlers @ 17:00

High school students—160 of them—came together last week at Walter Sisulu University in East London, South Africa. The purpose: to introduce them to additive manufacturing (AM) technology and plant a seed in the minds of these young people. The hope is for them to consider formal education or work in engineering, manufacturing, or a related area of rapid product development. All of the kids are currently in grade 10, so most have not yet decided what they will do after high school.

This one-day program was inspired, in part, by the annual Bright Minds Mentoring Program held each year at the Society of Manufacturing Engineers’ RAPID Conference and Exposition. The sixth one will be held in May 2010. The program brings 40-50 high school students to the event for a day and pairs them with practicing professionals who guide them through the exhibition and answer questions. Logistics and other considerations prevented the mentoring element from being a part of the South African program, but the format has allowed for a much larger number of students. Last week marked the third year for this “awareness creation” program, now being dubbed Bright Minds South Africa. The second annual Bright Minds UK program was held in October, so with it, the Bright Minds program is now on three continents and two hemispheres.

Last week’s event has been held in conjunction with the annual RAPDASA conference. RAPDASA stands for the Rapid Product Development Association of South Africa. The 10th annual RAPDASA conference was held last week near East London, South Africa. Professor Deon de Beer of Vaal University of Technology, and formerly of Central University of Technology, has been a strong supporter of both the conference and awareness program from the beginning. He understands clearly the need to interest our young people in product development-related careers, as well as the need to build a pipeline of designers, manufacturing engineers, technicians, and others in this important field. While jobs in banking, law, and even medicine are important, they do not create national wealth like that of product development and manufacturing.

Deon and I were given the privilege to spend a couple hours with the students. Unlike some youth groups that I’ve encountered in the past, these kids were respectful, attentive, asked questions, and truly seemed interested. Most had never heard of additive manufacturing before, by any name, and had little or no exposure to methods of product development or manufacturing. I genuinely hope that they walked away knowing that AM as an option, even an opportunity, for them in the future. We explained that the technology offers many interesting applications and careers in industrial, artistic, biomedical, and entertainment sectors. If even a small handful choose to pursue it, it should make life better for them, South Africa, and the world as a whole.

US-Turkey Workshop

September 28, 2009

Filed under: additive manufacturing,education,event — Terry Wohlers @ 14:26

An event entitled “U.S.–Turkey Workshop on Rapid Technologies” was held last week (September 24-25) in Istanbul, a city of about 12 million people. The U.S. National Science Foundation provided financial support to conduct the workshop, which was held at Istanbul Technical University. ITU is the world’s third oldest technical university dedicated entirely to engineering sciences. The workshop was the first international event of its kind in Turkey and it could not have gone much better. More than 50 people attended from Europe, the Middle East, and the U.S.

Dr. Ismail Fidan of Tennessee Tech University did a fine job in organizing most of the speakers and topics. Eighteen presentations provided basic and advanced information around the science and application of additive manufacturing technology. An estimated 380 AM systems have been installed in the country through the end of last year, so a number of people in Turkey are quite familiar with the capabilities of the technology. It is believed that a significant percentage of those systems are from Solidscape and used for making jewelry.

I got the impression that Turkey as a whole is not yet applying AM technology at the same level as countries such as Germany, the UK, or the U.S. Industry and academic events, such as this one, will surely help accelerate the country’s understanding and adoption of the technology. A tentative plan is to hold a second conference, probably in two years. I could envision a second event with additional speakers, a portion of the conference dedicated to medical applications, and table-top displays and exhibits for those who have equipment, software, and services for sale. Overall, Dr. Fidan and the team at ITU did a very good job with the first one and I’m glad I attended.

3D Design Derby

April 11, 2009

Filed under: education,entertainment,event — Terry Wohlers @ 10:09

I was a Cub Scout many years ago, along with millions of other elementary-age boys. The Cub Scouts is a part of Boy Scouts of America, one of the nation’s largest and most prominent values-based youth development organizations. My fondest memory of the Cub Scouts was the pinewood derby, a race of hand-crafted cars, usually from a kit. The cars measure up to 178 mm (7 inches) in length and are raced on a wood or aluminum track. The pinewood derby has been a part of the Cub Scouts program for more than 50 years and is still active.

A 21st century version of the pinewood derby is the 3D Design Derby at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah. In May 2008, 137 high school students raced cars created with Autodesk Inventor or SolidWorks and a Dimension 3D printer. Next month, in conjunction with the Utah Valley University Technology Expo, 150-200 students from 20 high schools are expected to participate in the third annual 3D Design Derby. Any CAD software is allowed, as long as it can export an STL file.

Winners are determined by judging detail drawings, marketing illustrations, and the cars themselves. Some of the categories are the most creative, the fastest, and best in show. Prizes include gift certificates and electronic products such as iPods and flash drives. Trophies, which are also manufactured on a Dimension system, are presented to the top four places.

The 3D Design Derby is organized by the university’s Engineering Graphics & Design Technology Department. It hopes the event will gain radio and television coverage this year and I hope it does too. It is events like this that get kids jazzed about engineering and manufacturing.

Click here to see images of some of the cars from past races. For additional information on the 3D Design Derby, contact professor David Manning of Utah Valley University at manninda@uvu.edu.

Engineering Theory Versus Practice

March 28, 2009

Filed under: education — Terry Wohlers @ 11:11

The National Science Foundation and the National Academy of Engineering have stated for more than 20 years that American engineering education is too theoretical and not practical enough, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. These warnings have been reinforced by a new report from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. It suggests that too much theory and not enough hands-on experience results in graduates that are unable to tackle real-world problems.

Purdue University’s College of Engineering agrees. It is altering its engineering program to address this problem. The new model, which it is sharing with others, emphasizes problem-solving and teamwork. Last fall, it took first-year students out of massive lectures halls and put them in labs that taught them how to solve problems, from concept to completion.

The biomedical engineering program at Georgia Tech is also using a problem-based approach that is serving to attract many types of students, including women. Historically, few women have enrolled in engineering programs, so the new format is helping to improve the balance.

I understand and appreciate the need for textbook learning and the many lessons and theories that it provides. When crossing a bridge or moving at a high speed in a plane or automobile, I trust the people that designed and tested them had a strong grasp of mathematics, chemistry, and physics. At the same time, I have long been a supporter of applied sciences. I believe it creates a well-rounded individual that can address a range of issues and problems and can work with others. What we really need is a balance of both and it looks like our system of higher education in the U.S. is moving in that direction.

3D Design for Everyday Consumers

October 25, 2008

Filed under: CAD/CAM/CAE,education,entertainment,future — Terry Wohlers @ 08:39

In The Boston Globe article “Next software for the masses? How about three-dimensional design,” author Scott Kirsner explained that computers were once used only by PhDs and videocassette recorders were designed for television broadcasters. He went on to say that the mobile phone, GPS, photo editing software, and Internet were intended originally for professionals and academic types.

Kirsner suggested that 3D design software may someday become common among non-professionals and I agree. When playing with Google SketchUp, it doesn’t take much time to see what is possible. However, before 3D design truly makes it to the mainstream, it will need to become even easier than SketchUp, and it will. Take, for example, Spore Creature Creator from Electronic Arts. I was able to create elaborate 3D creatures in the first few minutes after installing the software. What’s more, these models are fully closed, water-tight solid volumes that can be manufactured.

The key will be for software, running on your computer or web server, to help you along so that it becomes effortless. I don’t expect for design software such as SolidWorks or even SketchUp to achieve this level of ease. I envision, for example, software designed for a very specific purpose, such as designing bicycles. The process might start by allowing you to select a style from a library of frames. After selecting one, you could change its shape, but within limits, making it impossible to produce designs that would not accommodate wheels, a seat, handlebars, sprockets, crank, and so on. It knows that you are designing a bicycle and not an electronic device, football stadium, or something else, so everything is built around bicycle design with libraries of parts that you can change. 

We are at the early phase of having access to software that allows almost anyone to create 3D content with little effort and no design experience. The models may not be as sophisticated as those produced by users of Catia, Inventor, Pro/E, or SolidWorks, but that may not matter. The majority of these models would be used in educational or entertaining ways, such as adding them to a document, video clip, or computer game, or manufacturing them on a 3D printer.

Engaging Students is Key

June 22, 2008

Filed under: additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,education — Terry Wohlers @ 13:35

The U.S. has dropped to tenth place worldwide in high school completion, according to the September 2007 issue of Manufacturing Engineering. In 2004, the average annual income for a high school drop out was about $16,500, compared to more than $26,000 for a graduate.

What can be done to reduce the problem? One idea is to offer more opportunities for hands-on activities that engage students. Some kids do not take well to textbooks and lectures. A number of these same students excel with the right conditions. In the May 22 issue of Machine Design, editor Leland Teschler explained that a kid with a 1.9 GPA became a 4.0 student when he began to apply concepts in hands-on courses.

Teschler went on to discuss Project Lead the Way (PLTW), a program that introduces middle and high school students to applied engineering concepts. One PLTW instructor explained that kids have fun because they don’t know they are learning physics, Teschler said. The hands-on, project and problem-based approach adds rigor to technical programs and relevance to traditional academics, the PLTW website states. The Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) Education Foundation has partnered with PLTW.

PLTW educators are typically former industrial arts/education instructors and many of them now teach CAD. Some of them are beginning to bring additive fabrication (AF) and 3D printing into their courses, which is a perfect fit. The kids develop skills in conceptual design, modeling, and experimentation and then “print” their work in 3D, giving them a chance to touch, evaluate, and test their designs.

I hope that schools throughout the U.S. adopt AF. It will allow kids that are academically challenged a chance to shine in an area that has a bright future. If it does not lead to an engineering degree, that’s okay. Rewarding careers in AF do not require a four-year engineering degree. Examples are operating AF equipment or finishing parts, selling or servicing AF machines, CAD software, or laser scanning systems, or serving as a sales agent for a service provider. What’s more, these are financially and professionally gratifying positions that are important to the future of the U.S.

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