3D Printing is Changing the World

Samantha Snabes, co-founder of re:3D speaks with an audience member following her SXSW panel, photo by Hojun Choi.

By HOJUN CHOI
Reporter with Silicon Hills News

As 3D printing technology continues to change the way companies approach product design and manufacturing, the industry is also reaching for new limits on its usability.

Samantha Snabes, founder of startup re:3D, told South by Southwest festival goers that as the technology reaches new limits, more research will be needed to make the hardware and design process more widely available.

“As opportunists, sometimes we get so fixated on what goes into designing and making product,” Snabes said. “We might need to go a step further when thinking about accessibility.”

Snabes’ panel titled, “Toilets and Trash: Will 3D Printers Save the World?” highlighted ways in which the industry could expand its reach.

Snabes highlighted recent efforts that aim to teach locals of impoverished areas how to make their own printers using electronic waste that would otherwise lay in a heap of trash. Snabes said these communities can take advantage of new manufacturing methods to improve the local economy.

“I personally think one of the biggest opportunities for us when thinking of 3D printing’s impact on society is its economic gains,” Snabes said.

Snabes also discussed how 3D printing continues to impact a wide variety of industries across construction, healthcare and education.

In addition to introducing new learning practices in the classroom setting, she said that the technology is also helping develop ways to protect the environment, such as less damaging methods to extract honey from beehives.

One part of the presentation showcased a project that uses 3D printing technology and drones to train landmine extractors to better recognize hazards.

Because 3D printing expedites the prototyping of products, Snabes said the technology empowers individuals to test out their imaginations in the real world.

“I think many people, including myself, see real opportunity in creating things more quickly and getting to scale faster,” Snabes said.

Snabes said leaders in the field should also focus on teaching the process of 3D printing in addition to working to improve the capabilities of 3D printing.

Though risk takers in the space are prone to jump into production, Snabes said more needs to be done to figuring out how to make the process more practical.

She said research into material selection and geometric design -among other things, can help innovators avoid making the same mistakes.

“If these repositories are not cultivated, we are constantly going to be reinventing the wheel,” Snabes said

The panel took place Tuesday at the J.W. Marriott hotel, and was attended by a crowd of about a hundred festival goers.

Alexander Crease, an applications engineer for Massachusetts-based Markforged, spoke to Silicon Hills News after the panel and said the event was an opportunity for those involved in the industry to explore and build new perspectives.

“The big step we have to take as a 3D printing community is to figure out how we educate and showcase the best practices of the technology,” Crease said.

“Even with internet and social media, networking at events like this is really important because we get to interact one-on-one with leaders in the field.”

Snabes’ startup, with offices in Austin and Houston, successfully raised $250,000 through a Kickstarter campaign it announced at SXSW 2013, which helped the company’s development of the “Gigabot” 3D printer.

According to its website, the company has sold more than 200 units. The University of Texas at Austin, Nokia Inc. and NASA are among the startup’s clientele. Prices of the 3D printers currently range from $8,500 to $16,995.

Last year, Forbes reported that the 3D printing, or “additive manufacturing” industry’s estimated value was more than $5 billion in 2015, citing a study published by Wohlers Associates.

Correction: This article has been updated to correct the amount of money raised by re:3D in its Kickstarter campaign.

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