Although the event had a relatively small footprint, it was packed. I estimate about 750 attendees in the keynote each morning, and the conference boasted 3,000 total attendees (which may include those folks just coming for networking/visiting the expo hall). During a show of hands in Terry Wohlers’ keynote, about 1/3 of the audience was totally new to 3D printing. And based on how crowded the exhibit hall was—every time I approached it, I saw a wall of people—there was a lot of interest in just watching the machines running.
The MakerBot booth was, as is typical, quite crowded—they had about ten Replicator 2s (there was a 2x in there, too) running at all times. And 3D Systems, the first booth you saw approaching the exhibit hall, had all sorts of activity going on, including a musician demonstrating a 3D-printed guitar:
FormLabs was on hand, showing off their high resolution stereolithography printer. It’s incredible to watch, and the quality of the objects is amazing:
I enjoyed the keynotes and tutorials immensely. One thing that impressed me was how well the crowd mixed—it included plenty of people who were completely new, lots of people from the “desktop” 3d printing world, and plenty of people from medical and aerospace, whose printers cost several times more than most of us make in a year. Of all the talks I saw, I found Terry Wohlers‘ among the most interesting. His firm has been watching this industry for a while, and although desktop 3d printing is a relatively recent development in additive manufacturing’s 40 (or 150!) year history, he gave a lot of coverage to the desktop 3d world.
And that’s well-deserved. He pointed out that in 2011, there were 1600 stories in the media on 3D printing, and that jumped to 16,000 in 2012. On top of that, of the personal 3d printers that it’s possible to track (this doesn’t count bespoke or home-built devices), there were 5,978 sold in 2010, 23,265 in 2011, and he says the 2012 numbers will be much higher than 23k.
Matt Griffin, author of our upcoming book on designing for 3D printing, gave a great talk on various approaches to design and design tools that are available. What I really enjoyed about his talk was how he clearly lined up the mind-boggling array of tools (especially free or cheap ones), including Netfabb Basic, Meshlab, Meshmixer, Blender, OpenSCAD, 123D Design (just to pick ones that I use personally), and explained what each of them do. I remember when I was starting out with this, that I had no clue which tool was for creating models, for messing with models, and for repairing them. It took me a long time to get this all straight, and I wish I’d been able to time-travel from back then to Matt’s talk.
The last bit that I caught was the Lightning Round Sessions. Several 3D printing startups showed off their stuff there:
The 3D Printing Store: They have a group of stores in the Denver, CO area where people can print designs and also receive design consultations so they can successfully print them.
File2Part: These folks seem to be in the early stages, but have a lot of experience with materials software and hardware. They plan to introduce pro desktop 3d printers in 2014.
Within Technologies: They have technology to create various lattice structures inside objects. They showed off a whole lot of biology-inspired infills that I only wish I could get in my slicing programs! I’m sure I’ll never be able to afford their stuff.
MakerStash: A startup from Atlanta, GA who’s working on high quality filament, eventually moving into all sorts of things makers need (not just 3d printing supplies).
FormLabs: I mentioned them earlier in this post. They’ve got really great, affordable stereolithography printers.
Direct Dimensions: If you’ve ever scanned your head in the MakerBot store in New York City, you used their ShapeShot product. They are actively developing this product, and it will be on the market soon.
Authentise: I didn’t quite get a sense of how this will work, but they are working on a streaming and steganography-based approach to IP protection on designs. It sounded like this might be a compromise between DRM and the wild west, but as a big fan of DRM-free products (like the ebooks we publish!), I lean a little more to the wild west.