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AU 2007 Feature

Disruption on the Showroom Floor: AU 2007 Review


Nick Carter, November 30, 2007

See Also

   Autodesk's official site
   AutoCAD Reading Room - by CAD Digest

As this year’s AU comes to a close, the exhibit hall once teeming with beer-drinking attendees will be barren and empty in a matter of hours. The usual line-up of developers, service providers, and hardware vendors that have become staples in the Autodesk community will greet each other a final time until they return next year. Just as every year, however, new faces have also arrived. In the sea of “me too” applications and “just another” consulting companies, a handful of newcomers at AU have earned their titles as disruptive technologies on the showroom floor.

Tucked quietly beside the caterer’s service entrance near the back of the exhibit hall, NextEngine turned heads with their Desktop 3D Scanner. This simple white box, smaller than an inkjet printer, scans 3D parts with accuracy to 0.005”. Priced at just $2,995 [$2,495 on website, Ed.] the adoption rate will be high and possibilities for applications are endless. One expectation, however, is a reverse engineering capability like never before. The scanner will certainly, as is touted, close the gap between design and CAD. Expect to see this technology appear in fields ranging from medical to military -- allowing physical parts to be digitized and analyzed in a matter of minutes. If prices fall even further, consumer markets surrounding gaming and avatars would open as well.

A stone’s throw from NextEngine, on the same back row of exhibits, a categorically opposite technology was unveiled. With RP&M leaders ZCorporation and Stratasys exhibiting their mature modeling hardware, Paul Nye and his wife unveiled their garage invention called the 2BOT -- a new, simpler, and much less expensive 3D output device for architects and engineers. The hardware is reminiscent of an old pencil plotter, except instead of pencil lead, a drill bit moves on the x, y, and z axis to carve out site contours and other geometries in a simple subtractive manufacturing process.

While the technology is much more rudimentary than other additive RP&M systems, the disruptive feature is in its cost -- both upfront and operational. At just $9,000 for a system, the 2BOT is easily affordable for any firm. More importantly, the system uses any material of the designer’s choice. Wood, styrofoam, plastics, or any other creative medium purchased at your local hardware store will suffice. Compared to the square inch costs of photopolymers and resins, or even metals for CNC, the 2BOT will operate at nearly the same material costs as traditional modeling mediums. Expect to see this technology introduced in small and medium-sized architecture, landscape, and site design firms where the costs of large-frame rapid prototyping have prevented such investments in the past.

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About the Author

Nick Carter began his career in the Autodesk channel and later became a consultant to Autodesk helping to develop their AUGI community. In May 2006, Carter launched a marketing consulting firm called Carter & Co. to specialize in highly complex products and solutions in the computer, engineering, and manufacturing related industries. Today, Carter works with high-tech companies all over the U.S. developing market strategies and implementing effective solutions for today's changing marketplace.


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