Is the 3D printing industry progressing fast enough? Is AI going to take the place of engineers and designers? Such questions were answered in Inside 3D Printing San Diego 2017. Although a smaller event compared to last year, it was the panel track and the attendees that pulled the event together and made the trip worth taking. Product designers and business owners from Idaho, Colorado and even Guatemala came in to learn what they need to explore and how they can expand in terms of software, material, machinery and clients.
The Disruptors, Designers and Discussions Of Inside 3D Printing San Diego 2017
We’re going to talk about our recent experience at the Inside 3D Printing conference in San Diego. This is a show we’ve been to in the past. We went last year. It was really much, much bigger last year. In terms of talking about the show, it is. Actually we have quite a bit to talk about in terms of the other things we experienced there which made the trip worthwhile. It wasn’t a far trip for us. It was just a drive down to San Diego. It’s a little easier than for some of the people who came from quite a distance. We met some people who came from the Philippines or came from Guatemala. It was quite a distance for what it was, a small show. Luckily, their educational track, their speaker and panel track pulled it out for them. The tradeshow portion of it was a quarter of last year’s. It wasn’t tremendously big last year. It was big enough that it was on a different floor location from the speaker track. There was a lot more companies there.
I remember you definitely could go through all the exhibitors in an hour or two, a couple of hours if you’re spending time with everyone, really going to see what they had. Last year, they easily had to have been 30 to 40 vendors. It’s where we met the Collider people the first time and some really great companies that we like. This year, it was almost like I walked in and like, “This is it?” It really took five minutes to go through everybody that was there, it was surprising. They were all the same, that’s what I’m really was disappointed about. They are all going after the exact same market, all going with exact same services, which is really a business-to-business play. They all want to be in the aeronautics and the automotive and replacement parts, so it’s engineering services, metal printing capabilities and prototyping capabilities. It was just the same stuff which I’m sure there are all over the country, there are these shops everywhere. We know them because you can check them out online all the time. It’s easy to find one of these local to your area. I don’t know that you really want to travel to a trade show to see them.
We were really disappointed. We needed to spend two days there because Tracy was on a speaking panel on the first day and then she had her own solo talk on the second day. We had to be there for essentially two days of the show. When we walked in and saw how small the exhibitor area was, I’m like, “What am I going to do here for two days? I don’t have a lot to do.” Luckily, San Diego is really cool so there were lots of fun things to do that did not involve being at the convention center. At one point, I just did more work in the hotel room that I needed to do so I didn’t lose that valuable time. That’s not really what I expected, given last year. I was quite surprised that they were able to put on this show with such a small number of vendors. The pleasant surprise was despite the really small number of exhibitors, and I’m talking about count them on the fingers of both your hands and that’s it, they actually had quite a lot of speakers lined up. I was very pleasantly surprised in how many people actually attended the talks, at least all the ones that we were in on either as a viewer or spectator or the ones that Tracy was speaking in. There were easily 30 to 40 people at least in the room for each of the talks, and maybe there were as many as 50 plus at some of them. I think more people attended the conference than exhibited, which you would always normally expect for any conference. You’d expect a whole lot more attendees than you do exhibitors. It was shocking. The great news is we did have a lot good experiences and had a lot of great discussions with people attending the show. This was really the benefit for us.
What I appreciated was that I got to be involved, in being both on the panel and on the discussion, and that I didn’t have to do a 101. This was not a 101 show for the most part. I heard a few of those 101 talks but it was not the purpose of it. It was not why I wanted to be there. There was a lot of engagement at that higher level of advanced application thinking. I appreciated that. The first panel that I participated in was the Women in 3D Printing sponsored panel, which was sponsored by Women in 3D Printing and Cyant and Nora Touré and Barbara Hanna. We just love the two of them and what they’ve done with Women in 3D Printing events that happen all over the place. You can go to CES and there’ll be an event. They’ve been planning them all over the world. They’ve been doing some in Paris and New York. I think that was great that that came there and it was an honor to be a part of that panel of women with Melanie Lang from Form Alloy and of course Lucy Beard from Feetz who we’ve interviewed before and just adore what she’s doing as well. It was an honor to be on that panel. The questions we were asked, we’re talking about advanced applications of things. We were talking about advanced material development, challenges facing the industry. We weren’t really addressing like, “What can 3D printing do for you?” We’re way past that, which I think is really great.
The panel discussion, the questions that Nora set up to ask each of you were really engaging and really furthered that discussion a long way. The audience got involved and asked more questions of each of you as well. Each of you had something truly unique to talk about and bring to the table. That was fun as a panel discussion. Then I enjoyed just the discussion that happened in the hall after the panel discussion with both Lucy and then she had a designer that works for her on the shoes that was there, and other people who were just watching and attending who we had some incredibly good discussions with about what they’re doing in 3D printing and asking questions. Even Lucy was asking me questions about a new 3D printer that I’ve been reviewing that she’s interested in exploring for what they do.
That’s the really important part that these events need to accommodate and need to encourage because it gives us a reason to get there and be a part of that. We don’t have enough opportunities to further that discussion on how we can be moving whatever is blocking all of us. It’s the same issue and we talk about it all the time. Material development is not moving fast enough, and the machines themselves, the designs, are not moving fast enough for applications that we’re looking for. If we’re going to move them along, we may all have to put pressure on software and materials and technology and machine development and all of that. We may all have to be putting pressure at the same time to get our voices heard over automotive and aeronautics who have a lot more money. That’s really the issue. There’s a lot of marketplace, there’s a lot of industry that could be happening in application, and that’s what I hear here that that was going straight after where the money is. Braydon Moreno spoke before me on my day where I had my own talk, and education is where their whole market is still. It’s not in retail. It’s not in other areas. At least, they don’t talk about it because they talk about where the money is now. When we are at that place of where the money is now, we’re really not furthering the industry enough for all of us to move forward. We’ve got to have an opportunity to come together and push together to make that happen. I was really thrilled that we had that opportunity to do that, even if it was just in the hallway.
There were several talks that were talking about the future of 3D printing and John Hauer spoke. I really was so glad we’ve got to catch up with John Hauer. We had the nicest discussion in the aisle as he was walking out afterwards. We’re going to have him back on the show. We may make a little more concerted effort to really work directly with these movers and shakers in the marketplace. They’re seeing very similar things that we’re seeing, but again it’s not moving fast enough for everyone. We really need to make that happen. The ones who are seeing the future and if we can influence and push it and keep that disruption going, then we need to do that. I love that that’s what Inside 3D Printing actually did accomplish with their small intimate environment.
What I thought was the most interesting was that they were all geared towards application in some way, shape or form. More on the additive manufacturing side of things, more on software to support engineering and design related to that. The one I really take issue with is I think it’s short-sighted. I think that we need to have a whole another podcast on this. There’s a lot of talk about how cool and amazing it is that they have these machine learning that is just is going to develop all the engineering forms for you. It’s a whole other podcast that we have to have on this, but let’s dive into it a little bit. I think the reason why is they think it’s going to be the magic pill for the job shortage. They can’t keep the skilled labor in, they don’t have enough budget, and that’s really the real problem. The crux of the problem is that if they’d taken labor, they’d lose them. Every one of the 3D print industries that we’ve been seeing when we were talking about the careers and job market and everything, they can’t keep them, let alone pay for them. They haven’t planned enough so because of that, they’re running short on great engineers. There’s not enough of the labor pool to meet the demand.
What I see is I don’t see enough money coming in. The jobs advertised are really too low value. They’re not advanced enough for the kind of designers that are out there and the engineers that are out there. I think it’s not a match. We’re still undervaluing those positions so they’re not biting. If you don’t make it worth the while for someone to leave their self-started startup venture themselves, why would they do it? That’s really a question. The reality is that they have this problem so they think the solution is machine learning. They think it’s a magic pill and they don’t need engineers. They’ll just let the machine do it. I think in the engineering world, there is a place in product development for a machine-generated part. There is definitely a place in product development for software and algorithms based on very finite criteria to actually generate a part and what it needs to be. I think a lot of times engineers, based on experience or general concern will overbuild a part. We may be putting too much material and unnecessary structure into a part. When it comes to aeronautics, in terms of the structure underneath the skin, behind the curtain of the environment people are in, there’s a place for that. A machine based on known materials and properties, you don’t need too much material.
We can argue this in a whole other episode because my opinion is still also that the machines can only learn based on good data. That data is typically based on failure, not on success. That’s the only time you know something has been engineered properly is when something fails. How are we going to get the experience of product designers and engineers and aeronautics engineers, whatever kind they might be? How are we going to get that years and 10,000 hours worth of understanding of failure into that machine without making parts that fail, which could potentially hurt people? When we look at that and we think about that, this is where we come from in the product design world, I don’t think it’s viable to say that is it going to replace any amount of jobs or engineers. It just means that you need a higher value oversight, someone with actual experience and knowledge. We need to pay someone even more to oversee the machine learning. That’s really where I don’t see it’s viable anytime soon. It is not a magic bullet.
Here’s another reason why. There were a few people talking about this at the conference and some people presenting on it. I respect their opinion or their suspicion of what’s going to happen in the future, but it is really conjecture at this point. People are predicting what they think is going to happen in the future and some people would have you believe there’s not going to be a need for near as many engineers and designers in the future because of this AI machine learning and engineering part generation. Again, they overused the term design or used it in the way that I would not use it, because they’re, “We don’t need designers or engineers.” They think of designers differently. Not as designing the aesthetic quality of a product, not even designers related to what a user interacts with. Even if you want to take it to the point of user interface or like we talked about, it’s not just the aesthetics but it’s the features and functions married with that aesthetics that people respond to in product design. All of those things may be combined. When they talk about design, they really just mean the physical drawing of the thing.
They just mean engineering is really what they mean. I wish they would keep that in the engineering bucket and not bring it into the design or the artistic side of a product because a machine is not going to be able to design a product that’s going to make an emotional connection with a consumer. If you want to sell your products, you need to make an emotional connection with the consumer on every level. It’s not going to be able to learn what that is because it only has the data of what has sold out there in old style, in the past. You’re only basing that on subtractive technology. You can’t get the information without extreme amounts of unsuccessful products going forward in the future. Is anyone really going to take the risk? I doubt it. This is where the cliché is. I really think this applies with the past performance is not an indicator of future success of the products. It can’t be when you’re moving from one subtractive types of technology and into additive types of technology, we cannot get to a place at which that is going to predict it at all because they’re designed in a completely different method and in a completely different way with a complete different set of constraints.
Here’s an example. Someone showed an example of an airplane design in theory done with AI and saying, “If you do it right with all the right materials built the right way, the AI and engineering software would tell you you can build an airplane structure that is really a skeletal structure, and you can have the entire thing covered with glass or clear material and you could see the whole thing.” It was like Wonder Woman’s invisible jet. It was really pretty close to that with a little more of a spider web of a structure going on, of thin structures. The first thing I’m thinking is, “This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen.” Even if you could do that, nobody is going to want to ride on that plane and be blinded by the sun all the time. How do you take a nap? How do you sleep on the plane? How many people do that, sleep the entire flight? Maybe you’d like it at night, I guess. Even still, I think it would be too distracting and it wouldn’t work. Also, it’s disconcerting. It would be too much around you. You have too much a sense of the speed of what you’re moving. Maybe you’d have a lot more nauseous people on that airplane. Forget the practical reality. If you know how darn hot airplanes get now when they’re sitting on a tarmac in 90, 80-degree heat if they don’t have their engines on? To me, you’re creating a solar oven that is going to be harder to keep cool in the environment.
Machine learning in isolation. What’s the best form, not what’s the best for people? It is based on the priority that you personally program in and give. The priority of the machine, it deciding what’s priority is not going to be in the best interest of consumers or the best interest of people who may have to use it. We’ve seen that. Just even thinking of some of the 3D prints that are based on algorithms that comes out. Cool looking dresses that come out of the algorithms and all of that, but I’m not going to wear them because there are holes everywhere. It’s not practical. Maybe it belongs on a runway but doesn’t necessarily belong in your home and in your normal closet or in business attire. You look at some of those things and that’s where some of that falls apart. The reality is there’s a place for AI and machine learning and there are real benefits. I just don’t think it’s the ‘be all end all’ and going to eliminate engineering jobs and design jobs in this country. In fact, the way I see it, we’re still at a major deficit and we need to keep putting up more engineers and designers.
I am actually a big proponent of AI and machine learning. I absolutely think it’s a great tool. I want it to take away all the dumb, mundane research and all the junk in my job. It would make my life so much easier if I had my own AI. We are not by any means negative about them. We just want to be realistic about the applications of them that make sense, how we use them and how we manage them and how we train them because they require training. What I see is a lot of mathematical training, a lot of coding training and not a lot of practical training. It’s no different than I see the same problem when we’re pumping out 3D designers. They need practical experience in things that they’re not getting in their education. The same is going to be true of AI and machine learning. It’s no different. We’ve got to give them the same priority. Wonderful things all these technology can do for us and it’s going to do in the future but again, it needs to be tampered with some reality.
I’ve decided, rather than recap my talk here, I think I’m just going to do a Facebook Live on the 3D Start Point Facebook page with my presentation. I was talking about disrupting retail and why retail hasn’t tipped yet and what are some of the things holding it back, but also some of the things that are really going well and some of the reasons why it’s primed to be disrupted right now. I think between 2018 and 2020, we’re going to have that. We’re going to start see it tipping over that point. Also, I’m not a big opinion of that disruption happens like a revolution, like overnight it’s changed. It evolves really. Disruption is slowly boiling until you realize, “I’m in the hot pot and I did not change.” That’s the way I see disruption, maybe because I’m usually in the middle of it and I happen to have a better sense of where we are in it. That’s how I see it. We’re going to be talking a lot about disruption coming forward. I’m super excited about that.
Maybe going through that and getting other people who might be interested in sharing it, I’m going to do a Facebook Live. The announcements will be on the 3D Start Point Facebook page so be sure to like and share that page, and get notified when it goes live. We’ll put the video, embed it, and have some links to things you talked about and information in there as well. In the 3D Start Point Facebook page, you’ll be notified ahead of time when it’s going to be, and then you could watch it live if you want or you can always watch it recorded if you’re unable to.
What I was super excited about is we had quite a few young women industrial designers and product designers there. One of them was from Guatemala. It was shocking to me. Number one, that someone from Guatemala would have come for this event but then that it’s an industrial designer too. That was really cool. She asked great questions. I was really impressed with her question base and her passion and excitement for this industry is wonderful to see. I’m looking forward to keeping connected with her and seeing what she comes up with in the near future. We also met some people who have just been hacking away at some projects. We met a guy from Colorado who’s been doing some really cool things with just textures and structures. I just love that people share this with us. We’re going to say in touch with him too. We’re just going to stay engage and we’ll see when he’s ready. What’s he’s doing is a very interesting development of 3D printing using G-code to achieve certain textures and structures that you’ve never seen before. If you go through past episodes, Tom’s not a whole fan of G-code designing but this is G-code hacking that I love. This was other level stuff and it’s not designing by G-code but making smart choices with after-effects and things. It’s really expanding the capabilities of your printer, that’s why I think it’s G-code hacking and I love that, I thought it was great. As we’re able to bring more of that to you in the future, we will, but we think he’s not quite ready to share that with the world. We’ll check that out.
I also want to mention this other company. We talked to a gentleman from this company called Slant 3D that’s in Idaho. We were really impressed with this company, and it’s because of the questions he was asking and wanted to know as a company to try to improve the way his company engages with other businesses. In reality, they’re a very similar company to Voodoo Manufacturing. They’re a service bureau that prints parts on demand for a number of different companies on FFF, FDM 3D printers. Voodoo uses mostly all the MakerBot Replicator 2s, the older machines. These people have completely developed their own machines that are in their own printer firm. He was openly sharing they’re producing some very large number of parts every week. It was in the many thousands of parts. We don’t know if it’s per day or per week, but it was pretty impressive that they’ve got a legitimate business already there. For people like us that do contract out parts to print from time to time, he was wondering how they could be a better service provider and what things can they do to make our jobs easier. We had this discussion of a disconnect there sometimes between commercial 3D printing that’s really meant for business-to-business from people that have their machines and they want to run what they run and they don’t want to be concerned with what color you’d really like to have it. There are more engineered parts than there are parts for design purposes that need to be a certain color or finish or anything. Then people that are more used to a lower level, the Shapeways and Sculpteos of the world that are offering many different finishes and colors that we can use. It was a really good discussion and I could tell that they have a legit business but they’re also looking for how they can grow that business and appeal to a wider market, and so asking some really smart questions. I really enjoyed that discussion.
All in all, we’re getting people who are looking that their business isn’t quite where they want it to be, the industry isn’t quite moving as fast as they need it to be to make their businesses more sustainable and viable. Here they are, looking for answers and asking questions. I think that’s amazing. You have the Lucy Beards of the world with Feetz, and you have people with metal 3D printing and new technologies that are developing their technologies and developing ways to move closer to products that would be desired and bought by consumers who don’t even need to know that it’s made through additive manufacturing of one kind or another. How are they going to get there? You have others that are producing all this technology and they’re wanting to get toward retail. I can see all these development and pushing the envelope is still happening, and it’s not quite converged there yet at the retail consumer.
It was very clear from that very small footprint of companies that were on the tradeshow floor. That’s really the biggest takeaway for me from the whole Inside 3D Printing San Diego event. People are still stuck where they’re getting paid today. I get that, but they don’t seem to have an exploratory budget, research interest. They’re not engaging in what could be an emerging market, what could be there for them. It’s actually holding back the industry as a whole. In other words, you might have a metal application company or a metal 3D printing company or it’s just FFF, it doesn’t matter what it is. If you are sticking with only the kinds of companies that are paying you today and you decide you’re not going to do any colors or explore any of those, when the market starts tipping and other areas grow, you will be the service bureau left behind. Even though we understand, we get it, there’s not enough money in it for you to have an entire division devoted to it or an entire staff or entire machines devoted to it. If you’re not starting that research and exploration, understanding what’s necessary in that marketplace and maybe having some key clients who are your trailblazers, who are going to help you figure out what’s the most necessary to be having so that you can stay at the forefront of all the industries as they start opening up, you’re going to get left behind and you’re actually going to get disrupted and supplanted yourself.
Actually, this brings together to me my feeling of this show overall and in terms of what people who were talking and presenting, in general, except for Tracy and a few other presenters. Their vision of the future of 3D printing was either very limited or off-track from certainly where we see it going. They getting left behind means they have a very narrow view of the future of 3D printing. They have a narrow view because it’s narrowed from their own business, from their own customer base. That’s where people like us and John Hauer have a broader view because we touch so many clients or we touch such a broader industry or I get to interview so many great people. We have a much more overview look at what’s going on as a whole. Seeing the emerging trends and what are happening is a little bit easier for us in those positions. Even though they’re at this cutting edge technology that they think they are and they’re one of the only people in the middle of Idaho or wherever they are, think they’ve got this great technology. If they’re not out there and they’re not trailblazing and they’re not expanding their business and they’re not keeping their mind open for what’s next, they could find themselves disrupted by someone new coming in who offers more.
They have all this investment they’ve gotten in and then they find themselves out of a market because they don’t have their eye on what 3D printing in the future is going to be for them and what the market is looking for in terms of the future of 3D printing. Some of them are working on future printers that are within technology itself. Some of them are working on very narrow areas but they’re not considering broader markets. There’s a whole lot more to the future of 3D printing than just these narrow applications. They’ve got to get their eyes opened to the bigger picture. The question isn’t, “Is 3D printing the future?” anymore. It’s really more of, “Is the 3D printing technology future going to be this type of machine or that type of machine?” None of that matters anymore. It’s really a matter of, “We have all of this. Now, which is the best? What is the best application? What is the best way for me to produce products? What is the best way for me to have an end goal for my business and my company and my product line and all of those things?” That’s where the clients, the consumers, the customers out there that you might have, the people who might use your service business, you’ve got to understand them. You’ve got to be out there exploring them because they are the future of 3D printing.
It’s amazing to me how many different niches there are in this entire industry. It is really all over the map. The thing is that’s where you fall short as you think that the niche is not enough money. “I bought these machines, I’ve got to run them, and if this is the only business then I’m going whole hog into that.” That’s really where you start falling apart because it’s not going to be completely sustainable there. At some point, either those people are going to go, “Why do we need a service bureau? We’ll just bring it in-house. We’ve more than proven it by now,” and you’re out of business, or if the market shifts and it’s not in automotive or aeronautics, it’s somewhere else and they go someplace else or a new printer comes in. There are new printers coming in all the time and they’re being championed by people who have maybe a lot more knowledge and a lot more experience and a lot more background in them than those early startups. There are a lot of things to be considered in that. In some cases, an older 3D printer may be all that you need to achieve something. You don’t need to keep going after the newest, the fastest, the most complicated 3D printer.
My favorite question was the question of, “Is 3D printing fast enough? Is speed a problem?” Almost all of us said no. We’ve got to do a whole new episode on why speed isn’t the issue, but I thought that was so great. She was really surprised with the answer. I think that’s what they expected, “It’s just not fast enough to do production” or “It’s just not fast enough for that.” It’s not the 3D printer that’s not fast enough. There’s a whole lot of other things that make it not fast enough, but it’s not that. Speed isn’t the problem. We’re getting to the point where speed is no longer the issue.
In any case, it was really quite something to go to this show and first walk in the door and be like, “Was this a big mistake? Am I just about to waste 48 hours here?” It was pleasantly not that. It ended up being worth our time and our effort in going down there. It wasn’t that much expense. I might have been a little more upset if I had flown in from the Philippines the way somebody we met did but at the end of the day, they seem to get enough value out of it. To Inside 3D Printing‘s credit, it was choosing great speakers, great topics, having a great educational panel. All of those things really worked out for them. I wish there had been a larger exhibit there for everybody, but the good thing about a small show like this is that everybody’s in a concentrated area and you can step out in the hall and have a conversation and actually hear each other. If you’re at CES, you almost have to leave the campus and go somewhere to have a conversation. It’s just not as easy to do, plus so many thousands of more people out there that are not really there for 3D printing. People with your same interest are not all that concentrated. There’s a little give and take.
There’s information on our Facebook page @3DStartPoint. We’d love your input. If you also followed up, if any of you went to the Additive Manufacturing Show and have any comments about how good or bad that show was, we’d love to hear from you. Let us know. We weren’t able to go to both shows. Tracy was speaking obviously at one so that’s the one we went to. That’s how we ended up choosing it. We’d love to know was the other one better? Was there just as interesting talks? We’d love to hear from you about that and maybe we’ll just have you come on the show and tell us all about it. Go find us on social media @3DStartPoint and share with us any photos from that other show. Any comments you might have there, we’d love to hear about it. Thanks again for listening. This has been Tracy and Tom on the WTFFF 3D Printing Podcast.
- Inside 3D Printing
- Women in 3D Printing
- Nora Touré
- Barbara Hanna
- Form Alloy
- Braydon Moreno
- John Hauer
- Slant 3D
- Voodoo Manufacturing
- MakerBot Replicator 2s
- Additive Manufacturing Show
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