Change is Gonna Come – 3D Printing and On-Demand Manufacturing

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Change is Gonna Come – 3D Printing and On-Demand Manufacturing

In many ways, 3D Printing and On-Demand Manufacturing are one and the same. Both mark a shift in the way products are produced and, thanks to the advances in 3D printing, on-demand manufacturing is now poised to change the way we get our hands on the products we want.

I’m not sparking a new debate when I say in part that overproduction leads to overconsumption and it has a negative effect on the environment. Slowly but surely we continue to deplete our planet of non-renewable resources and polluting the fundamentals that we need to survive.

3D printing presents a more sustainable proposition and I’ve designed a product to test it. Loom Launcher is one of the first 3D printed products that can be custom-made on-demand and has been designed to be cost competitive compared to similar products made using the old industrial model of mass-producing and distributing products. It’s a virtual product from conception right through to production and entirely managed by digital systems up until it’s prepared for delivery.

In my article ‘Printing 3D Guns – Bringing 3D Printing to The Forefront’ I talk about how 3D printing is already changing the way products and components are made in many industries from healthcare to car manufacturing. Interestingly, automotive giant Ford, the legacy of Henry Ford who is considered the forefather of mass production, is now using 3D printing in the design of cars at its Technical Centre in the UK – a stark contrast to the methods of mass production his name has become synonymous with.

On-demand manufacturing decreases the lead time between concept and product and reduces the upfront costs for the designer or manufacturers. Plus, as products are only produced just in time for when a customer places an order there are minimal up-front risks. Dubbed as a “personal factory”, the technology is democratising digital life and this hasn’t escaped the attention of online marketplaces like Amazon. The e-commerce giant is said to be hoping to cash in on the advances in 3D printing technology to bring customers whatever they want as soon as they want it. According to a patent application Amazon have filed in the US they’re hoping to release trucks with on-board 3D printers that will take online orders and create the ordered product either on the way to or at the customer’s door! This could save them millions of dollars in storage facilities and, of course, stock.

In the eyes of the masses 3D printing is a very complex technology that is only accessible to computer geeks and product designers. Creating a three dimensional design? Getting access to a 3D printer? Choosing the right printing material? It’s actually far easier than it may appear. Even those with little to no experience in design or technology can now start printing objects in no time and 3D printing is more accessible than ever before.

The Loom Launcher is testament to this. It’s a 3D printed toy for kids and for the young-at-heart – but it’s also more than this. It’s a deliberate design attempt to make 3D printing more accessible to consumers and was done so by leveraging other digital democracies like crowdfunding and social networks.

3D printing and crowdfunding have a lot in common – both are innovations that are changing the way we look at the marketplace and both are vehicles for entrepreneurial freedom. They have bridged the gap between what people only ever dreamt of achieving and what they can now achieve – and all from the comfort of the cloud on their own computer.

So it’s no wonder that crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter are behind lots of 3D printing projects – read my recent article ‘My story – of Passion, Printing and Prototypes’ where I share my journey going from frustrated designer to Kickstarter and crowdfunding advocate.

Advances in 3D printing have made the technology accessible to anyone who wants to turn an idea into something tangible, translating their vision into something that they can touch, play with and even sell. On-demand manufacturing is set to make production more sustainable. While we could expect to see more products created, the result is just the opposite as it creates a marketplace where products are produced to order – slashing lead times, with less risk and cost but with more choice and freedom for the consumer, with only products that are in demand produced to fulfill actual needs as they arise.

Guns on Demand – Bringing 3D Printing to The Forefront.

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Guns on Demand – Bringing 3D Printing to The Forefront.

I should start with a disclaimer of sorts – this article isn’t about the gun control debate  nor is it an argument for or against 3D printing firearms. What’s impressive is how the 3D printing of firearms has brought the technology to the forefront and been a catalyst for change in the way we interact with 3D printing.

Even though commercial 3D printers have been around since the early 80’s, most people still struggle to separate fact from fiction when thinking about 3D printing. But it’s crazy to think something that has been around for three and a half decades has only now been dubbed by some as the next industrial revolution. 

In the last 35 years we’ve hardly made a drop in the ocean of the potential of 3D printing in the consumer market. It has some pretty impressive applications in medicine and healthcare, creating limbs for amputees and even printing artificial organs. Its primary use has been accelerating development cycles in the manufacturing industry but  consumer applications are somewhat lagging. The one area that has caught the attention of the world’s media, politicians and terrified parents everywhere is the 3D printing of guns. 

This application of 3D printing is sparking debate over whether centralised gun control is a solution to escalating gun violence – perhaps not, when anyone can print a gun on a $300 printer. The associations with crime and violence that guns represent are a big part of the reason that 3D printed guns have sparked such a frenzy. Many fear 3D printers will make firearms available to the wrong people and result in an increase in violent crimes and the type of mass shootings that have blighted recent times. There is a fear that whilst today’s 3D printed guns don’t match up to ‘real’ firearms, one day they might. Case in point: we are seeing increasing innovations in 3D printed firearms.

The 3D printing of guns has prompted discussions about the laws and regulations surrounding 3D printing. Many are understandably uncomfortable with being told what they can and cannot print on their own personal printers in the privacy of their own homes. You could argue that 3D printed guns have given 3D printing some bad press. But hasn’t it just changed the way we think about how products are made and who can make them, taking some of the power from the regulated and centralised monopolies back into the hands of the consumers? 3D printing enables us to create products that meet our exact, rather than globalised needs.

3D printing has already changed the world. Guns are the most controversial example of how it’s actually happening and, love them or loathe them, they have been a catalyst for revolution and have launched the technology into the limelight. 3D printing  will to continue to change the way we play and interact with each other, the way we prepare food, the products we wear, how we travel and take photographs. It’s no longer a case of if, or even when, but are we ready for it? Can society, our views and the laws of the land keep up with the changing consumer landscape brought about by 3D printing? 

I’m sensitive to all those parents out there concerned about toy gun play as contributing to a foundation for violence. We need to address the root causes, as prohibiting guns, 3D printed at least, is not practically viable. In fact, for some, prohibiting gun play is creating a virtual obsession on the glamour of guns as a forbidden fruit, having the opposite effect.  

I’ve recently invented a “gun” that shoots mini rubber bands and it’s called The Loom Launcher, taking a poke at the idea of a 3D printed gun. It’s a crowdfunded idea bringing attention to the possibilities of 3D printing. In reality parents and even kids can now print their own toys. For those who are uncomfortable with even fictional firearms, it doesn’t have to be a gun. It can be a wand for kids to cast their spells by spreading the loom love around the house!

My Story – of Passion, Printing, and Prototypes.

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Contrary to popular belief 3D printing isn’t actually the new kid on the block, with many still nervous of a future found in sci-fi novels. 3D printing processes have actually been around since the late 70’s with the first commercial 3D printer invented by Charles ‘Chuck’ Hull in 1984. That’s just 12 months after the first mobile phone became commercially available. Yet, today, over 90% of all Americans own a mobile phone but I can’t even find any statistics for the number of US citizens who owns a 3D printer for personal use. How many people do you know with one? Exactly.

I, on the other hand, bought my first 3D printer back in 2002 and have spent the last two decades or so running JDi Design – an industrial design and product development service provider. In a nutshell, I take an idea for a product and turn it into a reality for clients in a variety of sectors from medical to industrial and 3D printing has been an integral tool.

 This business is centered around my passion for design and environmental sustainability. I firmly believe that if we want to combat the negative effects of industrial production the environmental issues need to be addressed at the design stage. But this is expensive for the typical corporate client who is driven by their bottom line and is dependent on maintaining their existing investments instead of exploring more sustainable options.

 I was convinced that there had to be a better way. I took on some high risk projects with some high risk clients but after a series of unpaid invoices, and unforeseen circumstances, it cost me my life savings and with it somefaith in the corporate world.

 But all was not lost, still convinced that there had to be a better way to do business and the chance to, as Benjamin Franklin said, ‘do well by doing good’, I started analyzing crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter to leverage design and help grow decentralized digital democracies.

I must also mention the time I sat around a campfire with my brother-in-law and he started talking about how cool the ‘ultimate cooler’ would be. We threw out ideas whilst we drank beers, everything from speakers and lights, even dry ice puffing out in a cool, dramatic cloud as you open it to the sound of heavenly angels singing – pretty much everything but brewing the beer itself ( this would make a good Kickstarter perhaps?!) Then one day, months after our fireside brainstorming session I noticed that a guy had indeed come up with the ‘Coolest Cooler’ and was raising funds for it on Kickstarter. Kitted out with speakers, lights, the ability to charge your iPhone, and many more ideas above and beyond our own fantasy cooler. Low and behold, Ryan Grepper, the brainchild behind the ‘Coolest Cooler’ , has now raised over $13 million in funding on Kickstarter – $13 million!

 Ryan’s story just showed me the true power of the people. Sat around a boardroom in the corporate world, the idea, and many like it, would probably have been dismissed quicker than you can actually say ‘Coolest Cooler’. But sometimes the craziest ideas are the coolest (literally in this case) and capture the imagination of the public in a way that not even the most experienced market analysts can predict.

 And it’s no secret that sometimes the best ideas are the simplest too. Another Kickstarter campaign to produce a bluetooth controller for a paper aeroplane managed to raise over $1 million – a few bucks of which was my own donation and I went on to buy a few as gifts which were well received to say the least.

 I was more than suitably impressed and inspired so embarked on my own 3D printing Kickstarter journey. My kids were playing with a wooden rubber band toy and it got me to thinking. How would this look if made with 21st century technology? And, what do you know — 27 prototypes and many handcrafted mouse-clicks later, the Loom Launcher was born.

 The Loom Launcher is now the world’s first 3D printed, mechanical, multi-shot, self-priming, rubber-band launcher, printed in one go. I’ve created 6 different designs so far including: “The Princess”, the wand-like “Wizard”, the “Dirty Harry”, and the sleek “Spy”.

 It also has the added bonus of making use of all those loom bands left lying around the house that only last year kids just HAD to have. They adorned the shelves of stores across the country only for its fickle audience to move on to the next must-have craze, leaving the loom bands in the lurch. So in the spirit of sustainability, the Loom Launcher revitalises your leftover loom bands. It’s made on-demand, never over produced, only made for those who want them and, being 100% Nylon, it is recyclable.

 The Loom Launcher, whilst hours of fun and bringing a new lease of life to the much-loved elastic band launcher, is more than just the product or even the idea. It’s my homage to a new era of on-demand production and pushing the limits of additive manufacture, it’s an attempt at dipping my toe into the power and potential of crowdfunding.

 I plan to write more about 3D printing and the power of crowdfunding in my upcoming article ‘Change is Gonna Come, 3D Printing and On-Demand Manufacturing’.

JDi’s Key3D Brand makes fron page news.

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Here we share our work, thought pieces, and news.

JDi’s Key3D Brand makes fron page news.

Rapid prototyping has become an essential tool for new product development.  The low cost and rapid turnaround of Key3D’s ZCorp parts has led to a major shift in the way our clients use rapid prototyping.

Key3d enables companies to use a ZCorp 3d printer much like their own paper printer.  In the same way as a journalist quickly prints and proof reads a new draft, design engineers can now quickly print 3d parts, to validate scale and form much more frequently. New parts can be designed, printed overnight and be checked the following day. Think of Key3d like the Kinko’s of rapid prototyping.

 

A typical project which illustrates this paradigm shift in rapid prototyping is for an innovative start up company developing visor system for pilots.  In the course of the 4 week accelerated development process over twenty different prototype parts were printed and the project went from a one line project brief to fully functioning visor system being tested by pilots in the air.

 

Harry Willborn president of Sky-Visor inc said “Key3d was a vital resource in our development process, the routine overnight 3d builds helped saved time and cost. Every new prototype brought us a step closer to the finished product”.