Wednesday, October 17th, 2012
Among the interesting displays at Design Hét, the 2012 Budapest Design Week exhibition that closed on October 7, 2012, was a series of tools that updated the flint and obsidian hand tools of Stone Age people using today’s leading-edge plastics manufacturing technology. The Tel Aviv, Israel design studio of Ami Drach and Dov Ganchow created plastic handles for the cutting, chopping, and piercing tools found in archeological digs.
Looking at the tools you might well ask, How did the designers create handles that conformed precisely to the irregular shapes of the handmade stone tools? Also, since the handles would not be made in volume, how then are they made? The two-part answer to both questions is leading-edge manufacturing technology using plastics.
The designers’ first step was scanning the stone tools to create a computer image of
the stone tools. That file enabled them to develop the appropriate handle designs using design software.
Next, their finished computer design file became the model for creating the plastic parts one by one using by additive manufacturing (AM), the technology commonly called 3D printing by its practitioners. AM technology creates an object by laying down and joining successive layers of material following the 3D model data in a computer design file.
The designers Drach and Ganchow were able to precisely match the geometry of the handles to that of the existing stone tools, and produce the handles in an AM system, in this case a 3D printer, with no need for any type of production tooling—at a reasonable cost.
Materials that can be used for AM production include
metals, ceramics, and a broad variety of plastics, such as the unspecified plastic material used to form the handles of the stone tools. Plastics are the most commonly used material type used in AM for the same reasons they have proliferated in traditional manufacturing. Plastics offer numerous combinations of performance, tactile and appearance properties, which enables designers and manufacturers to find an optimum—and affordable—solution for their products.
Additive manufacturing already is well established among traditional manufacturers. The earliest applications primarily were prototyping during the development process to create part designs for evaluation. Prototyping previously was done mostly by subtractive technologies such as milling, drilling, and cutting solid material. AM enabled rapid prototyping (RP), which, true to its name was faster than traditional prototyping, and as a bonus, was usually less costly.
AM technology more recently has begun creating its niche in short-run production, where it is usually called rapid manufacturing, or just RM. It is rapidly changing the nature of small-lot manufacturing from a problem to an opportunity for limited run, custom products at a much lower cost.
Thanks to the shrinking cost, as well as size, of 3D printers, AM has gotten a friendly reception in the DIY and hobbyist sectors. Tabletop printers are available in kit form and as complete systems from a number of sources.
Futurists are talking about a new industrial revolution, one featuring widely distributed manufacturing, including home workshops, and open-systems software for easy sharing and acquisition of product design files. The just published book MAKERS, The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, says desktop manufacturing will change the world as much as the personal computer did.
Underscoring the rise of additive manufacturing was its presence on a short list of plastics-related innovations discussed by SPI President/CEO Bill Carteaux during the Global Polymer Innovation Expo in Columbus, OH this past August. Carteaux spoke about the plastics innovations that were showcased at the NPE2012 expo, and Direct Digital Additive Manufacturing was one of his main subjects.
Tighten your seatbelts, friends, the future is coming closer by the minute.