In our line of work, the MIT Technology Review’s 50 Smartest Companies is one of those delicious lists we get to take a little breather for, to immerse ourselves in, reveling in the nearly out-of-this-world achievements of so many superstar companies. Many were also once startups, small glimmers and sparks, working out of garages and vying to get that first bit of spotlight shining on products that we would later see changing the world. Tesla Motors topped the list with the number one spot, and that’s self-explanatory. Other obvious picks were companies like Netflix (#10) and Facebook (#29). The recreation and social media geniuses of this generation. We know.
But two of the most impressive 3D printing manufacturers and innovators also made the cut here–and that would be both Voxel8 (#17) and 3D Systems (#42). While very different companies, there’s no arguing that they both belong on the list.
Some might consider their life’s work simply to be done after seeing their name up in lights, sitting on a list of success stories next to Apple, as Voxel8 currently has the enviable position to hold. The main reason any of these companies make this list, however, is in their collective company persistence and momentum, and that drive that often comes from intense–and often intimidating–intelligence.
It’s not the first time Voxel8 has appeared on an impressive roster, and being voted 17th on the MIT Technology Review’s 50 Smartest Companies probably just makes everyone wonder how long it will be until they reach the top ten. Voxel8 is a unique and complex company, built on the vast and undeniable brilliance and innovation of Harvard’s Jennifer A. Lewis. She is a scientist responsible for innovation and research beyond just Voxel8, as founder of the Lewis Lab, which has a strong focus on studying and creating materials in combination with fluidity and technology like robotics, and most especially–electronics. Their main interest at Voxel8–and what caught the ear of the MIT review–is conductivity.
Voxel8 has been singled out in this case as a smart company due to their work with 3D printing and electronics. While they are not unique in this combination of technologies, what makes their work special is the invention of the world’s first 3D electronics printer and the promise for use of conductive inks. This substantial innovation obviously offers complex and wide-ranging potential as they do what many others have only been talking about or looking toward.
As 3D printing begins to strip the manufacturing world of cumbersome traditional processes, Voxel8 takes us one step further in that journey by changing the way circuit boards are made. With mass production looming in the future regarding their conductive inks and materials, a whole new world of devices have the potential to be born.
“We at Voxel8 are very excited to be named one of the 50 Smartest Companies. We look forward to continuing to push the limits of 3D printing and look forward to another amazing year,” said Daniel Oliver, co-founder of Voxel8.
The company currently offers an array of materials meant to offer greater function with the promise of conductive qualities. These materials allow for extreme innovation in 3D printing, which can also be accomplished with their Developer’s Kit. Retailing at roughly $9K, the Voxel8 3D printer allows users to design and produce electronic devices on their own.
3D Systems is the company we all point toward as having given us the gift of 3D printing to begin with, via Chuck Hull, who really had no idea the technology would expand as far and wide as it is has, given his initial idea that stereolithography (SLA) would work well for engineers using CAD. He planted the seed and set down the roots with 3DS however, headquartered from the unlikely Rock Hill, SC. Over the next decades, it became apparent that many others besides industrial engineers were interested in exploring the technology. Hull saw many others grasp onto his discoveries and innovations, as they began using it to make impressive impacts within their own sectors, from medical to art installations.
Responsible for both creating and commercializing SLA and then SLS 3D printing, 3DS is most definitely a rock in the industry, with a global reach and a business map many startups can only hope to emulate. Few will reach this level of success though, as the bar is now set rather high.
3DS caught the attention of the MIT Technology Review due to their aspirations regarding furthering speed in 3D printing, and this is a smart angle to point out considering the obvious: speed has been a number one concern since the inception of 3D printing decades ago.
While many have viewed 3D printing speed, or lack of, as a limit, others have taken on the challenge of breaking that barrier as well. Currently, as the review points out, 3DS is putting their brainpower (amongst many of other processes, rest assured) into “moving to dominate the commercialization of 3-D printing by developing a super-fast assembly line.” And right there is the very basic goal that indeed results in this manufacturing transformation and 3rd industrial revolution that everyone speaks of. This new architecture is still in the works for highly industrial formats, and has been connected with concepts in the projected future.
Rock star corporations like Microsoft (#48), and Apple (#16) can’t be ignored, and even oldies but goodies like Amazon (#13) and Bristol-Myers Squibb (#26) are being noted for respective uses like robotics in production and the more traditional life-saving innovations in fighting disease. SpaceX (#22)–a company we’ve reported on often for their uses of 3D printing for items such as their rocket thrusters, as well as transporting the first 3D printer into space –is commended on their smarts for the number of missions they completed last year, as well as their use and re-use of rockets.
Every company on the list is worthy not just because of who they are, but because of what they are doing currently and their intelligence in moving forward to continue making a valuable impact on the world. These are companies with brainpower and forward thinking strategies.
Have you read the MIT Technology Review’s ‘50 Smartest Companies’ list? Are there other 3D printing companies you think should have made the cut? Discuss your thoughts in the 50 Smartest Companies forum over at 3DPB.com.