Ping Fu in Interview on BBC: 3D printing “is as big as the steam engine…and the internet”

If there was any doubt about 3D printing’s impact on the world, Ping Fu has dispelled it. In an interview on the BBC’s Hardtalk program, the founder of 3D scanning software pioneer GeoMagic proclaimed that 3D printing is as big as the steam engine, Henry Ford, the production line or the Internet. “It’s the next big thing,” she confirms.

And if we are to believe anyone, Ping Fu is an authority. 15 years ago she started to look at combining the Internet with manufacturing to create the Internet of Things. Far ahead of her time, she recalls, we were “shaping things by computer, and turning those shapes into products.” But then she saw her first 3D printer from 3D Systems Corporation and as she recalls “I was amazed by this machine.”

Ping Fu’s company, Geomagic, is a pioneer in 3D scanning and especially the field of haptics. Haptics are particularly interesting as they allow a designer to experience how an object might “feel” before a prototype is printed. This is especially important in fields like medical devices, when designing things like a scalpel for a surgeon.

With these capabilities, it is easy to see why 3D Systems Corporation recently acquired Geomagic for an undisclosed amount. The integration of Ping Fu’s software with 3D Systems’ printers will be a powerful match for the impending manufacturing revolution.

But Hardtalk host Stephen Sackur was particularly interested in Ping Fu’s shoes. Not only because they were so stylish, but because they were 3D printed. As Ms. Fu pointed out, they were “made to the shape of my feet”. Given the high wedge heel, I do wonder if the custom fit made them more comfortable than mass produced shoes.

Ping Fu points out that the product starts with the person and that the product design is in the software code. Then production can be local. This is what mass customization is all about.

So is this practical, wonders our BBC host? Ping Fu contends that most of the cost in manufacturing shoes is shipping across the sea, inventory, retail shops, shoes “nobody wants” [I assume she means waste], etc. Less than 10% in in the materials. So if we eliminate that 90% of costs, yes, it is practical to 3D print shoes. And as a girl who loves high heels, I can tell you a custom fit that guarantees no blisters is worth a premium!

Added by publisher:

Ping Fu is a fascinating person with an incredible life story. As we were putting this article together we ran across a just-released Google Talks video of Google’s Chade-Meng Tan interviewing her about her life and her book, “Bend not Break: A Life in Two Worlds.” It’s nearly an hour long but I really enjoyed it. Trust me, watch the first ten minutes and decide.