In the medical realm, advancements already have been made to allow for items like prosthetic limbs to be constructed cheaply by patients, in their own homes, at the push of a button.
These are some of the technologies being pulled from science fiction and applied to everyday life, and they have been on display since Monday in
Many of the minds behind the innovations --
"It used to be that if you had an idea that you wanted to make, you needed basically to be a tycoon," Pettis said during a presentation, "and now all you need is a laptop computer and a 3-D printer."
The printing technology took the forefront Tuesday as presenters discussed advancements in the industry, which have made the technology affordable enough so that some cheaper models can now be purchased in shopping malls and elsewhere on the consumer market.
With a 3-D printer, anyone with a computer and CAD software can design a prototype and send it to the printer, where plastic or metal materials are melted and then molded to create the object in a matter of minutes.
Industrial companies and manufacturers have used 3-D printing technology for years to create spare parts or new toys.
But as it makes its way into homes, the technology has become so advanced that 3-D printing has been used to construct complicated medical devices, small vehicles and even a house, by piecing together the parts printed in the machines.
If it all seems like something out of 'Star Trek,' said
"Some of the people behind these technologies watch something like 'Star Trek' and say, 'Hey, I wonder if I can do that," Johnson said. "Science fiction does create that creativity that drives somebody. We joke about the 'Jetsons' or 'Star Trek,' but it's actually some of the motivation. It's just looking at it and saying, 'Why can't we do that?'"
Systems are being placed in elementary schools around the country, where students can build toys and other gadgets in a classroom.
"We have trouble getting our young folks into engineering," Sims said. "Those of us who do it for a living find it an exciting and rewarding profession. And if we can convey that to the younger generation, I think we'll be much better off as a nation and as a world."
Local companies are benefitting from the exposure that comes with the almost 2,000 attendees at the conference.
Vader, a local start-up 3-D printing company, Rigidized Metals and
"We have made some contacts with some well-placed individuals at very, very big companies that would probably take us months of knocking on doors and ringing doorbells and unanswered phone calls to get to see," said
"If you think back 20 years ago, the secretary of labor at the time said, 'We're a service economy; we don't need manufacturing.' And that mentality has changed across the country," Helmuth said. "Regarding
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