Bringing home the bacon

by Dave Wilson, Editor

When you spend one week at an overseas trade show like the National Design Engineering Show (NDES) there is one important thing that you can’t forget to bring home – toys for the kids. And, if you are like me, it always takes a lot more work to find the appropriate gift for the offspring than it does to work the trade show itself.

Fortunately, at this year’s NDES, I met a man with some ideas on how to put an end to this problem. Albeit the fact that his solution might not be practical until ten years from now, it is nice to know that there is an end in sight.

The man in question was Dr Richard Balanson, the president and chief operating officer of Valencia, CA-based 3D Systems, a well known outfit that manufactures stereolithography equipment for rapid prototyping purposes.

‘This equipment is coming down in cost all the time,’ said Balanson, when I ran into him early one morning before the trade show had opened. ‘One day, every designer will have a system like this on his or her desk. Imagine the possibilities when they do…`

I didn’t have to. Because Balanson wasn’t about to let me leave until he had explored every possibility of the new technology. With a rapid prototyping machine on every desk, a whole host of new opportunities will open up. And coupled with Internet technology and low cost scanners, they will radically alter the way that we design products.

Balanson cited a futuristic example of a child at home who wished to create a personalised Barbie doll with the face of its mother. The first step will be to scan in the mother’s face using an inexpensive 3D scanner. Second, a 3D solids model of a Barbie doll will be downloaded into the same computer simply by dialling into the appropriate Barbie web site and accessing the required information for a small fee. Finally, the face will be layered onto the doll. The resulting output will be sent to a very inexpensive 3D Systems stereolithography machine. Minutes later, a customised doll will be output to the child designer.

If I was in any doubt that this vision of the future was any less than a certainty, then Balanson put my fears to rest. ‘Just look at the price of ink jet technology today compared with ten years ago,` he said. ‘The same thing will happen to stereolithography equipment`.

This trip, however, the option of creating my own toys once I returned home home wasn’t a viable option. And so it was off to Toys `R Us to see what they had on offer. Maybe next year.