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3D printing takes off in 2015

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As people begin to understand the benefits of 3D printing, devices get cheaper and support for the technology grows, 3D printing is set to take off this year, writes NATALEE ROBERTSON.

Imagine a world where you don’t have to buy replacement parts for your car or home appliance – you can just print your own. Picture having the most creative and innovative idea of your life and having the tools and technology at your fingertips to be able to bring it to life. This is the reality of 3D printing.

The last few years have seen the rise of 3D printing as the technology has developed. However, what has been lacking is an understanding of just how useful this technology can be. That said, there is a lot more evidence that 3D printing is a smart investment, especially as people begin to understand the technology, new players are entering the game, support is increasing and real innovation is beginning to take place across industries.

As global recognition increases, it makes sense that there are several new players entering the 3D printing game. While it is still a difficult market to break into, the established players are investing a lot in their own research and development, which is helping to move things forward by growing support for the industry and resulting in the addition of new composite materials to the mix.

As we all know, nothing new comes without a few stumbling blocks and one of the main ones for 3D printing has been navigating CAD software, which is targeted at engineers. In 2015, however, many companies are coming up with solutions for this, either in the form of better services or by incorporating scanners into their offerings, which means that any design can be uploaded to a desktop 3D printer. This lends itself to the idea that 3D printing truly consolidates the physical and digital world.

The announcement by MakerBot at CES 2015 that it will offer spools of PLA composite materials, created in three categories i.e. metal, stone, and wood, later this year is also a major development for the industry. With these new materials, that look realistic, becoming available for home and industry printing, the technology will become more valuable and reach a wider user base.

Currently, the user base largely comes from professional industries with a design focus, such as engineering and architecture, with the biggest print categories being scale model, prototype and art/fashion creation.  There is also significant adoption among hobbyists. The opportunities to use 3D printing are endless, and some areas where it has the potential to make a notable impact include:

·         Food: Nasa is one of the biggest advocates for printed food, because of the logistics involved in feeding astronauts on long-term space travels. They are particularly excited about being able to eat printed pizza on their journeys.

·         Transport: 3D printing is playing an increasingly important role in the design and development of vehicles, with the potential to transform not only the way cars are designed, leading to greater efficiency, but their ergonomics and aerodynamics, too. Airplane parts will also be made lighter thanks to 3D printing.

·         Surgery: Creating artificial body parts is another great use for 3D printing in the healthcare industry. Not only would it speed up the process for patients urgently needing surgery, but it would also give doctors in training the opportunity to practice on life-like models to hone their skills.

·         Manufacturing: No longer will manufacturing be synonymous with factories, machine tools and production lines. 3D printing is levelling the playing field and reshaping product development, turning individuals, small businesses and corporate departments into the ‘makers’.

·         Education: Schools are still in the early stages of adopting 3D printing technology, but its potential in the education space is massive. It can provide teachers with 3D visual aids to illustrate difficult concepts and capture students’ attention, and it can make the classroom more interactive as students can work in a hands-on manner with 3D models and even create their own mini-models.

What is significant for the 3D printing industry is that as more people are acquiring the skills to use it, we are seeing the technology being used in new ways for real innovation. Until now, it has mostly been used to print already-existing objects in a different form; however, as we move into the future, there is a definite trend towards using the advancing technology to develop new ideas and new products, as well as customise these products to make them more useful. In addition, the scope to use this technology to improve a host of situations and industries is immense.

And that is the crux of it all. Yes, we are seeing an increase in the speed of printing coupled with the addition of new features that make the price of a printer more justifiable. But what is driving the tech creep from new innovation at the high end, through to the prosumer and finally the consumer, is the fact that new materials, better software and more developed companies are resulting in more valuable technology with more realistic benefits – and really, the sky is the limit.

* Natalee Robertson, MakerBot Product Manager at Rectron South Africa

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Millennials turning 40: NOW will you stop targeting them?

It’s one of the most overused terms in youth marketing, and probably the most inaccurate, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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One of the most irritating buzzwords embraced by marketers in recent years is the term “millennial”. Most are clueless about its true meaning, and use it as a supposedly cool synonym for “young adults”. The flaw in this targeting – and the word “flaw” here is like calling the Grand Canyon a trench – is that it utterly ignores the meaning of the term. “Millennials” are formally defined as anyone born from 1980 to 2000, meaning they have typically come of age after the dawn of the millennium, or during the 21st century.

Think about that for a moment. Next year, the millennial will be formally defined as anyone aged from 20 to 40. So here you have an entire advertising, marketing and public relations industry hanging onto a cool definition, while in effect arguing that 40-year-olds are youths who want the same thing as newly-minted university graduates or job entrants.

When the communications industry discovers just how embarrassing its glib use of the term really is, it will no doubt pivot – millennial-speak for “changing your business model when it proves to be a disaster, but you still appear to be cool” – to the next big thing in generational theory.

That next big thing is currently Generation Z, or people born after the turn of the century. It’s very convenient to lump them all together and claim they have a different set of values and expectations to those who went before. Allegedly, they are engaged in a quest for experience, compared to millennials – the 19-year-olds and 39-olds alike – supposedly all on a quest for relevance.

In reality, all are part of Generation #, latching onto the latest hashtag trend that sweeps social media, desperate to go viral if they are producers of social content, desperate to have caught onto the trend before their peers.

The irony is that marketers’ quest for cutting edge target markets is, in reality, a hangover from the days when there was no such thing as generational theory, and marketing was all about clearly defined target markets. In the era of big data and mass personalization, that idea seems rather quaint.

Indeed, according to Grant Lapping, managing director of DataCore Media, it no longer matters who brands think their target market is.

“The reason for this is simple: with the technology and data digital marketers have access to today, we no longer need to limit our potential target audience to a set of personas or segments derived through customer research. While this type of customer segmentation was – and remains – important for engagements across traditional above-the-line engagements in mass media, digital marketing gives us the tools we need to target customers on a far more granular and personalised level.

“Where customer research gives us an indication of who the audience is, data can tell us exactly what they want and how they may behave.”

Netflix, he points out, is an example of a company that is changing its industry by avoiding audience segmentation, once the holy grail of entertainment.

In other words, it understands that 20-year-olds and 40-year-olds are very different – but so is everyone in between.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Robots coming to IFA

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Robotics is no longer about mechanical humanoids, but rather becoming an interface between man and machine. That is a key message being delivered at next month’s IFA consumer electronics expo in Berlin. An entire hall will be devoted to IFA Next, which will not only offer a look into the future, but also show what form it will take.

The concepts are as varied as the exhibitors themselves. However, there are similarities in the various products, some more human than others, in the fascinating ways in which they establish a link between fun, learning and programming. In many cases, they are aimed at children and young people.

The following will be among the exhibitors making Hall 26 a must-visit:

Leju Robotics (Stand 115) from China is featuring what we all imagine a robot to be. The bipedal Aelos 1s can walk, dance and play football. And in carrying out all these actions it responds to spoken commands. But it also challenges young researchers to apply their creativity in programming it and teaching it new actions. And conversely, it also imparts scholastic knowledge.

Cubroid (Stand 231, KIRIA) from Korea starts off by promoting an independent approach to the way it deals with tasks. Multi-functional cubes, glowing as they play music, or equipped with a tiny rotating motor, join together like Lego pieces. Configuration and programming are thus combined, providing a basic idea of what constitutes artificial intelligence.

Spain is represented by Ebotics (Stand 218). This company is presenting an entire portfolio of building components, including the “Mint” educational program. The modular system explains about modern construction, programming and the entire field of robotics.

Elematec Corporation (Stand 208) from Japan is presenting the two-armed SCARA, which is not intended to deal with any tasks, but in particular to assist people with their work.

Everybot (Stand 231, KIRIA) from Japan approaches the concept of robotics by introducing an autonomous floor-cleaning machine, similar to a robot vacuum cleaner.

And Segway (Stand 222) is using a number of products to explain the modern approach to battery-powered locomotion.

IFA will take place at the Berlin Exhibition Grounds (ExpoCenter City) from 6 to 11 September 2019. For more information, visit www.ifa-berlin.com

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