Printing the Future: 3D Systems VP Talks 3D Printed Food and Trillion Dollar Asteroid at NOEW

New Orleans Entrepreneur Week (NOEW) Keynote Hugh Evans is Vice President of corporate development and ventures at the company that invented 3D printing, 3D Systems. His primary role is to travel the world, exploring the makers and the leading users of the technologies and help them facilitate 3D printing dreams.

3D Systems (source) logoMany think 3D printing is a newer technology than it actually is. 3D Systems founder Chuck Hull made the first 3D printed teacup just over 30 years ago. Evans believes the technology was first imagined in 1959 when physicist Richard Feynman was quoted saying, “I am not afraid to consider the final question as to whether, ultimately — in the great future– we can arrange the atoms the way we want; the very atoms, all the way down!”

Feynman’s more than quarter-century year old observation wondered whether atoms could be arranged one by one. Now, 55 years later, modern 3D printers can assemble parts at a near molecular level, making even the most complex designs easier than ever to produce.

Evans noted that two things are happening simultaneously: a revolution is unfolding and that 3D printing is more so than ever in a broad space. He discussed the seemingly endless 3D printing possibilities. With a combination of the right designs and materials and machines– there are currently seven print engines and over 200 materials available– 3D printing has the potential to disrupt a number of industries.

Traditional dense users of the technology include research and development departments, aerospace, automotive, jewelry, dental and medical. The emerging dense users are factory floor manufacturers, fashion, oil and gas, toys, medical implants, electronics, ceramics, food, architecture and building materials, regenerative medicine and education.

Individuals and organizations including New Orleans’ Isidore Newman School and General Electric are embracing the technology. Newman recently acquired a 3D printer while General Electric currently has 221 engineers assigned to the next generation aircraft engine, which will be partially 3D printed and produce fuel savings as high as 29%.

3D Systems has also invested in an asteroid mining company, Planetary Resources, based in Seattle that has created a series of space drones, called ARKYD, that will be in space sooner than you would think. The drones are 11 pounds, cost $2 million and have 6 moving parts each. If there were produced by NASA, spacecrafts would weight 300 pounds, cost $600 million and have 1,500 moving parts. “How do you do that?” asks Evans. “60% of the ARKYD drones are 3D printed.” The prototypes are cheaper, faster and lighter than the traditionally built counterparts.

Once in Orbit, 3D Systems has plans for six of the over 30 drones to leave to intersect an asteroid that the company believes is worth $1 trillion. The drones would land on the asteroid and claim it.

From toys and electronics to planes and asteroid mining drones, “finally the tools of manufacturing have caught up with the designs,” Evans said. “If you can powderize it, you can print it.” He said there is really, at this point, nothing on the materials side that is constraining.

Hugh Evans from 3D Systems discusses the uses of 3D printing and how it can be implemented in New Orleans.

Hugh Evans from 3D Systems discusses the uses of 3D printing and how it can be implemented in New Orleans.

Because every physical thing can be expressed mathematically, and any digital data feed can be printed, converted over and expressed as output, the 3D printing world is in some ways a form of teleportation, explains Evans. He can scan an object, send it over to a friend in Uganda and the friend can then print it there. A chair designed in New Orleans can make it halfway across the world in practically no time at all.

“Effectively designers are globalized and printers are localized,” Evans continued. “These machines bring out creativity.”

The unfolding revolution Evans mentioned is due primarily to new design tools becoming available at a rapid pace. The digital fabrication–the layer by layer construction– of a design is “not a new way to do things, it’s the way it should be done.”

Evans, a native to New Orleans who now resides in South Carolina, is confident the city can keep up with other cities who are paving the way for the future of 3D printing.

“3D printing of oil and gas, food, ceramics and bioprinting belongs in New Orleans,” Evans told the audience. He joked that the general public might not be ready to eat 3D printed meat, but they sure will be ready to try a 3D printed dessert.

“It’s remarkable to see a New Orleanian, who moved away, coming back home to talk about this,” said Tim Williamson, co-founder and CEO of The Idea Village.

And so, with a VP of the 3D printing leading provider on stage, Williamson announced the call to action for local entrepreneurs: how can we turn New Orleans into a hub for 3D printing? The two then announced the first ever 3D printing contest surrounding food, which will choose one entrepreneur to work with the newly announced ChefJet and its creator to design unique desserts for global clients.

Williamson believes New Orleans is well positioned to be that hub. “It’s a strategic investment in the city,” he said at the event Thursday during NOEW.


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