Archive for Chris Anderson

3-D printing: The next desktop revolution

Posted in 3-D Printing, Digital Media, Digital Printing with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 13, 2013 by multimediaman

I suspect there are more than a few readers who remember how printing and publishing changed dramatically in the 1980s as desktop computers and print-ready files displaced phototypesetters and camera-ready artwork. Many of us went from the hazards of darkroom chemistry to that of workstation ergonomics; I remember being unceremoniously lifted from the comfort of my paste-up boards, horizontal camera and film processor and dropped into the world of SyQuest disks, Apple system “bombs” and PostScript (infinite-loop) errors.

Steve Jobs Press Conference January 23 1985

Steve Jobs at the press conference where the first desktop publishing system was announced on January 23, 1985.

Actually, the birth of desktop publishing (a term coined by Paul Brainerd of Aldus Corporation) and its disruptive impact can be traced to a specific date. On January 23, 1985, at a press conference following an annual stockholder’s meeting of Apple Computer, Steve Jobs announced the first desktop publishing system. It consisted of the following component technologies:

  • Personal computer (Apple Macintosh)
  • Page layout software (Aldus PageMaker)
  • Laser printer (Canon/Apple LaserWriter)
  • Page description language (Adobe PostScript)

It is safe to say that few understood the meaning of what happened that day. For the first time, text and graphics were placed on a page simultaneously and imaged on paper as reproduction “copy” or as a final printed sheet. The breakthrough of desktop publishing was that it was possible for just about anyone—with a modest investment—to become a publisher. The full impact of desktop publishing would be realized over the next decade as it transformed several industries and was a significant element in the evolution of the World Wide Web.

Chris Anderson MakersWith the benefit of hindsight, Chris Anderson (author of The Long Tail and former editor of Wired magazine) discusses the long-term implications of the desktop phenomenon in his book Makers: The New Industrial Revolution. “Remember, at that time publishing used to mean manufacturing in every sense of the word, from the railways that brought huge rolls of paper and barrels of ink to the printing plant … Taking publishing out of the factories liberated it. But the real impact of this was not in paper, but in the idea of ‘publishing’ online. Once people were given the power of the press, they wanted to do more than print out newsletters. So, when the web arrived, ‘publishing’ became ‘posting’ and they could reach the world.”

Today Anderson believes that we are living through a similar paradigm shift. But this time it is in the world of physical objects and the making of things. Today’s Maker Movement—the design and manufacture of things by individuals instead of industrial corporations—is with personal computers, CAD software and desktop 3-D printers and other equipment like laser cutters and CNC machines.

Form 1 desktop 3-D printer

Desktop 3-D printers take geometric data from CAD software and fabricate objects out of liquid plastic or resin

Distinct from the desktop printers that produce 2-D black and white or full color images on sheets of paper, a 3-D printer uses electronic geometries and turns them into objects that you can pick up and hold in your hand. Desktop 3-D printers usually extrude molten plastic in layers of liquid or powder resin. They can typically put down plastic material in thin layers (.33 of a millimeter) in processes like fusion deposition modeling (FDM), stereo lithography (SLA) or selective laser sintering (SLS).

3-D printers are an “additive” manufacturing technology; they build up objects from nothing, layer by layer. This is distinct from older industrial techniques—like “subtractive” routers and mills—in which spinning raw material is cut or ground away to reveal the object. Although they are newer and undergoing rapid development, additive 3-D printers have the advantage of producing little or no waste in the production process.

3D Print Sales Chart

Market size by 3-D printing sector application in US$ million

According to a recent report by IDTechEx, large-scale 3-D printing surpassed revenues of $1 billion in 2012 and growth is expected to quadruple by 2025. Industries that are heavy users of 3-D printing technologies are medical and dental, automotive and aerospace. The promise of the 3-D print is that it opens up inexpensive variability and complexity to the mass manufacturing process. For example, 3-D print used in the manufacture of prosthetics and orthopedic implants makes possible mass customization based on patient CT or MRI scan data.

Some believe—including Chris Anderson—that the digital Do-It-Yourself (DIY) and Maker Movement are generating a much bigger market than that of the large-scale commercial applications. The aggregate value of the design and manufacture of entirely custom products in medium to small (or even single) quantities is potentially greater than the manufacture of mass consumer products where each item is identical.

This is a business concept that everyone in the printing industry is very familiar with. We have been dealing with the economics of the digital print for two decades and understand very well that the cost per unit of a digital print product (custom) versus conventional offset printing (mass production). The cost per unit in digital print is “flat,” i.e. it do not rise or fall based upon a decrease or increase in quantity or a change in complexity, whereas the cost of the setup (make-ready) of a traditional offset print project is amortized across the entire print run.

chrischarts.indd

The relationship between the cost per unit and the quantity of mass manufacturing (injection molding) versus digital fabrication (3-D printing).

Anderson explains it this way, “Digital fabrication inverts the economics of traditional manufacturing. In mass production, most of the costs are in up-front tooling, and the more complicated the product is and the more changes you make, the more it costs. But with digital fabrication, it’s the reverse: the things that are expensive in traditional manufacturing become free.”

We can rightfully question Chris Anderson’s assertion that digital desktop fabrication heralds the beginning of new industrial revolution on the magnitude of that which occurred in the nineteenth century. However, there is no doubting his commitment. Anderson recently left his position after more than ten years as editor of Wired magazine to become full-time CEO of the firm he founded called 3D Robotics that manufactures unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

As we think about the meaning of 3-D printing technology today, it is important to reflect back upon the desktop revolution of the 1980s. We should recall that many in the publishing industry viewed the nascent desktop system—inspired by Steve Jobs of Apple, Paul Brainerd of Aldus and Chuck Geschke and John Warnock of Adobe—as not measuring up to the professional requirements of the day. Many who initially dismissed desktop publishing as a fad and resisted the transition away from mechanical graphic arts technologies would later live to regret that perception.

The promise of 3-D printing is significant. Perhaps Chris Anderson will not be alone in the migration from the printing and publishing industries to that of digital fabrication, DIY manufacturing and the Maker Movement.

Graph Expo & DMA2012: A tale of two shows

Posted in Digital Media, Digital Printing, Print Media with tags , , , , on October 30, 2012 by multimediaman

Both the premiere print trade show and the top direct marketing conference were held in October this year. I had the fortunate opportunity to attend these two shows back to back: Graph Expo in Chicago on October 7-10 and DMA2012 in Las Vegas on October 13-18. As I walked the exhibit spaces and attended meetings, presentations and other gatherings, I saw important similarities and differences between these two events. Each in their own way illustrated how the graphic arts and direct marketing industries are being impacted by digital, social and mobile media technologies. They also revealed the complexities and difficulties facing every organization in our era of data-driven marketing and communications.

The mood among presenters, exhibitors and attendees at both shows was one of cautious optimism. The ongoing perfect storm of economic downturn combined with rapid technological change was on everyone’s mind. Both shows were devoted to providing answers and solutions to the pressing problem of the day; how can business owners and decision makers achieve success by more effectively serving client needs.

One way to compare these events is to look at the numbers. Since the figures for the 2012 shows have not yet been published, I will use the numbers from last year:

Event              Attendees      Exhibitors    Conf. Sessions
Graph Expo      20,000+          490+            50+
DMA2011         8,500+           350+            200+

With an emphasis on technology demonstration, Graph Expo is primarily about the equipment needed to accomplish marketing and communications objectives. And with an emphasis on conference sessions, DMA2012 (Direct Marketing Association) is focused on programs that educate and inform its audience about the processes needed to prepare and analyze initiatives. GraphExpo is for service companies that buy systems for the execution of programs. DMA2012 is for marketing companies that buy tools and solutions for the conceptualization of programs. Taken together, the two represent a continuum of the entire marketing and communications loop; where the one ends the other picks up.

These characteristics can also be seen by the way the event organizers describe themselves to their audience:

Graph Expo: “Graph Expo is the year’s largest and most exciting display of ‘live’ running equipment in the Americas. Watching a machine run and participating in a demonstration teaches you things you just can’t learn by sitting in a conference room or looking at a brochure. This show is a problem-solving adventure designed to help you make informed purchasing decisions.”

DMA20212: “The content at DMA2012 will deliver real-world solutions you can use immediately, as well as strategic guidance to help you plan for 2013. You’ll find an inspiring line-up of key thought leaders and innovators from the world’s leading companies. These gurus will educate and inform you on the latest trends:

  • optimizing content across channels
  • monetizing social media
  • integrating media according to customer preference
  • leveraging real-time analytics for daily decision making”

I arrived at Graph Expo on Sunday, October 7 and entered the expo floor when it opened at noon. Along with everyone else, I noticed immediately the prominence of the manufacturers of digital printing technologies, as was the case in last year’s show. Canon, Xerox, HP, Fuji, Kodak and others have taken over the largest booths in the show. In previous years, these booths were occupied by Heidelberg, KBA, Komori and Mitsubishi. Although Heidelberg stood out by having a large space with many machines on display, gone are the days of GraphExpo as a showcase of large and loud offset printing machinery.

Benny Landa speaking at the InfoTrends breakfast at GraphExpo

On Monday morning October 8, I attended an InfoTrends breakfast meeting that featured a talk by Benny Landa, the inventor of digital printing (he launched the Indigo press in 1993). Landa spoke about what he called the “economic depression of the printing industry.” As he reviewed the new printing technique his company has developed (nanography), he explained that the “98% of the printing being done today” is static, non-variable data printing. Since much of this printing is not profitable, it means that printing companies are unable to invest in new technologies.

Chris Anderson delivering the opening keynote at DMA2012

My visit to the DMA2012 Conference began by attending the opening keynote on Monday, October 15. The featured speaker was Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine and author of the business book “The Long Tail.” Anderson spoke about the implications of “big data” for marketing organizations. Big data is the ever-growing mountain of information about our lives; companies like Google and Facebook are accumulating big data about our online and offline activities, preferences and habits. The challenge facing marketers is how best to use this information since it is not structured and does lend itself to traditional analytical tools and methods. Anderson said that big data is a challenge to traditional marketing models.

From this brief report, it is evident that we are passing through an exciting time in our industry; we are well into the transition from the traditional, analog world of yesterday to the data-driven, digital world of tomorrow. However, the path forward is not obvious; marketing organizations and their service providers are facing a multiplicity of challenges. Among the keys to success in this rapidly shifting environment is taking advantage of events like Graph Expo and DMA2012. In this way, we can grasp the fundamental trends of development, learn from our peers and prepare our own organizations to meet the new demands of our clients.