SoCal MakerCon 2016 is under new management from our friends at Vocademy, and this years experience was far different from previous years. The noticeable differences between the shows of 2015 and 2016 are a tell tale sign of the state of 3D printing and gives away who may be the forerunners of the industry. Many surprising companies and organizations made a showing at this years event with lots of interactive booths in the STEM/STEAM realm for kids in elementary to high school grade levels. While not as 3D print heavy, there were many take aways from attending and getting to know more about the different programs available in the local area to supplement the standard public school education.
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SoCal MakerCon 2016 Recap
Today I’m going to talk about the recent SoCal MakerCon Show at the Fairplex in Pomona, California that happened earlier in November this year. I want to share my experience with you because it was quite different from the SoCal MakerCon experience of the last couple years. I think that’s really where the story is that’s interesting to talk about today.
The SoCal MakerCon 2016 is under new management. Now, since the last show, it’s been taken over by Vocademy, which is really a cross between a maker space and also really an educational institution, like a school. That’s what they do, is they teach classes, but they’re very much what traditional, at least American education, would consider extracurricular courses. Or they would call them more trade school, more trade or vocational school education.
We really like this organization. We like Vocademy, we like the people that run that organization. They’re doing a great job. They have a vision to expand from just what is one institution in Riverside, California to many such institutions all over California, and ideally, in other parts of the country. We really respect them.
It actually make sense that they would take on the SoCal MakerCon 2016 and put on that show. It was really in the same venue as it’s been in the past but there’s been a big change, I would say. Last year, we actually got a booth at the show and interviewed a lot of different companies right there on site. That was a lot of fun and it was a great place to get a lot of interviews done in a very short period time.
This year, our scheduling didn’t allow us. I honestly didn’t think I was going to be able to attend the show until the day before. We did not do a booth this year. After I went to it, I’m really glad we didn’t because the number of 3D print related companies who are showing at this show really was lower. It was a whole lot lower than it was last year. There just wasn’t as much to really see or cover.
I think that is really the most telling aspect of this show and I think also potentially the state of the existing market for 3D printing. Last year, there were a lot of startups, a lot that were considering to start Kickstarter or companies that were doing a bigger marketing push and had their own booth. This year, maybe if they were there, they were a part of someone else’s booth and didn’t have their own booth. Then some of them just aren’t even there this year and maybe don’t exist anymore. It’s really hard to know.
There were some notable people there that you may have heard of before and heard us talk about before on the podcast, including MatterHackers was there. They’re a pretty steady company that shows at pretty much any trade show throughout certainly California and I think they do show at others as well. They’re really a reseller of 3D printers and they also make their own slicing software that is a very good one that we’ve covered on the podcast before.
Then there was a company like Deezmaker, which is a long time 3D print manufacturer and a retail store in San Dimas, California, which is pretty close to Pasadena. They used to be in Pasadena, I guess they’ve moved to San Dimas. They had their next generation 3D printer there. Their 3D printer was always called the one that was hackable because it was made very open source and you could a lot with it.
They still sell those 3D printers, as well as resell the Craftbot from CraftUnique. It’s really taking the Bukobot 3D printer up quite a significant level or two in design and fit and finish and looking more like a real product and less like a kit machine that you put together, which is I guess how I would describe some of their other machines prior to this. The Craftbot prints a larger build volume than the original Bukobot. That was impressive and that was nice to see.
There was also another company we’ve seen in a few trade shows and we’ve also interviewed Russell Singer from this company in the past, is MAKEiT. MAKEiT is an up and coming, really high quality, pro grade FFF 3D printer that has very, very fine resolution.
One of their things that they like to do often is print very small little Lego blocks or print small machine screws, very, very fine threads. I’m talking like an M3 or an M4 thread, which is very, very fine, if you’re an engineer and you understand threads. It’s very impressive that they can produce 3D prints of that quality.
They also have some other interesting features of their 3D printers. If you’re building a 3D printer farm, if you had a need at your company to do a lot of production or you wanted to build a service bureau, like Voodoo Manufacturing has done, their 3D printers are made to be put on a wall. If you just take normal shelf standards from Home Depot or Lowe’s or something, the basic inexpensive shelf standards, it’s a common part out there.
The frame of their 3D printers is made to hook into those standards. It makes it easy to mount a whole bunch of 3D printers on a wall and maximize your space utilization and your output of 3D printed parts. I’ve admired the MAKEiT 3D printers for more than a year now. I think they do a really good job.
They’re definitely an engineering level 3D printer. I wouldn’t recommend using that 3D printer if you’re a newbie, you’re just getting started in 3D printing because it’s advanced participation and requires a lot of fussing as a user with not only the hardware but I think also the software with the slicing software that you use.
You would learn a tremendous amount if you got started in one of those but it would take you a long time. It’s, I would say, just a steeper learning curve. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with MAKEiT printer. I admire it quite a bit and think it’s appropriate for a great many kinds of users that are out in the market. But just as a starter, it wouldn’t be my first choice.
There was another that I found that was showing at SoCal MakerCon 2016 I think for the first time, that is New Matter. That was really interesting to me. They are another Pasadena based 3D printing company. It seems there’s a significant tech community there in Pasadena, which is I guess no great surprise with the universities that are there and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory among other things.
New Matter is a company that started in 2014 and they were a Kickstarter project. Looking at their 3D printer they’re working on display, it was very impressive. I was impressed, not only with the quality and fit and finish of their product, their 3D printer, but also the price. It’s only $399. That’s very competitive with the likes of XYZ and others that are really targeting that more mass, either student, educational or enthusiast market at a low price point.
They actually said they’re going to submit that 3D printer for review. We haven’t gotten it yet but we’re making those arrangements. I look forward to bringing you that review sometime in a not too distant future.
Another company that was showing at SoCal MakerCon 2016 again and who shows at a lot of, especially the Southern California and Nevada trade shows, is ToyBuilder Labs. They were there again. It’s worth mentioning them because while they are primarily a reseller of 3D printers and filaments and accessories and things, last year at the SoCal MakerCon, which was more than a year ago. It was in August of 2015 and now this was November 5th I think of 2016.
Last year, they had merged, or at least that’s what we were told, that they had merged with Raise3D. At the time, Raise3D was in the middle of a Kickstarter for a very large 3D printer with a very, very fine layer resolution of something like ten microns. Very, very thin layer height capability.
We had interviewed Taj Chiu, who was the president and also, we were told, was going to be the president of Raise3D as this merger was done. They had some significant plans to go after the prosumer market in the United States. What we’ve learned now is that sometime over the last year plus, that that deal actually fell through, it never came together.
If you listen to Joseph Chiu, who I talked to at the SoCal MakerCon 2016, he said it really just didn’t work out. The arrangements with the Raise3D company, who’s a Chinese company, and then their company, that’s a US company, wanted to do just didn’t fit with each other and so they backed out of the deal. Maybe that’s the case, I have to take him at his word.
I was surprised to learn this and I thought that there was a lot of potential in that partnership with a US company to help a Chinese manufacturer of 3D printers really go make a good run at the US market and thought it would’ve been a good combination and I guess just didn’t work out. ToyBuilder Labs now is just showing other 3D printers that they carry and resell and that’s I guess the primary thing that they’re doing these days. Not a whole lot new to report there.
Then of course, XYZ was there at SoCal MakerCon 2016. They’re always there. They have quite a significant marketing effort. They told me there’s some great new things coming from XYZ in the new year and we’re very much looking forward to that. We always like reviewing their printers. We reviewed one already in the da Vinci Junior and then we have another review of their mini 3D printer. We’re actually conducting right now … It takes us about three weeks to a month to do this review so we haven’t published that one yet. We’ll let you know how that goes, how that product is, in the coming month or so.
XYZ is certainly there, making a good presence in the market and committed to the 3D printing industry and bringing it to more and more people in the education market and the enthusiast market, any market really, that they can attack.
That’s really the major lineup. There were some other very high end – I’m talking like starting price $5,000 and even ten and more thousand dollar 3D printers that are really out of the entry level market. But were very interesting ones that 3D print some carbon fiber material. Definitely geared and targeted at a very, very high end professional customer. That would be large engineering firm at the smallest or a serious aerospace company more likely. That was it.
SoCal MakerCon 2016 Recap – Absentees and Market Trends
Some of the notable absences from this were Airwolf 3D. They had always shown at the previous SoCal MakerCons and we see them every year at CES. They’re a local Southern California 3D print manufacturer. It was surprising not to see them there, maybe shows a little shift in their focus.
As I mentioned, several other companies just weren’t there and I wonder if they actually exist anymore. I’m seeing a bit of a shrinking of the market I think and a bit of a saturation of the existing 3D printer market certainly in Southern California, if not indicating something like that nationwide.
Actually, that’s something that Joseph Chiu of ToyBuilder Labs mentioned to me. He said that he thinks the market’s getting a little saturated. I can understand his perspective and also that perspective of maybe a lot of other companies that are in their space.
If you listen to us often on WTFFF, you’ll know that we actually think there are a lot of emerging markets and new markets that companies aren’t thinking about and aren’t really addressing yet. We don’t have any fear that there’s going to be a major shrinking of the 3D printing industry.
I do think there’s a natural evolution that’s taking place where there’s been too many people in a very crowded space who aren’t thinking about those emerging markets and opportunities. Everybody says they’re going after the education market because that’s I think the easiest, most obvious market for them to go after. There are other opportunities to expand 3D printing at a more of a consumer level, less of a prosumer level. We’re excited about that and looking forward to seeing that in the future.
I think that’s why some of these startups aren’t either getting enough funding or they’re trying to make it and they’re not achieving their goals and they’re ending up folding, especially because a lot of them are started by engineers, which is logical for many reasons. But engineers are not always the most savvy business people.
I’m not trying to knock engineers, I love engineers and I am part engineer myself. If you’re going to make it as a business, you got to get well beyond the engineering of, “My machine is better for this technical reason.” You have to have to some other angle at going after a market. I think the technical differences are too few and not significant enough in order to really justify a whole company.
SoCal MakerCon 2016 Recap – Non-3D Print Vendors
While there were a lot fewer 3D print companies, what else was there at SoCal MakerCon 2016? They have their usual drone races and a serious drone race cage. My kids enjoyed watching that for a while, especially when a drone would crash into the nets and get all tangled up. It would take the guys about a half an hour to untangle it from the nets.
These drones are really impressive. We’re talking about drones operated by remote control and they have video cameras so they can see where they’re going. They’re actually navigating by watching a screen on their remote control that is sort of the eye view or the camera view of the drone and they’re navigating, turning up and down, twisting all around. They had to navigate over and under and through different obstacles. It was very impressive. That was a lot of fun.
Then they also had a major, I guess a kid’s space I would call it, where kids could make certain things out of Legos. Other kids were making crafts where they were putting together certain kinds of recycled objects. There were these big wand or staff type of things that kids were making.
There was another table where they would make these electric circuits that would light up an LED light on a coin cell battery. They would enjoy decorating what it looked like on the outside, but then also learning something about making a circuit on the inside. That was a lot of fun for them to enjoy. These are different STEM organizations from around Southern California and also some craft and art organizations. The kids had a lot to do and they really enjoyed their time there.
I guess some of the other interesting things that surprised me that were there, there’s actually a company, Niftee Circuits, that makes different kind of electronic products using LEDs and different kinds of circuitry and sensors. I’m sure many of you are familiar with a game you might play at a barbecue or in your backyard, if you’re cooking out, called Cornhole where you have this sort of angled plywood board with a hole in it and you have these bean bags and you throw them from across the yard and you try to get them into hole.
These people have made a Cornhole that is electronic and they had different designs. One was like a Stormtrooper design from Star Wars. They had some other interesting designs. The Cornhole was powered and had LED lights, several different kinds. Some of them are strip lights on the sides, some of them were lit up in the hole.
When the bean bag goes through the hole, there was a sensor. It was absolutely definitive if you made it through the hole and scored a point or not. I asked them about it and I said, “Hey, is it possible a bean bag could go through there and it wouldn’t trip the sensor?” They said, “No, absolutely not. If it goes through there at all, it trips the sensors. Lights flash and it goes nuts and changes colors. You know it happens.”
I thought that was pretty cool, although pretty pricey at what I believe is around $300 or $350 for a Cornhole set. If you are really into it and you did a lot of tailgating at the football games or you took it with you to events like that, to your favorite sports team, or even if you cook out a lot and have a lot of people over.
Maybe it’d be worth it to you to buy one at that kind of expense, to have the coolest Cornhole probably in your town, if not your county. Anyway, I thought that was interesting. I have some photos of that and information on that company that will also be on the blog post at 3DStartPoint.com. If you’re interested in that, go and check that out.
I guess, overall as a 3D print enthusiast, I was a little underwhelmed at the SoCal MakerCon. Actually, the only other thing I think that’s really worth noting is that there were some organizations showing there that are part of robotics competitions.
They actually participate, it’s like students in high school level, that join teams and participate in different robotics. The Robotics Society of Southern California was there and then there’s another one that I’ve come in contact recently called Code Orange, that’s for Orange County, California. These kind of organizations are getting youths involved in robotics and all things around robotics.
They have these robots they had built, which is all part of a competition that started back in January, where they get the information on the requirements of what the robot is to do. They have only six weeks to build this robot and then have it compete. I’m talking serious robot. I’m talking the size of R2D2 or bigger. It’s significant where it has to drive around the floor and pick up a ball, like a basketball, it’s probably not quite that heavy.
It has to be able to aim and shoot that ball into a very specific target from all kinds of different distances and angles and heights. It’s really impressive what these kids do. One of these robots was on display at SoCal MakerCon. I saw another one at another event recently and shot some video of it. That video will also be on our blog post at our 3DStartPoint.com so you can check it out.
It bears mentioning not just for the robotics, which is really impressive and what these kids do to do this. Think about it, they have to program these robots to perform specific tasks in a specific sequence and they get judged on that. But then they also have to remote pilot this robot to go and do other things at times.
These things are able to visually sense a target. It’s really amazing because these robots have to not only pick up a ball off the floor and then load it however it’s going to shoot it, but then it’s like it has to rotate radially the angle it’s going to shoot it and it actually has to sense the target. It actually has the ability through photo sensors and other things to seek out a target and judge how far away it is, how high it is, and then shoot the ball at the right direction, angle, velocity and everything to go into there perfectly.
It’s really impressive how well it does. There’s even a test where the robot has to grab onto the target and lift itself off the floor for a certain amount of time. Very impressive that these youths, these kids in high school, do that. Many of them actually end up going on to get scholarships at a lot of great universities for participating in it.
The robot had a lot of interesting 3D printed parts and gears. It takes a lot of money to do this stuff and usually each of these teams has a corporate sponsor that kicking in money and resources to help them do it. Still, even with all those money and resources, they have certain kinds of functions they’re trying to achieve. Whether it’s a certain gear or some other mechanical part.
They can’t just find it that easily and machining it would take longer and too costly so they’re 3D printing a lot of these parts. Anyway, long story probably too long, try to make it shorter here. Basically, that’s an interesting tie in, as to robotics using lots of different 3D printed parts in order to achieve their goal.
SoCal MakerCon 2016 Recap – Final Thoughts
For me, again as a 3D printing guy, I wasn’t as jazzed at the SoCal MakerCon 2016 as I was last year. I thought there was a lot more to see. Also, the speakers, I was hoping they were going to improve their stage and their environment for speakers, but it actually was smaller than it was last year and it was so noisy in there with the drone races, it was even harder to hear them than last year. I think that that could use some improvement.
Still, it’s hard to put on a big show like that. I respect Vocademy for taking it on and doing it and keeping it going. Because above all else, I think it’s really important to keep these kinds of shows going regionally around the country and get more people into making and into 3D printing and into robotics and all these different things.
Anyway, I’d really be interested to hear if there are similar kind of regional MakerCons around the country. If you know of any in your area and you can share them with us, please leave us a comment at the bottom of this blog post and let us know about it.
- SoCal MakerCon
- SoCal MakerCon 2015 Recap
- Making 3D Printing More Accessible with MatterHackers
- Mark Forged – The Mark-Two 3D Printer
- Attacking a Difficult 3D Print with Russell Singer of MAKEiT
- Niftee Circuits – Light Up Corn Hole Game
- Code Orange Robotics
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