From the 3D Printing Conference ...

Interviews from the 3D Printing Conference and Expo, July 10, 2013.I should have probably gotten Ed to write this post, as he was wandering about the “expo” part of the 3D Printing Conference and Expo last week while I was in listening to the talks. The exhibit hall was rather chaotic when the sessions were out, and I guess he wanted to schmooze more, and (as is evident by the fact you can hear folks on these videos – which would not have been the case the times I was there!) it was evidently a good deal calmer when he shot these interviews. We ended up re-shooting one (with the AddHab guys), so I was in on that, but I pretty much only know as much about these folks as you will after watching the videos!

As noted in my last post … I was having some “context” issues with how 3D Printing fit into the “green tech” scope of this blog … and had raised the issue with Ed, and this is what he got back to me with:

3D printing is really new cutting edge technology, still in it’s infancy. The question is how can any form of manufacturing really contribute to Green Tech, and in this case, it is the creativity of people to be unleashed to develop new products. Instead of having to build to mass markets, to overproduce, and to create small scale items, on a local basis, the energy savings and the lowering of carbon footprint is alone a reason to evolve.

For us, this is Green Tech that will become so much part of the tech scene, it will make this awesomeness of this conference, where we were talking new materials, and new products, casually and with so much less capital. Imagine as we find sustainable answers, we can print what we may need, and share in our increasing Internet platform.

So today, as we evolve what Green Tech is, 3D printing is part of the solution, and when combined with solar and wind power, and local produced materials, it becomes a definite part of a local sustainable solutions. Chicago is once again at the center of this amazing technology, and should see it grow throughout the city.

So, once again, Ed has the “big vision” on this stuff … me, I kept wondering what I could possibly usefully produce with a 3D printer!

Ed actually did quite a good job of capturing the span of elements in place at the conference. While the main category of exhibits were the various printer systems being demoed, there were other organizations there too. Ed got one “service”, one “listing” and one manufacturer to talk with, and all three videos are in this one post (I couldn’t see drawing this out over several, as together they speak to a new industry, while individually they’d be a bit of stretch).

First of all was the one that I got to re-shoot, the three co-founders of AddHab (from “additive habitat”), Robert Menke, Lane Roney, and Eric Wiegand. Their site is still in beta, and not fully functioning as yet, but it’s designed to be something of a hub to connect people who want to do 3D printing with machines, tools, and knowledge to do so. They sound a bit like a narrow-focus Craig’s List, with services to hook up folks who want to make things with others who have printers that they’re willing to make available. The site will have four main sections, an exchange listing for printers, a newsfeed/library, a community forum, and a storefront.

The next was a German company called Fabbster which had a slightly different system than most of those being displayed. Rather than having a spool of plastic cord going into the machine, they have sticks with gear teeth that feed into the machine. The ends of these (10″?) sticks have connectors that allow for either manual connecting (and changing colors) or feeding through a cartridge. The color change aspect, while not precise (you get what color is going through the machine at the time), is flexible in that only a certain amount of any given color is passing through the machine at any one point.

Then there was THRE3D … which bills itself as “the biggest interactive 3D printing directory”, which I suppose might be because they’re also the first in that niche. Their site does look to be a very good place to find information on the various systems that are out there … and there are a lot … in the “materials” section there are a dozen main categories (from “metal” to “food”!), with eighteen sub-categories under the two main (metal and plastic). This also is evidently in its very early phases, as there are sections on the site that had exhibitors at the show, but no listings on those pages.

I wish I’d gotten more footage of some of the other systems there. One is an amazing paper system, Mcor’s IRIS machine that prints on standard copy paper, then glues each sheet down, and cuts out the perimeter of that slice of the object, resulting in nearly photo-realistic full-color 3D objects! Another full color machine uses “composite”, a powder that gets pulled out in a thin layer, bonded with a glue-like liquid, then covered with another layer of powder, etc. What’s amazing with this machine (like the Z-printer line from 3DSystems that did the portrait figures I shot previously) is that it uses a standard inkjet cartridge for the coloring (might as well use what works, I guess!).

Anyway, as Ed said above, this is a fast evolving technology, and what we’re seeing now is likely to look, in the not-too-distant future, as clunky as the first-generation walkie-talkie-like cellphones do up against today’s smartphones.

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