The DIY Maker Movement has been using Atmel-powered 3D printers like MakerBot and RepRap for some time now. However, 3D printing has clearly entered a new and important stage in a number of spaces including the medical sphere, architectural arena and science lab. 3D printing is now at that crossover point where it is going from being something primarily driven by hobbyists to true commercial manufacturing. The 3D printing industry is on track to be worth a stunning $3B by 2016. It reminds me of the state of the PC industry in the mid 1970s when it was switching from hobbyists (Apple I) to real computers doing real work (Apple II, driven largely by VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet). Just recently I read about a 3D printer being used to make prosthetic hands and other such parts, real work for sure.
At CES this year, Atmel had various technology zones. The MakerSpace in particular attracted a lot of attention with Arduino boards, 3D printers and other Atmel-powered devices. This just goes to illustrate how mainstream the Maker Movement has become. Atmel has typically focused on the microcontrollers and components inside many consumer devices, a role that puts them squarely in CES territory. They also provide the processor inside most Arduino boards, connecting them closely with the world of making. Atmel is staying firmly connected to Makers.
As Salvador Rodriguez of the LA times said:“While the Internet gave users the ability to have instant access to information, 3D printers will give users the ability to instantly create objects. In the future, users may be able to print shoes that are tailored to the exact size of their feet, among many possibilities. They may also be able to buy products directly from online retailers and print them out immediately, rather than wait for the item to ship.”
The capability to manufacture complex parts in comparatively low volumes means that entrepreneurs can do more than build software/web companies but can make physical things. The cost of creating prototypes using 3D printing technology lowers the barrier a lot, and even low volume manufacturing is scalable. The cost of getting a product into high volume manufacturing can be postponed until it is a sure-fire success. It is not even necessary to own all the technology in-house. Boutique manufacturing operations have come into existence across the U.S. and Asia that offer low-cost options for building small batches of new products.
This is echoed by MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis:“If you had an idea and wanted to get it out into the world, you used have to be a tycoon in an industry. Now you just need an idea and the willingness to fail until it works.”
See Atmel’s video diary at CES here.
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