Intricate twist

Imagine a time when we’re all printing in 3D at home, seeing our complex creations emerge seamlessly at the touch of a button. Emily Pacey speaks to enthusiasts of a rapidly evolving technology that looks set to give us more creative freedom

For some cutting-edge product design and manufacturing companies, 3D printing is much more than just a tool for rapid prototyping. These people are creatively inspired by a piece of technology that they believe is precipitating the second industrial revolution.
Product designer Janne Kytannen is a 3D also known as additive printing enthusiast waiting with increasing impatience for this technology to become a domestic, mainstream product as universal as the desktop inkjet printer.

Kytannen has just sold his Amsterdam-based company, Freedom of Creation, to US company 3D Systems. Over the next two months he will upload his product designs, created over 11 years, to the FOC website for downloading for free by anyone who owns a 3D printer and an Internet connection. Kytannen compares this with the file-sharing trend that has reshaped the music industry by taking power from the record companies and placing it in the hands of consumers.

’Is this going to threaten the product design industry? Of course,’ says Kytannen, who takes an unusual view of issues of intellectual property in product manufacture. ’Most people are scared. Over the past 40 years of mass production, it has taken such a long time for designers to create one product that they became very emotionally involved with it. But at the end of the day, it is just a simple, stupid product. The only people who will be threatened by this are those designers who are not creative and they should go and work in a bank.’

UK-based Within Technologies is also using 3D printing to create and manufacture end products, rather than merely produce a prototype. Founder Siavash Mahdavi describes how 3D printers can produce chain mail, which previously could only be made by painstakingly cutting open one ring, inserting another into it and resealing the gap all by hand. ’This design was not manufacturable before 3D printing, but now we are printing titanium chain mail for protective wear. The pattern can be made at a minimum thickness of 1.5mm, making it suitable for use as a fashion textile,’ says Mahdavi.

Uniquely, 3D printers can create complex objects with interlinking moving parts in just one stage. Says Kytannen, ’I have been so surprised that year after year people aren’t using 3D printing to its fullest capacity, because you can make the most wonderful things, like a ball within a ball, which just about sums up the potential of the technology. You can also make a car engine all in one piece instead of having to put different parts together. The benefits are completely mind-blowing.’

The newest generation of designers is latching on to 3D printing. In this year’s Royal College of Art Design Products degree show is a piece by Markus Kayser, who has been in Cairo experimenting with creating a ’solar sintering’ machine that uses the heat of the sun on sand to create glass that can be used in 3D printing. Like others, he is interested in how 3D printers can be put to work in the developing world, partly since they can be altered to suit individual and specialist needs. Mahdavi describes consumers’ design alterations to the ’original designed object’, or ODO, as making the object into a CODO, or co-designed product. In a debate on 3D printing held in March at the Royal Society of Arts, director of design Emily Campbell said that ’the new technologies of design and manufacturing so-called 3D printing theoretically at least present incredible opportunities to redistribute design, to reinvigorate local production and to put a rapid prototype, a custom object, and a perfect fit into the hands of all kinds of people who may never have called or thought of themselves as a designer or manufacturer.’

I have been so surprised that people aren’t using 3D printing to its fullest capacity, because you can make the most wonderful things

Assa Ashuach, a collaborator of Mahdavi’s who also spoke at the RSA debate, suggests that designers will still be required to create the product, even if it can be then changed by the individual consumer. ’If you give someone a material with no character and ask them to make something from it, it will be impossible,’ said Ashuach. Mahdavi adds, ’When we started working out how to customise products and we gave customers a blank space, they did get stuck. Now, we are taking an existing design that can be altered because you do need some base points.’

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