That presidential mention of 3D printing

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You all heard it, right? Here’s what U.S. President Obama said in his State of the Union address last night: “Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio. A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.”

You’ll remember we wrote about that facility back in August. Oh, and back in 2008. And just to be clear: There is no way we can see significant growth in 3D printing without a significant growth in 3D data capture. It’s why 3D Systems bought Rapidform and is buying Geomagic and it’s why a data capture evangelist like Michael Raphael at Direct Dimensions is cozying up with Bre Pettis at MakerBot and it’s why Ping Fu, who founded a software company that works with captured data, keeps getting interviewed about 3D printing.

Sure, 3D printing gets the press because it’s sexier and produces something tangible and people are still scared of computers and it looks like the Jetsons, but data capture is what’s going to drive the 3D printing industry. I’m quite sure of that.

So that’s why it’s great to hear the president say things like:

So tonight, I’m announcing the launch of three more of these manufacturing hubs, where businesses will partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs.

And I ask this Congress to help create a network of 15 of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is made right here in America. We can get that done.

You’ll remember that the Department of Defense invested $69 million in that Youngstown facility. I’m guessing we’re talking about similar cash outlays for these other 14 hubs. The total spend on that wouldn’t be far from the current size of the entire data capture market in the United States.

(Oh, and if you don’t think the markets pay attention to what the president has to say, please note that shares in 3D Systems and Stratasys jumped today after last night’s mention.)

But those of you out there in the field doing the laser scanning need to speak up and make your voices heard. Make sure there’s money going to capture R&D as much to print R&D. Make sure you’re collaborating on workflow with those in the printing field. 

Along the way, it would be nice, too, if everyone remembered to keep the business case and why anyone would actually want to do these things in mind. Don’t let it be a bubble like 3D printing has been in the past. 

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