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Design and Manufacturing in the Future

August 20, 2007

Filed under: additive manufacturing,future,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 09:23

Many types of products that are made and sold today will be designed and manufactured similarly in the future. Conventional methods of molding, casting, and stamping of high volumes of parts will continue. However, a new wave of designs that before were impractical or too risky to produce by traditional means is beginning to emerge. It is being made possible with advances in additive fabrication techniques and materials, coupled with artistic and engineering creativity of those who are good at modeling new ideas with SolidWorks, Rhino, and other CAD and design products.

Already, we’re seeing what’s possible. One of the best examples is the .MGX collection from Materialise. Many years ago, no company in their right mind would have attempted to offer such a wide range of unusual and difficult to manufacture products. With additive fabrication, it is possible to produce wild and complex shapes. What’s more, companies can manufacture them on demand when the order is received. The inventory consists of a library of solid models stored as bits and bytes.

If the manufacturer or customer would like to introduce a change to a design, the cost of doing so is negligible. Contrast this with products that are produced from tooling. A change usually costs thousands of dollars and weeks or months of time. It wasn’t until additive fabrication became an option that one-off custom or personalized manufacturing became affordable and attractive.

In the future, expect to see a staggering range of new and distinctive products. Many will come from people working at home, as well as from design-savvy students. With advances in additive processes, expect the development of custom jewelry, collectables such as action and sports figures and bobble heads, and personalized awards, gifts, and corporate give-aways. In the world of professional design, anticipate custom designs for business jet interiors, high-end automobiles, and motorcycles.

Brace yourself for new ways of designing and manufacturing in the future. As the late Larry Rhoades once said, “This revolution will enable people to live where they’d like and produce what they need locally.” Rhoades envisioned a factory in the home, or at least in the neighborhood, where people will pay for the plans, not the product. I agree that it will happen. In the future, millions of 3D models of all types will be produced with products such as Cosmic Blobs, Spore, and SketchUp, as well as new generation design and 3D content creation tools.