If you’ve not already watched the Elon Musk video in which the famous entrepreneur discusses the future of digital design – and direct digital manufacturing (aka, 3D printing) – it’s worth taking the time to see. And a lot of people have seen it; over 1.5M last I checked; which isn’t a surprise given the headlines:
The list goes on.
Just so there’s no misunderstanding, I love this stuff.
So what’s the future of digital design and digital manufacturing?
When I first connected the Quake level editing application running on one of our corporate SGI’s with the new SLA machine growing parts in the next room, I knew what the future of design and manufacturing was. It was … well… it was Tony Stark wearing augmented reality goggles to design cool science fiction comic stuff with the wave of his hand.
If anyone doubts that, head over to Wired’s Senior Editor Chris Anderson’s blog entry from about ten years ago or ask me about my old copy of Iron Man #55.
I get it. I’m a believer.
But I’m also a realist, which is why I’m now going to do what comes naturally as an experienced product designer: I’m going to ask a few questions.
Let’s start with these:
- How many 3D printing articles explain the difficulty of properly engineering an SLS part provided by a growing number of service bureaus?
- How many people are aware that the stainless steel part they’ve had fabricated using an SLS process is, in some cases, infiltrated with up to 80% of another metal?
- Do any of these infiltrated SLS parts come with elasto-plastic deformation curves (and guidance in how to use them) so that parts can be properly engineered to function as designed; and to meet the expectations of the consumer, in cases where the service bureau also provides an online store through which third parties can purchase someone else’s part?
- Are the people watching Elon Musk explain how his parts are fabricated aware that there is a significant difference – in both cost and quality – between a sintered metal part and a direct metal laser “melted” part mentioned in the video (see 02:59 of the above video)?
There’s an old saying that it’s more important to ask the right questions than it is to have answers for the wrong questions. Unfortunately, I don’t see very many authors of articles hyping direct digital manufacturing asking any questions at all. And to paraphrase Olympia Dukakis, what most of them don’t know about this technology is a lot. Sadly, what most readers know is only as much.