Inside 3D Printing Chicago Conference – A Full Retrospective
Inside 3D Printing Chicago – What We Saw
Looking ahead to the next Inside 3D Printing conference in San Jose (September 17-18, 2013), we’ve identified some of the key takeaways from the most recent Inside 3D Printing Conference and Expo in Chicago. The below summary lays out both what we learned during the conference about recent developments in the 3D printing (additive manufacturing) revolution and some of the core challenges still facing the industry. Through their insightful remarks, Inside 3D Printing’s speakers made clear that this technology is capable of unleashing human creativity beyond the limits of what we consider possible today.
Professor Hod Lipson emphasized during his lecture that the future of 3D printing is one of portable, instant manufacturing where complexity is free, and we can create any object we are capable of imagining with zero constraints and zero lead time. Prof. Lipson’s lecture, along with keynotes by industry heavyweights and a range of tutorial presentations, made clear that the industry continues to make significant strides forward.
Among these positive developments is the fact that, according to Lipson, better, cheaper and faster machines continue to be introduced in a wider range of materials. Conference exhibitors presented machines capable of printing in alternative materials like copy paper, wood, and rubber-like plastic materials, among many others. Speakers also emphasized that makers and scholars are working to increase the use of natural raw materials in 3D printing processes, which now include sawdust, salt and wood, among others. It is also possible to print in more environmentally friendly materials such as bioplastics and in live materials such as human cells.
It is also worth noting that today’s 3D printers can print functional parts in multiple materials seamlessly and with no assembly required. These parts have already met with a wide range of applications, including engine parts, prosthetics and outer casings for electronic components, among others. Prof. Lipson anticipates that future printers will be able to create and combine new forms of materials, as well as print integrated systems containing electrical and later digital components.
Importantly, 3D printing has allowed designers to consider a new approach to design. Inside 3D Printing made clear that the concept of “design for manufacture” is starting to fade with the onset of 3D printing. Conference presenters Isaac Katz, Michael Schmidt and Francis Bitonti noted that artists and designers are now able to design and 3D print virtually any geometric structure their minds can conjure. This ability, when paired with the high precision capability of virtual effects and CAD software, now allows designers and makers to think about creating as nature does. The ultimate impact of this exciting development is that the objects we make can now reflect the organic, layered, fluid and undulating structures found in nature – structures that would be cost prohibitive or impossible to make otherwise.
Inside 3D Printing also provided an opportunity for Michael Raphael of Direct Dimensions to update participants on the impressive capability of 3D scanning technologies. Raphael noted that, 3D scanning technology has also seen ”massive change” over the past three years thanks to the growth of the 3D printing industry and other technologies like smartphones and GPS. Scanning equipment has become more powerful, portable, and affordable. In the past three years, the price of high end scanning equipment has decreased dramatically, with gear that formerly carried a price tag of over $100,000 now available for purchase for under $1,000. Mobile and video game applications like 123D Catch and Microsoft Kinect have also made 3D scanning technology more widely available and this trend is expected to continue with the release of the Kinect 2. Applications for 3D scanning technologies are also wide ranging, from current uses in high definition surveying to potential future uses in mass customer apparel.
At Inside 3D Printing Chicago, attendees were able to watch industry leaders engage the market in new ways. For example, 3D Systems CEO Avi Reichental announced during his keynote speech a new strategic alliance with Deloitte to assist companies in adopting 3D printing design and manufacturing solutions. Disney Entrepreneur in Residence Cydni Tetro also evaluated the role of 3D printing in retail and illustrated how the Disney Company has applied 3D printing technology to create premium retail experiences like the “Carbon-Freeze Me Experience,” which allows Star Wars fans to purchase a 3D printed image of themselves appearing to be frozen in carbonite.
In addition to highlighting these and many other exciting developments in the industry, Inside 3D Printing also raised a number of questions about the future of the technology and its impact on existing processes. As the technology develops, 3D Printing has identified several key questions for industry participants to consider moving forward:
- How will materials experts within the industry, as well as the maker community, continue to harness the technology into practical applications and make it widely accessible?
- What will be the environmental impact of 3D printing, and how will the ability to print objects in more varied and earth-friendly materials develop?
- What will be the social impact of this technology?
Ultimately, despite the naysayers, Inside 3D Printing provided an opportunity for speakers, exhibitors and attendees to share their progress, identify key priorities, and show how 3D printing will transform our future.
Authored by On 3D Printing contributor Lisa M. Pérez, co-founder of Heart Design Inc.