Which is more exciting: a football cleat that is partially made from 3D printed material, or a pen that lets users draw in three dimensions?
I think that lots of people, at least on the surface, would say a device that lets them draw in three dimensions seems like a much more significant development than a new pair of football cleats that can be lighter thanks to new technology.
These two products are real. The cleats are the new Nike Vapor Laser Talon, a 5.6-ounce football performance cleat that uses a structurally complex and ultra light cleat plate created by selective laser sintering. The other is the 3Doodler, one of several popular 3D inventions with explosive backing from Kickstarter. A pen-like object, the 3Doodler extrudes a rapidly hardening plastic material allowing artists to draw squiggles in the air or on paper and layer them into 3D shapes.
Those casually following 3D print related news from media outlets will no doubt be more impressed by the 3Doodler. But which is a more meaningful indicator of the advancement of the 3D industry is a different story. What can we learn about the direction this industry is headed in and the potential impact it may have on business from these two recent product announcements?
The 3Doodler demonstrates just how powerful the “hype” behind 3D printing truly is. A nifty invention to be certain, the 3Doodler has been touted as the “world’s first 3D printing pen.” As some astute tech guys over at Singularity Hub (link) have already pointed out, however, the 3Doodler really has nothing to do with 3D printers.
A 3D printer, by its very definition, is controlled by a computer, and not a human hand. The creators of the 3Doodler came up with a neat little toy, tied it into the hype machine surrounding 3D printing, and came out the other side with $2 million dollars in funding for the project (after an initial goal of $30,000). WobbleWorks, the creators of the 3Doodler, capitalized masterfully on the spotlight –and no one should fault them for that.
But it’s what Nike and other companies have done that really demonstrates how implementing 3D printing into business, specifically manufacturing, is really going to change the way we make things. Nike development teams designed a product from the ground up that would not have been feasible under previous limitations of manufacturing.
Could the same specialized 3D printed cleat plate have been made with a traditional manufacturing method? Perhaps, but there is no way that it would have made sense to do so from a logistical and probably financial standpoint due to the complexity of the piece. What Nike did was special because they utilized additive manufacturing in a way that let them create something that previously would never have made it off the drawing board.
That some will argue that the shoe itself offers no discernable advantage over a competing and traditionally made shoe is not relevant. When design teams are rethinking the way they can make products, that is a sign of a truly innovative and impactful new technology.
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