27 Jan 3D printing can bring physical entrepreneurs from idea to business. Quickly
3D printing for rapid sustainable product development
In connection with his Ph.D. Maker member Antonio Esparza has been investigating for a number of years how 3D printing can be used to build complex products for the benefit of physical entrepreneurs’ production. He uses the 3D printers in the Viadukten for his experiments, which, despite its immediately complicated starting point, show a business potential that is understandable.
How did you get the idea to study the potential of the 3D printer?
“For many years I designed products for companies, and here I discovered that the 3D printer gives you better control over your design. It can become anything you can think of without you having to do quite a lot other than making a code.”
What is the potential?
“When you create a product, there are many things to think about. It’s not just the shape – it’s also the shape that will shape the product, it’s the material, how you press it and so on. The flow that is in that process, makes it difficult for brick-and-mortar entrepreneurs to turn an idea into a product, because it simply becomes too expensive and complicated to make the prototype. With the 3D printer, you can quickly see if a product works. You can test whether it is best as square or round, and you don’t have to spend 50,000 kroner on a new prototype or shape every time. This gives you some opportunities as a physical entrepreneur.”
Why is it important?
“Because in that way physical entrepreneurs can more easily go from idea to production and business. What often happens is that products become too simple in their design, because it is too expensive to test prototypes and too easy to “translate” it , which you want to create, to the manufacturer in China. Therefore, the product often ends up being far too easy to copy – and then the physical entrepreneur or company loses money. With the printer, you can create a complicated and unique design by simply telling the computer does it. With the 3D printer, you also get rid of a lot of middlemen, and you can more easily produce the product locally, so you, for example, avoid the risk of copying, which is automatically inherent in sending a design for production abroad.”
Does this mean that companies could bring productions home from abroad if they used 3D printing?
“In principle yes – because with 3D printing it is possible to skip links. But in the business world it is a hot potato, because the various links in a supply chain are not interested in being skipped – because then they make money not money. So you probably have to start by looking at it on a local level and democratize the process of the physical entrepreneurs, so that they have the opportunity to produce their goods locally and sustainably and affordably. From here, you can then hope that the politicians will see the potential. Because it is about democratization, and then the method can even be sustainable.”
Speaking of sustainable – what about all the plastic used for 3D printing?
“On printers here at Maker, I’ve worked on recycling filament. That’s an important part of it. Because not only do many people just print something silly, it’s all plastic, which isn’t particularly sustainable. “
Is it even a good idea?
“Yes, if you think about it wisely. Imagine if I started a business where people could rent plastic and the machines to print their products or prototypes on? Then when they were done, they brought the plastic back and it was recycled again . In that there is a socio-economic perspective which can be really interesting.”
Can you elaborate on that?
“3D printing is important because it gives all people the opportunity to start a production and a business. It democratizes. But also on a higher scale that can benefit societies around the world. In principle, you want to be able print everything from fences to shelters to refugee camps and beehives to the biodiversity of the city from a recipe on the computer. Or prostheses for that matter – which I’m currently looking at. When the prostheses are made in China but are to be used in France, they are often not properly adapted to the French population, because they have just simplified the process. 3D printing allows you to develop a formula that can print these prostheses to perfectly fit the patients and even adapt them down the road. That’s the idea , which I take further – how we can use the printer in our society and productions.”
What do you think the future perspective is?
“I think we need to start small and show the potential there – for example, from the things that we do here in Maker. Can grassroots physical entrepreneurs create some products and make a business out of them using 3D the printer, maybe we can convince the politicians that there is a bigger perspective in it. It’s a long process though – and maybe an impossible one at a higher level. But I think there’s real value in being able to make complicated designs cheaper. And local companies and then the politicians might be able to see the idea in that.”