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3-D Printing and the Return of Craftsmanship

3D Systems' chief lays out a plan for the return to localized digital craftsmanship fueled by the power of 3-D printing.

3D Systems CEO, Avi Reichental, kicked off Mediabistro's Inside 3-D Printing Conference and Expo in NYC yesterday with a dim picture of the state of manufacturing.

"The vital craftsmanship muscles" that once made this country — and the industry — great "have atrophied," he said. "As a result, our products have become commodified, uniform and cheap."

To illustrate the point, he pulled up an image of his grandfather, a cobbler in early 20th century Poland — a man lost to the holocaust, he said, and master of a craft lost to mass production.

That is a story, he said, that he is determined to change.

"The idea that I want to share with you today is that [3D Systems co-founder] Chuck Hull's invention — 3-D printing — is catapulting us into the future," he explained. "It is ushering in a new kind of industrial renaissance, one that is all about localized digital craftsmanship."

To Reichental, the rise of 3-D printing signals many things. It is disrupting the mass production model, for example, "turning the economy of scale on its head" in the process. It is transforming manufacturing and design by helping companies develop new products faster and in forms never before imagined or possible. It is increasing quality and complexity of finished goods and attracting a whole new generation of manufacturers to the industry.

But the most significant impact, he said, is the democratization of manufacturing, which he believes marks the return of production and making power to local experts — to the craftsmen with the creative power to change the world.

"GE is using 3-D printing to manufacture some of the most lightweight and efficient aircraft engines ever made," he noted. "That's good for GE. But you'd expect big companies like GE to do this."

"What's even better," he added," is that the same capability is also available to startups."

Power to the Makers

The Inside 3-D Printing Conference was itself a validation to Reichental's point.

The tradeshow set up just yards from his podium was flooded with booths and products from all of the big players you would expect — 3D Systems and MCOR, Shapeways and Sculpteo. But with them, sharing equal space and equal spotlight, were just as many startups and eager innovators — software providers, 3-D printer makers, artists and artisans, material suppliers and industry disruptors.

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Reichental shows off his 3-D printed shoes: "Thanks to this invention, I too am a cobbler."

"Everything you see here at the show," Reichental said, "it represents a localized digital renaissance."

The power, he said, to become what they want to be.

With that, Reichental stepped from behind his podium to reveal his custom pair of bright red, hybridized 3-D printed shoes — shoes designed and printed on his own machines.

"Thanks to this invention, I too am a cobbler," he told the crowd, proudly. "I am honoring my past while helping to build the future."

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