With the rise of advanced 3D printing and material technology it is now possible to create accurate prototypes or manufacture a limited production line for testing. Most commercial solutions were unapproachable by average people, and the workflows were extremely complex. But it has changed a lot in the last few decades. Easy to use and affordable 3D modelling tools and 3D printers, are just beginning to disrupt the entire vertical. 3D printers are available for less than $1000 with some as much as $300.
To go from a 3D CAD model to an actual print, you need a good 3D model. If it’s not available, you need to create it, either by modifying an existing one or creating one from scratch. To create a smooth transition from sketch to a 3D model you need a usable, reliable and affordable tool. The last 30 years were not entirely kind to us in that sense. Even though CAD tools got more robust, their usability and portability suffered a huge loss. With the complexity of these tools, the speed of the design didn't really excel. Of course, if you spend 20 to 30 days mastering a tool then the speed of your work increased, but it's not true for the entire industry. Also, the price of these tools limited their availability. For decades, the majority of software cost thousands of dollars a year, which made it inaccessible for many target groups in different geolocations.
Fast forward to today and you’ll see many tools that are tackling both these issues. They are trying to democratise 3D modelling by creating quality user-friendly interfaces for an affordable price. This can help distributing resources more evenly and fairly among people across the world.
Just look at Sketchup or Shapr3D for example. These tools are mobile, easy to learn and allow rapid and inexpensive prototyping. While most CAD tools continue to be time-consuming to learn, you can pick up the basics with the new wave of mobile CAD tools in just a few hours.
The present of rapid prototyping
In the near past many industry experts predicted that rapid prototyping would be used for creating personalised and hard to replace objects (like sculptures, puzzles, toys), jewellery items, custom fitted eyewear, home decoration fix-it-parts, IKEA parts, LEGO blocks or missing chess pieces. That’s not the future anymore. It’s the present.
Denis Ayotte is your typical small business owner. He has set up several companies over the years, been interested in computers, and has migrated from construction work to data centre building. Last year he bought a new printer, and uses Thingiverse, Shapeways to create and manufacture 3D parts. He ended up printing his own 3D printer, but there was one small problem: the extrude tray didn’t work.
He decided that he would take matters into his own hands. He started to look for a desktop CAD software, but he couldn’t easily modify the design at an affordable price. He was close to giving up when he downloaded a mobile CAD on his iPad Pro. He found that, in one hour, he could achieve more than in one year with traditional desktop tools. Now he can modify designs, and quickly share them on Thingiverse. If a modification request comes in, he recreates the part quickly. He started to document his journey, which you can follow on his blog.
The moral of the story is that it’s not just a story. It’s reality. With the advancement of 3D modelling tools, 3D printers, and rapid prototyping techniques, the creation space has become democratised. Today’s software and infrastructure (the internet, and physical alike) make it possible for pretty much anyone to interact and create things.