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Trending Right Now...

One of the fastest growing trends for 3D digital technologies is the DIY maker community -- dubbed in some quarters as 'citizen engineers.'

When you start to talk about “trending,” immediate reactions will almost certainly take you to Internet search engines, popular culture references, and the topic of the day on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Even within the 3D digital technology sector, trends are often dominated by the medium of film and television, where there are serious investors and therefore serious amounts of money involved.

Typically, when you discuss “3D” with the man on the street, the immediate response is to name the latest 3D film they have watched and the unflattering glasses that had to be adorned to do so. However, there are so many other aspects of 3D that are now making their way to the fore -- and not so quietly it would seem.

One of the fastest growing trends for 3D digital technologies is the DIY maker community -- dubbed in some quarters as “citizen engineers.” It is a trend that is burgeoning even as I write. The most recent Maker Faire event in San Francisco, U.S., at the end of last month, saw in excess of 95,000 visitors. Large numbers of these were families that were drawn to explore the opportunities for creating and making. The Maker Faire phenomenon in the U.S. is growing rapidly with a faire in Detroit in July and one in New York in September. Australia and Western Europe are also seeing increasing activity in this area.

The appeal of creating and making is universal -- to any age group and any background or field of interest. Whether your thing is art, science or technology; the maker community extends an invitation to all and fosters an environment for learning and sharing.

Within this environment the latest generation of low-cost, accessible 3D digital technologies are flourishing, and it is not hard to see why. 3D digital technologies are enabling tools for anyone with a passion for making things. Moreover, the ability to design and make digital models that can quickly and easily be printed out in 3D has mass appeal. It is also stimulating a new age of entrepreneurial spirit, with many of the “citizen engineers” taking their ideas to the next level and starting up new business ventures.

Looking one step further again, using 3D digital technologies in this way is also a great way to promote and stimulate the market further up the chain. The passion of the citizen engineers cultivates innovation with the technologies and pushes demand for better products, this will almost certainly have a knock-on effect for the products at the higher end of the market, and the users thereof.

I probably should point out that I am in no way suggesting that designers and engineers that are working for larger organizations are without passion for what they do. This is far from the truth, however, I think it is true to say that they are more limited by corporate demands and corporate structure in what they can do and how they do it.

The freedom of the “citizen engineer” working with 3D digital technologies is perhaps, for me anyway, the most exciting aspect of this phenomenon. The freedom to design, the freedom to create and the freedom to make -- anything.

The only limitation is one’s imagination.

Martin Stevens is the CEO of A1 Technologies, an advanced technology company, which he set up jointly with Trupti Patel in early 2009 to bring low cost 3D technologies to as broad a market as possible. Outside 3D technologies, Martin’s expertise relates primarily to the SME sector, particularly in the fields of manufacturing and education, and his external activities are fully aligned with his professional role. Martin is the Chairman of Made in London, an organisation that supports the needs of the 20,000 manufacturers based in London. He is also currently a Board member of The Mayor’s London Skills and Employment Board and an Employer Champion for the UK Engineering Diploma. For more information visit