As I sit here in Tennessee (happy that I got out of Houston before the flooding started) and reflect upon this year’s SPAR 3D (formerly the SPAR International conference and expo), I continue to feel like it marked some sort of turning point. This past year has seen a lot of changes both in the SPAR world and in the 3D imaging market in general. In fact, thanks to a conversation with Geoff Jacobs of Leica, that may be the last time you hear me refer to it as 3D imaging! But, I digress.
Diversified Communications, which owns and manages the SPAR brand (along with a plethora of other conferences and trade publications) updated the brand this year, changing the brand name from SPAR Point Group to SPAR3D as well as introducing updated websites and a lot of new SPAR staff. The downturn in the price of oil gutted what has traditionally been the heart of the SPAR crowd – especially in Houston – and it doesn’t look to be returning anytime soon. Predicting the future is tricky business, but somehow I find myself compelled to do so while covering a past event! Without further ado, here are my takeaways from this past week’s conference.
- Turning Point – When most of us think of the SPAR conference, we think of laser scanning and the petrochemical industry. These are the seeds from which all of this grew, but I think we will look back at this year as a turning point in the focus of the conference. I still think those technologies and that market segment will be well represented moving forward. However, they are fairly static. The growth is coming from other sectors (asset management, BIM, construction verification, etc.) and other technologies (drones, photogrammetry, web apps, etc.).
- Filling In the Gaps – I spoke with several companies that are pitching very narrow applications at a low price point. Essentially, these tools are either replacing a laborious process or are filling in the gaps between other applications. This is a very interesting market to me as it offers a lower cost of entry for everyone involved. It also offers additional possibilities. From web apps like SKUR for model verification to new plug-ins for Autodesk applications to the Faro App Store we saw a lot of new tools pop up this year.
- The Pace of Change Varies – For laser scanning, the pace of change seems to be slowing a bit. While that sounds like a bad thing, in my opinion it’s not. There was a time when you had to get your ROI in under 24 months or you wouldn’t be able to buy your unit’s replacement model when it came on and blew your unit out of the market! Maturity might dilute the exhibit floor excitement a bit, but it is a good thing for those of us worried about profitability the other 51 weeks out of the year.In contrast, dynamic sensors and photogrammetric software all saw tremendous advances in the past 12 months. Both showed up ready to do more for less money.
- Shift in Focus – For years now SPAR has seemed to focus on capturing reality. This year saw a tremendous focus on getting the digital world back into reality. From the topics as mundane as construction stakeout to full augmented reality systems they were all addressing the same issue; the gap between design and build. Many of us have been bridging this gap for years, but it has never been very easy. This is a place where the Europeans’ focus on BIM has put them ahead of the US market. The good news is that many of us in the US are discovering that some of the tools we find ourselves in need of are ready and waiting for us, already developed for European customers.
- Asset Owners – I met more asset owners this year than ever before. A few were a bit cagey about who they worked for, but most seemed to be trying to address the same questions. What tech would be best for capturing my asset? What software should I use to access that data? Should I outsource or build an internal team to take this on? I also met more than one that mentioned that they were there to get a perspective outside of the one presented to them by a single manufacturer or service provider.
- My Vision for the Future – Here I go prognosticating again! If I think about my week and try to distill all of the various messages into a comprehensive singularity I think it is “Big Data.” I think that SPAR3D is moving toward being a conference that centers on the big data of real world assets and all of the peripherals needed to capture that data (which is the sensor heavy conference we all know and love) obtain actionable intelligence from that data (which is the software we continue to see develop) and then get that intelligence back out into the field.The great thing about this is that all three phases are in growth modes. As the market and its tools mature the costs decrease, and new verticals open themselves up to business development.