Roundup and wrapup: Inside 3D Printing Conference 2013

May 06, 2013 | Posted in geekcraft

[The video is by Materialise, whose Joris Debo presented at the conference.]

I was lucky enough to be invited to the first Inside 3D Printing Conference & Expo in New York on April 22 and 23. According to organizers, it was attended by over 3000 people from 35 different countries. Below you’ll find a roundup of the best coverage of the conference. But first my quick wrapup.

3D printing is hot and Wall Street is paying attention. Being a university web developer, I’ve never been to a conference attended by so many investors. It seemed to me that at least a quarter of the people packed into sessions and craning their necks to see printers in the exhibition hall were from the financial sector. In fact, I shared a cab across town the first morning with a young venture capitalist I met at the bus stop outside Penn Station. We were both running late and he was worried: he had been sent to attend the opening keynote. He was then to rush back and report to the-powers-that-be. Happily, we both made it in time for the keynote (and I generously allowed him to pay for the cab as a business expense). However, I hope he stayed for at least a few sessions because there was so much to learn.

In one of the first sessions, Phil Reeves addressed the question of where in the 3D streamline to invest. Do you invest in the company that makes the 3D printer? In the designer of the part? In the service that puts the designer together with the company that does the printing? Or farther upstream, in the company that ultimately uses the part?

All of the 3D printer manufacturers in the exhibition hall were obviously working hard to convince investors of the first choice. But it’s interesting to note that two companies doing all of the first three — 3D Systems and Shapeways — have enjoyed incredibly high earnings and investment growth.

Shapeways recently raised $30 million in investment and, according to Investors Business Daily, 3D Systems is expected to maintain its “13 consecutive quarters of double-digit revenue growth.”

As a maker, this doesn’t surprise me. Although complexity may be free in 3D printing — it doesn’t cost more to make a complex object, as opposed to in traditional manufacturing — complexity is hard to design. And right now, consumer 3D printers aren’t the easiest to operate and they’re still expensive. Providing an entire ecosystem for the consumer-user makes sense.

I have to admit that despite the steep learning curve and the fact that consumer-level 3D printers are fairly low-res — they don’t print a nice, smooth surface — I still want my own.

Below are my picks for conference coverage. They might convince you to jump into the 3D maker revolution, too.

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