This past Thursday, I attended the Manufacturing Leadership Summit in Palm Beach as a guest. Additive Manufacturing was often described as a disruptive technology; hopefully the executives in attendance fully appreciated how they might leverage 3D printing in their own businesses.
A high point for me was when Francis Bitonti, Principal and Founder, Francis Bitonti Studio, gave an intriguing presentation on his evolutionary - maybe revolutionary is a better description - journey from architect to product designer. His bio read,
"Re-defining the visual and formal language of design, Francis Bitonti Studio uses a blend of computer-driven techniques and cutting-edge manufacturing technologies to realize what has been called 'alien' objects and spaces."
His observation that computer-created algorithms can drive complex designs led to his using 3D modeling and printing: first to create a bike rack prototype for NYC - he did not get the job despite it being an elegant design because it would cost $50,000 to make - to more recently creating and printing wearable fashions. He later explained his decision to promote the use of PLA as a material because it was compostable, allowing artists to express themselves in a more sustainable, if transient, way. His success and exposure have prompted him to hold computational design workshops for other fashion designers interested in using the medium to create, share and make their 3D printed clothes.
The audience was clearly impressed with his accomplishments (as they should have been), but it left me wondering if people made the connection between these examples and manufacturing. I especially felt this way later when hearing some award winners speak... at least a few would have benefited from adopting Additive Manufacturing techniques in their product design, prototyping and low-volume production projects. I guess we'll know we're mainstream when that is standard operating procedure and no longer noteworthy.