This evening, I attended a talk on three dimensional (3D) printing, held by the Vermont Makers a group that encourage projects that fuse together technology and art, by utilizing open source hardware, micro-controllers and other available resources. 3D printers are truly a disruptive technology (A Disruptive technology is a term coined by Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen to describe a new technology that unexpectedly displaces an established technology), now you can print a variety of three dimensional objects instead of buying them. No longer does creating something truly innovative lie in the hands of the few. The printers work by adding layers of material to form different shapes, this is different from traditional machining where material is removed.
Growing up I always hated when one part in a toy broke and you had to throw away the entire toy and buy a new one if you couldn’t fix it. Now you might not have to, pick up the part scan it in a 3D scanner, generate a CAD (computer automated design) layout, and start printing that part out and replaced your broken part.Eventually a manufacture might send you the CAD file to download and print your own replacement part for something under-warranty eliminating the need for a warehouse of parts and making you wait until the part arrives.
As someone mentioned tonight this is maybe as close as we’re going to get to Star Trek’s object replicator a device that can create any object in a matter of seconds. I was pretty excited and decided to take up learning how to use some auto-cad software better so I can create my own parts, being an electrical engineer learning CAD wasn’t part of the standard fare.
While I was watching the commercials running during the NFL Divisional playoffs, I noticed a common theme among them: they all attempted to convince people of the merits of using technology to solve new and complex problems. As an engineer, I was thrilled to see technology and the spirit of innovation taking center stage. I thought it was an effective marketing ploy by showing people what innovation looks like.
For instance, Verizon showed they were able to build an apparatus to be used by a firefighter moving through a fire and new mobile telepresence device that allowed a sick child to attend class. Now, I wish engineers and technologists really worked in cool spaces shown in the commercial with a three-story whiteboard, and working out equations on glass boards. The truth is a lot of brainstorming happens with a powerpoint slide in a conference room sometime supplemented by a classroom sized whiteboard. At the end of the commercial we are told the tag line, “because the world’s biggest challenges deserve even bigger solutions.”
In the Honda Commercial we are told that, “things can always be better,” which as an engineer I can’t argue against, the whole job of an engineer is to make things better. We see the theme of compactness, a bike that can fit in a backpack, a couch that can be stored, and a compact stroller. Unlike the Verizon commercial they didn’t show the brainstorming behind the innovation but instead focused more on the use of the innovative devices.
Of course as an IBM employee (opinions shared in this blog are my own, and do not represent those of IBM), I will say I have several favorite IBM commercial that I’ve seen. I like this one, showing how much can happen in a second such as being able to detect a problem on a high speed train track, detecting a power disruption, or catching financial fraud. The point the commercial is trying to get across no matter how small your data set is it still has some meaning. That’s where analytics comes in, what do you do with all this data. Research has actually shown that through IBM’s tagline, “Building a Smarter Planet”, IBM has created one of the most valuable technology brands in the world.