\nLast Thursday, some friends of mine and I launched a virtual company, GothamSmith. All we had was a website, a handful of 3D printed prototypes and no inventory whatsoever. Within 48 hours everything had changed: we'd received pre-orders from around the globe based on photos of our prototypes, yet we also learned that our stainless steel bicycle cog cufflinks might have a high failure rate because the shaft that went through the cuffs might not support the weight of the pedal. Suddenly, we needed to reevaluate the viability of fulfilling bulk orders on our biggest seller. All businesses have hiccups during the expansion stage, but new modes of visualization, design and production mean different growing pains.Although visualization began with 2-Dimensional work using pencils and T-Squares, it was eventually brought into the computer realm with 2D Computer-Aided Design programs. From there, the field has blossomed into 3D CAD, animation, stress analysis and even rapid prototyping. Our initial blockier cufflink designs used parametric modeling software, and will continue to evolve into refined curvier models as we explore the use of splines and curves with NURB (Nonuniform Rational B-splines) based applications.

Being able to go from a pencil sketch to a real time 3D image on screen makes ideation near instantaneous, and far more flexible than scraping away at clay. With a 3D visualization of a bike cog (known as a chainring to the cognoscenti) on screen, I was able to hear feedback and make changes in real-time as I heard from the cyclist behind me, even though he knew nothing about 3D modeling and I hadn't owned a bike since high school. Shortly after, we held metal prototypes in our hands, produced by a company called Shapeways. That rate of turnaround brought us to market in months, not years.

Still, there is another component within visualization workflow where the future may lie. In my day job I use specialized software to perform Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) which allows users to analyze forces in fluid flows before the tubes in which the fluids flow even exist. The same principals that apply to CFD also apply to Finite Element Analysis (FEA), which could allow fabricators to determine the strength and support structure of our 3D models before they are manufactured. For now, Shapeways uses the time-tested insight of its distributor network to determine feasibility, but FEA will eventually allow for a much higher level of precision. 3D printing is already ahead of where laser printing was two decades ago, and analytics are sure to follow. Rather than use the guesswork of the production facility to demand that walls should be 3mm (for example), FEA could analyze specific points of failure and anticipate a breakage rate without even producing a single real object.

For our product, walls as small as 1mm were critical for its visual appeal. The strict protocols for wall thickness our fabricator had stated were formulated for larger objects and didn't actually have an impact for our little trinkets, but those thicknesses were impossible to analyze without visualization. Even so, the feedback from our fabricator on our part's support structure, combined with the ease of 3D design allowed us to produce a model with thicker walls within 48 hours and have it evaluated by the fabricator and validated by the next business day. Five days: Thursday to Monday. For our little company, which happens to be in the unique position of selling \"prototypes\" directly to the end user, 3D visualization and production meant the difference between success and failure. For large companies, a failure to adopt those technologies will likely have even larger repercussions. While we can't be certain whether choosing one program over another will make or break a venture, we firmly believe that the 3D revolution and the ease of visualization and the production that it enables will eventually make manufacturing a product as fast and flexible as building a website. It's already getting close enough that venture capital should follow.

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