Flash forward to the future

3D Systems hopes engineers and designers soon will be making models of their products with the ease and speed that many Americans print family photos.

The Rock Hill-based 3D modeling company unveiled its V-Flash printer Tuesday, the latest product in the company's line of rapid prototyping equipment, at its inaugural World Conference at York Technical College's Baxter Hood Center. The V-Flash is a desktop printer that makes 8-inch-tall 3D models of designs created on a desktop computer.

Just like snapshots from a personal camera once took days to develop but now can be printed instantly from a home computer, the new V-Flash desktop modeler will change their industry in the same way, company officials said. Models that once took days to build in a clay mold can now be created in a few hours with a mouse click from a desktop computer.

"This is what the future looks like," said Buddy Byrum, 3D Systems' senior director of global marketing. "In the years to come, we expect desktop modelers to be very common in every engineer's and designer's office."

The V-Flash introduction came during 3D Systems' World Conference, which welcomes close to 400 of the company's customers, partners and investors to Rock Hill. The event, featuring a trade show and dozens of speakers, began Monday and runs through Thursday.

Byrum said the V-Flash technology, which took more than two years to develop, can be used with advanced CAD programs and common design software such as Google Sketch-up and can be transferred to different locations, making it easy for engineers to use on the road.

3D Systems CEO Abe Reichental called the V-Flash system "an easy-to-use, plug-and-play, economical model-maker."

The company plans to sell 100 machines, with a $9,900 price tag, by the end of 2007. Long-term goals include selling the technology at retail office supply stores, officials said.

York Tech partnered with 3D Systems last year to build 3D Systems University in Rock Hill as a place to teach students how to use the modeling technology. York Tech President Greg Rutherford said the conference is a chance for the school and Rock Hill to showcase itself to industry leaders visiting from 13 different countries.

"It fulfills our goal of bringing education and economic development together," Rutherford said. "It demonstrates to the world that we have the commitment and ability to host this type of technology right here in Rock Hill."