by: Anthony Garland
3D Printing is awesome, but if you have just bought a new consumer 3D printer, then likely you have run into a few challenges. These challenges include:
With a 2D printer, you can print stuff from documents and web pages. It is pretty straightforward since it is not a conceptual leap to imagine that what I see on my 2D screen can be printed on a 2D piece of paper. In writing, everything that I need to express my intent can be achieved through letters and words that we have been taught since kindergarten. However, with a 3D model it is much different. Although most of us can read and write well, generating a 3D model is not nearly as simple. Further, the types of models that can be reasonably printed with your desktop printer are limiting. So the question of "what will you print" is constrained in many ways to the abilities of the printer and our ability to generate a 3D model. There are several options for getting a model:
So, if getting a model is so hard, then what is the solution?
First, 3D printing or additive manufacturing is an engineering tool which helps with prototyping. If you are an engineer with any experience in 3D CAD, you can probably learn an inexpensive CAD software package relatively quickly and make your 3D models. Printing prototypes and functional parts for very specific engineering applications will always be a significant role of 3D printing.
Second, the solution is a change in our thinking about design. One of the three top advantages of additive manufacturing is minimal manufacturing preparation time (read about it here). If manufacturing a new model will cost me the same amount of time and money as making a duplicate of an existing design, then making unique parts will not increase my manufacturing cost. This advantage leads to mass customization of products for consumers, and this mass customization begs the question, 'how will we get the customized designs?' The answer is through design automation.
We need to stop thinking of designs as something we download off of Thingiverse or scan with our 3D scanner, but instead as a carefully crafted automated process which takes inputs and generates 3D models automatically. 3D Designs will be defined by a process rather than geometry. MakerBot's decision to integrate openscad customization tools into the Thingiverse repository is an example of the beginning of this shift. In the future, we will not download a Nike shoe design off of Amazon and have it 3D printed on our home printer. Instead, we will scan our feet, scan our old shoes, upload our data from our fitbits to a Nike server, tell Nike what general style we want, and then Nike's algorithms will generate a new shoe design specially customized just for each of us. Finally, Nike will print our new shoes on their high-tech 3D printers, and the shoes will be delivered by an Amazon drone the very next day.
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