Peering into the future of 3D printing: Q&A with Graduate Industrial Design Chair, Andy Ogden

by March 20th, 2014

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The Dotted Line: What can 3D printing technology do?

Andy Ogden: The technology can make a solid 3D ( material)  model (output) of anything one can imagine in a 3D modeling program—from cookies, to doorstops to rocket engine tooling.
These machines churn out working prototypes (not just models) made from solid usable parts. This technology is especially valuable for making models, mockups and prototypes that do not require the time or labor traditionally necessary to achieve a similar result.

TDL: What are some other less obvious uses for 3D printing?

AO: The technology can also make parts that can not be fabricated in other ways, including shapes that other tools cannot physically achieve.  For example one could make an egg shell with an internal framework or an elaborate ship in a bottle. Similarly, a manufacturer in Europe has made a bicycle that has bearings inside wheel hubs that break free when the wheels first turn.

Also it supports the creation of shapes that are generated by mathematical procedures in CAD programs. It’s also a great tool for creating incredibly light and strong items for spacecraft (think: the Mars Probe) or race cars.

TDL: What are the areas in which 3D printing would not be useful or effective?

AO: Appropriately intelligent and empathetic humans are still required to make sure designs made by new generation of artisans are quality controlled. 3D printing can’t motivate creators to make smart decisions or design the right thing for a given situation. That motivation comes from the fear of losing millions in mass manufacturing  due to  making  inferior items or being held  legally responsible for making an unsafe or faulty item. Those factors are a vital part of making a prototype.

TDL: What are the dangers of giving consumers the means to create things other than just simple toys for kids?

AO: The idea that consumers will make new things that we can not yet imagine is inevitable. But the notion that they will design their own light fixtures or make light fixtures that someone else designed on a computer and that they customize and print at home has some significant barriers. So I would not predict that practice is likely to become widespread.

We can look at the first generation of widespread home manufacturing—ink jet printers—that has already taken place to get an idea of what might happen. There are quite a few people who print items at home, from maps to school reports, recipes to business cards. Some people even use these machines to create art, posters, elaborate scrapbooks and greeting cards.

Maybe the most significant revolution caused by the home printer is the ability to print out photographs. This innovation had the paradoxical effect of making people more inclined to view them digitally, knowing they had access to a printer for special occasions. That was enormously disruptive. But most people still don’t own the kind of large plotters that make posters or billboards. And they haven’t significantly started to make books and produce numerous volumes from “home printing factories,” even though the technology theoretically could support them doing so.

It has however changed the way the large scale print companies get their work done. It has sped up the development and production process by ensuring new printed items are easier, cheaper and faster to prototype.

TDL: What are the areas of 3D printing that still need development?

AO: I still have the impression that we cannot, as an advanced culture,  reliably count on printing when we hit the print button. There are lots of things that can and do go wrong.  I would like to have back the hours I have lost so far in my life working to get ink jet printers to make a good print.

TDL: There are different responsibilities and liabilities involved when you go into business or when you make things for yourself. What type of person do you envision as 3D printing’s early adopters?

AO: It bears asking how many people would like make home products that we are used to buying at low cost in a well manufactured state?  At this point, it’s really designed for a hobbyist and enthusiast culture. Jay Leno may make rapid prototype car parts for his collectable automobiles as a home user. But whether we will see more widespread home use of 3D printers than we have seen previously remains questionable.

TDL: What are some other comparable innovations?

AO: Laser cutters are another interesting parallel. They are certainly rapid prototyping machines; and have become fairly easy to come across. But they have not really crossed the line of becoming true home items. They are still shop equipment. They require maintenance and attention to safety to work correctly on demand. You might use a laser cutter in your home garage to do custom personalized leather bridles or make trophies. If you make cakes then the potential of laser cutting chocolate and food items is exciting. But you are still investing tens of thousands of dollars to get set up.

TDL: How do you see 3D printers evolving to adapt to demand for access but perhaps not ownership?

The most interesting thing is that 3D printing enables more business ideas to rapidly deploy. The kickstarter incubator world is growing with the technology because the barrier to start is lower with the rapid prototype capability. The low and limited volume product market is booming

The potential for making Happy Meal toys at home exists. But the barrier to making something more sophisticated, like a lamp, moves into a level that of complexity is very expensive and requires a lot of expertise.

Andy Ogden is the former vice president of design for Walt Disney Imagineering R&D and an influential car designer for Honda Research of America. Andy has been on the Art Center faculty since 1984 and has helped train designers who hold leadership positions around the world. He has a strong record of innovation, award-winning design excellence and management with more than 20 years of professional R&D experience and market success in consumer products, transportation, entertainment, interactive media and education. He is the principle inventor for seven U.S. invention patents for immersive displays, human interface systems, robotics and motion simulators.

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