Home workshop projects used to start with a jigsaw, some screws and a big bottle of glue. But during the last year or two, we’ve seen an incredible new development described as the “Maker Movement”. Do it yourself has gone digital and projects now begin as bits that are transformed into atoms.
Almost every Industrial Designers these days use CAD (Computer Aided Design) software during the development of their products or designs. Once the development is complete – the designer have created digital, 1:1 scaled versions of all parts and components within that CAD file.
Until recently, only well funded projects reached the prototyping stage since the cost associated with rapid prototyping or 3D printing has been quite significant. The available options of capable prototype makers due to high equipment costs have also been sparse, which contributed to higher prices and market monopoly.
Today, we can design and fabricate just about anything with bewildering technologies such as 3D printing, CNC machining, Arduino and other inventive additive manufacturing processes. It might sound complicated, but it’s actually very simple and it can also be easy on the wallet. Enthusiastic creators in garages worldwide have built their own production capable CNC’s and/or 3D printers. Home made “maker machines” – inspired by the growing numbers of completely free open source communities with step by step instructions and all the downloadable content you would ever need.
Another leading factor to the booming maker movement is the increased availability of creative new service suppliers online. Inventive new distributor methods and user driven e-commerce outlets have also contributed to added exposure options for those who actively strive to design and sell their own products:
- Etsy promote anything home made and offer easily maintained web shops for designers that are well exposed to the world.
- Kickstarter gives average Joe with a good idea a chance to be seen, heard and financially supported through potential pledges from thousands of supporters around the world.
- Quirky allows designers, entrepreneurs, artists and inventors to share their ideas and create a socially developed product through collaboration with others.
- Shapeways offers 3D printing in dozens of materials never before heard of in 3D printer circles – silver, stainless steel, recycled glass and alumide… What stops a designer from producing his own reasonably priced custom products on demand through his/her own Shapeways store? Besides time and an overflow of creativity – absolutely nothing.
An Industrial Revolution on the Horizon?
With affordable and accessible 3D printing machines now capable of producing individual products on demand at low costs, I don’t see what would prevent a future industrial revolution. Although the 3D printing technology is much slower than traditional plastic injection, there’s are many strong benefits with this new production method:
- 3D printing is an additive technology in which objects are built up in layers. This process does not require injection tooling and saves $10,000-50,000 off your standard product development budget. It will also save you 1-2 months of valuable production time.
- Developing new 3D printing technologies allow materials to be mixed and printed together at any ratio, anywhere in your product – which allows the benefit of different material properties throughout one part. This is really beneficial when creating live hinges or even when you’re printing a human kidney.
- Which brings me to another very strong advantage in 3D printing vs other production methods. The endless possibilities of imaginable materials. Scientists have successfully experimented with 3D printed transplant organs in human patients for over 10 years. Builders are now using large scale ink-jet technology to print 1:1 scale concrete floor plans. Some people out there print sugar and/or corn based eatables. You could potentially print with any material that has the ability to be injected or gravity fed through print heads or syringes and binds and cures quickly.
- 3D printing also eliminates another common difficulty with traditional methods. After plastic injection, the plastic part has to come out of the steel mold without getting stuck. When injecting complicated plastic parts, this limitation either increases price or keeps us from designing products the way we want in an effort to minimize cost and make our designs producible. That is not a concern with many 3D printing technologies. In fact, you can print a fully assembled product with lots of inner workings in one print cycle.
- How about producing products on demand vs keeping inventory? In the future, we could see sales reps at your local Foot Locker measure your feet and weight. One hour later you pick up your custom printed shoes, specifically tailored to your special or preferred needs.
MakerBot Industries – Thing-O-Matic
Today, open source friendly companies like MakerBot Industries offer their Thing-O-Matic 3D printers for $1300, utilizing fused deposition modeling to melt a plastic filament layer by layer – the same technology seen in $30,000 equivalent commercial 3D printers such as Dimensions. The only kink is that they have taken the IKEA route and you have to assemble the machine yourself. In my opinion, that’s well worth it.
Then there’s Fab@Home, an open source personal fabrication project out of Cornell University’s computer labs. Co-founders Hod Lipsom and Evan Malone are determined to change the way we live. Their own platform of printers and programs can produce functional 3D objects for even less, perhaps even half the cost of a Makerbot printer. Being completely open sourced driven, they offer a complete parts list with tool requirements, downloadable 1:1 scale blueprints and precise direction of how to build their 3D printers completely from scratch. The newest version, Model 2, is designed to fit on your desktop and within your budget. Fab@Home is supported by a global, open-source community of professionals and hobbyists, innovating tomorrow, today.
Last but not least, there’s the RepRap machine. RepRap is a free desktop 3D printer capable of printing plastic objects. Since many parts of RepRap are made from plastic and RepRap can print those parts, RepRap is a self-replicating machine – one that anyone can build given time and materials. It also means that – if you’ve got a RepRap – you can print lots of useful stuff, and you can print another RepRap for a friend.
Home Made CNC Machines
If a 3D printer is not for you, then perhaps a home made CNC is. The capabilities of CNC machines are endless and they vary from $1000 to hundreds of thousands. But what differentiate them from a 3D printer is that they can receive geometric G-code from CAD CAM software on your computer and carve your parts out of a variety of metals, anything wood, foams, plastics, wax or even stone. Tom McWire posted a great DIY article on instructables.com of how to build one from scratch with parts from your local hardware store:
Determined to make something happen,
I cleaned out my garage last weekend in an effort to make it into a work shop. I’m going to build my very own maker machine. I setup my miter saw, drill press, organized all my tools and made space by cleaning out unused clutter material. My ambitions is set high, but I know I can do it.
While sorting through some storage bins I found my almost forgotten Brio toy pieces from my childhood. Those were definately keepers and it really got me thinking – I needed a constant reminder of my plan of action and something to drive me towards finding the extra time to making this project really happen.
I decided to build myself a Brio version of my 3D printing machine. By almost utilizing every piece of Brio I had, I managed to build what finally looked like a 3D printer (top picture). It was at perfect scale and I sat it right on the desk where the future machine will sit. Besides having spinning wheels connected by rubber bands, my little “maker movement”-dummy is more symbolic than functional. It will however keep me driven towards achieving my goal.