3-D printing, or additive manufacturing, is all over the tech and geek news-o-sphere (covered lots in BoingBoing, Wired, and Gizmag), but seems to have a hard time jumping from concept lab to commercial uses.
The past two weeks, though, show we are crossing the chasm:
National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) – This new consortium, located in the Rust/Tech belt, includes the Departments of Defense and Energy, nine Research Universities, five Community Colleges and 11 Non-Profit Organizations. According to the press release:
"The NAMII will provide the innovation infrastructure needed to support new additive manufacturing technology and products in order to become a global center of excellence for additive manufacturing. This pilot institute will bridge the gap between basic research and product development for additive manufacturing, provide shared assets to help companies, particularly small manufacturers, access cutting-edge capabilities and equipment, and create an environment to educate and train workers in advanced additive manufacturing skills."
3-D Printing Goes Portable - Two MIT students have developed a 3-D printer in a suitcase.
What does it mean for Sarasota?
First, Fast Company named Sarasota one of the top 10 under-rated hotbeds of innovation. Certainly the tech incubator the HuB has a lot to do with raising our visibility, but we are also home to lots of design and niche manufacturing. 3-D printing sits in the middle of the Venn diagram where design and making things intersect.
Second, there was a painful meeting last week on workforce development, as reported in the Sarasota New Leader. According to surveys, jobs are going un-filled because skills related to engineering and technical processes are lacking. There was a lot of finger pointing – are the schools not preparing students or are manufacturers not taking an active role in reaching into the curriculum and student pool? My opinion is that the for-profit colleges offer the best model. Because of giant pressure on for-profit colleges, they actually have to document (1) the number of students who get jobs and (2) whether or not those students are employed in their field of study. This has produced aggressive outreach (I was on a task force with Everglades College and saw this firsthand. It is impressive). Linking manufacturing skills and the right students is going to take a new type of collaboration (similar to what Career Edge is doing). This is a perfect match for more nimble, design-heavy applications – in short, 3-D printing.
Finally, 3-D printing is already becoming part of the local curriculum. GWIZ has the Fab Lab, which has equipment for custom manufacturing. Local community colleges and schools are acquiring the equipment. The Manatee County schools have a curriculum for students that covers the entire realm of 3-D printing: drawing, drafting, materials, computers, and finished product.
This still leaves the key question: if the technology exists, how do we bring it to market in a big, economically powerful way? Early users include artists and weapons manufacturers (suppose it was inevitable). However to really scale this up, a community would need to do nothing less than intervene in the supply chain. Can you imagine a giant scavenger hunt where teams would work with manufacturers and retailers to cull out items that could be produced locally on 3-D printers?
Of course there are potential losers in this disruption. Injection mold operations come to mind, but importers and certain retailers are at risk. Disney just announced a new product that creates a princess doll with your kids face using 3-D printing. Put toymakers on that list too.
To see this infographic, go to