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Build It, and They Will Come
3D Systems Corporation's Andrew Johnson has fond memories of a summer spent touring the country with a multiact music festival. No, the now general counsel wasn't in a band. He did promotional work for a record label associated with the tour, managing its on-the-road music store and sharing new music with fans. "Back then, it was all CDs," says the 38-year-old Johnson.
The only constant truly is change, and nobody knows that better than Johnson. Before becoming assistant general counsel for 3D Systems in 2006, he was doing mortgage-backed securitization work with Hunton & Williams.
Johnson didn't know much about content-to-print technology when he joined the Rock Hill, South Carolinabased 3D Systems. He was excited to take part in developing strategy for a company at the cutting edge of the 3D printing revolution.
3D Systems was founded in 1986, and it has acquired more than 30 companies in the last several years. The company reported sales of more than $353 million in 2012, an increase of 54 percent from the previous year. Johnson became head of the legal department last April. He spoke with Corporate Counsel about the "limitless" possibilities of 3D printing (and how the technology could even turn him into a rock star).
Corporate Counsel: How large is your legal department?
Andrew Johnson: There are three lawyers and a couple of paralegal/administrative positions. We have an IP person in-house. We take pride in the fact that if you include both patents issued and patents pending (a total of 1,060), we have almost as many patents as employees (1,200).
CC: What might a buyer expect to shell out for a basic model?
AJ: Our home printer, the Cube, retails for $1,399. There are other consumer printers in that range, although ours is truly for home use.
CC: I assume you have a 3D printer at home.
AJ: I have a Cube, and I move it between my home and my office. I brought it home a while ago and had all of the kids on my street flock to my front yard to build toys. It's pretty powerful to witness kids ages 8 to 13 seeing the power of a 3D printer for the first time.
CC: How is the 3D content platform Cubify utilized?
AJ: It allows people to buy, sell, share, and communicate with 3D content. We have designers who can post their newly designed files and sell them through Cubify. 3D Systems also has applications that allow people to customize consumer products. They could have something made, such as a guitar. That wouldn't be printed on the Cube, but it would be printed using another one of our technologies, such as our SLS (selective laser sintering) technology. They could place that order and have a guitar sent to their doorstep.
CC: What does this technology mean for manufacturing in the future?
AJ: We see 3D printing as an opportunity to relocalize manufacturing. That's something that our CEO and our business leaders talk about all the timethat our technology actually presents an opportunity to bring manufacturing back to the United States.
CC: The application 3D Me lets consumers put their heads on figurines of vampires, superheroes, and the like. Have you made a 3D Me version of yourself?
AJ: I have not made one, but I really like the rock guitarist. When I purchase a 3D Me, it will definitely be the rock guitarist.