I’ve been fascinated by this concept of “collaborative manufacturing” for some time, one form of which is 3D printing. Well actually the printing is the end result, the beginning being the concept, then the design, then its creation and, eventually, in most cases its marketing and sales.
What that means to the average non-tech non-design person who doesn’t lurk around MIT labs or Maker Faires is that you (and you and you and you) can actually create something without having the technical knowledge to do so.
3D printing is just one form of this (it’s an additive process where digital file becomes object made of plastic, metal, glass and even chocolate!). Many of the companies offering this type of user-defined objects (Shapeways, Ponoko, Quirky, Cloudfab, etc.) also have options to customize or personalize an existing design or to just buy one as is.
Here’s a mini sampling of some of the things I came across in my wanderings. (I won’t include the image (although yes the link) of the bikini which for its smex value was picked up by a bazillion news sites and blogs, although I must acknowledge that while I personally wouldn’t want a plastic bikini the possibilities for clothing design and beyond are mindblowing). Here follows some mad cool things.
Light poem (you supply the words)
French Coffee Cup (designed by Cunicode and part of their one-coffee-cup-a-day series)
Macedonia Space Divider (via Freedom of Creation)
Bird’s Nest Egg Cups (by Studio Gijs)
And last but not least these mini conductive pins that attach to your favorite gloves so you can still use your iphone in sub zero weather (winter is a-comin’)
Glove Pins (designed by Chris Shy)
There is a wide range and like all things there are high-end designs and materials that will forever remain inaccessible to some, at least to purchase. But what I love about this is that the average Joe or Josefina can not only take their concept to its physical form but maybe even change the world with it. It’s the democratization of a process that used to be well beyond the reach of most, a manufacturing for the masses where anyone can create (and afford, in most cases) their dream idea and within a few days hold it in their hands.
Beyond cutesy gadgets and objects the possibilities are endless. These processes are used already for medical prosthetics and equipment, for reproducing structures for science and research (croc. skull created from an MRI via the U Texas Digimorph project), and on and on. There is even one guy named Markus Kayser who has designed a solar 3D printer that he tested in the Sahara desert (he made a bowl out of sand).
So many things can now be produced by the common man. There are sites to design and print fabric (spoonflower) and, but of course, books. Lots of those. These are tools to take that sketch, that novel, that crazy concept you had in the middle of the night…to reality. Just one. Maybe more. Quickly. Cheaply.
Digitization. The “softwarization of stuff” (Ramon Sangüesa’s brilliant term). Yet, as Chris Anderson of Wired pointed out (in his “Ten Rules for Maker Businesses” on Ponoko’s blog, a company he recently joined), while openness and community are key in this new world, profit, basic business rules, manufacturability and distribution are still critical and—as I hear over and over again in the self-publishing discussion—“marketing is your job.”
The creator becomes editor, designer, printer and distributor, marketer and pr guru of his own work.
Yet even that has changed. Ways of reaching others is in constant flux. These new technologies which affect our social and physical worlds make it easier for the creativity of just anyone to impact the world. That is unfathomably thrilling (and, I admit, a bit scary). Most things that are worthwhile are, I suppose.