[starbox] My last post may have been too hard on the emerging 3-D printing technology. We’ve always celebrated inventors in this country and perhaps having thousands of 3-D printers in schools and workshops will cause an increase in the number of patent applications. A recent news report touted the Chicago area’s strong performance in the patent application “race” and patents are often discussed in the context of technology investment in this country. The U.S. patent system was key to our evolution from a nation of farmers to the industrial powerhouse we are today. The agricultural environment was also a big source of ideas for inventors. Henry Ford, for example, hated cleaning up after his father’s horses so much he vowed to make horses unnecessary. The patent files are full of different plows, seed planters, fruit pickers, and other concepts for making life on the farm less labor intensive. I get many inquiries from inventors looking for assistance in gear design for their devices, and I generally enjoy these interactions. Frequently I suggest they look for a copy of Ingenious Mechanisms for Engineers and Designers. This classic three-volume set is full of mechanical solutions to speed change and motion control problems. Illustrations are in the traditional patent application style that is seldom seen in today’s technical publications. Many Gear Technology readers operate in “target rich” environments for innovation. I say “target rich” because every day, you walk into an office or shop full of problems to solve. Every problem is an opportunity to innovate, a chance to try something different. Somebody had to be the first to cut a keyway with a wire electro discharge milling machine. Somebody had to saw cut big gear teeth to reduce hobbing time. 3-D printing is another tool available to solve problems. It will be interesting to see if it becomes a mainstay of product development or just another of those quick-adjust wrenches featured on late-night infomercials.