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The space between physical and digital is shrinking, and a big part of this convergence is due to the efforts of many of us in the 3D space to democratize access to 3D tools; tools that easily move the physical into the digital and back again. These widely available tools enable makers and manufacturers alike to be more nimble, more creative and more responsive than ever.

School children watch the Cube 3D printer at work.

School children watch the Cube 3D printer at work.

Democratized making and manufacturing began to take shape with the introduction of at-home 3D printing. Affordable machines like the Cube and CubeX gave virtually anyone the power to make complex designs that were previously impossible or extremely time consuming. These 3D printers, along with cloud 3D printing services, continue to allow more and more people to create customized physical objects out of bits and bytes. As 3D technology becomes more widespread and quality increases, I believe that 3D printers will lead the way for a hyper-local manufacturing movement, one in which the consumer goods we need can be made in a more environmentally friendly, socially responsible way.pingfu badge The Duality of the Physical and Digital Worlds

The missing piece for some time had been the data. While the means of building had become available and easy, we were still starved for the building blocks. At the end of the day, if you don’t have a design to print, a 3D printer is little more than a glorified doorstop. Sure, you could download and print someone else’s data, but it’s a patchy solution that doesn’t allow true democratization to take hold. We needed an empowering way to generate 3D content, allowing grandmas and grade-schoolers alike to create 3D printable designs from scratch.

Yet for a long period of time, CAD systems were intimidating, difficult and expensive. The landscape of 3D design software, though, seems to have shifted, as many companies are making powerful, easy-to-use design software at reasonable price points. Importantly, there is also a host of gamified 3D creation apps and intuitive 3D sculpting software (like Cubify Sculpt) available, which all go a long way toward bringing 3D design tools to the mainstream.

Cubify Sculpt digital sculpting design software

Cubify Sculpt digital sculpting design software

With easy-to-use 3D printers and 3D software, we’ve come a long way in giving everyone the tools to create with confidence. Yet for most people one piece was still missing: the ability to bring physical objects into the digital world and to complete the transaction, inextricably linking the two worlds so that anyone could use one to influence the other.

But that piece isn’t missing anymore. I’m excited that 3D Systems has introduced our new Sense scanner, a portable scanning device that anyone can use. In making Sense, we wanted to create a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) 3D scanner and make it affordable, flexible, and intuitive.

Simply put, with Sense we’re now truly on the cusp of democratizing the scan-design-make process with affordable, intuitive tools. The Sense captures your reality. Let’s look at how it can empower you.

  • Capture the Moment – We first conceived of Sense as an accessory to the Cube, but people have surprised us by using it in so many different ways. Sense is introducing “physical photography,” and with this introduction, the divide between physical and digital is rapidly disappearing, allowing us to instantly see our world in 3D from our desktop or tablet. People are using Sense to entertain at home, at parties, in nightclubs and on the dance floor. Sense blends entertainment and technology.

    3D Systems' brand new Sense scanner

    3D Systems’ brand new Sense scanner

  • Repair – One of our teammates had several outdoor light fixtures that were broken by a combination of exposure to the elements and energetic basketball games. Although the fixtures had gone out of production, he was able to scan them, fix them in CAD, and print a whole new set.
  • Improve – Say you have a toothbrush holder with only four spots, but there are five people in the house. Oh, and the toothbrush holder is only meant for regular toothbrushes, not the motorized toothbrush heads your family uses. Faced with this exact conundrum, an engineer at 3D Systems scanned his toothbrush holder, created a new design that would accommodate five motorized toothbrush heads, and printed the design on a Cube. To this day, his family is still happily using it.
  • Mash-Up – Want to put your head on your favorite action figure? Scan the figure and your face, and merge them together in Cubify Sculpt. Maybe you want to make your friend look like a Klingon. Scan your friend and convert his or her face into digital clay in Cubify Sculpt, and then model away.
  • Archive – With scanning we have the ability to go far beyond just photographs. We can capture memorable moments in 3D. We can even digitize sentimental objects in 3D and recreate them.
  • Customize – Maybe you want to make wedding cake toppers that look like the bride and groom. Perhaps you want to make a wrist brace that fits you exactly (as one of our engineers did). Scanning makes all of this possible by bringing physical objects into a digital design environment, so you can then perfectly adapt them your liking.

I can’t wait to see what you all create now that the scan-design-make system is more available, more convenient and more intuitive than ever. Now that the physical and digital worlds can be held in your hands, what will you capture?

Ping Fu

Ping Fu

VP & Chief Entrepreneur Officer, 3D Systems

Honored in 2005 by Inc. Magazine as Entrepreneur of the Year, Ping Fu describes herself as an artist and scientist whose chosen expression is business. In 1997, Ping co-founded Geomagic, a 3D imaging software company, which was acquired by 3D Systems in February 2013. Before co-founding Geomagic, Ping was involved in the NCSA Mosaic software that led to Netscape and Internet Explorer. Ping serves on the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Department of Commerce and on the board of directors at the Long Now Foundation. Ping’s book “Bend, Not Break” was published by Portfolio Penguin in January 2013.


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