Tags: 3-D | printing | prototype | entrepreneur

House Committee Looks at Dimensions of 3-D Printing

By    |   Thursday, 03 April 2014 07:38 AM

The House Small Business Committee, chaired by Sam Graves, R-Mo., held a hearing recently titled "The Rise of 3-D Printing: Opportunities for Entrepreneurs."

This industry, also known as "additive manufacturing," has received considerable attention from Wall Street, as investors and pundits try to figure out whether 3-D printing is going to remain a product costing up to a million dollars for large-scale industrial applications, or whether it will be adapted for small business and even home use. Enthusiasts predict that in a few years, most people will know someone who owns a 3-D printer.

In his opening statement, Graves raised this question and noted that some models are priced as low as $1,500, with prices continuing to fall. 3-D printers are commonly used to create prototype products, but it is expected that they will increasingly be used to produce products and parts in a home or small business setting.

Graves predicted that the number of household manufacturers "will likely skyrocket." He declared that it is important for Congress and regulators to "not unduly restrict the ability of small business owners, entrepreneurs and other innovators to help our economy grow."

Witnesses included an expert in the industry and three companies that are using the technology.

Jan Baum is executive director 3D Maryland, "a state-wide leadership initiative created to raise the awareness of 3-D printing and the concomitant business benefits, and to facilitate engagement and implementation of these technologies among business, industry, and entrepreneurs as a driver for innovative economic growth."

Baum emphasized the "disruptive" nature of this technology, which lends itself especially to innovation and entrepreneurship. The sweet spot for the technology is the ability to produce low-volume/high-value custom parts as needed, without the need to maintain expensive inventories.

She explained that there are seven technologies, as well as 200 materials that can be printed and 75 different industrial-level machines available. Baum told of being able to produce a prototype product for an entrepreneur who had already sent $2,500 to China with no results.

Patrick O'Neill, CEO and founder of olloclip, LLC, the holder of more than 30 patents, who was named Entrepreneur of the Year by Entrepreneur magazine, told the story of how he used 3-D printing to move his idea of creating lenses for the iPhone and iPad to enable photographers to enhance their photos. Through a process he described, when his staff learns of likely changes in Apple products, his company can quickly create mockups, design new lenses, print and test them before moving to mass production.

Peter Weijmarshausen, CEO of Shapeways Inc., told of growing up in the Netherlands and developing a passion for open-source software. After demonstrating to acquaintances how he could quickly turn their ideas into products through 3-D printing, in 2008 he and his colleagues launched Shapeways as an online service to convert ideas into "products NOT prototypes." The company now has 140 employees, and Weijmarshausen claimed it is "the world's leading marketplace and community to make, buy and sell custom 3-D printed products, unlocking design opportunities for entrepreneurs and creative consumers." He reported that 94 percent of his clients spent less than $1,000 to open their shops on Shapeways.

Jonathan Cobb, executive vice president of Stratasys, testified that his company, in cooperation with the National Association of Manufacturers, supports a program called STARBASE, which provides a five-day science program to 4th and 5th graders from inner-city schools to encourage them to pursue studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

(Archived video, the staff memorandum and statements of witnesses can be found here.)

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The House Small Business Committee, chaired by Sam Graves, R-Mo., held a hearing recently titled "The Rise of 3-D Printing: Opportunities for Entrepreneurs."
Thursday, 03 April 2014 07:38 AM
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