Developments in 3D printing are increasingly transforming the way that products are designed. Everything from clothing to guns, toys, and architectural structures, have already been produced using the technology, with lots of other innovations in the pipeline.
The 3D printing process has been evolving over the last three decades. Also known as ‘additive manufacturing’, it allows designers to create complex three dimensional structures and objects by adding and combining multiple layers of materials that were traditionally forged, molded, or sculpted. Now, smaller 3D printers are making the technology accessible to local businesses and domestic consumers alike. Here are just some of the ways that 3D printing is transforming the world of design.
The speed and efficiency of 3D printing means that companies can create smaller numbers of a new design, try it out, and modify it quickly without the protracted and expensive exercise of larger-scale tests and prototypes.
This offers a great opportunity for designers to hone and improve on their concepts. And as the cost of printers comes down, design studios will be able to carry out test runs before they even submit blueprints!
It’s not just designers who will have ready access to 3D printing in the future. Consumers will also be able to buy their own technology, or at least outsource their work to print shops and freelancers. This is likely to create great benefits and more work for designers, as the demand for skilled designers will increase as people see what is achievable elsewhere.
Merging design and manufacturing
3D printer technology is becoming more sophisticated all the time, and unsurprisingly, major brands are now adopting the process as they find that it can streamline their manufacturing process. These companies no longer need to receive a product’s design specifications, send the spec out for manufacturing, and then wait for the stock to be returned for sale – they can now actually design and manufacture the products in-house, saving both time and money. Here are some examples of that.
- General Electric has not only used 3D printing to design fuel nozzles for a new jet, but has also invested in developing technology that will specifically suit its needs by purchasing a 3D company.
- Boeing has created tens of thousands of 3D printed parts for its military and commercial planes. It is also investing in printer technology research at various universities in the United Kingdom.
- Ford was an early adopter of 3D printing, and has most recently designed engine covers for its 2015 Mustang using the technique, dramatically cutting costs and production time in doing so.
- Hasbro, the company that produces toys for franchises that include My Little Pony and Sesame Street, has entered a partnership with 3D Systems to develop 3D printers specifically targeted at the toy and games industry.
3D printing can be an excellent way for designers to try out their work using other materials that may have previously proven too costly to test.
- Jewellery maker Sara Pocius started her business by selling beaded trinkets. She is now creating sterling silver pieces thanks to 3D technology. Rather than relying on the creation of wax prototypes that would cost up to $135 per design, she is using 3D printed models that cost just $4 by comparison.
- Fledgling Israeli fashion designer Danit Peleg also used 3D printing to produce part of her graduation show at the Shenkar College of Design. To overcome the rigidity that can sometimes be a problem with the technology, she used a new, more malleable filament called FilaFlex to create sheets of lace-like textiles. She then glued these together to create clothing pieces, a process that proved to be much faster than cutting and sewing items in the traditional way.
And it’s not just traditional manufacturing that 3D printing is transforming; it’s also opening up exciting new areas that were previously inaccessible to many designers.
- Made in Space was founded in 2010 with the goal of extending the boundaries of space habitation and exploration. Part of the company’s vision is not only to develop technology for use in the space environment, but also to manufacture structures and products in space itself as opposed to launching them from Earth. To this end, they are developing 3D printers that can be operated in zero gravity, destined for the International Space Station.
- DIY Rockets, a company created to lower the cost of space exploration by generating low-cost technology, is a passionate supporter of 3D printing. In 2013, it created an open prize to challenge competitors to develop 3D printed rocket motors.
All this proves that, for designers working with 3D printers, the sky is not nearly the limit!
Architecture and engineering
Architects and urban planners have long used 3D models to plan and demonstrate how buildings and city infrastructure will look and work. However they are now harnessing the technology to create the actual structures themselves.
- Earlier this year, a Chinese company called Zhuoda 3D printed a 200 square metre, one bedroom home that could be assembled in just 3 hours. It is also said to be able to withstand earthquakes although this has not yet been tested. Another advantage of the technique is that around 90% of the construction could be undertaken in an off-site factory before the whole thing was shipped in modular pieces to the installation site. This highly efficient process reduced construction costs to just AUD$542-650 per square metre and predicts that the home will last up to 150 years.
- The Dutch startup company MX3D has announced plans for the world’s first 3D printed bridge, to be built across an Amsterdam canal. It will be created using robotic printers that draw steel structures in 3D. The firm’s Innovation Manager, Jurre Van der Ven defined how they see the technology continuing to blur the line between design and construction: “3D printing for a bridge makes design and construction operate hand-in-hand. For instance, both activities are done at the same time.. this means we will also have to start looking at design in a completely different manner”.
There’s little doubt that 3D printing will continue to change the way that designers are expected to work. There will be challenges but also great opportunities for those who are willing to fully embrace this revolutionary new concept.
There’s little doubt that 3D will continue to change the way that designers are expected to work. There will be challenges but also great opportunities for those who are willing to fully embrace this revolutionary new concept.