• ArchiExpo e-Magazine - #11 - Digging Into the 3-D Printing Revolution - ArchiExpo e-Magazine

    Digging Into the 3-D Printing Revolution

    Enjoy a brand new reader experience with the 11th issue of ArchiExpo e-magazine
    while discovering the latest innovations in design & architecture.  An Italian designer viewpoint, a South African approach and what’s important when entering the 3-D printing realm: in this issue, we explore this brand new and exciting manufacturing path.

    Hot Topic
    In the realm of furniture design, it is not so much the reproduction of forms that already exist that leads to the use of 3-D printing, but rather the desire to imagine a new aesthetic and new functions.

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    Given today’s advances in 3-D printing technology, it is already possible to print eyes, noses and internal organs. We will send 3-D printers capable of printing other printers to Mars to build a new colony. Synthetic biological materials will be printed in the form of self-repairing tissue. Even food will be produced...

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    i-Novo ArchiExpo Batimat 2015
    Hot Topic
    "The only way I could access rapid prototyping at the time in South Africa"


    I still remember vividly the first time I came across 3D printing in 2004. It was an online video, and it blew my mind. I [designer Michaella Janse van Vuuren] enrolled in a post doctorate in medical implant design, the only way I could access rapid prototyping at the time in South Africa. I believed I needed a serious technical arsenal to be able to make my own digital fantasies real. What I found instead is that everything you need can be accessed easily on the Internet. For me, 3-D printing and digital manufacturing have broken down the walls that separated industries. I have been a jeweler, sculptor, educator, lighting, fashion and shoe designer and researcher in medical implant design.

    Digital technology has the enormous potential to remove the barriers to manufacturing. In theory it no longer matters where you reside.

    Consider that I live in Africa, and my home is surrounded by Bushveld. Thanks to the magic of digital manufacturing all I need to create my 3-D-printed pieces is my Internet connection, my computer and a digital tablet. I do not even own a 3-D printer.

    As 3-D printing catches the world’s attention, there’s a kind of gold-rush fever that’s threatening to cheapen the potential of the technology. Anyone can download designs for free and print them at home. 3-D design software companies have spread the message that designing for manufacturing is so easy that the skills of people who make the designs become practically worthless.

    This is very far from an accurate view. There are many challenges facing independent 3-D manufacturers all over the world. These include the cost of design hardware, software and the 3-D printing itself, limitations of the printing materials for end product use and the constraints of the machines. You need to have knowledge of legal issues, business and marketing skills and access to experts.

    The magic ingredient to transform yourself from a pencil wielding dreamer to an indie manufacturing powerhouse is perseverance and a lot of it. Computer design software has grown out of the engineering manufacturing needs of old. The 3-D printing machines are capable of printing shapes never before possible, but the software still has to catch up when it comes to easily designing these shapes.

    The power of digital manufacturing is that the design skills needed to create jewelry, medical implants or fashion is very similar. What changes is the level of expert knowledge needed to create a functional design. To design a shoe you have to partner with a shoe expert. You can make medical implants, but you have to work with an expert orthopedics surgical team.

    When considering the design of a manufactured object, you also need to investigate the materials you will be printing in and what is actually possible on a particular machine. Note: “You can print anything” is a big ol’ lie. That future has still to arrive. 

    Once your design is finished, you can send it to be printed. What happens to the file is now out of your control. Make sure you print through someone reputable. If your file gets “out there” you cannot get it back.


    Hyphae Pendant Lamp by Nervous SystemPrinting can be very expensive; designers often team up with large 3-D corporations. Print sponsorships are great but don’t get so flattered and excited that you forget to have your designs well protected and legally covered. If you live far from New York or London or any of the other cities considered as economic hubs, distance is another challenge. A trip to showcase your work and network at one of the best expos or conferences is a huge financial strain, but nothing beats meeting in person. So despite the ability to print anywhere in the world, if you are not close enough to the financial centers you are at a disadvantage.

    That brings us to finances. To cover all the hardware, software, R&D, self-study, test prints, marketing and travelling you better have a very inventive plan. It is the rare designer who has 3-D print sales capable of sustaining the business. South African Richard van As’ Robohand is an open-source low-cost 3-D prosthetic that has changed lives all over the world, and as the 3-D print market increases I expect international designers like Nervous System, Francis Bitonti and Joshua Harker to have a big influence on the emerging industry. When the materials improve and become less expensive, digital manufacturing will take off and established brands will join in.

    Hot Topic
    You should always think of the material in its printed state because the raw material often has different, suboptimal characteristics

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    While the average Joe can have a 3-D printer in his own home and select product design drawings through open source platforms, there’s much left to understand. Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen amazes with flashy, complex geometrical outfits customized to individual body scans with a multi-material printer....

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    Michaella Janse von Vuuren

    Michaella Janse van Vuuren is a designer and artist with a PhD in Electrical Engineering.

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    Serena Confalonieri

    Serena Confalonieri is an independent Italian designer working on interior, graphic and textile design projects.

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    Erin Tallman

    Erin Tallman is a journalist and the Editor in Chief for ArchiExpo e-magazine. She contributes to other online publications and, as an author, has already published her first novel.

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    Alexandra Katz

    Alexandra Katz is a Russian freelance journalist with more than 10 years of reporting experience.

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    Hilary Edesess

    Hilary Edesess is a freelance journalist based in Marseille, France. She blogs about culture, art and urban design.

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    Alex Ulam

    Alex Ulam is a freelance journalist and design critic based in New York.

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    Erin Gigl

    Erin Gigl is a freelance design and travel writer, editor and artist.

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