PTC Partners with 3D Systems (Let's Get Digital, Digital)

Cheesy 80s reference aside, we have some news to share. 3D Systems is entering into a strategic partnership with PTC. Here’s why it’s happening now and what it means to you:

3D Systems, long known for its groundbreaking contributions to 3D printing, announced the partnership with PTC as part of a larger strategy to more fully participate in the quickly evolving world of manufacturing. The company says it plans to use alliances, like the one with PTC, to better help customers as they transition from prototyping to production with 3D printing tools.

3D Systems K-1 e-NABLE hand

K-1 e-NABLE hand, image courtesy 3D Systems

3D Systems: “The technology is there to make 3D production real”

3D printing (or additive manufacturing) has long been embraced by product developers for its ability to quickly produce one-off objects. It doesn’t require the molds and specialized tooling that you often see in mainstream manufacturing. So it’s relatively easy to produce a model in a day or two, and see how it works in the real world. Is it strong? Does it feel good to the touch? Do customers like it?

Problem is that 3D printing doesn’t scale. While getting a prototype back in a few hours is reasonable during development, injection molding and CNC machines could have produced hundreds to thousands of parts in that same time. In the end, 3D printing has proven too expensive and slow for use in mainstream production.

Now, that’s changing.  New materials and technology have made the process faster and less expensive. In fact, many injections molding companies are now investing in 3D printing machines in anticipation of more production jobs in the near future.

“Rapid prototyping was the original application for 3D printing and will continue to be an important part of our business,” says 3D Systems’ President and CEO Vyomesh Joshi. “However, we believe we have the technology and assets today to make 3D production real.”

From Desktop to Printer

So where does the strategic partnership with PTC come in? In all the excitement about 3D printing, 3D CAD design has often been left out of the conversation. One does not simply model a part and click print. In fact, there can be as many as four different types of software involved before the initial design makes it to the actual printer!

The collaboration between PTC and 3D Systems, however, will provide 3D CAD designers using Creo with seamless CAD-to-print functionality as well as a full set of print management tools.

That way, engineers who carefully create designs to be efficiently manufactured using sheet metal, extrusion, molding, and subtractive methods, can soon do the same for products bound for the 3D printer.  And without all the intermediary software packages.

“Partnering with 3D Systems allows our users to take full advantage of the power of 3D printing and work seamlessly from digital design to physical part,” says Jim Heppelmann, PTC’s president and CEO.

PTC CEO Jim Heppelmann champions a future where digital and physical converge

PTC CEO, Jim Heppelmann champions a future in which digital and physical increasingly converge.

PTC: “The whole notion of product has changed”

Heppelmann participated in 3D Systems’ announcement event and used the opportunity to further expand on PTC’s vision for the future of manufacturing. He sees the whole world of digital and physical merging, far beyond what designers will do with 3D printed objects.   

“Almost everything is slipping down a sliding slope towards digital and physical convergence,” he said. “Products 30 years ago were completely mechanical. Along the way they picked up embedded software, then they became connected, then they began to work with each other.”

With technologies like augmented reality and the Internet of things, the line between digital and physical will blend more still.

It’s not just how we’re manufacturing products that’s shifting. “The whole notion of what a product is has changed,” he reminded listeners.

If you have no idea what he’s talking about you should download our free e-book, “The Future of Product Design in the Age of Smart & Connected Devices.” (The theme, simply speaking, is how physical meets digital and how this affects design.)

Download the future of product design ebook