Date: Mon Aug 08 2005 - 20:18:19 EEST
Nice to see you back in the bully pulpit. I just have a few comments.
Rapid prototyping hasn't really stalled. In fact, according to Terry's most
recent update it's going gangbusters in terms of units sold and revenue. But
it has changed, and certainly the amount of discussion and interest has
decreased markedly. It's dichotomous that while there has been this great increase
in sales, and an enormous widening of potential application areas as witnessed
by IP developments, there have been less than 100 postings to the RPML during
the last couple of months.
It can't be that all the questions are answered now, but it may be that
certain technologies have become dominant enough to provide easily accepted but
It does matter what a field is called. If the public can't hang a simple
name on it, it won't be understood. And it won't ever be popularized. Nanotech?
That term encompasses a huge range of disparate items, many or most
completely unrelated - but it's a buzzword that gets the juices flowing in a large
segment of the population. It sounds excitingly futuristic, even though it's
inexact and very general.
Clinging to "fabbers" and "fabbing" is not helpful, and stands in the way of
popularization of the field. All the other terms largely stink, too -
including RP which is what I've mostly used. Today "3D printing" is probably the
easiest and only way to make a connection between what's already in the heads of
the public with the greater awareness of this field. Any good marketer knows
that if you don't try to work with what's already in the mind of the prospect,
you will fail to communicate the message. It may be one major reason why
interest in RP has diminished in the face of increased sales. The newbies don't
know that RP is 3D printing.
Being technically correct may give you a warm glow, but it won't heat your
As we discussed on the phone a while back, one of the things that you excel
at is proselytizing. Well, that's a job that needs to be done here - and it
may harbor rewards. I remember as a youth reading about Billy Graham retiring
to his mountain top retreat in Virginia to contemplate his next crusade, or
whatever. He rechargeth his batteries, in any case, in splendid surroundings.
What made this particularly memorable for me as a kid was that he had just come
to our very neighborhood to drive the sinners out of our very own
honky-tonks. Incidentally, the bars were very proud of this, and there were pictures in
the windows from the newspapers of him doing it. It got them more business by
proving that sin could actually be had on the premises.
Now, I was awestruck because somehow I thought when he went home, it would be
to a neighborhood like ours, knee-deep in cigar butts, but it wasn't. The
point I'm trying to make is that you've already started on this path with some
success, and it might not be a bad idea to keep at it. Others have apparently
handsomely succeeded at similar endeavors.
Consonant with the goal of popularizing 3D printing, your university position
and patent portfolio might put you in a unique position to be able to pull
this together. Instead of a $25,000 3D printer for students paid for by the
guvvamint, how about a set of plans or kit for a 3D printer that sells for, oh -
$300 paid for by petty cash? Getting a bunch of grad students together and
designing it, providing licenses for your patents, providing materials - could
be lucrative and in itself lead to industry growth. And much of this you've
already been through as a process with the Genie.
Here's interesting technology that could help put an el cheapo LOM machine on
every student's desk:
The article describes inexpensive laser diode cutting of paper that can
easily be combined with any inkjet printer. LOM is not perfect technology and
maybe there would be manual assembly, and decubing - but for $300 - or less - and
In ending, I have to just say that I don't feel nanotech is a complete
boondoggle, but I suspect it is going to be similar in development path to
biotechnology. That is, many years before a payoff, if any. Considering how much
money and hype is being piled into the field, however, I believe it is a
particular benefit to me that among the first products of the field have been
Castle Island Co.
781-646-6280 (voice or fax)
The Worldwide Guide to Rapid Prototyping
In a message dated 05-08-06 10:33:05 EDT, you write:
I spent most of last year traveling around Northern California
thinking about what to do with my life. I took advantage of the free time to
finally go to the counterculture festival I'd heard about with some
interest, Burning Man. While I was there, I got a phone message from the
University of Southern California asking if I'd like to teach a class in
digital manufacturing. I took them up on that and moved back to Los Angeles
at the beginning of this year to do it. I guess I did a good enough job on
it the first time, since they asked me to go back next semester and teach
both an undergrad and a grad-school version of the course. So that will be
starting up in a few weeks. (The Web site for the course is at
A few months ago, Peter Diamandis, founder of the X Prize (
<http://www.xprize.org/> www.XPrize.org), asked if I'd work with them for a
while to think about the possibility of an X Prize in nanotechnology. So
that's been my main thing this summer. It's a really interesting idea. As
some of you know, I see nanotech as the ultimate direction of where digital
manufacturing is taking us. So I have two conflicting thoughts about this:
* On the one hand, it's tempting to leave behind working on
fabricators and jump whole hog into nanotech. The fabber industry (if you
don't mind me calling it that, which some of you do) feels boring today.
Slow market growth, incremental tech advancement, and virtually unknown
outside our circle.
It's frustrating that for what seem to be entirely political
reasons, nanotechnology has attracted billions of dollars in government and
venture funding, while fabricators, which present a much more immediate and
realistic opportunity for dramatic impact on manufacturing and many, many
other industries, languishes in virtual obsurity.
So what am I gonna do? Good question. When I took the part-time
teaching position at USC, I thought I'd use it as an impetus to write a new
edition of my book. (For those who don't know it,
<http://www.ennex.com/AutofabBook.asp> www.ennex.com/AutofabBook.asp.) I've
been taking stabs at that, but I'm not sure I have the motivation to carry
it through. I've always loved big, hard projects, but I don't know anymore.
It wasn't my intention to remain a lone-wolf entrepreneur forever and I'm
getting tired of it. I've considered leaving technology entirely and getting
involved in some kind of community activism. But whatever I do, I want it to
to be in some kind of team effort. (It occurs to me that any of you who are
reading this far might ask why I don't get involved in the really
interesting research going on at USC in new fabber technologies. I was
hoping that might happen, but it doesn't seem to have been part of the idea
in bringing me here to teach this course.)
When I wrote my book on fabbers in 1993, I said in the preface
that my role in the industry was seeking definition. I didn't expect to be
still seeking that definition twelve years later. Maybe I've made my
contribution and it's time for me to move on to something else. Or maybe
there's an exciting new project around the corner.
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