3D Lightyear

From: Dave Flynn (dflynn@expresspattern.com)
Date: Fri Sep 24 1999 - 00:39:24 EEST

Dear Fellow Rapid Prototypers:

I've been following the discussion regarding 3D Lightyear with some interest, and I thought I'd weigh in with some comments and perhaps a few insights. In the interest of full disclosure, besides 12 years working in this industry, I was employed by 3D Systems from November of 1998 until April of 1999. While at 3D I served as Technical Director in Marketing, and had a close-up look at, and some participation in the late stages of product testing and market introduction of Lightyear.

In many ways, Lightyear is a first generation product, not an updated version of Maestro. One of the design goals was to create a common software platform for the entire stereolithography product line. This seems obvious on the surface, but the SLA 7000 and the SLA 250 have very little in common from a process standpoint. As a hands-on user once again, I believe that the advantages provided by Lightyear and the new Buildstation software far outweigh the limitations. I'm sure everyone has reasons for doing what they will, but personally think it would be insane to continue to use Maestro with that horrid spreadsheet interface when you could be cranking out the jobs with Lightyear.

I know this is irrelevant at this point, but I am amazed on a daily basis how easy it is the prepare SLA build jobs compared to just a few years ago. The combination of affordable raw computing power and intuitive software have really changed the nature of the game. We often lose sight of the fact that programs like Lightyear, SolidView, Magics, etc. are written by small teams busting their butts to get a product out to a very small market. This is not Microsoft, with armies of programmers. Personally, I think all of these folks are kicking some serious ass.

Several folks on this list have expressed their dismay over the parameter limitations that are part of the first release of Lightyear. Those of you who have known me for a while surely realize that this grates on me as well. I don't want to be a jerk and say "I told you so", but I did warn people inside 3D of the public relations problems that were sure to result from this move. The folks at 3D feel like they have a catch-22 on their hands. At some point, for stereolithography to mature, it needs to become much more of a turn-key process. At the same time, they do learn a ton from the user community, especially through beta testing (BTW, there was a 250 running Somos resin in the beta test for Lightyear, and I'm running Somos resins right now without a problem). The current policy of publishing style files with limited ranges while at the same time giving out customized styles on request reflects this dilemma. As fun as it may be to concoct conspiracy theories about 3D wanting to stick it the users, nothing could be further from the truth. I can tell you all that 3D honestly wants to design toward customer needs, not away from them. This is a small company of 500 people who's livelihood depends on selling more SLAs and Thermojets. The decision making process may not be perfect, but from what I saw, the needs of the total customer base are the primary concern.

I can rightly be accused of being a rah-rah for 3D, but I've seen the process from the inside, and no, I wasn't drinking any kool-aid. It might be a good idea to offer up some constructive suggestions rather than jumping right into the invective. You might be surprised that you will eventually get what you want.

Dave Flynn
Express Pattern, Inc.
Phone: 847-215-0001
Fax: 847-215-0002

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