Personal Fabrication for Dummies

by Joseph Flaherty on October 19, 2008

Personal Fabrication has the potential to change the way things are made and sold. Mass customization requires a front end solution that allows the customer to configure their product, but also requires specialized machinery to execute those designs. Many people think 3D printers are the way this will happen, but there are half a dozen other amazing technologies that allow people to make anything they can imagine.

The following examples show these machines in action and provide a glimpse of what is possible in convenient video form:

1. 3D Printers

3D printers are the coolest of all the technologies. They allow you to specify a design and have it created in plastic or metal, by layering thin sheets of material then fusing them. The technologies that enable this are varied, but the comparison to desktop printing is correct at a theoretical level.

Notable Examples: Z Corp., Dimension, 3d systems, Objet, Desktop Factory, Paragon Lake, Figure Prints

2. Laser Cutters

Laser cutters focus a beam of light on a piece of material, heating and cutting/etching it in the process. Laser can cut almost all non-metallic materials and are capable of producing an amazing level of detail.

Notable Examples: Epilog, Trotec, Etchstar, Ponoko, VersaLaser,

3. Waterjet Cutters

Water jet cutters work the same way as laser cutters, but use a highly focused and pressurized stream of water instead. These machines are capable of cutting through metals and stone several inches thick.

Notable Examples: OMAX, Flow Corp, OCC

4. 2D Plotter Cutters

2D plotter cutters are similar to laser/waterjet cutters, but these machines allow you to cut a custom shape out of thin, non-metallic sheets tock, like paper, cardstock, and viynl using a small automated knife. While not nearly as cool as freakin lasers they are widely available for a couple hundred dollars at any craft store. One model even has its own infomercial, a sure sign we are living in the future!

Notable Examples: Cricut, CraftRobo, Xyron

5. Print on Demand

Print on demand is a high quality high speed version of desktop printing. This enables the printing of full color, full bleed, high gloss imagery, but instead of using an offset printing process which needs a to produce hundreds or thousands of copies to be economical, these machines can profitable print single editions, allowing you to create a professional quality book of your photos or other documents.

Notable Companies: Blurb, Lulu, Shutterfly

6. Direct To Garment Printing

This technology works in the same way as print on demand, but uses specialized equipment and inks that allow high resolution printing on porous materials like cotton. This allows you to put your picture on a tshirt, without having to go through the costly process of screen printing.

Notable Companies: Cafe Press, Zazzle, Spreadshirt, Spoonflower

7. CNC Milling

In CNC milling A high speed rotating cutting bit is passed over a piece of material, driven by a computerized path. Multiple passes using different kind of cutting bits allow highly complex curves to be perfectly carved out of different materials from foam to wood to steel.

Notable Examples: eMachine Shop, Tech Shop, Craftsman Compucarve

8. CNC Embroidery

Similar in concept to CNC Milling, this process alllows the customer to choose a pattern which is turned into a tool path that is sent to a souped up sewing machine capable of stitching the selected design into the fabric or garment of your choice.

Notable Examples: Singer, Brother, Toyota

9. Cut & Sew Construction

Footwear, bags, and clothing lend themselves well to customization due to their modular construction techniques. Some of the most successful examples of mass customization are use this method since it uses existing manufacturing techniques, but allows the customer to select the modules. Basically, a garment is made of a number of pieces that are sewn together, this process simply allows the customer to select those modules.

Notable Examples: NIKEiD, Timbuk2, Freitag

10. 3D Scanning


3D scanning could be a way to solve the most difficult challenge in personal fabrication, dealing with difficult to learn CAD systems. These machines work like 2d scanners, take in data from 3D surfaces and convert them to data that can be manipulated in most 3D CAD packages. They still require significant training, but they help simplify the process for those that don’t have 2000 hours to master Solidworks or Pro-E.

Notable Examples: Z Corp., Next Engine, 3D Digital Corp.

Conclusion:

While by no means an exhaustive list this is a quick overview for anyone interested in how the idea of “web meets world” might be made possible through advances in custom manufacturing. Combined with web-based design tools these technologies could enable a change as profound as the industrial revolution: increasing the options for customers while reducing the environmental impact.

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  • http://www.etchstar.com Ben

    This is an impressive collection. Kudos.

    Ben / ETCHSTAR.com

  • http://www.replicatorinc.com Joseph Flaherty

    Ben,

    Thanks for the kind words. I've been a fan of what you guys do for a while now. Keep up the good work.

    Joseph

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    very interesting and long post about fabrication, thanks for the time it put into making this post :) cool videos too!

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  • Jo R Hamburg

    great article!, grats for u site :)

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    145805

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    You've got a great compilation of videos, and the most interesting that captures my attention was 2d Plotters, it seems to be the most convenient method of crafting.

  • http://www.nmfrings.com/laser/ Joe

    Stumbled across this post. Cool bunch of videos!

  • Isis

    Thanks for such great video clips, thanks a ton for sharing them!

    Rina

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    Very powerful arsenal of videos here. It looks like it's not so difficult to create a home production facility with these mean machines.

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    These hitech gadgets/machineries will surely make our lives easier. But if we talk about food, hitech machineries should not deplete the original with its natural vitamins and minerals. but sad to say, reality seems to be unfair – more process food products are in the offing although there are businesses too that simply cares for their customers and only prepares what's best and of course, healthy.

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    Nice post.. Technology really improve our lives.. By the way.. Nice compilation of videos..

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    Wow's it seems to be really easy to start a replication business.

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    This post provides some great information about replication. Science has evolved a lot.

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    You have got a great compilation of videos, and the most interesting that captures my attention was second Plotters, it seems to be the most convenient method of crafting.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00618688553278931148 Elijah

    The features of printers shown in videos is very nice. It is motivating me to buy 3D printer for sure.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00618688553278931148 Oriana

    Very nice collection. Printers are useful to me. Helps a lot in my business.

  • suruchig57

    I was searching for waterjet cutter since so long. Now I got some idea. Thanks.

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    3D printers are really “IN” today.. You really have good collection.. Do you heard about the 4D printer??

  • joshspyker

    I never knew there were so many techniques! Thanks for the videos and the info.. Appreciate it!

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    That is amazing, 3D printers are the coolest.
    the other technoloies already exist and can be found in workshops.

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    my brother-in-law teaches graphic design and one of the big things he works on with his students is screenprinting – they learn skills and also produce items which are useful to sell. i think a lot of this technology has the same potential.

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