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October 24, 2014

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Joe Downtown: Entrepreneur reboots plans, now will plant seeds for 3-D printing greenhouse

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In this photo taken Wednesday, May 15, 2013, Peter Weijmarshausen, the co-founder and CEO of Shaepways, speaks about the many items that can be made with 3D printing during the Hardware Innovation Workshop in San Mateo, Calif. With the printers users make whatever they like, iPad stands, guitars, jewelry, someone even made a rifle. About the size of a microwave oven, the printers usually extrude plastic, layer upon layer, to create objects.

A new technology has changed Craig Adkins' plans to build a shoe factory in downtown Las Vegas.

Adkins said last week that advancements in 3-D printing now have him planning to create a place where shoes and myriad other items might be produced via the technology. The "printers" — which is kind of a misnomer because they don't typically create ink images on paper — spray layer after layer of plastic, metal, wood pulp or other material into patterns programmed by a designer.

The process can take hours to create a single object, which is currently one of the issues with 3-D printing. Adkins, however, sees the technology advancing quickly.

Already, he added, progressives in New York City were considered something of a hub for the so-called "maker" industry. Other hubs are beginning to gain a foothold in other cities. Adkins doesn't want Las Vegas to be left behind.

But after studying 3-D printing for months, he decided against plans to open a traditional assembly-line shoe factory, seeing the future was instead moving toward 3-D printing.

"I have to admit, when I just looked at 3-D printing for this, my first thought was, 'Well, no, that won't work,'" he said, chuckling. "But I'd never dismiss anything without doing my research. So I did some intense industry research."

He now believes that to manufacture shoes using 60-year-old methods would be akin to building a horse-and-buggy factory long after automobiles had been created.

His plan now is to create what he calls a "greenhouse" — he doesn't like the term "incubator" — in downtown Las Vegas to draw businesses whose focus is 3-D printing and on people who want to do research and create new applications for the technology.

"Designers, makers businesses, tech development, materials development, all of it," he said, adding that he already was in contact with academicians and hopes to draw UNLV into the project.

"This could potentially be exponentially bigger than the shoe factory thing," he said. "They predict that in 10 years, 3-D printing will be bigger than the Internet."

Adkins, who has worked a lifetime in creating efficiencies in production lines and worked as vice president of fulfillment services for Zappos, said he would have the greenhouse operational in about a month. "Then I'm looking at launching a few new companies next month; very small but with promise."

Back to the early automobile analogy, Adkins said Las Vegas may be new to the 3-D industry game but like car companies in the early 1900s, you never know who is going to survive. By the time Henry Ford had incorporated, for instance, some 100 auto companies had already been created. And between 1896 and 1930, an estimated 1,800 car companies had been formed.

"If we don't jump in, we'll never be a player," Adkins said. "A seed grows where it's planted."

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover downtown, he lives and works there. Schoenmann is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded downtown journalist, working from an office in the Emergency Arts building.

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