Notes from the Road: TJ McCue is currently traveling the United States on an 8-month RV roadtrip to get the pulse of 3D printing, 3D scanning, and 3D design across America.
We’ve been on the road for about six weeks. We set out to get a pulse on all things 3D. A lofty goal, to be sure, and we are learning a lot. In a nutshell, we are getting a solid heartbeat.
From consumers to business owners, people find 3D (scanning, printing, design) fascinating, sometimes perplexing. When we start to talk about it they are always curious, engaged, and most are genuinely interested to learn more.
Of course, we are driving a large, bright blue bus. Well, that’s what everyone calls the 32’ Class A Motorhome (RV) from Jayco that we’re fortunate to drive around the USA. It makes it relatively easy to engage in conversation with just about anyone with a pulse.
The biggest “aha” moment for me, being involved and around the 3D space for several years now, is learning that people don’t realize that the tools are readily available for them, for you, and for me. Free apps and low-cost software can turn you into, at least, a “reality computing” champ – someone who can scan or photograph an object or area and bring that file to a 3D printer or to life in a virtual reality game, for instance. So when we tell people that they can download 123D Catch for free, they get seriously interested in the roadtrip.
Most days, I have a simple Digital SLR (DSLR) Nikon camera with me. Alongside that is an iPhone 5S that allows me to easily share my photos into the social streams. Dominique Pouliquen, Director of Market Development for Reality Solutions, has told me that my photo scans will be as good as my camera, thus the DSLR is always with me. Again, you can use your iPhone or any smartphone to capture images that you later upload, but the quality of the camera influences the 3D file later. If you want to know more about reality computing, watch this interview with Dominique.
Let me share a conversation we had recently. We visited with the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum in Sturgis, South Dakota. I can tell you why this place is a success: Executive Director Christine Paige Diers is a curious, open-minded, and enthusiastic person who continually looks for ways to share the museum with others, online and offline. And she represents some of the people we’re meeting all across America.
Christine had heard about 3D printing and scanning, of course, but couldn’t completely wrap her head around how it works and what it could do for her and the museum. So when we called and offered to laser scan the museum, she quickly said yes. Once we finished the laser scanning with the Faro Focus, we spent some time chatting with Christine to get her perspective. Within minutes of explaining how the scanning process worked and what you could do with a 3D model, you could see the “aha” moment for her. That cartoon light bulb appeared above her head.
We talked, of course, about how she could do some of this 3D model making herself with a DSLR or smartphone. We brainstormed about how you might scan, and then 3D print some of the more popular vintage motorcycles, in a small collectible size, perhaps for a fundraiser. Short video of our laser scan visit to Sturgis to come shortly.
Another big thing I’ve noticed is that people think “manufacturing” means rust belt, dirty cities with smokestacks. But that’s been changing for decades where manufacturing has shifted to higher tech machines (surprised?). Tied to that is the awareness that we could be falling behind in preparing our young people for careers in manufacturing – partly because we started doing away with that wonderful hands-on classroom known as “Shop” – be it woodworking, metal working, or auto mechanics. Those were the ones I grew up with in New York State. In fact, my high school diploma came with a “major” known as a Regents diploma – mine was in Woodshop.
Joel Kotkin recently said here in Forbes and also in this post, “Some information age enthusiasts may argue that losing such jobs is something of a badge of honor, since ‘smart’ regions do not focus on the gritty business of making things. Yet if you look across the country, you can see that many of the strongest local economies, from Houston and Nashville to Seattle, have taken part in the U.S. industrial resurgence. It seems this is one party more worth joining than avoiding.”
After six weeks, my impression is that people are much more interested in 3D printing, scanning, and design, but they simply haven’t been exposed to it, in real life, in person, so that they can wrap their heads around it. As I told some of the Stratasys executives when I visited the headquarters in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, this week – the light bulb brightens when I put a 3D printed object in their hand and explain what 3D “printed” really means.
There is a strong pulse out there, for sure. A pulse that quickens when someone senses that we’re on the cusp of a real revolution in making and that it is open to them. That is one of the coolest parts of this journey – talking to young and old, educated or not, and seeing the excitement, the interest in what the future of 3D holds for each of us.