by Aaron H. Pratt, VP Marketing – Microboards Technology/Afinia
Almost exactly one year ago, we made the decision to enter the fray of 3D printing. What we saw then, and what we see now, was a disruptive technology, positioned to change business, that was beginning to make its way into the desktop market. Technologically speaking, we knew we were a late entrant. 3D printing, sometimes called Additive manufacturing, had been around for 30 years in one form or another. But marketwise, we saw a window of opportunity. Suddenly, garage tinkerers and back-room hobbyists were beginning to produce a product that met the economic requirements and piqued the interest of a much broader market than before. Given our expertise in commercializing new technology products in the B2B space, we decided to help the industry take a step past the tinker toy stage and offer a finished, supported device to users who were ready to try 3D printing but would need something that worked out of the box. And Afinia was born.
3D Printing Gains Media Prominence
The press’s annual pilgrimage to the Consumer Electronics Show gave 3D printing some good attention. While last year pundits were giving up on 3D TVs and yet another laptop(2), this year people got excited. Industry visionaries tried to imagine the new future. One drew a dotted line between 3D printers and the connected TV, another CES standout.(1) CNET’s Rich Brown pointed out that while 3D Printing did not command the presence of a giant booth or a keynote, “every time I walked by a booth owned by a 3D printer manufacturer, the crowds were there in force. People are clearly excited by 3D printing…(3)
And hardly a day goes by without 3D printing landing in a local or national newspaper. 3D printing has been tied to practically every other pressing issue in the public’s mind – from the economy to gun control, and from medicine to outer space.
In medicine, 3D printing is being viewed as a potential game changer. Afinia’s 3D printer has already been used to make assistance devices for disabled children, and others have begun discussing the practicality of prosthetic limbs, custom hearing aids, and dental fixtures. But even further down the road, people are envisioning using the same concept – layering materials to produce a physical embodiment of a 3D design – to create biologically functional materials. Why not human tissue? And if human tissue, why not organs?(4) To be sure, both the accuracy and the available materials have a long way to go before we are printing skin grafts or kidneys in the operating room. But all good things began with a vision.