3D printing is looking to become a part of mainstream design and commerce. The technique has been around and known to artists and some designers for some time. For the past 15 years artists have made use of the technology to give life to computer generated designs. While design is very much a part of the 3D printing tech and culture, it’s now being used increasingly in industries as diverse as fashion, medicine and electronics.
Now there are opportunities for content creators to get involved in creating their own products and even in bringing them to market independently. There are two up and coming online resources devoted to 3D printing. Shapeways is a 3D printing community and marketplace where users can buy everything from a small egg cup ($7.95) to jewelry to a Minecraft castle (around $800) to a bust of Steve Jobs (around $100). 3D printer manufacturer Makerbot has its own online resource, Thingiverse, where users can upload and download files that they can print out on their own.
One major benefit of 3D printing is that any product or part generated is produced as one solid object as opposed to a larger object comprised of many smaller component parts. This holds tremendous potential for the design of custom objects. Objects can be created directly from a custom computer design. The downside is that there are no economies of scale – it costs the same amount to produce every single unit or copy of a product, regardless of how many are being produced. That’s in contrast to an injection mold. It may cost thousands of dollars to produce a mold, with no later customization possible, but it can then cost just pennies to produce each copy.
It may well be that that the future of 3D printing is in custom or limited manufacturing and “manufacturing on demand.” The fashion world is at the forefront of 3D printing. We reported previously on Nike’s new football cleats and 3D printing company Stratasys was just involved in a show at Paris Fashion Week in January. At her show, Dutch designer Iris van Herpen debuted two 3D-printed outfits made in collaboration with US-based designer Neri Oxman and Austrian architect Julia Koerner.
The potential for 3D printing may be even greater in medicine where custom applications hold great promise. There have been incredible developments announced even in the first week of this month. 3D printer manufacturer Stratasys has just announced the launch of a 3D printer designed for orthodontic labs and clinics and earlier this month a Swedish manufacturer announced that it would produce a new generation of 3D printers for the manufacture of medical implants. A new initiative, Project Andiamo, was also announced to produce 3D printed prosthetic devices for children.