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Monday, 20 June 2011

Design And The New Industrial Revolution

Technology Review
June 20, 2011

If you hadn't heard, there's a new industrial revolution sweeping the world. This revolution, say the champions of this new kind of making, is the result of three factors that together change the nature and economics of manufacturing.

The first is free software for designing complex 3D objects; the best known example being Google Sketchup.

The second is 3D printing in which computerised machines turn virtual designs into physical models that you can prod, fondle and squeeze.

Finally, there is the precipitous drop in the cost of 3D printers and other rapid prototyping techniques. This suddenly makes it practical and profitable to make-on-demand instead of mass producing products.

That's led to a huge increase in the number of websites where you can buy things that are made-on-demand, things like bespoke Lego-like bricks for example. You place your order via a website, the order is sent straight to a 3D printer that makes the brick which is then sent to you in the next post. The designer, who doesn't even see the brick, simply pockets the profit.

At least, that's how this revolution is being promoted. The reality is that if you want to make anything more complex than a plastic brick, you'll soon run up against the limitations of rapid manufacturing processes.


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