The Inside 3D Printing Conference and Expo in San Diego this year featured many companies and speakers that were focusing on real world applications of 3D print technology. We got the inside scoop from many different companies how they are leveraging digital fabrication and actually making profits from 3D printed products – not just talking about the possibility of it. With these new startup companies there is a new trend of being loyal to the consumer rather than the materials and manufacturer, and we have to say it’s a great direction to head in. Aside from that, we’ve found a potential machine that could be used for end-use products and looked at a few 3D printing companies that seem to be stuck in a terminal start up stage that leave us with a few predictions on the big shake out to come in the 3DP world.
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Inside 3D Printing Conference and Expo San Diego Recap
We just had a trade show here in southern California, the Inside 3D Printing Conference. It was actually part of a bigger technology conference, Frontier Tech. It included AR, VR, robotics. There was even some hack Amazon Alexa kind of competition, a hackathon. There was a bunch of stuff going on. The expo portion that had the exhibit, the vendors who came in and showed their products and their equipment and things like that was pretty much I would say 90% 3D printing. There always seems to be some of those guys there that get up a pop up booth and try to sell you a rechargeable cellphone case for your iPhone. I see it in every show. It’s like, why do you do this? Do enough people really buy those? I don’t get. I don’t understand it. Anyway, there’s always there.
There was a really good conference track of speakers at this event too. It was a couple of days and we only went to only of the days just because of the scheduling. There were some great speakers there. Many of them we’ve talked to over time. John Hauer was there. Terry Wohlers gave a key note, he does most of the market research, industry research we’re always quoting here. Then someone who’s going to be on an upcoming episode, Mark Trageser, who we’re talking to about 3D printed toys. He gave such a passionate excited talk. You’ll hear it on the interview with him as well.
He’s so passionate about growing jobs in local communities and building a business around 3D printing. He calls it bigger than 3D, he calls it DiFab. Digital fabrication. Anything that’s DiFab, which I like. I think that’s a great term for it. It certainly is great for all the different things that you might be including, like virtual reality and other things. It expands it otherwise, using CNC, using a combination of equipment and things like that today.
It was great to actually get to meet him in person because we had only talked to him over Skype for the podcast interview. And touched the toys, which is really cool. Check him out. He’s so high energy and so bullish on 3D printing for very good reasons. My gosh. This is not a criticism because we really did like his talk, but he talks really fast. He talks at like 150 miles an hour with gusts up to 300 I think. It was something. He was just so excited about it.
He showed this great chart which was a chart of the US. It really showed where all the jobs are popping up and where some of these innovations labs and centers are starting across the country. Really, there’s a big concentration in the Rust Belt. In Ohio and Indiana, all around the Great Lakes region where jobs have been lost in recent decades. He was able to show us on the map how that’s really changing and in what industries it’s really changing.
He really likened to something that happened in the late 30s or something like that. In the 1930s, Fisher-Price started out of upstate New York. Pretty much close to Buffalo. Aurora, New York. We know that area well. Aurora, New York. Fisher-Price started because there was a group of people who all lost their jobs and they had all been working in the toy industry for a long time. They lost their jobs and they said, “This is just not working.” They lost their jobs because of the Depression and the war and things that were going on. They said that, “We’re going to fix this. We’re going to build our own toy business.” That’s what they did. It was basically a group of people got together and they started their own toy business.
He’s like, this is the time to do the same thing. Whether it’s in toys or in some other area. This is the time for you to get together with people you really want to work with who have great skills and revitalize your town. It was really quite something. They talked about how it was a community of people and they had something equipment that they had had already. I think it was a little plastic modeling equipment but then they used wood and other materials they had. Parts went home, to different people’s homes, to get assembled as they started Fisher-Price.
It became this really great family oriented company that obviously is one of the biggest toy distributors in the world today and still, in my mind, makes some of the nicest, safest toys, quality, most well designed. Them bringing back their classic toys was just brilliant because we all have such great fond memories of how well made they are. They’re still like that. Our daughters still love that telephone with the eyes. Who doesn’t? That’s classic.
Then Mark went through how he’s using 3D printing today. He has worked at Fisher-Price and Mattel and a lot of big toy companies. He’s been a professional designer about as long as we have. Now he’s independent still working for that industry. He’s able to do it largely because of 3D printing and the availability of service bureaus.
It used to be in order to be an independent designer in that field, you had to have a staff and a shop and all kinds of different equipment. You’d have lids and milling machines and vacuum forming machines and all sorts of different things in order to be able to prototype your models. Or else, you didn’t do a very professional job showing what you designed. Now, 3D printing allows him to do this in a completely professional way. He just wants everyone to get on and do it themselves too.
Showcasing 3D Print Applications – Inside 3D Printing Conference and Expo San Diego Recap
That’s really I think what the difference about this show, conference track specifically, that I’ve seen this time over other shows or other conferences. This had a lot more application talks. It seemed like real world. It wasn’t pie in the sky. There are companies who are actually making money doing this, who are applying this. Wiivv Wearables gave a talk. Their episode airs tomorrow. That one publishes the day after this one. We’re going to leave that one as a surprise for tomorrow because it was an awesome interview. Wiivv Wearables gave a talk as well. They’re actually applying it, making in soles to shoes. They have lots of future product plans and they’ve been building up their technology. It’s amazing. Great job.
There’s also another foot company, which thanks to Eduardo Martini who reminded me about Feetz. Lucy Beard was giving a talk. I made sure not to miss it so that I could meet up with her afterwards and insist that they come on the show, which she’s very excited to do. We’re going to have her on the New Year come on the show. Eduardo, that one’s for you: I’m getting her on the show.
Still, I can’t just leave it there. What we saw yesterday was really cool. This company who is in California, they’re in the Bay area. They’re in California and they have a 2,000 square foot facility. About half of it is manufacturing and half of it is the little office space. The assembly and shipping is what she said. They have a really small office space. Still, within 1000 square feet, they’ve got 100 3D printers that are producing … These are FFF 3D printers that are actually producing shoes custom fit to you that you can buy today.
They have three pop up shops that have happened in DSWs at various places. I know there was one in New York and out in San Francisco. I think it was either Maryland or Miami or DC. Something with an M. They had another one pop up on the east coast as well. They’re making these shoes. We bumped in to Nora Toure from Sculpteo. She had a pair on her feet she’d been wearing for a couple weeks or something. She loves them. Very cool to see that.
Lucy was so passionate about what they’ve developed there. They really worked hard to develop their own technology in terms of the materials so that they would be extremely durable for shoes and doing all these things. They’ve made $2.5 million this past year making shoes. Somebody is making money 3D printing. Granted, it’s a really limited product line. There’s only a couple of styles. Multiple colors, but there’s a couple of styles. But it’s a start. It’s real. This is not pie in the sky, future, we want to be able to do it. This isn’t advanced research and postulating. This is actual, they’ve done it.
They’re using FFF 3D printers, which she wouldn’t say what kind they were. I think they look like Airwolf 3D printers. There’s a reason why she didn’t say what kind there were. In all fairness to her, they’ve changed out the extruders to do what they needed to do because they needed a specialized tip and they needed it to do it a special way. They’ve also changed their build plate. They don’t use glass. They’ve done a bunch of specialized things there. These are highly modified 3D printers by their own internal staff to achieve what they need to achieve.
What I thought was so interesting about what she also said about it though is that she was like, technology is emerging and growing so fast. There’s new companies popping up all the time or new software or new slicing, whatever, that’s coming that is really giving faster speeds and all sorts of things. They’re not loyal to any company on that. They are more than willing to do what it takes to make it work. To me, what I think it is is they’re loyal to the consumer. They’re wanting to provide the best product at the best price and the best user experience they can. Whatever technology, machine, software, material it takes to get there, they’re going to follow that path. They have developed their own unique flexible filaments for making shoes.
That’s such a smart way to build a business. We talk about this a lot. What happens is too many people look at their investment in equipment and think, “Oh my gosh, I have to get 10 years out of it.” You know what, you don’t. You need to get enough out of it so that you’ve learned. Enough out of it so you’re ready to figure out what you definitely need next. This is not the time to be saying, “I have to achieve a certain return on investment on my equipment.” This is research stage.
Granted, they’re doing research and making money at the same time. Even if it were a net zero proposition that it happened to be unprofitable or zero, in terms of that, they’re learning so much along the way that they’re going to be so much further ahead than any possible competitor in the future. That’s a really smart move for them, to not be tied into some equipment that you can’t grow with, you can’t do what you want and you can’t get to the next level of stage. That’s when someone comes right in on top of you and does a better job. You’ve worked so hard to build that market and lose out. It’s impressive. They’re employing people here in the US and they’re making shoes and they’re doing great business. I’m excited to take a deeper dive with her when we interview her for a future podcast, because she agreed to come on the show.
To tie what Lucy was talking about and Mark was talking about, what I really thought was so interesting is Lucy said that for every 100 printers, they anticipate employing 10 new people. That’s because they need people to help with the modeling, people to help to run the machines, assembly because they have an assembly process. They’re making these shoes in three key different 3D printed components that do have to be assembled. They put a quick little lining in it that is not 3D printed.
They think they’ve got it down to between six and eight hours per pair of shoes for printing time. That’s amazing. That speed she said over the last couple of years has been cut in a third. I think they went from 22 hours down to six and eight. That’s just amazing that it’s already grown that fast. She really was excited about a future in which you might walk into a DSW and 20 minutes later walk out with a pair of shoes. That would be pretty killer.
I just love the idea of having them being custom sized to my foot, even if I have to order them and get them a few days later. That doesn’t matter to me as a consumer. It would be cool to see it done. You’d have people standing there, watching it for a lot longer than they should be in the store. I would think the retailers would love that. That’s really a great point that she also made, was that this kind of thing, retail needs it to make itself relevant again. We’ve talked to other people about that on the show recently. Retail needs reasons to drive people in. That’s just not happening.
Exhibits – Inside 3D Printing Conference and Expo Recap
There were a couple of real stand outs in terms of the exhibitors at the Inside 3D Printing Conference and Expo San Diego Recap. My favorite, I’m super excited about Collider. I loved them. These guys, first off, such cool nice guys. Out of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Just such cool guys. Their technology, it was a mind bender for me. I went to the booth once, I took a piece of literature. Then we went to go to listen to one of the talks. Before the talk, I’m reading it and I’m not entirely getting it. I went back afterwards. It took me a while to wrap my head around it. This is so cool.
The more I looked at it, the more I kept thinking, the application of this, it could really change your business. It could change your processing. For us, this is the first viable to me that technology of using 3D printing as doing more than just making a little test sample between us and our design process where we don’t really show it. This is something that we could show our customers and have it be better, faster than something we could get out of Asia. And made of real end use material that you intend it to be done. I’m going to try and give you a little overview here of what it is that they do. We definitely need to get them on the show soon. We’ll talk more about it.
This was their debut really. They were at the show. They’re not going to be at CES because that’s a much more expensive show and they’re early in their process. They have real machines and they’re doing it. They also just signed a deal that gets them as a part of the 3D Hubs. They’re a part of the Hub. What you can do is order a sample of the materials right now. You can’t order your own part sampled but you’re going to order their end use material so you can feel what it’s like. That’s coming.
Here’s the difference, and I think to talk about what their machine does I want to give you an example of a conventional way that another company we know of here in southern California is using it, is making products and using 3D printing in the I guess the traditional way. Can I even say that? 3D printing, I can’t say it’s traditional. It’s a very prototype use way. It’s a part of their production process.
There’s a company in southern California called Shark Wheel. They were on Shark Tank at one point. I’m not going to go into what’s unique about their skateboard wheels. They have these unique skateboard wheels they manufacture out of a urethane resin in all the colors you’d expect skateboard wheels to be in.
The way that they do their production is they have a Form I plus SLA 3D printer that they print a full scale positive of their wheel design that’s going to be cast in urethane. They take that and make a mold from that positive, a traditional mold that’s got a pull with draft angles and the whole thing. They make molds out of that that then they cast with the resin for their production wheels they sell today. 3D printing, they love that process. It’s sped up their manufacturing process and their prototype testing process and they’re very happy with it.
Now, enter Collider. What they’ve done is made a commercial 3D printer. This isn’t going to be something you’re going to have in your home. 3D Hubs is going to have them and different service bureaus will have them and we’ll all be able the use them. What it is a combination of a resin 3D printer, an SLA 3D printer. What you do, you model … Let’s say you model your skateboard wheel. Instead of printing the wheel itself, their software actually generates a shell and all the pipes, gates, screws needed to cast that part.
It’s not actually printing the positive part. It’s printing you a mold, a very fast, thin, wall mold that then after the machine prints that mold, it injects it with silicone or urethane rubber, polyurethane. They have different resins that you can do. There was one that was flame resistant or something like that. It was really cool. Flame retardant polyurethane. They have a firm urethane rubber, a general purpose polyurethane and silicone, medium softness silicone. They had parts there you could check out. They’re very cool.
This 3D printer in one process prints not your part but the mold to make your part, injects the resins in it. Once the resin cures, the shell and the part are put into a tank and this resin they’re printing is dissolvable. It dissolves away the mold essentially and you’re eft with your part. SLA 3D printing is really pretty high resolution stuff. You can print an actual short run of product that you want to test out as well as print one off prototypes without having to send them to a factory, have a mold made.
We do things in Asia all the time and it would take a month or six weeks and $1500 probably of expense between the work to do it and shipping it back over to the US. And it might not be right. Now you could do it right here in the US and you could do multiple iterations for less money than you could do one the old way. To me, this is super exciting.
I also keep thinking the more I look at it and the more I think about it, is this machine might become a perfect end use machine. In other words, making a part off of this machine, that is the perfect customizable solution. If you’ve got a product that you’re going to make out of one of those castable resins and it needs to be different every time you make it. There’s a reason for it. A personalized or a customized aspect of the product, I could see a company buying this machine and using it and just doing production with it all the time.
That’s just so cool. Possibilities are just so awesome. Kudos to them for coming up with the idea to use 3D printing in a different way. Every other 3D printer actually prints the actual positive of the part. They said, “No, no, why don’t we print the negative and it’s a mold.” It just blew me away.
Also my thoughts, going back to it, because the mold itself is dissolvable. You don’t have quite the same limitations that you do. If you really are going to make it to make your end product that way, now you have more design flexibility than we would have otherwise if we had to create a mold that must pull apart before we can even make our part. You don’t have to do it here because you’re going to dissolve it. There are limitations to geometry and things that you would make it out of, but they have pretty advanced software and they have techs that can help you work it out. I’m super excited. We have to try it and we have to get them and the show.
Anyway, that was really exciting. I’m sorry you guys missed that one. I’m sorry they won’t be at CES. I’m glad we went to the show and caught them, otherwise we wouldn’t have heard of it. There was a couple of other things we caught. There was somebody who was making some glue, which we’re going to do a review on. We’re going to test it. We’re going to review a new material for putting on your build plate, MagiGoo. We’re going to test that out and we’ll do a review on that starting in the New Year. This would be a replacement for a blue tape or some other type of build plate surface to make your print adhere. You have to have a heated plate. It used to be used with a heated bed. That’s a limitation. We’ll try that one out and we’ll let you know what we think of it.
Other than that, there wasn’t too many new people, but some old favorites with some new stuff, including Robo3D. Of course we saw them last CES. Now, seeing their new 3D printers, but they weren’t actually working or printing yet. You could see the design of them. Now their C2 3D printer which is the smaller of their two new ones were there at the show. They were printing product. They looked pretty cool. I was hoping to see Braydon Moreno, the CEO of Robo 3D, there. He was trying to get there but he had too much work he was doing yesterday so he couldn’t get there. I texted with him and he apologized for not making it.
I also hit him up for getting one of his new C2 printers in to us for a review and he said yes, we’re absolutely doing that. He hopes by the end of December to get it to us. We will review that and let you know about that 3D new printer which has the ability to print wirelessly from tablets. It was one of the things they were showing off. They’ll be at CES again of course, so even if that doesn’t happen at that point, we will catch up and do a more in depth.
My thing about Robo 3D is that it concerns me that they’ve done so much movement in their funding and financing. We’ve seen this whole Australian buy out whole thing going on there. But the company doesn’t seem to be growing in its leadership and other areas. I think it’s interesting that Braydon is doing so much, that the standard leadership that they’ve had in place since they started as a startup, they should be moving to a more advanced stage.
The products certainly looks like it is. The product is impressive design for sure. I can’t wait to try it out and see how well it actually prints myself. But it doesn’t seem like they’re getting a broader corporate support. They don’t seem to have a marketing team. They don’t seem to have an events … It just seems like they still are a little too much in the startup phase there. That concerns me long term.
That’s one of the things that we’re going to talk about our projections and our resolutions at the end of the month here. Stay tuned because these kinds of things are going through my mind because someone really said there’s going to be a lot of shake out in the next year to two years where a lot of these companies are going to start disappearing. There’s just too many 3D printers that are not special enough. There’s too many manufacturers who are doing this who really aren’t making enough money.
The application companies are doing better right now, which is a sign that the printers that can go into application are really going to be emerging in the next year as the ones that are in demand. The other companies are going to start falling out. I think we’re going to be seeing a lot of shifts. That’s going to be one of the predictions that I want to talk about. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Filaments – Inside 3D Printing Conference and Expo Recap
There were a few new filament players on the scene. I was surprised. You see some really big companies. I don’t know if they’re renting a name or licensing someone’s brand name or the company is actually getting the filament. This surprised me, Verbatim. The people that made floppy disks. We’ve seen them before and they sell on Amazon all the time. I thought that was the same thing.
Verbatim does a lot of equipment and supplies for those equipment. They do ink cartridges and other things. They’ve done their filament. The things is, I don’t know if it’s any good either. We’ve never tried it. I think when you’re already buying office supplies from someone like that, that’s probably why. It’s probably a corporate play. Maybe. That surprised me. A couple different filament people. Somebody new out of Asia.
We don’t remember much else from the show floor. It was like, they’re there. There’s a couple of new startup 3D printer manufacturers in the FFF world. We’ll have to wait and see if anything really becomes of them. They’ve got some good looking little printers but nothing really earth shattering to report. Not even memorable enough for the names to be sticking in my head right now.
Diversity Panel – Inside 3D Printing Conference and Expo Recap
The other thing that I did do at the conference was I attended a diversity panel. They had a discussion about whether or not there should be diversity concerns in these emerging techs, like 3D printing and VR and AR. I thought it was a really great panel. So great that I’m going to write an article about it for Inc. That will be upcoming. I’ll probably do it before the end of the year or just right after the first of the year. I will definitely add it to the comments field in this post so you guys can read about it.
What I thought was really interesting is that there was a woman there who’s basically a part of startups investment. That’s all she’s ever worked, in the seed stage startup. Her comment was is that basically the first 10 people in your company are the biggest sign of whether or not you’re going to build the right kind of diversity into your company. There are two reasons.
One is that a lot of growth happens quickly from the startup stage of going from two to eight employees all the way up to your first 100. In that process is referrals. You’re going to take a referral from one of the people you’ve already been working with who you trust. If they say, “I know a guy,” instead of, “I know a girl.” If you don’t already have diversity built into that group, it’s not going to get more diverse in that first 100. It’s usually a sign of a cultural problem that holds them back long term.
The second thing that she says that happens is besides referrals, the team itself, then what happens is it has a negative repercussion on your product. She specifically works with hardware tech, not just software tech. That’s where we have that same thing. When you’re making something physical and you don’t understand, you have no empathy for, you don’t get the needs of the consumer, when the consumer is predominately women or predominantly children and you don’t have children. All of those things make for a worse product at the end of the day or a less service oriented product, a product that doesn’t serve its consumer.
That’s where those are also big signs. Those are two significant red flags of why they don’t fund startups. When they don’t see a diverse team from the get go. Their two signs are is this product in danger and is their future team and referral base, is how they’re going to hire in danger. She was frank about it. I really liked her attitude about it. She was like, look, we could say that our portfolio is doing just fine from an investment standpoint, from these companies of these, and as she put it, white dudes. It’s doing just fine and it’s making money, so why should we care?
When you look at the numbers at the end of the day, companies that are diverse in sex and culture and all kinds of areas, in growth and diversity, what happens is they make more money, they’re always more profitable, they make better products at the end of the day. They’re a better bet. We’d be leaving money on the table if we weren’t caring about the diversity. For all those out there looking for board of advisers, this is one way to go grow. For building your startup team, think about diversity. That’s a great nugget. I thought it was fantastic. Anyway, I’ll share the rest of the article with you when I have it.
Final Thoughts – Inside 3D Printing Conference and Expo San Diego Recap
I think that’s a pretty good recap of our day at the Inside 3D Printing Conference. Hope you enjoyed learning about some of those things with us. We’re going to have a more intense recap of CES in January after that show because we’re going to be attending that for a couple days. We got invited to private events and some other things because we got official press passes this time. We’re on the inside track. We’ve gotten in to some special lunch and learns and some other things that we wouldn’t have access to otherwise. We’ll have to see if that’s going to be a long podcast or a couple of podcasts. We’ll see. We might have to break them up.
- Inside 3D Printing Conference and Expo – San Diego 2016
- Wiivv Wearables
- Collider Tech
- Shark Wheel
- Robo3D C2 Printer
- Verbatim 3D Print Filament
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