On Thursday, November 19, President and CEO of Thogus Matt Hlavin joined Mark Avsec, Vice-Chair of the Innovations, Information Technology and Intellectual Property Practice Group at Benesch and Rick Pollack, president of MakerGear at the Association of Corporate Growth (ACG) event regarding the 3D Printing Revolution. In keeping with the ACG theme for the year, “Accelerating Cleveland’s Growth,” ACG designed a panel discussion around 3D printing technology, its uses and limitations, and the legal implications surrounding it now and what may be coming down the road.
The evening began with both Thogus and MakerGear greeting guests at tables where guests could touch, feel and see how 3D printing works, and how it can be applied to the commercial space.
The panel discussion was orchestrated in such a way that guests began their journey learning about Rick Pollack’s motivation for starting his company MakerGear and how he had designed his system to really help the professional consumer, or “prosumer”, start to propagate their ideas for validation and/or commercialization. Rick’s units sell into all 50 states and he struggles to keep up with demand. But, he stressed the importance that his technology is not your kitchen counter unit for anyone – you need to have the skills to operate the same programs an individual would need to run a traditional CNC machine.
From MakerGear, the discussion transitioned to Matt Hlavin, President and CEO of Thogus Products Company. Matt shared a video on Advanced Manufacturing that demonstrates the transformation of traditional manufacturing through the use of 3D printing. Matt shared his insights on 3D-printing that stem from the company’s original investment in additive manufacturing back in 2009 to today. He elaborated on how the technology has not only allowed him to experiment with the technology and how it integrates into traditional manufacturing at Thogus, but to also create a stand-alone company to focus on a full-service offering of additive services from prototyping to development to rapid manufacturing.
Committing to additive manufacturing has also allowed Thogus to expand its capabilities to traditional manufacturing companies, while attracting top talent into the industry. Matt elaborated on the limitations that have yet to be overcome – material development and availability, in-process quality monitoring, and repeatability. When asked if the technology would every replace CNC – Matt made it clear that it isn’t one technology or the other, but it is a choice as to what is the right technology for the application. Matt’s final comments with regards to all of this, were that this is not a 3D Revolution, but really should be seen as an Evolution. We will continue to learn how to leverage this technology, apply it in ways we can’t yet envision, and the industry will have to learn how to collaborate and adapt to allow us to fully realize its potential.
This played really well into Mark Avsec’s position on IP protection and IP law with regards to this evolution. From Mark’s experience in music in his early career, he was able to draw strong connection with what happened in the music industry to what is happening in the manufacturing/additive space. From his view, 3D printing technology will transform the way companies conduct business, affecting manufacturing processes and disrupting the supply chain, with substantial implications for intellectual property. This topic brought to light a whole new perspective for the audience on the implications of investments and the concerns with managing how these technologies are shared or accessed. File sharing for printing is a huge part of how information is exchanged for 3D, and with the availability of 3D scanners it is easier more than ever to knock off someone’s IP and manufacture it yourself. Kitchen counter consumers are not the concern necessarily, but individuals or companies with access to a critical mass or channel to market do need to be monitored. Caterpillar was a highlighted example. Caterpillar currently has 3D printers in-house that are used to manufacture spare parts. They are considering allowing these printers to be set up at distributors, but how will they control the use of their IP around their part design. How do you ensure brand integrity once it is release? Liability issues?
The guests had many questions that continued the discussion until almost 7pm. Most of these questions centered on the workforce and how these companies make money.
We are very excited to have participated in this event, and we will continue to talk about of how additive manufacturing is beneficial to a variety of manufacturers and not detrimental. These technologies can create a symbiotic relationship that is mutually beneficial to each other.