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3D Printing 2.0 and Digital Threads

by Pete Basiliere  |  April 4, 2014  |  Submit a Comment

Avi Reichental, Christine Furstoss and Lucy Beard stole the show at the first day of the Inside 3D Printing conference and exposition in NYC. Their passion for 3D printing and what it can do for companies and individuals trumped the enthusiasm of the 4,000 very diverse attendees crowding the exposition booths.

Mr. Reichental, CEO of 3D Systems, opened his keynote speech on a very personal level. He spoke movingly of his grandfather, a cobbler by trade who perished in the Holocaust, and how two generations later he, too, was a cobbler — he made and showed the audience the shoes he was wearing (and wore all day) — black leather uppers mated with a bright red 3D printed soles that wrapped up to the laces. The point was that 3D printing is connecting us with our pre-industrial past, sparking an industrial renaissance of localized digital craftsmanship.

Reminding the audience that 3D Systems has 1,700 patents, 1,500 team members, 120 different materials and 7 different print engines in its portfolio — as far as I can tell, the greatest such combination of any 3D print technology provider — Mr. Reichental said the company is striving to democratize access to 3D printers and the output from them in the factory, on the desktop and in the home. Clearly, the platform he has built out has the potential and the management will to do just that.

So what is “3D Printing 2.0”? Is it just some kind of marketing gimmick, reminiscent of other “2.0” suffixes that were in vogue 5-10 years ago? My sense from a 1:1 conversation that I had later in the day with Mr. Reichental is no, not really. Instead, he is trying to distinguish between the first 30 years of 3D printing/additive manufacturing and today.

I have written in Gartner research and said to our clients and at conferences that the 3D print market is at an inflection point, when shipments of consumer and enterprise printers begin rapidly climbing after decades of little year-over-year growth. While I personally would not have called the next phase “2.0,” the term does illuminate the point that the 3D print market has evolved into its next generation.

3D printing 2.0 “is the complete imagination of the desktop and democratization of desktop prototyping, the beginning of real and mass manufacturing,” he said. “And here I am talking about making tens of thousands of units a day at high speed using sophisticated and multi-materials” with the “third leg” being cloud platforms. Mr. Reichental is quite serious. He told me that the Ara project, sponsored by Google but being manufactured by 3D Systems, will be 3D printing tens of thousands of items a day when it comes online.

3D Systems lives up to its name these days. While I cannot say why inventor and 3D Systems’ founder Chuck Hull chose the name, under Mr. Reichental’ s leadership the company has acquired or developed technologies that provide end-to-end solutions, from creation software to 3D printers to materials to services — or more succinctly, systems.

Which brings me to “digital threads.”

The idea is that there is a digital thread that runs from designing to creating, one that enables 3D printing and, more importantly, the democratization of manufacturing. 3D Systems’ acquisition of Medical Modeling, announced earlier this week, illustrates the idea. “Personalized surgery and patient-specific medical devices (are) truly enabled by the digital thread that enables surgeons to (plan the surgery and to) print the tools that they need, and the implant, will substantially improve patient care.”

Digital threads came up in Ms. Furstoss’ keynote as well. Ms. Furstoss, who is Technical Director of Manufacturing and Materials at GE Global Research, gave an impassioned presentation which I will review in my next post. In the meantime, visit Ms. Beard’s company, Feetz, to see a really cool application of 3D printing that will intersect with the Internet of Things.

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Tags: 3-d-print  3d-print  3d-printer  3d-printing-2-0  3d-systems  additive-manufacturing  ara  digital-thread  digital-threads  internet-of-things  rd  wearables  

Pete Basiliere
Research Vice President
12 years at Gartner
18 years IT Industry

Mr. Basiliere provides research-based insights on 3D printing and digital printing hardware, software and materials. Mr. Basiliere's Maverick research coined the term Generation AI, people born after 2010 who will not know a world without application intelligence in their lives. Read Full Bio

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