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3D Printing Expo Showcases What's Next
By: Luke Willoughby
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Last week’s 3D Printing Conference and Expo at the Javits Center in New York City demonstrated the exciting potential of the emerging industry. Some, like the former editor-in-chief of Wired magazine Chris Anderson, expect 3D printing to be "larger than the web." This would be an extreme outlook, but who wouldn’t be excited about custom-making dinner utensils? The imagination is your only limitation.

The consumer segment of the printer market comprises desktop machines that use design software to build anything up to the size of a gallon of milk, give or take. Brooklyn based Makerbot has been at the branding forefront thanks to a $10 million VC investment in 2011 that's funded paid media and Soho storefronts all this time. This brand equity contributed to Stratasys (SSYS), the largest industrial 3D printing group, acquiring Makerbot in June of last year for $403 million in stock. Marketing has since been assigned to Droga5.

Building awareness of 3D printing technology will be the latest race between effective branding and rapidly developing technology. Several companies at the convention were demonstrating units that exceed the capabilities of the current Makerbot Replicator model in coloration, production timing, and level of detail. London-based BotObjects was showcasing its sleek ProDesk3D unit that is the first printer to manage multiple colors within the same mold. The advanced caliber of this group has earned its media recognition across publications including TechCrunch, Gizmodo, FOX, and NBC News.

The education industry may be a segment where 3D printing can assuage high unit costs for consumers. Schools are actually the best place for anything awe-inspiring that promotes further interest and learning. Vancouver-based Tinkerine promotes its models as easy to use and with open-source software and support, making for a simple introduction to less-sophisticated audiences.

From an industrial standpoint, printing of metal is only now becoming accessible. As it evolves, the efficiencies will still take decades to reach the economies of scale in factory-based manufacturing. But the value becomes clear when you can print a part in one step rather than 20. Boeing, Ford, and GE are already using these methods for complex parts of machinery. HP has also recently announced it would be entering the market, driving concern from the other established industry players like Stratasys, 3D Systems, and Form Labs.

But healthcare might ultimately be the most inspiring application; ideal for individualized requirements like prosthetics and bone requirements. The potential in this area is not only exciting but also hopeful.

And that’s exactly how you felt walking through the Javits Center, amongst the aisles of cutting-edge technology and brilliant inventors; excited and hopeful, while a jazz band played nearby on 3D-printed instruments.

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About the Author
Luke Willoughby works in the digital media landscape of New York across varying agencies and brands. He also has a background in video and content production, and is invested in the resurgence of the full-service advertising agency and the associated opportunities for the marketing industry. Originally from Denver, Colorado, he's a fan of most outdoor activities and otherwise enjoys reading and film.
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