Printing the Future
The biggest dream of a product designer? Designing a product and creating it of course! But that sounds a lot easier then it actually is. Anyone can come up with a good idea, but realizing it is a different matter. But that is about to change. In the near future, creating your own products might become as easy as drawing up a text document and sending it to your own printer.
Printing your own products? Yes, it will be possible in the near future. You design a product with a computer program and a 3D printer, which is hooked up to your computer, will print it for you. The techniques for printing products are evolving rapidly, resulting not only in better printed products but also in making it accessible for non-geek people!
Even if there is a lot of attention for 3D printing (we can almost speak of a media hype) there are still many challenges to overcome before everyone can print their own products. For now, only professionals are capable to design a product in a CAD program and only those who are interested enough to invest thousands of dollars are able to lay their hands on a 3D printer.
However challenging these problems might seem, they are actually nothing more then minor inconveniences. Open source projects have already resulted in 3D printers that don’t cost thousands, but only hundreds of dollars. Software will become more accessible. Just look at the development of computer aided word processing, everyone of the new generation can create a report on a PC.
If the techniques are fully developed and become mainstream, it would mean a complete change for our society. People won’t have to go shopping, they download a product or design one themselves. People will print their products, so no factories will be needed. There will be no transport of consumer goods, the only thing needed will be the base materials. Even food, medical implants and parts of rocket engines can be printed. The possibilities are endless.
As a third year Industrial Product Design student at the The Hague University I could not resist the temptation of making my own products, nor getting a peek in what this new technology might hold in store for all of us. Together with two colleagues I started building a Reprap Mendel outside college hours. Reprap is one of the open source projects that strives to make 3D printing mainstream. The Mendel works on the Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technique, which means that a product can be created by laying very thin layers of material on top of each other.
The entire project took us about a year. The design was there, but had various flaws, lacked good documentation and we had to find all parts and order them separately. We investigated many kinds of techniques apart from FDM, and learned much about manufacturing, process and machinery design. And in the end, yes, we could actually print our own products!