A History of Silicon Valley

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These are excerpts from Piero Scaruffi's book
"A History of Silicon Valley"

(Copyright © 2016 Piero Scaruffi)

The Selfies (2011-16)

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3D Printing

The 2010s saw some consolidation in the field of 3D printers: Stratasys acquired Objet in 2011 and MakerBot in 2013; and 3D Systems, that had already acquired DTM in 2001, acquired BitsFromBytes in 2010 and Z Corp in 2012.

The decade finally witnessed the long-overdue boom of 3D printing technology. The field had certainly been hampered by the multitude of patents. Until 2009 it was difficult for anyone, except the original companies, to make 3D printers. After the open-source RepRap started, several startups launched kits so that individuals could create their own RepRap 3D printer in the garage. When a major Stratasys patent related to the FDM technique expired in 2009, FDM went open-source, and hundreds of FDM machines flooded the market. Patents for SLA and SLS technologies expired in 2014, and caused a similar gold rush in 3D printing. Finally, the Bay Area started paying attention. In 2013 WobbleWorks, founded in 2010 in San Jose by MIT Media Lab's alumnus Peter Dilworth and Maxwell Bogue, launched the 3Doodler, a 3D printing pen based on FDM that allowed users to create objects in mid-air. In 2013 Formlabs (an MIT-spinoff founded by Maxim Lobovsky, Natan Linder and David Cranor) introduced a stereolithography 3D printer for the desktop. In 2014 New Matter, started in Los Angeles by Caltech scientist Steve Schell under the aegis of incubator Idealab (i.e. serial entrepreneur Bill Gross) and funded on IndieGoGo, introduced a 3D printer for the home and school market, the MOD-t (another FDM printer). In 2015 Carbon3D, a spinoff of the University of North Carolina that had relocated to Redwood City, unveiled a 3D printing process named Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP), a kind of liquid-based stereolithography (SLA), that improved the printing speed. Around the world the number of startups multiplied rapidly. In 2016 Hewlett Packard entered the fray with its Multi Jet Fusion, that used technology invented by Loughborough University in Britain.

3D printing was "democratizing" product manufacturing, but the world still needed to democratize product design. Two Autodesk alumni, Evi Meyer and Erik Sapir, founded uMake in 2014 in San Francisco to offer a mobile alternative to Autodesk's 3D-design tools. In 2015 Autodesk added a cloud-based service for makers to design 3D objects, coupled with a venture fund to invest in the boldest ideas. In 2015 Rita Wong in San Francisco launched Valsfer, a social-networking platform to connect designers and manufacturers.

When 3D printing met wearable technology, a whole new horizon of applications opened up. In 2010 Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen pioneered 3D-printed fashion. Until 2014 the idea was mainly exploited by provocative artists such as New York-based Chinese-born artist Xuedi Chen, who 3D-printed "disappearing" lingerie (that revelead more and more of her naked body as she was active online), and Dutch designer Borre Akkersdijk, who 3D-printed garments with embedded electronics. In 2012 Wisconsin-based student Bryan Cera had even 3D-printed a wearable cell phone that could be worn like a glove. In 2014 New York-based architect Francis Bitonti 3D-printed a nylon gown based on the Fibonacci series (and in 2015 even designed a digital jewelry collection). 2015 saw an avalanche of new applications. Christophe Guberan, Carlo Clopath and Skylar Tibbits from the MIT 3D printed a "reactive" shoe that changes shape dynamically to provide maximum comfort. Vancouver-based Wiivv, founded by Shamil Hargovan and Louis-Victor Jadavji, launched its service of custom 3D printed insoles. New Balance 3D printed a high-performance running shoe. London designer Julian Hakes 3D-printed shoes for Olympic gold medal winner Amy Williams. Italian designer Paola Tognazzi 3D-printed garments that changed dynamically as the wearer moved. California-based Iranian-born designer Behnaz Farahi 3D-printed a "helmet" that changed shape in response to the wearer's brainwaves. Lidewij van Twillert from Delft University of Technology (Netherlands) 3D printed lingerie, and Shanghai-based Iranian-born designer Nasim Sehat 3D printed extravagant eyewear. 3D printing was reinventing the tailor in the digital age.

Carbon became a unicorn in 2017, and announced that it would 3d-print a new line of Adidas shoes (the Futurecraft 4D line).

Velo3D, founded in 2014 in Campbell by Benny Buller and Erel Milshtein, developed the Sapphire system (first demonstrated in 2018), capable of 3D-printing complex metal objects which, unlike Desktop Metal's and HP's 3D-printers, were ready for mass production, not just prototypes.

Arevo Labs, founded in 2013 in Santa Clara by Hemant Bheda and others, specialized in 3d-printing high-performance and ultra-strong polymers, a technology demonstrated in 2018 when they 3D-printed a carbon-fiber bicycle.

Prellis Biologics, founded in 2016 in San Francisco by Noelle Mullin and Melanie Matheu, worked on 3D-printing human organs. Theirs was a long-term project, expected to show results within five or six years. And the 3D printer would not be like the plastic-making ones: it was expected that it would take between two and four months to print an organ. Nonetheless, the excitement was significant, as organ transplants was still a rather dangerous operation and the USA was facing a shortage of organs for transplants.

click here for the other sections of the chapter "The Selfies (2011-16)"
(Copyright © 2016 Piero Scaruffi)

Table of Contents | Timeline of Silicon Valley | A photographic tour | History pages | Editor | Correspondence