Boston’s 3D design heritage

18 October 2016

After a week in Boston, for both our own event and a whirlwind tour of two 3D printing vendors, Al Dean ponders the heritage of the area and how it has been ignored in favour of New York and San Francisco

DEVELOP3D’s Al Dean and Stephen Holmes visit Rize’s CEO Frank Marangell, who is looking to solve the issue of Z axis strength variation and post processing of 3D printed parts

If there are two places on the planet that this magazine (and it’s brethren across the world) owe a debt to, it’s Boston, Massachusetts and Cambridge, England. This was pretty apparent during the week around our first DEVELOP3D Live event held in the US this past month.

Cambridge has been a centre of excellence for decades now. Both Parasolid, Spatial and D-Cubed started there (on which most of our 3D design tools are built), Autodesk’s kernel development team is down there, even GrabCAD has an office there (and strangely, an office in Cambridge, just outside of Boston, as well). Delcam’s roots were there, before it made it’s move to Small Heath in Birmingham.

But I’d never considered Boston. But at D3D Live US I found myself yapping with two former CEOs of SolidWorks, a founder of SolidWorks, PTC and SpaceClaim, then being interrupted for an introduction to one of the VCs that backed not only SpaceClaim and Protolabs, but is also now working on desktop metals 3D printing to put this into perspective.

Boston has a rich heritage in this space and many of the big name brands we’re all familiar with were founded in and around Boston. Even the new school are there. For instance, Onshape set up shop there as has both MarkForged and Formlabs.

New entrants, Rize 3D are also there. So why is it that Boston is ignored when it comes to locating the hot-spots for innovation and attention?

If you read the tech industry headlines, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the world centres around New York (and more specifically Brooklyn) and San Francisco.

The reality is that while the bubble seems to have popped a little in New York since Makerbot’s troubles of late, it still seems to be inflating on the West Coast.

But why Boston? One answer is skills pool. On a tour of MarkForged’s offices about 30 minutes outside of Boston, it became clear that there’s a rich set of skilled staff there to help them. We met machinists educated at Harvard that practiced the art of hand scraping (google that one) and electronics engineers that coded their own complex algorithms for folding paper into intricate patterns for fun at home.

On our visit to Rize 3D, it became clear that this was a company made of 3D print industry veterans and young, enthusiastic engineers looking to bring something new to the market place. There’s nothing like being introduced to the gentleman that not only founded Revit, but also coded the STL format for 3D Systems.

Then at the D3D Live event itself, we found ourselves chatting to a room full of luminaries that have been instrumental in developing tools that many of us use on a daily basis. Yes, the design and engineering community has made a fair few of these folks rather wealthy, but that’s the nature of business.

It was also clear that while many of these folks and their teams are sworn enemies out in the market place, many of them have worked together in different configurations over the years and there’s a genuine interest in advancing the state of the art and pushing the industry forward, whether that’s with digital design technology or the means to create physical parts and products.

So it looks like we’ve found a home from home on the East coast of the US and we’ll be bringing a much bigger event there next year.

We just wish they’d learn how to pronounce those old English names properly. There’s only so many times a group of Brits can handle hearing someone say “Warrr Wick” and “War Chester” without collapsing into fits of giggles. Blame the jet-lag.

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