Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How Do You Teach Innovation?

Today's guest post is from Scott Harmon, Z Corp's Vice President of Business Development.

An earlier blog asking the question, “Can you teach innovation?” received a large number of responses on this and many LinkedIn forums. Many of them quite interesting. Generally, responses were quite diverse with much of the discussion paralleling the more general debate about human behavior summed up as ‘nature vs. nurture,’ or as Curt Moreno mentioned, ‘entity vs. incremental.’

One of the interesting things about teaching innovation is that innovation is hardly a single skill. In responding to the previous post, Emmanuel Garcia made the distinction between ingenuity / creativity and implementation. Paul Jordan reminded readers about the importance of gumption. Surely, Edison would have agreed mightily with the role of gumption. Innovation is clearly all of these things and more.

My personal belief is that some people possess more or less of the various capabilities required to be great innovators. However, I also believe pretty strongly that these innate capabilities can be improved with practice. Interestingly, most of the respondents to the last posting felt like current primary and secondary schools weren’t doing a terribly good job of teaching these skills. (Interesting article here on that subject.). A few respondents mentioned various resources and books on the subject.

That got me thinking. I’d personally love to know more about how people teach and learn the skills required to be great innovators. I’m not so interested in the curriculum. Curriculum is important, and it’s almost certainly part of the problem. I’m more interested in your experiences. How did you learn to innovate? If you’re a teacher, what do you find most effective for teaching kids to innovate?

I’ll share a quick story. I was an electrical engineer in college and was pretty good at math and science my whole life. I took an introduction to electrical engineering course as a sophomore, and I remember explicitly one of the early tests. I don’t remember the exact question, but I do remember being 100% convinced that it was unsolvable. It had no answer that could be derived from the formulas and methods we had been taught. I approached the professor, with an air of indignation, thinking the question must be wrong. He just smiled and said, “Some questions don’t have an answer,” obviously recognizing that is just the beginning, but it’s an important one.

So what are your favorite stories about learning innovation? Are there any resources you have found to be especially valuable?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Make the World a Better Place

Today’s guest blog comes from Matt Sederberg, CEO of T-Splines, Inc.

I'd like to thank Z Corporation for sponsoring our 2011 T-Splines design contest, "Make the world a better place," where we are giving away over 100 prizes, including CAD software, iPads, and 3D prints.

If you haven't heard of T-Splines, it's a plug-in that provides a new, easier way to make organic surfaces for manufacturing/building in Rhino and SolidWorks. Where T-Splines really shines is how fast it lets you make changes - the entire model can be one unified surface, so by pushing and pulling you can explore many design iterations. Watch this video to learn more.

The 2011 T-Splines contest has five categories: architecture, transit, jewelry, consumer products, and miscellaneous.

The architecture category comes with a special offer: Z Corp will ship 3D prints of your model to you during the contest so you can see your design evolve in real life! What a cool opportunity! You'll need to get moving quickly, though - to be eligible for the Z Corp prints during the contest you need to be registered for the contest and submit your first design by July 5. Judges will determine the top designs eligible for 3D printing.

I look forward to seeing your contest entries. Here are a few images of 3D prints from last year’s contest.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Are 2D Product Comparison Grids Useful for 3D Printers?

This week’s guest blog is by Julie Reece, Z Corp’s Director of Marketing Communications.
I am not a fan of product comparison grids. I understand that in theory they are meant to make it easy for purchase decision makers to compare competitive products and services in what their authors proclaim to be fair comparisons. You know the kind I’m talking about…they provide a short list of capabilities or criteria down the left column of the grid and various competitive products/services across the top row, and use check marks or some other type of indicator within each box to indicate whether or not that product or vendor offers each listed capability. They’re everywhere – across industries and markets. I remember first seeing such a grid early in my career at a very large software development company, and even used them myself at the time in my marketing role at that company. I haven’t used one since. Recently I've seen product comparison grids crop up from reputable, third-party industry organizations and manufacturers in the 3D printing space.

So, why am I so anti-grid? Yes, I’ll admit they bring back vivid memories of my less-than-stellar performance studying charts in high school math class. But more importantly, the validity of the picture grids intend to paint is guided solely by their authors and therefore they inherently come with the author’s bias or, at the very least, assumptions about which criteria is important to include and exclude. And, grids don’t enable product evaluators to assign an importance weight or score to different purchase criteria given differing sets of needs.

For example, if the author comes from one of the competing companies included in the grid, he/she is going to list the criteria where they feel they ‘win’ and conveniently omit criteria where competitors win. Even worse, a chart I saw recently from another 3D printing company contained false information. But if it’s on a chart, it’s true, right? Not necessarily.

You might say, sometimes highly knowledgeable, objective and well-meaning third parties develop product comparison grids. But do they always know all of the important criteria and capabilities to include? One of the industry grids I saw did not include all of our relevant products for the topic, resulting in a slanted picture of the available product offerings. Another grid omitted a few key criteria that purchase decision makers in our industry consider.

Even if the industry-savvy authors include a complete list of evaluation criteria in their grids, how can purchase decision makers prioritize, or assign an importance score to, the criteria within those grids? They can’t. Take 3D printing for example. Every company and department application for 3D printing is unique. Criteria that might be critical to one company or department (things like build size, speed, color, surface finish, materials, printer cost, material cost, method of post-processing, type of material used, office-friendliness, and so on) might be completely insignificant to another. If you’re an educator, low cost of operation, build speed, throughput and safety might be your top priorities and you might be willing to do without color or a specific material property. If you’re a manufacturer of consumer goods, color, speed and low material cost might be your top priorities and you might not be concerned about material properties. If you need flexible, functional parts, then material properties will likely be your primary concern, and you might be willing to sacrifice low cost, color, build size, and so on. The point is there isn’t a nice, neat grid that can address your individual company and application needs.

Careful product evaluation isn’t always easy, but it is critical. So, when you see a 3D printer product comparison grid, be wary. Instead, I encourage you to schedule a personal appointment with representatives from the 3D printing companies. Describe your application needs to their representatives and listen to how their solutions can solve your application challenges and open new doors to success. Ask each representative to focus on how their solution can satisfy your application needs. See a demonstration. Talk to their customers. Do your homework. Perhaps create your own customized grid based on your needs. Then, and only then, can you begin to narrow your list of possible solutions and make an informed decision.  

Related Resources:

Following are a few Z Corp-focused product and technology selector resources:

Interactive Product Selector (enables you to identify your application needs and prioritize different criteria)
Webcast: How to Choose the Right Rapid Prototyping System (free, online)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Revit Technology Conference

Today’s guest blog comes from Phil Read. Read Phil’s blog ARCH+TECH at

Having been run in Australia for the last 6 years, with overwhelming success, the Revit Technology Conference (RTC) will hold its inaugural event in North America – to be held at Hyatt Huntington Beach, California from 23 - 25 June 2011.
RTC is a unique, independent conference covering all things Revit - BIM and the whole ecosystem that supports it, and that goes to ensuring your success in the marketplace. No other event brings so many opportunities and benefits together in a single location in the 'by users, for users' format. RTC is the best place to get unvarnished advice from the people who use the technologies to drive their businesses, and the industry as a whole, forward. Business leaders, thought leaders, innovators and implementers; they are all here, and all ready to give away their secrets to aid in the quest for a better, smarter industry, and a stronger, more sustainable environment.

One of the coolest ecosystem technologies is 3D printing. As more and more 3D models are created in Revit (and other BIM software), enlightened AEC firms are printing physical 3D design iterations to improve collaboration and innovation. Early adopters such as Foster+Partners, Pelli Clarke Pelli, Morphosis, Kohn Pedersen Fox, Antoine Predock Studio, Amanda Levete Architects, Yazdani Studio of Cannon Design, Jerde Partnership, Friedmutter Group, Steven Holl Architects, Pei Cobb Freed, RTKL, Shubin & Donaldson, NBBJ, SHoP Architects, Beck Group, HNTB, Goettsch Partners, Kiewit Engineering, Moody Nolan, Populous, and others have integrated 3D printing into their design process as a strategic advantage.

Z Corp and their southern California channel partner, 3D Rapid Prototyping, are sponsoring RTC. 3DRP will have their ZPrinter 450 at the conference with several architectural models. If you are attending the event, please take some time to visit and learn how 3D printing might improve your design innovation and collaboration! And if you're not attending - what are you waiting for? Register today!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Using 3D Printing to Speculate Manhattan in 2030

Today’s guest blog comes from Peter Macapia at labDORA. 

The project I am blogging about emerged from a design project sponsored by Audi. I was one of five top emerging architects from New York City selected to design interventions for Manhattan that would speculate on the shape of the city in the year 2030. There were two essential elements to my proposal. One was to develop a street that would function as a constantly shifting network of different kinds of movement based on embedded road sensors. This would make the grid of the city flexible permitting areas to suddenly transform in to public spaces.

The other aspect which was crucial to the architectural logic, as well as instrumental for constantly shifting flows, was the development of designs that would lift buildings off the ground allowing pedestrian and vehicular traffic to flow beneath buildings. This required two things -- a structural and a spatial intervention beneath buildings. Rather than insist on a specific building typology, we left the identity of the building generic and concentrated on the structure and space beneath. Using SolidThinking's Morphogenesis tools for structural optimization studies as well as Boolean scripts for massing; we calculated structures and spaces which shifted from cantilevers to asymmetrical trusses. Ultimately the design decisions required 3D physical models, generously provided by the assistance of Z Corp and their partner Microsol Resources. For although computer aided design can simulate certain qualities of geometry and by extension space, one ultimately requires material studies in order to apprehend the spatial effects of these designs at the scale of the city. It is one thing to imagine looking down an avenue from one side of Manhattan to the other, and something entirely different when buildings are lifted off the ground. It is hard to understand what that liberated space feels like without a physical three dimensional experience. Insofar as our intervention was a model more than 20 ft x 20 ft, and the exhibition involved thousands of viewers, using 3D Z Corp models was crucial not only for the design, but ultimately for its communication to a large and general public.

Check out the building intervention models below.