Rapid prototyping is a big part of what we do here at Beyond Design—clients come to us with an idea or need and we turn it into a tangible item. Along the way, however, we often need to get our hands on the product we’re designing to test ergonomics, component fit, consumer reaction, or for marketing needs. Most often this process begins with a 3D print of some sort.
There are more and more options to us; Stereolithography (SLA) which uses a UV laser on a vertically-moving platform in a vat of liquid photopolymer resin; Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) which lays down a filament of hot plastic onto a vertically-moving platform to build up a form; Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), which uses a laser to fuse a layer of plastic, metal, ceramic or glass powder on a moving platform; or even an inkjet-like process called PolyJet by Objet, which is basically an inkjet print onto a layer of clay-like powder on a vertically-moving platform. Many of these prints require post-print cures in chemicals or ovens, as well as clean-up (removing support structure and sanding, polishing, or painting), but the end process is a 3D part we can put in our hands to evaluate.
There is now a growing pool of resources for Makers to tap into, much of the time also being able to share designs with a larger community of Makers, and also to sell to them. The idea of little or no setup cost, and people paying for what they want, has opened up these processes to many artists as well. Below I outline some of the resources available.
I first heard of Shapeways.com referred to in a video of Scott Summit, Co-Founder of Bespoke Innovations, which is a company utilizing 3D printers to create customized “Fairings” which are applied to an existing prosthetic leg. He speaks of how this technology is becoming available to more people for further applications.
Shapeways is a web site that supports a growing community of Makers, Hobbyists and Artists who create, share, and sell their designs. They are tapped into the community of Makers and other Maker sites—Maker Fairs are popping up around the country (Detroit was the most recent) and you will find them there with examples of the kind of processes they are capable of. A few examples, of which, you can see below.
The next logical step is to bring these sites together with 3D software manufacturers and the makers of the 3D printers and cutters to make this type of creating even more attainable. Ponoko is part of a partnership with these sites, Autodesk and 3D Systems. They have created free 3D software to help people make new designs, which is called Autodesk 123D
Below are some of the Laser cut products available through the members of Ponoko—the first one is of a small video game console—an example of the coming together of these Maker sites into an actual product. This is a good avenue for a reasonably techie Maker to create their own prototype to aid in funding further development (with private investors, or even sites like Kickstarter). Having a prototype always helps when marketing your idea.
Makerbot and Thingiverse
The extreme tinkerer is not content with just using 3D printers, they feel the need to make their own—that’s where Makerbot.com comes in. You can buy some or all of your very own 3D printer, assembled or in parts so you can create your very own material on your desktop. A fully assembled Makerbot will run you $2,500 or you can build your own for $1,300, this is the FDM type of 3D printing mentioned above. Then you can share their creations with the world on Thingiverse.com, the place to share digital designs that can be made into real, physical objects.