3D printing isn’t merely revolutionizing production — from the way we make cars and rockets to the way we prepare food or construct homes or put together a chic new outfit — it’s changing the way we think. One product designer from the UK, Barney Mason, can speak to the life-altering impact of 3D modeling and printing.

In the process of learning 3D modeling and printing, Mason truly is changing the way he thinks. You might say he started small: He’s found an efficient way to design smarter keychains thanks to his research and experimentation with additive manufacturing.

“The technology completely changed the way I thought about turning my ideas into tangible products, and is still a strong influence on my designs to this day,” Mason said.

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Mason has a degree in product design and engineering from Brunel University in London, has worked for Faberdashery, assisting them in developing innovative ways of showcasing their 3D printed products, and now works on the design team at Those. He set out to rethink something basic: the keychain.

While we don’t often give keychains much thought, they literally organize and maintain our access to vital spaces like work, home, transport, and so on. Mason wondered why keychains remain so incredibly un-user-friendly and decided to rectify that problem, creating a pretty ingenious, 3D printed keychain which features a quick-release mechanism that spares the fingernails and patience of the user but keeps keys secure.

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Mason still begins in two dimensions when he sets out to design, but now that he’s more comfortable working in three dimensions, he alternates between sketching and modeling in Rhino, his primary go-to 3D modeling program. He uses MODO for rendering and visualization and has begun to experiment with Grasshopper, too.

With the keychain, Mason worked in Rhino and Grasshopper, referring frequently to his impressively clear and adept sketches. Satisfied that he’d arrived at a preliminary prototype design that could be 3D printed and tested, he printed his first keychain. He found that, although the quick-release mechanism worked well, the structure of the device was less than satisfactory due to limitations of his 3D printer, particularly with regard to the material.

 

Mason turned to online 3D printing service and community i.materialise, for a solution — and i.materialise came through, printing the parts for the keychain in a high detailed stainless steel and bronze that provided the necessary strength and durability but also the high level of detail Mason desired. The material, which is used for things like bolts, miniatures, figurines, game pieces, and so forth was extremely well-suited for the sophisticated design of the keychain, including the quick-release mechanism.

When the 3D printed keychains arrived in the mail, Mason did have to do a bit of finishing work — mostly some sanding and smoothing of details — but he was pleased at the overall results and considers i.materialise a great partner in his continued exploration of the seemingly unlimited capacity of 3D printing to change the world, from the minutiae to the monumental.

What do you think of these keychains? Let us know what you think of the design work in the 3D Printing Redesigns the Keychain forum thread over at 3DPB.com. Check out more photos of the design below.

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