Dispatches from the 3D PrintShow 2012 in London

Printrbot’s stand at the 3D Printshow. Showing off just how inexpensive and portable RP machines can be.

This weekend I went to a wonderful open trade show highlighting the best of US and UK time compression technologies (that would be 3D scanning, Rapid Prototyping, and Bespoke CAD/CAM product design in English) called the 3D Printshow, held this year at the Brewery in London. Interestingly, I found out about this evert not through a trade magazine, but through the Evening Standard’s real estate section (of all places), under “bespoke furniture”.

That in and of itself points to something very interesting about this show which set it apart from every other trade show I’d ever seen about rapid prototyping—this was very much a family event. They not only allowed for families and children to come along, they explicitly encouraged it through both their website and many of the booths that were there.

This ties in with the first of two big trends I saw at this year’s show:

Trend 1 – Even a Child Could Operate That!

If manufacturers and developers were focusing on user interface design before, they’re focusing even more so now. Nearly every manufacturer here was focusing on ways to make CAD/CAM technology easier and easier to use, to the point children could use it. In fact, many of the booths and displays were designed for children to come and play on the software or rapid prototyping machines.

This was highlighted further by conversations with some of the exhibitors. The entire US and UK engineering fields are keenly aware that they badly need new talent. But while the UK presently focuses on immigration measures designed to drive away foreign talent, and the US does nothing to encourage skilled workers to immigrate, the next solution is to grow our own by starting young with potential students. The effect of this focus makes for a wide array of entertaining and user friendly tools and toys unlike anything ever seen before in engineering.
Among these toys were:

  • Cloud9– A new and (finally) inexpensive generation of haptic modelling tools designed for any age. Produced by the Scottish software company Anarkik3d.
  • Myrobotnation.com – Primary school children can build their own robot for rapid prototyping.
  • Printcraft – A website allowing primary school children to rapid prototype models they build in Minecraft .
  • and TinkerCAD – A CAD modelling software designed for young users.


Trend 2 – Brave New Business Models

The other interesting trend was towards increasingly brave business models for networking new customers:

  • Digitalforming – A company which develops user interfaces to allow website visitors to customise your designs before purchasing them.
  • Brikstarter.com – A CAD/CAM product design service linked directly to Kickstarter.

There were even several new companies taking on the Shapeways-style service bureau business model. i.Materialise was there, Autodesk launched one called the 123D App, and another one called Sculpteo was there.

Most of all, it was fascinating to see the myriad inventive ways CAD/CAM engineers and businesses were developing to work around the biggest challenges facing manufacturing.

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