3D printing gets all the pixels in the media, but it is only one of many technologies that enable what I have called downloadable design, where "in a world where everything can be digitized, why move material when we are interested in ideas, creativity and talent?" Much more common are CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machines which are proliferating in hacker spaces, schools, DIY storefronts or communities like 100Kgarages. There is now a real network of machines that can do the output.
But what about the input? Architects Anne Filson and Gary Rohrbacher of AtFab have created quite a few designs for the DIY/Maker market. They even furnished MakerBot's offices in Brooklyn with their designs. Anne writes:
We set out to design furniture that would maximize CNC “machine intelligence” and require nothing more than basic hardware and a simple, intuitive assembly process. Essentially, objects that anyone can download and make anywhere, anytime, out of anything.
Anne summarizes the reasons that so many people have been intrigued by the idea of downloadable design.
Networked, digital manufacturing fits perfectly with our aspiration to produce precisely made things, support local economies, and use less energy in the process.
However not everyone is handy with a digital file or has the time to go find a hackerspace. AtFab is looking to move beyond the DIY/Maker community, and test the viability of a real consumer market for their designs.
We're on Kickstarter to build a distributed network of remote CNC fabrication shops and make our first manufacturing run of 3 AtFAB Furniture designs: a Side Chair, Coffee Table and Pair of Stools. This run will be a greener, local way of producing large goods, and will strengthen what we see as a new entrepreneurial platform for designers like ourselves to address unarticulated needs, and connect directly with the people for whom they design.
Working with Ponoko and networks like 100KGarages, the idea is to make the benefits of these technologies accessible and carefree; the furniture will "arrive flat packed with all parts, hardware, tools and instructions….delivered to your door."
When Ponoko and Shopbot set up 100KGarages in 2009 I wrote "This changes everything in downloadable design." It didn't; when it comes right down to it, most people are not DIY/Maker types, and the manufacturing is only one part of a much larger ecosystem.
AtFab is going beyond design, and building a distributed manufacturing network. Perhaps this time I will be right when I say "This changes everything."