Functional products

What is the next generation of 3D printed products?

When the first applications of commercial 3D printing emerged, they were mostly about appearance models and prototypes. These are still, and will be, powerful and valuable applications in many businesses. During the past 10 years we have seen radical development in design tools, materials, 3D printing technologies and skills. 3D printing is now serious and reliable manufacturing method for end products, product series and spare parts in all industries. We have 3D printed products that are beautiful, optimized in many ways and serve perfectly for the intended purposes.

Is this the end of evolution? Not even close! We only start to have a good platform to imagine the future systems, after practising the technology basics and having a vague understanding of what we can make. So, here is my vision for the next generation products, made with the help of 3D printing.

“The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.

– William Gibson –

Examples

  1. Interactive products will merge different technologies seamlessly, and interact with the user, system or environment in many levels. This future window is cracked open by Anouk Wipprecht. Products like Spider Dress or Proximity Dress show how products can sense and react to data or different signals from the environmnent.
  2. Personal amplifiers will give new capabilities to people. Paralympian athletes already use 3D printed prosthetes and appliances to support with a given sport, for example to run faster with spring-like artifical legs. Exosceletons are used to help lifting heavy weights. When this opportunity develops to the next level, we will build products that give us strength, better senses or capabilites never seen before. In the future we may have bionic olympics that drive the development of personal amplifiers in the same ways as Formula 1 races drive the development of better cars.
  3. New vehicles. In 1950’s the dream of a flying car emerged. Now we start to have manned drones. There are many obstacles slowing down the wider adoption, such as manufacturing cost, safety, regulation and non-existing traffic management systems for these small manned vehicles. Putting obstacles aside, let’s just ask, is it doable to make low cost flying vehicle? The concept was presented by Janne Kyttänen in his vision about 3D printed manned drone. By using suitable materials and careful optimized design, the body of the vehicle can be 3D printed in few hours with a large format 3D printer. The rest is about putting electronics, motors and other components automatically in place.
3D printed manned drone. Model 3D printed by 3DStep. Design by Janne Kyttänen.

The making of functional products

The next generation products will be based on strong systemic view. It is not about having perfect components, optimized for specific features, such as cooling or minimizing materials, but about justifying the whole reason for a product the be realised. We can make optimized components for an airplane for saving weight, or we can design new categories of sustainable flying vehicles.

The next generation products will gracefully ignore the boundaries of sciences. Rich multidisciplinary knowledge is applied to achieve the goals, such as making technology products that react with biosignals and apply artificial intelligence to perform better in a certain social context.

We will master the whole spectrum of available materials. Already today 3D printers can use an unbelievable range of materials, from living cells to tailored metal alloys. New materials emerge practically every day with amazing features. Making of the next generation functional products is not about if there is suitable materials available, but being able to define which features we want want to have in the products.

Strategic guidelines

What steps we should take towards the next generation functional products?

Collaboration is the key. Now we simply need to take collaboration into new levels. This happens by global ventures, connecting individuals, teams and developers with the help of smart development platforms. Facilitating trust between stakeholders is a mandatory activity.

Maximize creativity and imagination. Development projects are often defined by business case or ROI. The are often justified, but to maximise creativity and innovation we need more value based motivators. We, as humans, get fundamentally motivated by other things than money, especially when we face the opportunity to create radically new.

Extreme multidisciplinarity. As mentioned earlier, we need to ignore the boundaries of sciences. Products and systems of the future use the best of what humans or nature have ever invented. A powerful way to guide the development is to establish global development funds that require connecting sciences in unexpected ways. In local level great examples are, for example, hacker and maker communities, such as biocurious.org, which are based on citizen science, curiousity and co-learning.

Lets’ make it.

Pekka Ketola, February 18, 2021

CEO 3DStep Oy & Ideascout Oy. Innovator. LinkedIn

Proximate manufacturing

Global business is increasingly about design and innovation and less about low cost. When speed-to-market and reacting to customer needs are valued, finding design and production facilities close to markets make sense.

In the past the digital technology revolution was about geographically dispersed production networks. In the future, digital technologies bring biggest value close to customers due to supply certainty, better interaction, higher customization and resource saving.

New technologies, such as #3dprinting and #robotics, facilitate the rise of proximate design and manufacturing. Global supply chains will have a role, but phenomena such as neo-nationalism, protectionism and global logistical disturbances trigger the rise of local supply chains and production close to prime urban locations.

Examples: Amazon & Whole Foods, Under Armour, Adidas, Nike & Flextronics.

Thanks @MariSako for great thinking! More ideas in: Technology Strategy and Management – Free Trade in a Digital World by Mari Sako, CACM 62,4 2019

11.3.2020

Local manufacturing and rapid products

This is short envisioning about local manufacturing and 3D printing. If you are in a city or industrial area, imagine drawing a circle of 100m diameter around your location. What are the activities taking place in the area? Look out from your window and simply list what you see.

There are probably offices, homes, shops, services, small and large businesses, bikes and cars, maybe kids playing. Everyday activities take place, such as renovating, maintaining, adjusting, breaking things, repairing, fixing, improving, problem solving and generating new ideas. There is continuous need for solutions to make life easier.

Local manufacturing is the concept of making products close to customers and users. The idea is not new. Thousands of years people have made all they need close to where they are using the available simple materials, and often asking help from the community.

Global competition and strive for efficiency has led to centralized and optimized manufacturing in bigger volumes and in places where the production is most efficient. Local manufacturing has not been the winning concept in recent decades. However, new era seems to be starting due to the demands for sustainability, circular economy and digitalization.

We have 3D printing solutions to design, manufacture and deliver all kinds of products, spare parts and components in less than 24 hours. This exists today, but it is not yet reality everywhere (as is the case with all future cracks). Do you know where is your nearest local service to have products or spare parts 3D printed?

What kind of 3D printed parts the local customers inside your 100m radius might need? For example at home:

  1. Spare parts to fix broken handles, toys, gadgets.
  2. Special tools to improve accessibility, health, safety or ergonony
  3. Affordable design objects to make things more personal or esthetic
  4. Special holders for lights, cables, bike appliances, etc
  5. Prototypes to support design drafting or ideation project
  6. Appliances for pets (dogs, cats, aquarium).
  7. Tools and parts for hobby, such as knitting or sports

lamppu.jpg

Figure: 3D printed table light. 3D printed with wood composite, plastic and metal. Design: Origo Engineering. 3D printing: 3DStep.

Rapid products

3D printing is ready for competitive local manufacturing and new business models. Faster technologies, better software and widening offering of materials are introduced every week. Maybe the concept for future is rapid product.  Today’s 24 hour delivery time will shrink to <1h deliveries with the help of smart design tools, very fast 3D printers, digital platforms and innovative delivery strategies.

What will be the extreme customer experience for rapid products in the future? It will be close to magic. It is simple. Almost like using a magic wand. You express your need or idea to the service (or the smart device has already told what’s needed). And sooner than you expect, the product is delivered to you with a robot or drone, by the girl next door, or as virtual product proposal into your smart device.

Business

Establishing local manufacturing business for rapid products and local manufacturing is not rocket science or huge investment. You can start the business from your couch with a laptop and with a 1000€ 3D printer. Finding the correct business model is the most tricky part. In the beginning the business will be based mostly based on small transactions of less than 50€. Developing value adding services that help the local community to learn and try the rapid product possibilities may be the fast track to increase the sales. Or maybe it is simply because of the speed of solving product problems.

The business can expand further, for example,

  • by scaling up your manufacturing capability with larger fleet of 3D printers ad other tools,
  • by digital service innovation and crowdsourcing design work.
  • by developing collaborative business with other local manufacturers for wider solutions offering,  and
  • by creating explicit value (concrete problem solving) or implicit value (customer experience) for your customers.

If you had 5000€ budget, what kind of local manufacturing service would you start?

Pekka Ketola, pekka.ketola@3dstep.fi