My Robot Nationís proprietary, browser-based platform lets average consumers quickly and easily personalize an object in 3D, then order their unique creation as a full-color 3D print delivered to their door. (Source: My Robot Nation)
Definite consolidation, Rob. I think part of the impetus is for companies to join forces to get economies of scale to push on market development. A lot of factors are aligning to take 3D printing from a niche market to the mainstream. It won't happen, though without money to promote education, awareness, and distribution of the technology. I think that is the primary driver for some of the consolidation. This particular example is more about 3D Systems buying a variety of technology to support a big push into the consumer sector.
Thanks, Beth, great story. Like Rob, I like that shot of robots on the lawn. I wonder if, in addition to technologies, 3D is also buying access to new markets via Robot Nation's distribution and sales networks, as in deals like this in commercial and industrial markets?
It was inevitable that as soon as this technology hit a certain price point, it was going to move to the consumer market. I think consumer markets will find applications for this that most of us never dreamed of. It reminds me of the early '80s, when the PC hit the market, and skeptics said, "Why would I need a computer to store my recipes?"
Chuck, you gave me a laugh. I remember that time. However, it was a good question on the part of consumers, since PC companies were actually trying to market to us by suggesting we buy them to store recipes. Meanwhile, the machines were entirely unusable by non-technical people: I used many of the early models and have horror stories from that era. This was before the Mac, which actually did change everything.
Ann, I remember those days well. I, too, had a few horror stories. I had an old Tandy PC with a word processing tape cassette that slid into a side door. The word processor was called Scripsit and the display for the Tandy was your TV set. The problem was that the TV set sat right next to the computer, causing the computer to get hot and lock up. I lost some long articles that way.
Chuck, I remember the Tandy, and a lot of other models of PC that have gone into history. I think at the height there were about 25 different brands, all proprietary, from 25 different manufacturers, that all worked differently. It was a nightmare. Given that environment it's easy to see the appeal of MS-DOS.
I agree about MS-DOS, Ann. I'll never forget when IBM announced the PC. It seemed like the announcement was nearly a year before they (and their clones) started to deliver the PC. All of the models except for Apple disappeared almost instantly. The way I remember it, businesses knew they had to start investing in personal computers, but they were nervous about what to buy. Once IBM announced the PC, they put off all their purchase plans until the first PCs arrived. Killed the market for everybody else. Except for Apple.
That's the way I remember the sequence, too, Rob. Except that MS-DOS was really awful for anyone but an engineer to use. I had several hours of training and could not remember much when it got down to making anything work. The cryptic error messages and text format made it really hard to have any idea of where you were or what had just happened, or what to do next. The Mac's GUI is what made me want to use computers--intuitively obvious, just like they said.
You are certainly right about that, Ann. I can't believe how much code I had to learn just to keep the computer going. All I was using was word processing and a database. But if you didn't learn the code to repair thye crashes, you couldn't keep your PC going.
I had a bunch of PCs, Ann. At the time I owned a publishing company, and the only practical computers to own ($$ matched against function) were PCs. Interestingly, when we brought production inhouse we had to buy Macs. They were far ahead of PCs when it came to graphics. Much of the advanced graphic software wasn't even available on the PC. That started a long-standing division in publishing companies that still exists to some extent -- editorial uses PC and art uses Apple.
That divide between PCs for editors and Macs for art continued for a long time. I always wondered why, since the Mac is much preferred by nearly all other writers I've known. I was the only editor admittedly writing on a Mac for a long time.
Yes, I spent a period where I was Mac as well. But then I started getting issued PCs. The reason editorial works with PC is becasue they're less expensive, and if you're primary use is Word and the Internet, the PCs are good enough. As for art, for years they insisted on Mac because the graphis and publishing programs that worked on PCs were not adequate to the job.
The graphics and publishing programs on PCs are still not good enough, AFAIK, all publishing art departments use Macs. Re editorial, I think the main reason was cost. As a writer, Mac is just plain easier and more intuitive to use, even after the switch to Intel and OSX (although much less so than on the PPC platform).
I'm still on a PPC, although it's UNIX-based OSX, and that's not as intuitive as the proprietary System 9 and previous generations, either in the OS or in Word. The few times I've tried to use my husband's Intel OSX it's been a lot worse. OTOH, switching from either platform to the other requires a lot of adjustment, although it's apparently a lot worse from Mac to PC than the reverse.
Yes, I think you're right, Ann, about ti being harder to go from Mac to PC than the reverse. I has surprised me to see friends recently have trouble with Apple. This includes the iPhone and the iPad. I still find Apple fairly easy. I thought the Blackberry was way more difficult than the iPhone.
Beth, the issue of content creation is one that comes up a lot. I was looking at a gaming software solution for a project that was not really a game. The game development environment is great, but a lot of the work is creating the objects that go into the game. Engineering is a creative process by its nature, but it is a problem solving creativity. There is a different type of creativity that goes into making the shapes that you would want to print. This could be a useful acquisition.
Your raise a good point, Naperlou. Not all engineers can think creatively from both a problem solving standpoint and a creative design standpoint. That said, This particular technology is really more to whet the appetite of the consumer/hobbyist/do-it-yourself market for 3D printing, inclusive of some enterprising engineers, I would think.
The content creation piece is one of the holes, however. Even as these 3D printers get cheaper and easily to use and maintain, the software to build the 3D models of what's printed is still more sophisticated than the average Joe. That's where technology like Robot Nation comes in. It doesn't require knowledge of CAD or any other sophisticated 3D design tool.
I have been watching this technology for awhile now. All of the 3d printing. It seems to be just plastics and modeling. I would like to think they could adapt this to print liquid metals such as aluminum. Then you would be able to make actual useable parts. Now that would be something!
@cadmanLT: Actually, I think they've come a way in terms of offering alternative kinds of materials other than the plastics. Some of the 3D printing services like Shapeways specialize in metal material choices--they're big in for consumer-oriented innovators like jewelry makers.
@CadmanLT: My guess is that the consumer-oriented printing services may not be as precise as some of the manufacturing-oriented print services like RedEye and others. I could be wrong, but I would imagine those manufacturing hardcore parts would have some real questions.
I will say though, that even at this point I would love to have one. So the act of making them affordable to everyone is a good one. Although I doubt most would want one I know anyone into 3d modeling and CAD would love to own one. If even just to show what they can make!
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