Like most mice, this mouse sat quietly in a booth at the annual SolidWorks World 2014 show in San Diego this week. Unassuming, but confident, 3DConnexions is the manufacturer of a 3D mouse for engineers, animators, and architects. In October 2013, they released the world’s first wireless 3D mouse.
The 3DConnexion sales rep kindly took me through how the mouse works. You might expect that it would be a joystick type of creation that allows you to use your full hand to shift and move your digital 3D object, but it is more subtle and refined. You only need two fingers. This 3D mouse lets you pan, zoom, and rotate the model as if you are holding it in your hand.
Well, it is hard to explain now that I’m trying to do so. That’s why the sales rep asked me to step up and test it myself. After only a few minutes, you get a sense that you are holding the object and rotating it in a natural, unobtrusive way – I can imagine it improves your productivity and workflow since you can still use your standard mouse to select objects, then rotate, pan, and zoom.
As I wandered this show yesterday afternoon, there was plenty of eye candy. 3D printers could be seen working away on unique and creative works of art, mechanical wonders, and the next smartphone case. Motorcycles, bobsleds, a Ford truck, and the toy phenomena Goldie Blox must be a SolidWorks customer as there was a small display and video loop. French company, Dassault Systemes, owns 3D CAD Design Software SolidWorks and puts on the show to educate its customers and prospects. I attended as a consumer after receiving a complimentary ticket via email.
As I mentioned, there is no shortage of truly interesting technology at shows like SolidWorks World. Stratasys was one of the sponsors so recently acquired MakerBot was present with its latest Replicator printer. It is always fun to talk to the passionate MakerBot professionals.
Two relatively new 3D printers were at the show
Mcor Technologies with the world’s only 3D printer that uses standard business-letter paper as the build material. Most 3D printers are using plastic, resin, ceramic, or metal powder. Mcor is another innovation that has to be seen to be properly grasped – it cuts and laminates layer by layer, in full color if you choose. The models that I examined were tough, not delicate like paper mache. One of them I squeezed as hard as I could and there was no give, no flex. While there is a bit of waste with printing (cutting) out of a full ream of paper, it is probably the least-costly way to 3d print a prototype.
The second 3D printer on display that counts as another “first” is the MarkForged Mark One which prints from composite materials – the best known composite is carbon fiber. Carbon fiber is 20 times stiffer than standard ABS plastic (which many 3D printers use) and 5 times stronger. It can also print in fiberglass, nylon, and PLA (another commonly used plastic material).
3D printing will continue to grow, but only as quickly as we make the tools to create digital files and models more accessible. Many of the software partners at SolidWorks World are clearly trying to make it easier for the professional and prosumer (consumers who are trying to take their ideas to market). Even though I’m not a 3D designer, I wish I had purchased a 3D Connexion mouse at the special tradeshow price!