I heard about this from my supervisor, Dr. Ian Campbell, who recently met with one of Objet’s representatives. Basically the Connex500 machine contains two different materials, one (from what I understand) a rubber-based material, and one a more conventional plastic. This allows printed models to simulate products which would be manufactured by twin-shot moulding processes.
However, designers will be able to do much more than create prototypes of overmoulded parts, because the Connex500 comes with 21 so-called Digital Materials – preset blends of the two materials with specific Shore A (hardness) values. The designer can therefore match (or get close to) the mechanical properties of the manufactured part, which should allow more accurate testing.
The Swedish design group Front first showed their ‘Sketch Furniture’ at Tokyo Design week in November 2006. The original video of the Front designers creating this furniture was removed from You Tube some time ago, but I just found out a new video has been posted. This one’s much the same as the original, but shows the ‘sketching’ in a new environment and visualises the linework better.Read the rest of this entry ▷
Wired magazine currently has a story about some of the ways in which industrial designers are using 3D printers. Unfortunately it’s a pretty lightweight article, and glosses over some of the realities of the technology. For example Wired talks to Joe Hebenstreit, principal engineer at Frog Design, who designed and modelled his wife’s wedding ring:
“I designed it in 3-D, printed it out in wax, and then cast it in platinum at a high temperature casting place,”
There’s a lot missing from the attractive simplicity of this statement though. I don’t know if an investment mould can be made directly from the wax from a 3D printer (which would mean the 3D printer wax burns out as the platinum is poured) or if a specialty wax is needed. But even if it’s the former, the part needs spruing, and the high melt temperature, combined with the speed at which platinum solidifies once the heat is removed, means making the sprues is an expert task. It’s not something the average designer can include in his or her CAD model. Then there’s the issue of the surface quality of the wax print: how was it cleaned up? Or did the ring get made with the rough surface finish of the wax, and then filed and polished right at the end. However it was done, it wasn’t as simple as the article implies.
The final day of MCPC 2007 started early, but it wasn’t until after lunch that Professor Marvin Minsky gave what I thought was the most interesting keynote speech of the conference, entitled “The Emotion Machine: Commonsense Thinking, Artificial Intelligence and the Future of the Human Mind.”
Minsky is one of the pioneers of artificial intelligence, having written extensively on both the science and philosophy of AI. To be honest I’m not sure his keynote had much to do with the theme of the conference, but there were still some choice quotes including
“We have robots to make things, but no robots to fix things”
“There’s no point sending humans to the moon before you’ve sent robots to build a hotel”
“If you understand something in only one way, you don’t really understand it at all”
“Common sense things that robots don’t know: you can use string to pull but not to push; things fall over if not supported; it’s hard to stay awake if you’re bored”
The stand-out session for me was by Bug Lab’s founder Peter Semmelhack. Although I’ve been aware of Bug Labs for a while I’ve not been completely clear about what they’re doing, but Semmelhack described how their open source approach to hardware aims to tap into the long tail of tomorrow’s consumer electronics market. Think of it like a Lego Mindstorms but for ‘real’ products – products which only a hundred or a thousand people might want to buy, rather than the tens or hundreds of thousands typically required for a profitable consumer electronics device. I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to work a Bug Labs product into my PhD, but it’s definitely something I want to play around with at some point.
And so that was the end of the conference. It’s been an excellent in-at-the-deep-end experience for me, really interesting, and encouraging also in terms of the enthusiasm people have shown for my own ideas. Tomorrow I’m flying back to the UK, but not before checking out Mr Bartley’s…
The second day of MCPC 2007 saw keynote speeches from Professor William J. Mitchell from MIT Media Lab and School of Architecture, Kent Larson, also from MIT Media Lab and School of Architecture, and my personal favourite, Professor Eric von Hippel from MIT Sloan School of Management. Von Hippel is well known for being among the first to talk about user innovation – the way that consumers modify, improve or invent products which meet their needs better than manufacturers’ standard offerings – and his presentation today, entitled “Toolkits for Collaborative User Innovation,” talked about ways in which companies can enable and benefit from users’ knowledge and creativity.
From watching von Hippel present, I got the feeling he is an accomplished speaker who deliberately overstates his case in order to create a memorable impression. Thus I took with a pinch of salt his assertion that in future, expert users who freely reveal their designs in the spirit of the open source movement will swamp manufacturers who try to protect their inventions behind patents. Nonetheless he had some interesting examples to back up his argument, in particular the case of the kite surfacing community.