MCAD Tech News #145

18 May, 2005 By: Jeffrey Rowe

Cadalyst MCAD Tech News

Show Report: Rapid Prototyping

& Manufacturing 2005

From Design to Product — It's Changing Everything

I just returned from the Rapid Prototyping & Manufacturing Conference put on by SME (Society of Manufacturing Engineers) and can report that the industry as a whole, from the perspectives of vendors and users, is in good health.

The three-day event included a number of excellent presentations and panel discussions. As has become tradition, Terry Wohlers, president of Wohlers Associates and an acknowledged expert in additive fabrication, delivered the keynote presentation. In "State Of The Industry: The Rules Have Changed," Wohlers said rapid prototyping and manufacturing have allowed many companies to invent a new business model to better compete. Sales of products and services for additive technologies were about $705 million in 2004, Wohlers reported, 33% greater than in 2003. And as their installed base grows, system vendors are also generating increasing revenue from consumables.

If you really want comprehensive insight into the rapid prototyping and manufacturing market, consider purchasing the Wohlers Report 2005. You'll find information about the various techniques and technologies, industry statistics, trends and what the future might hold. For more information about industry growth and to order the report, click here.

RP Industry Aids Iraq Victims
During the conference, several leaders from the RP industry announced free medical support for victims in Iraq. RP for Baghdad is a humanitarian joint effort of Fried Vancraen (Materialise), Abe Reichental (3D Systems), Scott Crump (Stratasys) and Tom Clay (Z Corporation) to provide medical models for victims in Iraq. These medical models include diverse prostheses such as limbs and ears, and plates for closing massive skull-damage wounds. Even in the difficult environment of war, 3D printed models based on medical image data are important tools to support surgeons in the most complex craniofacial reconstruction surgeries. The effort will focus on the most severely injured victims — those with serious head injuries or missing limbs. While helping people in serious need, the RP industry will demonstrate how its technology can fundamentally influence people's lives for the better.

CAD Data Exchange in the Spotlight
Running parallel with the rapid prototyping conference was CAD Data Exchange: Productivity Through Interoperability, a first-time, one-day event. Topics presented by speakers from diverse industries included interoperability best practices, techniques and technologies, data translation, CAD migration strategies, supplier portals, PDM/PLM integration, quality certification, supply chain integration, international standards activities and data-exchange automation strategies.

Attendees learned about the latest best practices and techniques in a workshop/panel format and interacted directly with leading experts in solving data-exchange problems. The conference also provided an opportunity to learn about the latest data-exchange software tools and services available from vendors who took part in panel discussions and/or exhibited in a specially designated space.

As products are designed, developed and manufactured, efficient global communication of product data is key to speeding products to market and maintaining competitiveness. Sharing CAD data is one of the most important processes in modern manufacturing; however, problems in CAD data exchange plague the industry, presenting one of the most formidable impediments to productivity and time to market in manufacturing today.

Attendees discussed many interesting topics, but not everyone agreed on how to resolve a number of issues. However, we did approach consensus on the following issues:

  • Interoperability problems will always exist between different systems unless or until there is one CAD company — and this will never happen.
  • CAD data will only get richer and more complicated with time, making it increasingly more difficult to translate and exchange.
  • CAD data is intellectual property that we must protect, on at least some level.

A Bright Spot
On the last day of the conference, I participated in SME's Bright Minds, a mentoring program developed to create interest, excitement and an appreciation among high school students for product-development methods, technologies and applications.

The program has three basic objectives:

  • Introduce students to the rapid prototyping, tooling, manufacturing and related industries in hopes of potentially sparking interest and influencing career pursuits.
  • Provide a very basic overview of advanced design and manufacturing technologies, materials, processes, applications and a few key industry terminology buzzwords.
  • Allow students to learn about how and why the technology is used and see examples of interesting applications.
  • Give students the chance to ask questions and interact.
We began the day by introducing ourselves to our respective students and ?interviewed? them as to their backgrounds, areas of interest, future plans, what they expected to get out of the event, etc. We then walked them around the exhibit floor and showed them the myriad vendors and technologies. Where possible, we encouraged the students to interact with the vendors and try hands-on demonstrations.

This event was also a challenge for the vendors, because we had some pretty interesting questions posed to us from an entirely new perspective. All in all, I think the students and the mentors benefited tremendously from this event.

For more about the Bright Minds Mentor Program, go to

I learned a lot from this conference and the mentoring experience, and I look forward to returning next year. It's an exciting time for the technologies, applications and processes emerging from rapid prototyping and manufacturing.

For information about next year's Rapid Prototyping & Manufacturing Conference, go to