This page should be considered a work in progress. It was written as part of my First Year Report, to indicate the future direction of the PhD’s research.
How additive manufacturing technologies will redefine the industrial design process, and the future role of the consumer within product creation.
PhD to be awarded by Loughborough University, UK
Expected Completion date: Summer 2012
In essence, this PhD is concerned with the move from mass manufacture (of which mass customisation is a highly developed form) to individualised production: manufacturing by and for ‘markets of one’. It seeks to understand how additive manufacturing technologies will redefine the industrial design process, and the future role of the consumer within product creation.
Drawing on knowledge gained from the literature review, a number of statements or arguments form the theoretical foundation of the PhD’s standpoint:
1. In time, additive prototyping technologies will be capable of producing parts acceptable to consumers as end products. To some extent this has already happened, as the examples of Freedom of Creation, Materialize MGX, etc show.
2. Additive manufacturing technologies will follow a similar path as PC’s and digital printers from the corporate sphere to the consumer sphere. Currently they are expensive and only available to large institutions. In time they will begin to appear in high street print bureaus. Eventually they may be available in the home.
3. As additive manufacturing technologies become cheaper and more available, consumers will begin to design, customise and manufacture their own products. This will happen whether designers, manufacturers and brands sanction the activity or not. Open source lead user design, and companies such as Threadless and Ponoko, give clues as to how consumers will exploit these opportunities.
4. 3D CAD files will be distributed (legally or illicitly), modified and copied, in the same way that MP3 files are today. Currently such files are of little interest to the consumer, who cannot use them, but rapid manufacturing technologies will change this.
5. The traditional industrial design process is ideally suited to (and a consequence of) the requirement of manufacturers for small numbers of designs that can be reproduced identically in high volume. It is unsuited to the possibility of high volumes of unique designs, which mass customisation promises and which rapid manufacturing may deliver. The implications and possible consequences of this last statement are what will drive the majority of this PhD’s subsequent research.
Given the arguments listed above, the objectives of future research are:
1. To investigate the ways in which consumers who are untrained as designers seek to communicate design intent
2. To explore ways in which those consumers might be better enabled to communicate that intent
3. To understand the degree to which consumers wish to modify or self-design products, and then…
4. To investigate existing methods of facilitating consumer choice in mass customisation toolkits, and to record best practise
5. To investigate emerging trends and developments in ‘consumer friendly’ CAD software
6. To draw on knowledge gained from involvement in the design of a product intended to be ‘bespoke’ customised, and to reflect on which elements of bespoke customisation can be applied to consumer design
7. To design a platform within a specific product category, i.e. mobile phones, which allows and enables consumer design, and to test the extent to which this platform satisfies consumer need with respect to customisation and design
8. To specify a toolkit and methods for industrial designers to enable consumer design within consumer electronics products
9. To test this toolkit and methods to judge its efficacy