Additive Manufacturing Across Industry and Design – a Comparison


Aya Bentur  

Physical and Digital - Jesse Howard - Left - SAP Digital Twin - Right - 3D Printing

This week we will take a look at how the same notions are applied in design and in industry. Similar ideas and approaches are addressed both on an industrial level as well as in design projects that are more experimental or conceptual. It’s interesting to see that both edges of the spectrum deal with similar issues and at the same time their applications are different in scale and in impact, here is a comparison.

Self-Replicating Machines

A machine that can replicate itself? That’s magic. Or 3D printing. On one hand, we have RepRap whose goal is to make self-replicating machines that are free and available to everyone (left). They formed a community in which makers can edit or add content, an “open-source revolution” – ideal for makers and individual users of desktop 3D printers. On the other hand, we have HP, the printing giant. HP has been adding to their 2D printing expertise and expanding into 3D printing. Their MJF (Multi Jet Fusion) technology enables production runs of more than 50,000 units and more than 50% of the custom plastic parts inside the Jet Fusion 4200 are additively manufactured by the machine itself (right). While the application in scale and the level of outcome are very different, both tap into the opportunities that lie within AM.

RepRap 3D Printing Self Replicating MachineHP Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer

Customized Products

Designer Maya Ben-David created Bypass a system of 3D printed water pipe fittings (left). The fittings offer customized solutions adding flexibility to water pipe systems over the standard-sized fittings in standard angles that offer limited possibilities. In a different material for a different end-user, ThyssenKrupp TechCenter additively manufactures customized products tailored to their customers (right). For both the end-user is the top priority, adapting products to the needs of the customers and not the other way around.
Maya Ben David Bypass - 3D Printed JointsAdditive Manufacturing ThyssenKrupp


The complexity of shapes and inner structures is one of the first AM capabilities recognized. Undercuts and restrictions that were relevant in traditional manufacturing methods don’t apply when parts and products are additively manufactured. Two examples are design duo Unfold’s ceramic perfume diffuser for Aesop (right), shaped like a rock on the outside with a geometric structure on the inside and GE’s additively manufactured fuel nozzle, with a complex inner structure for optimized performance.

Unfold 3D Printed Ceramic Perfume Diffuser for Aesop3D Printed Fuel Nozzle - Allows manufacturing of Complex Parts - Image credit GE Reports-Chris New

Flexible Production

Another project by Unfold, together with Kirschner3D and Penny Webb, Of Instruments and Archetypes (left), shows the possibilities of flexible production. The project presents 3 physical measuring tools that translate measurements into a digital application. With these measuring tools, objects can be customized and produced with digital production techniques such as 3D printing. While Unfold offers flexibility in the hands of the users, Phits and Materialise show an industrial application of Flexible AM production. Phits scan feet in movement and analyze the personal gait in order to create customized insoles. The additive production process provides flexibility as it allows for unique and individual insoles according to each customer.

Unfold - Instruments and Archetypes - Flexible Production 3D Printing3D Printed Insoles Phits and Materialise


Environmental issues are naturally supported by AM. If it’s producing only what’s needed, manufacturing close to location to avoid shipping cost or minimizing material waste. Almost all industrial 3D printers use very little beyond the material needed, there is hardly any excess material wasted. In metal binder jetting, for example, the material is solidified to form the part or product and the powder left in the print bed is reused for the next print (NanoSteel Binder Jet on the right). The material can also be upcycled, Dave Hakkens designed Precious Plastics a system of machines for locally upcycling plastic waste, from shredder to compression, injection and finally extrusion through a 3D printer (left).
Dave Hakkens Precious Plastics Upcycled 3D PrintingNanoSteel - Nano Structured Metal Powders Binder Jet 3D Printing

On-Demand Manufacturing

At Milan Design Week ECAL’s  Master Product Design students exhibited the Digital Market (left), where designs by students as well as well-known designers were 3D printed on-demand and sold to the visitors. By creating a production system as well as a commerce system where products can be purchased online and offline and manufactured according to need, the project shows that 3D printing can eliminate the extra costs of keeping inventory. Keeping virtual inventory instead of physical warehouses with parts and products that will most likely be discarded is a topic that comes up quite a lot in industry. The need to rethink the inventory system becomes especially clear when looking at parts in the aerospace industry such the Hydraulic Manifold by Arcam (right). A product that is highly complex, costly to manufacture and produced in small batches is ideal for virtual inventory.

ECAL Digital Market 3D Printing Milan Design WeekArcam Additive Manufacturing Hydraulic Manifold

Distributed Manufacturing

SuperLocal is a project led by Andrea de Chirico addressing methods of production and the need for localization. Every product designed by SuperLocal is adapted to a geographical location and the manufacturing possibilities there. Whether it’s local craftsman or companies, or a combination of both, SuperLocal creates a system of distributed manufacturing which can provide job opportunities as well as minimize costs and pollution caused by long-distance shipping. In the industrial sphere, a parallel line of thought is the collaboration between SAPMaterialise and LEO lane on DIM – Distributed Manufacturing Platform. A management system from ordering to producing to distributing, addressing the industrial needs within a distributed manufacturing solution, such as control over IP, quality and quantity control.

SuperLocal Hairdryer 3D-Printed FilterMaterialise Corporate Presentation - 2013

Digital and Physical

Cloning Objects designed by Jesse Howard presents a scenario where products are embedded with the information needed in order to reproduce them. By scanning the physical product, a software interface reveals the components, schematics, codes and all the necessary data for production. The existence of a product both in physical and digital realms can provide input on how a product is manufactured and on how it is used. The Digital Twin is a term gaining a lot of traction in the AM field, SAP, for example, launched it’s recent version of the Digital Twin technology just a couple of months ago at Hannover Messe. “The solution provides shared views of digital twin information for customers to gain live insights on new products and to store, share and review engineering documents with internal and external participants,” said Bernd Leukert, Member of the Executive Board of SAP SE, Products & Innovation.

Looking at the two images up top, Cloning Objects (left) and SAP’s Digital Twin (right) shows just how close the lines of thought leading conceptual design projects and industrial solutions really are. Both address current issues of manufacturing, from different points of view. Design as a discipline strives for creative thinking and problem solving, while industry looks for ways to apply cutting-edge solutions, the crossover between the two can be a fruitful driver of innovation.

For more inspiration and information follow us on Pinterest or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>