July 26, 2023
Our society seems enamored with new technology and the fortunes that can be made through a startup company. This has always puzzled me; a number of examples come to mind. In the late 20th century Pittsburgh’s media was dominated by reports of a local software firm going public. The initial public offering put a value on the firm that exceeded Alcoa’s, a titan of our “brick and mortar” world. Within weeks the fledgling firm’s value started to plummet and eventually it was purchased by a larger operation that closed up the Pittsburgh facility and moved a small number of employees to California. Around this same time we were subjected to the hype of the Segway launch. This story also had a local connection; I even interviewed for a chief engineer job at the start-up gear company that was building the wheel drives for the “next big thing in transportation.” I was shocked by the lack of fiscal discipline on display and openly questioned the ability of domestic suppliers to meet the touted price point. We are twenty-plus years into the “Segway era” and that start up is long gone; the revolution seems to be limited to tour groups. Our chattering class was all excited about new ways to assist these “emerging job creators,” but far less interested in why our existing shops were closing. The new, shiny toy is always going to attract your eye but is seldom a good place to put your money. Which brings us to the present day. I have been following the 3-D printer industry for several years and recently looked up the cost of an entry level unit. This emerging technology is already within the range of the home tinkerer. Do you see a place for 3-D printing in your gear shop? What could it allow you to do that you cannot do now?