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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.