March 14, 2013
Every year thousands of people descend on Austin, TX for the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference. Spanning a week, SXSW showcases the newest movies, music and technology. The SXSW Interactive portion of the conference is kind of a hipper version of CES, with representatives from most major additive manufacturing (AM) companies.
This year’s opening keynote was presented by MakerBot’s Bre Pettis, and the show floor was littered with 3D printing demos, including guys from 3D Systems running around with Cube’s strapped to their chests. SXSW Interactive also featured a panel on “The Future of 3D Printing” with guests Scott Summit, founder of Bespoke Innovations; Avi Reichental, CEO of 3D Systems, and Alice Taylor, CEO of MakieLab.
The panel began by talking about the business opportunities offered by AM. Reichental noted that while many people call 3D printing a new technology, it’s actually been up and running for over two decades. He singled out the hearing aid industry as an example of a 3D printing success story, where nearly every product sold is created using AM.
Summit and Taylor commented on the fact that the relatively low startup cost of AM made getting their businesses moving easier than would have been possible in the past, particularly when it came to areas like initial capital, inventory and product time-to-market.
“Those are three areas that have become irrelevant when you have a 3D printing business model,” said Summit. “You can have zero inventory, and the cost to risk goes to zero.”
The talk then turned to intellectual property (IP) rights and AM (which we’ve also covered). The panel collectively agreed that industry has more to fear in the field from countries like China, where IP laws are rarely, if ever, enforced, than from 3D printing. The discussion included thoughts on digital piracy, and the panel seemed to side with creativity over kneejerk regulations.
“I live by the ethos of Tim O’Reilly,” said Taylor. “He says, ‘any creative output author needs to fear obscurity more than piracy. If people are pirating your product, it means you’re popular.”
Of course, no recent discussion about AM would be complete without someone talking about 3D printed guns, with the panel expressing the idea that the hype doesn’t match the threat, at least at this level of AM technology. Instead of focusing on the negative, the panel concluded the talk by highlighting the opportunities offered by 3D printing in the field of education. They suggested teachers and parents can generate interest in science by encouraging children to experiment with 3D design and basic engineering principles and have the end result be a 3D printed object they can see and touch.
Below you’ll find a video interview with Bre Pettis. As an aside, while digging around for information, I found it amusing that CNN still considers MakerBot a startup company.