It seems you can’t open a tech magazine these days without some mention of 3D printing. But is it all hype or has the technology really developed into something that will transform the lives of designers, manufacturers and consumers?
Mark Hester, PDD’s Principal of Design Development was invited to share his views on a panel at the Engineering Design show which he followed up with a visit to an exhibition at London’s Design Museum called ‘The Future is Here: A New Industrial Revolution‘. In this post he reflects on the controversy surrounding 3D printing.
According to a survey conducted by the Design Museum in conjunction with Ipsos Mori, 71 percent of people know nothing at all or very little about 3D printing. So I was curious when Paul Fanning, editor of Eureka magazine, invited me to share my views on the subject with engineering designers at a conference running alongside the Engineering Design Show. What questions would this audience have about a technology that is new to the high street but has been around as a professional tool for over a decade?
It turned out that the hottest issues for this group of about 100 designers were:
When is it the wrong tool to use?
Does it really have value as a manufacturing process?
What do we need to know about its future?
In answering those questions along with my fellow panellists I noticed two trends…
Firstly, there are already situations in which 3D printing is a viable manufacturing process. Stijn De Rijck from Materialise described how they were the first to make a bespoke orthopaedic guide using 3D printing a few years ago. Now they process orders for about 3000 guides per month. The benefits to the surgeons and patients are obvious and there is no other cost-effective way to manufacture these one-off surgical tools.
Image credit: 3trpd.co.uk
You might have seen the Commonwealth Games 2014 Queen’s baton on the news recently. This was designed to combine traditional Scottish craftsmanship in the elm handle with the latest in additive manufacturing for the complex, organic lattice of Titanium around the top.
Image credit: Femur Stool, Assa Ashuach Studio
My visit to the Design Museum confirmed that 3D printing is not just about making things quickly. Combined with other digital technologies designers are able to produce things from the outer edges of their imagination. 3D CAD is being supplemented by coding algorithms that are able to generate highly complex yet constrained forms. This is illustrated in the work by Assa Ashuach which is on display at the exhibition.
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