Co-founder of Geomagic, Inventor of Digital Shape Sampling and Processing (DSSP) Software
Master, Computer Science
Photo Credit: College of Business
Made in USA
(Adpated from the College of Business 2006 Summer Newsletter http://business.illinois.edu/publications/ANN/ANN.2006Summer.pdf)
As American industries depart for low wage nations, US business leaders wonder how they can keep factories
here open. One solution would be to pay equally low wages. Other observers think its time to write off
manufacturing and look elsewhere for job growth.
But entrepreneur Ping Fu thinks technology can save industrial America. And she adds the unthinkable: that
globalization may be a “passing phase.”
She has a bird’s-eye view of the technology that may turn the corner for American industries—
a three dimensional
manufacturing process called Digital Shape Sampling and Processing, or DSSP. She commercialized
this technology through Geomagic, the company she co-founded. Earlier this year, Inc. Magazine named Ping
Fu its entrepreneur of the year.
DSSP software allows manufacturers to scan an object with optical beams
and then transmit a three-dimensional image to a computer screen. From
there it can be used to manufacture parts identical to the original or to
quickly scan parts coming off a manufacturing line to make sure they
are true to the original. And it can do these functions cheaply and with a
minimum of human labor. When combined with computer-aided design
and computer-aided manufacturing, American manufacturers will be
able to operate their factories in a digital environment that makes factory
workers extremely productive.
But the critical advantage of DSSP is that it allows manufacturers to
cheaply create custom product - shoes, for example, that can exactly fit
our feet once a DSSP scan is made of them.
Ping Fu grew up in China, but was deported to the US in the early 1980s after
she was exiled by Chinese political authorities. Eventually, she found her
way into computer science and enrolled in a graduate program at Illinois,
where she conceived the idea that led to Geomagic. She refined her vision
with her husband and co-founder, Herbert Edelsbrunner, a young Illinois
faculty member and expert in algorithms and computational geometry.
While at Illinois, where she earned a MS in computer science, she also
teamed up with OSBI Consulting, now called Illinois Business Consulting
(IBC), a student-run program in the College that provides consulting
services to organizations of varying size. Staffed with MBA students as
well as graduate students from across the Urbana campus, IBC focuses on
projects that emphasize strategy, marketing, and finance.
The composition of IBC and its staffing illustrate one of the strengths of
a multifaceted institution like Illinois, where an entrepreneur or company
can turn to more than one college within the university to help capitalize
on bright ideas. Ping Fu praised the program and its then-director, Paul
Magelli. “Paul was an inspiration. He was always encouraging, he made
many fund-raising connections, and he lined up MBA students to help
“Ingenuity is purported to be a fundamental characteristic of entrepreneurs,”
said Paul Magelli about Fu and Edelsbrunner’s solution of the
complex mathematical problem that is the competitive advantage behind
Geomagic’s success. “That solution lead to her being named Inc’s Entrepreneur
of the Year.”
Today, both China and the US emphasize mass production, but the system
is bound up in layers of expense that balloon the cost of manufactured
goods. As items roll off the assembly lines, they go to warehouses and then
to stores. To encourage sales, billions of dollars are spent on advertising.
Shipping adds additional costs. If a product never sells, the manufacturer
eats all the costs.
In the custom economy, we would order what we want from nearby
manufacturers that would ship the product to us. The costly middle steps
would be eliminated. Some companies already use variations on that theme.
Dell Computer, for example, builds custom computers that customers order
over the Internet, eliminating unsold inventory.
“DSSP technology combines craftsmanship with mass production,” said
Fu. “It allows companies to produce customized products people will love.
It reduces costs because business would not be producing products that
no one wants, and business would not be spending billions of dollars on
advertising, supply chains, and inventory.”
She points out that DSSP can help manufacturing firms make custom-made
products that are cheaper than mass-produced products. For example, if
shoes made in the US cost $10 in labor and the same shoes made in China
costs $2 in labor, the footwear made in China is not necessarily cheaper
once shipping and inventory expenses are included in the final cost.
“In the short term, DSSP is being used in high-value, high-volume industries
such as medical device and aerospace design,” Fu said. “In the long term, this
is the second industrial revolution. We live in a 3D world, and this technology
will fundamentally change the way we make, market, and use products.”
Visit Geomagic's website for more information