We are seeing more hobbyist-grade 3D printers in the community. Who wouldn’t want to make his own adorable little trinkets like frogs, mini-eiffel towers and piggy banks? Home-model printers are readily available these days but why do we need to learn CAD, buy a machine, and deal with the repeated breakdowns (yes, they do get clogged regularly) just to make an adorable figurine for our shelf?
Stay tuned, the story is about to get a bit more interesting…
But first, a bit of history. The birth of additive manufacturing (aka 3D printing) goes back to the late 1980’s. In 1986, Charles Hull, the co-founder of 3D Systems, invented stereolithography, a printing process that enables a tangible 3D object to be created from digital data. (http://invent.org/inductees/hull-charles/) The earliest use of additive manufacturing was in rapid prototyping during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Prototypes allow manufacturers a chance experiment with design and even test a product or component before producing a final product in mass quantities. (http://computer.howstuffworks.com/3-d-printing1.htm).
Since that time, additive technology has been widely used in countless industries from Aviation and automotive to medical and, most recently, has extended to hobbyists, food industry and even jewelry.
The medical field caught on in 1999 when the first bladder augmentation using the patient’s own 3D printed cells was successfully accomplished. In 2002 it was the 3D printed kidney, and in 2008, the first 3D-printed prosthetic leg, with all parts — knee, foot, socket, etc. were printed as one unit without the need for assembly.
Aviation and automotive industries are now using 3D technology for many complex components. Additive technology produces parts that are structurally comparable to steel, lighter, create less waste, use less energy, and is of lower cost than a tooled component.
The transition to the consumer market was spearheaded in 2005 by Dr. Adrian Bowyer’s RepRap Project, an open-source initiative to create a 3D printer that could basically build itself—or at least print most of its own parts. It’s 2008 release, Darwin, is a self-replicating printer that’s able to do just that. Suddenly, people everywhere had the power to create their own printers and make whatever stuff they could dream up on their own. In 2008 Shapeways launched a private beta for a new co-creation service and community allowing artists, architects and designers to make their 3D designs as physical objects inexpensively http://individual.troweprice.com/staticFiles/Retail/Shared/PDFs/3D_Printing_Infographic_FINAL.pdf. Soon after, Makerbot hit the market as a consumer friendly and modestly priced (for 3D printers) machine. And with the opening of makerbot stores across the country, suddenly the masses had access to this cutting edge technology that had previously only been open to big industry.
This couldn’t happen at a better time, with the Internet and social media making small startups and micro businesses possible, now there is access to affordable prototyping for the budding inventor. And for entrepreneurs that don’t feel like learning programming, there are plenty of freelance options for help. Now all you need is a dream and a computer (and an idea, lots of research, luck, and a bit of money to get a new business off the ground. Economically speaking, the days of needing half a million or an investor to start your business are also in the past. New businesses can start on a shoestring. Throw in crowd funding sites like Go Fund Me, Indigogo and Kickstarter, and even cash is available.
But not everyone aspires to launch a new business. So what can everyone else do with this new technology For starters, the educational aspect cannot be underestimated. learning CAD and 3D modeling, computer technology and having a deeper understanding complex spacial relationships at an early age (with the added reward of making ones own object) has tremendous potential.
Alternatively, There is the possibility for joining the additive marketplace, freelancing to create objects or files for objects. Shapeways is the etsy of additive technology. Admittedly, most of these objects are of limited use. We don’t really NEED to print our own business card holder or phone case. But it’s only a matter of time before the community develops more functional components.
At Modify, we embrace this concept and are currently reaching out to designers and students to help us develop new drop-in accessories for our Invisibin™ System of routed depressions in our furniture line. This system allows customers to design their own furniture without the need for a workshop in their basement. Desktop Accessories that help with cord management, lamp shades, planters and device mounts are just a few of the possibilities. Artists may opt to design a paint well tray, or specialty pencil holders.
Looking forward, Modify Furniture will soon launch our open-source our accessory line, creating a “customer-generated” line called the Modify Marketplace, a collaborative community everyone can design, make, and share their own designs. In this way, we will help to create a collaborative community, a new platform for designers and makers across the globe.