Biomimicry: Products by Nature

During millions of years the Nature R&D has created products, services and systems that are unbeatable in strength, features, energy efficiency and purpose for function.

They meet the technical, individual, social and survival requirements. Some of the products are outliers, very strange experiments, that have shown the way for the breakthrough innovations and strategic novelties (Ref. Välikangas, Strategic Innovation).

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In Nature products, form always follows the function – a principle often valued also in industrial design of our times. The details in microstructures, such as bones, or larger macrostructures, such as spider webs and trees, are very difficult to copy. We have major difficulties in copying the same efficient structures, materials and adaptability in products made by man.

The advances in 3D and 4D printing technologies and new design tools empower us to copy Nature. The approach is called biomimicry. 3D design software and 3D printers are already able to create structures, forms and features that are directly copied from Nature. 3D design tools start to have functions that allow the designer to implement biomimicry and topology optimisation.

topologiaesimerkki-pieni topology-tuoli biomimicry-bone

Figure: 3D printed structures with biomimicry

New requirements

The capability of applying biomimical features in product design will trigger new needs and requirements for the next generation products. The requirements may be, for example, radical weight optimisation, flexibility of metal parts, resilience or better energy efficiency.

Parametric design is a core approach for biomimicry. The next generation design softwares will have parametric design as a standard feature. Accordingly, future product designers need to have capability to observe and understand biomimic rules, and translate those into product features.

So what?

Biomimicry opens new avenues for making great optimised products using industrial manufacturing systems, especially with 3D printing. Although Nature has created fantastic and rich variety of products, the mankind has not been very good in creating products with similar efficiency and sustainability.

Biomimicry is currently applied only in limited ways in our design processes. However, there are already great examples in architecture and large structures, for example in buildings and bridges.

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Figures: Left: Dynamo Stadium, Russia. Right: the first 3D printed pedestrian bridge in Spain (Acciona, IAAC).

Our next steps in education, product development and manufacturing should include:

  • Imagination: We must develop better capabilities for wild imagination in product development. Next generation products are built differently, increasingly with the ideas from nature.
  • Outliers: Next generation products are today’s outliers, rather than evolution from the mainstream products. We need to have curiosity to explore and study the unlikely.
  • Right questions: Biomimicry optimizes the function. Hence the designer needs to keep asking: What the design needs to do and why it needs to do that?
  • Product evolution:  Nature is efficient in iteration, continuous prototyping, serendipity and learning from failures. Biomimicry leads us to new product development processes.
  • Tools: Although 3D printers can implement biomimicry, they are not optimized for that. We need to develop better 3D printers and materials that open the new cost efficient industry for biomimic products.

 

References

  • Parametric design. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parametric_design
  • Strategic Innovation – The Definitive Guide to Outlier Strategies (2015).  Liisa Välikangas; Michael Gibbert

 

(c) Pekka Ketola, January 2017

Bikes, velomobiles and 3D printing

 

Since Draisienne or the ”Running Machine” at 1817 bicycle has been subject for continuous technological renewal, innovation platform and response for evolving user needs. The latest advances are related to a new prototyping, product and personalisation opportunities with 3D printing. This article highlights some recent examples.

The digital wheelchair

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Source: layerdesign.com

Go wheelchair was developed with the objectives to improve the quality of life, help with the disabilities and support the individual lifestyle. Go is an example of digital consumer product development and personalisation.

The design of every wheelchair starts from mapping user’s biometric information, which is then translated to 3D digital data and manufactured using 3D printing. The accompanying GO app allows users to participate in the design process by specifying optional elements, patterns and colourways, and to place orders.

The resulting wheelchair accurately fits the individual’s body shape, weight and disability to reduce injury and increase comfort, flexibility, and support.

More about Go wheelchair:

Design for three wheels

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Source: http://www.hs-emden-leer.de

Velomobiles are special kind of bikes that run on three or four wheels. They are designed for optimal aerodynamics, which is typically achieved by laid back riding position and special design.

Akkuracer was developed by the students in the Hochschule of Emden-Leer. The aim was to achieve sustainable and organic design for best performance. Accuracer was produced using SLS 3D printing.

More about 3D-printed velomobile:

Bikes for you only

arc-bicycle-students-tu-delft-3d-printed-stainless-steel-netherlands_dezeen_936_13

Source: dezeen.com

The developers of bicycles have started to apply 3D printing in various ways and for different purposes. Below are some cases from different perspectives of bike design.

The MOBI develops a truly modular bicycle where parts can be removed and replaced, and manufactured using a desktop 3D printer by anybody. MOBI advances the ideas for open design by sharing the design files.

Robot Bike  aims for better performance and a more comfortable ride by a full custom fit. They use digital design and 3D printing to produce individually tailored bike frames from titanium.

ideas2cycles is a company specialising in the design and prototyping of bike frames. The aim of the company is to create new concepts that have an impact not only in the cycling scene, but also in design, engineering and marketing. 3D printing and freedom of design are essential enablers in the tool box.

Shapeways is active in providing solutions for bikers including a wealth of biking accessories.  For example the list of  3D printed accessories used during TheAlpe d’Huzes ride is impressive.

More about bikes and 3D printing:

 

Conclusions

All kinds of light vehicles are ideal platforms for applying digital design, 3D printing and personalisation. Parts are mostly small, testing different designs is affordable and legislation does not limit the use of new solutions on the road – as it does in car industry, for example.

Bikes, velomobiles and other light vehicles are the promised land for 3D printing.

Experience the world of 3D printing at 3DSTEP, the international 3D printing event and exhibition. October 4-5, Tampere Finland. www.3dstep.fi 

Reactions

Why people turn down the opportunity with 3D printing?

During the past year I have discussed with several industries and disciplines about the possibility to apply 3D printing technology in their activities in some form or another. I have been curious about the new opportunities and visions people create when they are faced with new technology, and also about the fears and sceptisism.

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Metal 3D printed part

The discussions have taken place with people from manufacturing, construction, education, arts, making of musical instruments, bike builders, museums, designers, researchers, handcrafts, subcontracting, OEM, and many more.

In most cases the discussions and first reactions take similar paths: ”Our business is so conservative and traditional that I don’t see 3D printing coming into our activities in any way. The technology is far too expensive for us. And I believe, 3D printing is not mature enough or reliable for our business.” And they are right. This is of course the case when you come from a tradition and have established well-working and optimized practises.

Does this sound familiar? The experiences and encounters are more or less similar among all 3D printing evangelists and practitioners when they discuss with nonbelievers.

Simultaneously exploring the same industries and disciplines yields numerous examples and use cases how people already apply 3D printing in that specific application, industry, or discipline, and generate revenues with the new technology. The same observation emerges by looking at the industry forerunners and industry reports. 3D printing is applied in new areas and applications every day.

 

”No additive process (3D printing) can duplicate strength of the base material that could have been cast, moulded or machined from bar, let alone compete with the complex structures of composites” (Bike expert, 2013)

”First metal 3D printed bicycle frame”, ”Custom 3D printed titanium mountain bikes”, ”Robot Bike Company teams with AM experts on custom 3D printed bike frame”, ”Custom 3D Printed Carbon Fiber Bike Frame” (News titles on 3D printing and bikes, 2016)

What can we learn?

  • Forerunners do change the industry. Whatever business you think of, there is already somebody applying or exploring 3D printing. The number of these forerunners is overwhelming. And they seem to turn exploration and demonstrations into new businesses very quickly.
  • We are dealing with the phenomena of fast and slow thinking (Kahnemann). This is something deeply human which we can’t avoid. Fast thinking is automatic reaction that focuses on maintaining status quo and safety. It is often irrational and based on the incomplete, even conflicting, information that we have in the active memory. To my mind, forerunners are masters in slow thinking – combining and creating new information with deeper thought, and passing the phase of fast thinking without damage.
  • There are knowledge gaps. It is obvious that most of us don’t know enough about 3D printing and current status. And why should we? The technology is developing fast and it is really worksome to get proper information beyond the hype texts, successful demonstrations (forgetting the failed ones) and videos.
  • Consistency. It is interesting that the protective attitude against applying 3D printing is so similar across people and professions. Why guitar builders think that 3D printing will never come to their business? Why metal manufacturing company uses exactly the same words to turn down the opportunity?

 

3dvarius and classical

Classic violin and 3D-printed electric violin 3DVarius play together

The industrial renaissance and digitalisation, where 3D printing is one essential element, is a great task for all educators, knowledge generators and advocates. We all will be challenged by the new opportunities, the inefficiency of old practices and by the new business models and economy that have started to emerge.

We must think slow.

Pekka Ketola, June 12, 2016

3DSTEP & ideascout. www.3dstep.fi