3D Printing, Nature, and the Industry Renaissance

ST Dentistry

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The Los Angeles Convention Center, home to SWW18

A revolution marks a sea change, a hard resetting of the status quo; a renaissance is, literally, a rebirth. While a revolution is typically relatively short in duration and punctuated by some fundamental shift that changes a paradigm, often political, a renaissance is a process in itself that brings about a more gradual shift in thinking. Historically, for example, the 18th century French Revolution saw a monarchy overthrown to restructure the government, while the European Renaissance of the 14th-17th centuries saw a long-term bridge into the modern era with a rising focus on art, culture, and humanism. The difference between revolution and renaissance comes down to a few factors, many of them philosophical, and often seeing an overlap of revolutions within a renaissance.

While we hear often of the next Industrial Revolution, at this week’s SOLIDWORKS World in LA, we heard another way of considering the 21st century’s new ways of thinking, designing, and manufacturing allowed for with the growth in technologies.

Industry Renaissance

“It’s amazing things that you guys are doing; you are showing us the future,” SOLIDWORKS CEO Gian Paolo Bassi said in his welcoming remarks at SWW18, addressing the gathered SOLIDWORKS users, partners, and larger community.

“So what can we do to empower you, the amazing innovators? How can we help you to be leaders in what they are calling the next Industrial Revolution? Shouldn’t it be something more than a revolution – an Industry Renaissance? We like this connotation much better: humans, not machines.”

For all the focus we place on automation, on digitization, on the place of technologies, their use ultimately comes down to something much more foundational: humanity. It can be, somehow, easy to lose sight of the human factor as advances are made in machinery, in software. This week in LA, the focus was of course on technology — at SWW18, major announcements were made, including new software integrations from Rize, Nano Dimension, and 3D Systems, and a prosthetics-based partnership with Stratasys and Unlimited Tomorrow — but alongside these announcements was a sharp focus on the human element. Rethinking design as new capabilities come to fruition is only possible through focusing on thinking at all, and this focus on thinking permeated the entirety of SWW18.

In our world today, knowledge continues to be a formidable weapon, especially in the hands of innovators like you, like us,” said Bassi, who was among a group of executives entering the first morning’s General Session on a Moveable Feast, designed in SOLIDWORKS, created by keynote Two Bit Circus.

The innovators using SOLIDWORKS, and its ever-growing offerings available from parent company Dassault Systèmes as well as from partners, are the thinkers leading the way into this Industrial Renaissance. Taking to the stage throughout the high-energy General Sessions and keynotes, as well as through breakouts including the Additive Manufacturing Symposium and other targeted session tracks, were a broad variety of speakers who represented some of the brightest spots of potential to showcase not only the capabilities of technology but the real-world implications use of these technologies can have that impact real human lives.

Dassault Systèmes Vice Chairman and CEO Bernard Charlès was enthusiastic about the possibilities, remarking:

We all have big dreams. It is refreshing to see what is happening in the world industry…. It’s much more profound: it’s about rethinking the entire process and how to deliver new processes around the world. It is more than the digitalization of yesterday. It goes far beyond digitalization of existing industry.”

As he explained, advanced technologies are changing the way we make ideas become real. Kishore Boyalakuntla, Vice President of Portfolio Management, and Brand User Experience Leader, SOLIDWORKS, affirmed this way of thinking:

“It is an amazing time to be in engineering – I think it is the golden age.”

At SOLIDWORKS World, phrasing technology in terms of a golden age and a renaissance wasn’t out of place at all; indeed, these artistic ways of presenting the process of rethinking fit right in to the energy at this meeting of the minds. 3D printing fits easily into the new ways of thinking, as complex geometries are made possible for the first time and designers working with additive manufacturing work to rethink what’s possible — this application continues to rise in prominence and was a larger focus at SWW18 than even at last year’s event, where 3D printing did take some spotlight with announcements and advances built on partnerships with SOLIDWORKS; in 2018, these partnerships have expanded to encompass a larger piece of the manufacturing and design puzzle.

Beyond Biomimicry

As more becomes possible through design with the most advanced tools in human history whizzing across computers worldwide, we are seeing a response in the sources of inspiration from which innovators draw — and one major source has long been the natural world. Biomimicry is a principle through which a design mimics that seen in the biological world, such as designers strengthening structures with internal compositions mimicking that seen in the curious, complex human bone. However, mimicking nature isn’t the only way to apply design inspiration — turning nature into a verb can allow for a rethought approach to design, as keynote speaker Neri Oxman, a prolific designer, architect, and professor at MIT’s Mediated Matter Lab, underscored.

Oxman sees that we are moving into what she calls the Biodigital Age, going beyond the age of assembly and into an era based on biology, in which we “are able to design nature itself —  moving from voxels to pixels.”

“I am calling nature not a noun but a verb,” she said. “What does it mean to nature — as a verb — our product?”

Through collaborations such as that with Stratasys working on death masks and work with MIT toward unique glass 3D printing and large-scale construction 3D printing, Oxman and her team have been bringing technology to a larger conversation about communication, structure, and fabrication, through mediating material and organism.

“In the past, I think we designed products, not processes. Nature doesn’t need CAD; nature is CAD,” Oxman explained during a press session encompassing her vision and approach to innovation.

“At Google X last week, there was an interesting debate where one of the individuals in the room said, ‘Ms. Oxman, I design for the real world.’ I looked at him and said, ‘There’s a difference between designing for the next two years and designing for the next 2,000 years.’ What kind of world do we want to live in? What is the wrold we want to see in two years, in 200 years, in 2,000 years? In 200 years, yes, I believe we can design biocompatible skyscrapers. In the short term, I think we will see less plastics, more biopolymers in the market. Materials is the bottleneck in the market, it always has been. The material, the intelligence embedded into the material. Voxel-based additive manufacturing – if we can do that with biomaterials and biopolymers, then we’re talking. Then we’re talking about the new cyborg, then we can talk about the singularity between the machine age and the organism.”

By embracing technology and intertwining it with natural processes and materials, the future of design is broader than ever before. As IP attorney and 3D printing expert John Hornick noted at our recent Additive Manufacturing Strategies event, going beyond biomimicry represents a major stride forward in true innovation for what technology can be capable of in a human world.

“As designers learn how to design for 3D printing, we will see more and more biomimetic designs, for the efficiencies that biomimicry offers. In time, we will also see biomimicry printers or fabricators, which combine 3D printing and 3D bioprinting, and inorganic, organic, and digital materials to make biomechanical parts and products for the human body and for products that have no relation to healthcare. Examples may be biomechanical substitute organs, which improve on Mother Nature’s design and are more suited to the human lifestyle and increasing longevity; infant cranial helmets, which grow with the child; and body armor, which is essentially a living, self-healing shell that mimics Mother Nature’s armor designs,” Hornick told me.

The growth of design is becoming a much more literal way of looking at the future of creation. As Hornick noted with regard to bioprinting as well as products, and Oxman described work with E. coli cells, going beyond what Mother Nature has provided and augmenting with complementary technologies can lead to something completely new. Beyond topology optimization, humans are now able to optimize the world itself — well, perhaps with 2,000-year thinking. Similarly, but less far-off, Desktop Metal’s just-introduced Live Parts software looks to natural inspiration — the parts are “grown” in the software, adapting as living cells do to different environments and conditions.

“The inspiration was making 3D printing of parts, making metal additive manufacturing, not restricted to traditional design shapes. I had this idea that we could look at nature — not just biomimicry, but cellular growth,” Desktop Metal Senior Software Engineer Andy Roberts told me during a Live Parts demo.

“Available today, Live Parts grows parts as if they were living organisms. Seed cells grow toward goals, working with target loads, constantly updating to life in real time.”

3D Printing Philosophies

For all its announcements and tangible advances, SWW18 provided a thoughtful atmosphere where sessions were truly a meeting of the minds — and the minds gathered represented designers, innovators, those working to truly reshape not only products, but processes. Rethinking was a major theme throughout the week, as was adaptability and response. Conversations throughout the busy event were, yes, highlighted and guided by the many announcements and partnerships emerging across the days, but often turned to the whys behind the hows.

“We’re democratizing 3D printing,” Stephen Nigro, President of HP’s 3D Printing business, told me when we spoke ahead of the company’s much-anticipated announcement of full-color 3D printing.

“We want to get Multi Jet Fusion into the hands of designers…. There’s a realization of understanding.”

This idea of democratizing is becoming a more frequently heard refrain in the 3D printing industry, as the technology can allow for a broader reach for manufacturing around the world. As Nigro noted, key to that adoption is getting it to those who can create with it, getting designers comfortable with the newest technologies so they can adapt and come at design from a new perspective, with new capabilities opening up.

“Humans really want experiences over things,” Two Bit Circus CEO Brent Bushnell noted in his keynote in the second day’s General Session.

Sometimes those experiences include being set on fire, for fun, as Two Bit Circus is engineering entertainment

Experiencing technology, directly interacting with it, opens doors. With innovators like Neri Oxman working with cutting-edge technologies, they are able to think in a completely new way, enabling them to create completely new things.

Working with nature, working with technology, working with partners — the reach of SWW18 was broad, bringing in ideas of a brave new world that isn’t only engineered, but grown.

Discuss SOLIDWORKS World 2018, the Industrial Renaissance, Mother Nature, and other 3D printing topics at or share your thoughts below. 

[All photos/video: Sarah Goehrke]


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