Prior to the advent of the First Industrial Revolution, most goods were created by hands and on demand. There were few items manufactured in advance to store for later sale, supply networks, or what passed for them, were at best shaky, and manufacturing speeds were excruciatingly slow.
The responsibilities of designer and manufacturer were essentially interchangeable because goods were typically made artisanally and reactively. The gap between design and manufacturing was irrelevant to the blacksmith, who not only made each shoe specifically for a horse, but also for each hoof.
All of that changed in the late 18th century with the invention of the machine, which industrialized and standardized the manufacturing process while severely limiting the consumer's ability to vary and customize their purchases. And with the advent of mass production and factories at the turn of the 20th century, Henry Ford's Model T raised the bar for manufacturing in terms of speed, efficiency, and standardization.
Of course, the way things are created today has changed significantly as technology continues to improve manufacturing processes globally in terms of speed, volume, and consistency. However, in spite of all of this, the underlying design and manufacturing process hasn't changed over the past century to match the shifting needs of consumers, driving production farther and farther away from the consumer and restricting design flexibility and personalization.
Digitial transformation with 3D printing
The $12 trillion global manufacturing business is currently undergoing a complete digital revolution thanks to the disruptive 3D printing technology that is ushering in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In addition, the upcoming revolution will bring back the power of custom-crafting from the pre-industrial era while also representing a quantum technical leap into our all-digital future. Together, these factors will usher in a new era of mass customization where the significance of design—and designers—is greater than ever.
The way things are created, developed, produced, and distributed is completely being reinvented by 3D printing. Faster production rates, cheaper prices, streamlined logistics, and a smaller carbon footprint are just a few of its many advantages over traditional manufacturing. The ability to adapt adjustments or revisions within the production process, however, is one of the most significant benefits.
Traditional techniques like injection molding require significant up-front costs since physical molds and a sophisticated array of machine tools and equipment must be made specifically for the procedure in preparation. In order to meet changes in product specifications or design, many items must be expensively remanufactured.
Only the middle of the bell curve is ever intended for because of the accompanying costs, which prevents things from being produced unless there is an adequate demand. The previous industrial revolution simply left users or markets that were seen to be too big or too small behind.
By democratizing the process and substituting the price, constrictive physical molding process with affordable, easily modifiable digital files, 3D printing has altered this prohibitive system and lowered entry barriers. The designer's position will also grow in importance as production processes become more adaptable thanks to 3D printing because they can now create products for any user, at any scale.
The ability of the designer to use "enhanced learnings," or a continuous cycle of learning and improvement from each build step to address form, fit, and function, will become increasingly important as the process from design to prototype to production becomes smoother and more efficient. This is necessary to ensure that every user is designed for and that the product solutions can meet their specific needs. The gap between a concept and a concrete reality will continue to close only with the help of actual, breathing designers.
Designers are key
A recent professional course in design for additive manufacturing at MIT, attended by top research scientists, engineers, developers, designers, and project managers from 3D printing-using industries including aerospace, automotive, biotech, robotics, and more, is a sign of how important designers are becoming.
Users who are viewed as too big or too tiny have been overlooked in the age of mass production and standardization, pushing the manufacturing process farther and further away from them and their particular demands. We have grown to believe, and even accept, that some items are simply not for us due to this all-encompassing approach to design.
This is all changed by 3D printing, which elevates the designer to identify the user and design precisely for them, regardless of how many or how few there are, and eliminates the "one size fits all" method of mass production.
When we can create goods that can't currently be produced in methods that were previously impractical, we will have truly achieved the potential of 3D printing and will be able to improve everyone's lives everywhere. We can achieve that future, and the key is to unleash the power of designers.
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