Thursday, 25 June 2015

Manufacturing Renaissance: Ubiquitous Instant Production
An Explosion in RM Applications.


I starkly recall putting together the above paper on the future of RM back in mid-2000s and thinking that this rather arcane, somewhat drab engineering lead industry, needed a dose of adrenalin. The picture I got back then from the RM media was one of a grey clouded outlook on the future (my perception of course).


No surprise then, that my seminar at TCT2006 was met will some glee, at last someone with a daring view. And so it continues. It is exciting to say that RM technology is the spark of lightening that is igniting a Manufacturing Renaissance. There are reports in the RM media almost every day of some amazing RM technology innovation or musing RM application. Right now there are remarkable examples of applications that begin to show the potential. Here is just small sample.


3DP apparel has been shown at Paris Fashion Week catwalk in. Designer Iris van Herpen, known for the her work with Bj√∂rk on her ‘Biophilia’ album cover, presented her Haute Couture show ‘Voltage,’ featuring 2 3DP ensembles. Voltage also includes a dress designed in collaboration with architect Julia Koerner and printed by Materialise.

Orthodontics increasingly exploits fabricated dental prosthetics. The cost of lab work has become a major factor in dental restoration planning and therapy. So the speed of digital dentistry is not on a differentiator, it reduces the treatment end-price to the customer whilst improving quality. Simply put 3DP fabrication of functional and aesthetic impression for treatment cases that may have suffered chronic disease or physical damage. One example here is Compass3D, a leading provider of high definition scanning systems that puts together 3D image models of the inner-mouth. The system sends a model to, say, Stratasys additive Fused Deposition Modelling machine, feed in the appropriate materials and presto, a super-precision dental impression at rocket speed!

And by the way, would you like to print-out your new home? Yes, you read me right. 3DP your families new abode! Take a look at the work of the Industrial and Systems Engineering school at the University of Southern California, and this is now beginning to happen. Professor Behrokh Khoshnevis, has been working on such a system for last 15 years which does precisely that.

He calls the practice Contour Crafting. The aim of the technology, is to achieve  faster, more cost effective process, while using less energy than conventional building methods. It builds whatever model you configure in a CAD system, offering unparalleled design flexibility. The layered fabrication technology has great potential for automating the construction of whole structures as well as sub-components.

Using this process, a single house or a colony of houses, each possibly a different design, may be automatically constructed in a single run. Embedded in each house is all the conduits for electrical, plumbing and air-conditioning. The potential applications of this technology are far reaching including, but not limited to, applications in emergencies (earth quakes, tsunamis, forest fires), low-income (rural areas in emerging nations, housing shortage in develop countries), and commercial housing in difficult to build topography (rocky mountains, deserts, small plots in dense inner cities).

A Japanese firm, Fasotec is experiment-ing with MRI scans and 3DP models of six-to-nine month stage foetuses. From a medical standpoint, the replicant can lend a hand in predicting potential difficulties in the gestation and birthing process. Eager parents can now also show family and friends what their baby will look like before delivery. The 90mm solid model is encased in a transparent block in the shape of the mother's body. The service costs around $1000 and can come a miniature version that could be a nice adornment around the neck.

Omote, yet another Japanese firm, have produced a 3DP photo-booth. Sit in the cubicle and your likeness will be scanned then 3DP into a figurine you can take home.  You simply stand still and in position for about 15 minutes while a scanner records a full-body image. This data is modified for finer detail before the 3D colour-print is created. As yet detail is limited as gleaming jewellery and accessories are ruled out, hoop earrings, fluffy sweaters, chiffon, stripes, glasses and bags. Avoid pulling adventurous or dynamic poses on account of needing to remain stationary for 15 minutes. Single, double or group portraits in a number of different sizes, from about 8 inches high. All for around 21,000 yen.


Clearly, the space of possibilities for business innovation is being blown wide open by this technology. As Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya, chairman of the Warwick Manufacturing Group at Warwick University makes clear, ‘If you can build something, people get excited about making things. Then they go and set up companies!

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