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August 23, 2012

In a previous post for Personlize I highlighted some of the retail outlets for 3D printed products and touched on the talented designers that are using these outlets to present their innovative designs to consumers. For me, this is a fascinating area — a clear intersection between the creative / maker communities and industry. And 3D printing is a key enabler for this.  In my experience, designers and makers are a passionate, expressive breed with a tendency to explore, challenge the status quo and be open to off-the-wall ideas. In this vein, a (still relatively) small faction of designers have been wholly captivated by 3D printing and the advantages that it brings in terms of producing complex, intricate and unique parts that simply could not be materialized in any other way — and they are starting to make some money from their endeavours. I’m pretty certain we don’t have any millionaires yet, and most ‘businesses’ are still in the embryonic stages, often being developed in parallel with day-jobs. However it is a very interesting trend, which points once again to the yet-to-be-fulfilled potential of 3D printing.

I think it is also pertinent to mention at this point that these designers have spent a great deal of time and effort experimenting with the 3D printing technologies. To attain the goods that are visible to us via the retail outlets, they will, of necessity, have learned how to work around the well-documented limitations in terms of materials, surface finish and build sizes. But they have created designs, which, prior to 3D printing, would have been unimaginable, and therein lies their primary appeal. 

Wanting to explore this phenomenon a little further, I got in touch with one such designer, whose work and passion for his work I have been watching with interest and awe. I am delighted he agreed to share his thoughts and experiences with me for this post.

Michiel Cornelissen describes himself as a product designer with broad interests. With an illustrious career including more than a decade as a designer and creative director at Philips Design, Michiel has experience of designing professional products, medical systems, furniture, white goods and jewellery. In 2010 Michiel took the plunge, leaving Philips to start his own company and he currently divides his time between working for clients and creating and developing his own collections.

Here is Michiel in his own words:

“Like many industrial designers, I have worked with 3D printing. When I was introduced to it about 10 years ago, it was called Rapid Prototyping, which was appropriate because in my previous job it was only utilized for prototyping applications.

“I discovered 3D printing as a means of creating end-products in the summer of 2009. I was still in my old job at the time, but I'd had the 'itch' to strike out on my own for a couple of years, and had been steadily working on some ideas outside of the electronic product I was working on. For one of those ideas, I was looking for a way to manufacture in metal, and I came across a blog post on Gizmodo, which highlighted that Shapeways was offering metal 3D printing capabilities. Of course, the first thing I found out about 3D printing in metal is how expensive it is — so I could not use it at that point for my original idea. But I caught the fever and desperately wanted to have a product available on Shapeways. That very weekend I designed 'a bit cross' and on the Monday I had my first sale. I was elated. But I should say, it has never been that fast or that easy since. Even so, those first experiences with 3D printed products, and the reactions I received, certainly made the decision to go it alone much easier.

“When I first started with 3D printing, I was simply looking for a cost-effective way to add items to my portfolio — but it has become so much more than that. Shapeways continues to be my go-to place for most product releases, and the sales I get from that site is providing some significant income — amounts that would have been hard to achieve with traditional royalty systems. I love the freedom of releasing a product whenever I want, without having to penetrate various management layers of reluctant companies and begging for a royalty percentage. I do also have pieces available via i.materialise and Ponoko. i.materialise has a definite “boutique” feel about it and with engaging personnel that provide a very personal touch, indeed we are in collaboration on a project that has yet to go live. Ponoko, for me, offers a wider range of production tools, including superior laser cutting capabilities, which I find extremely useful.

“Anyway, from there, it has been a bit of a snowball effect — many of the clients and companies I work with now can somehow be traced back to my earlier 3D printing work. I now cooperate a lot with design label Soonsalon, the team there are helping me to bring products — like the birdcage jewellery — to places like the MoMA and the Louvre. As a designer, I'm just really happy about everything I have learned in the past couple of years. I love having 3D printing as another production option, with, of course, all of the exciting new possibilities it brings and I love what I've learned about selling and promoting products.

“I do just want to end with one word of caution — I see many people that are so in love with 3D printing that they just want to take advantage of all those technical possibilities and they totally overlook the people that they are designing for. Technology can be liberating, but, in my opinion, it should not take centre stage — that place belongs to the people using/wearing the designs.

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August 23, 2012

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3D Printing

Great article. Completely agree with Michiel, the designers should take centre stage not the tool that builds the design.

Danny more than 1 years ago

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