Mass Customization Monday is a curated selection of the week’s important mass customization news by the Twikit team. We sift through the nonsense and bring you what is relevant in mass customization.
Improved Slicing of 3D Files for Mass Customization
One of the most prevalent mass customization technologies is 3D printing.
Come examples of mass customized 3D printed items. A is dental molds which are being produced at scale. B is hearing aids, 3D printed hearing aids now dominate the custom in the ear hearing aid market and millions of these are produced each year. C is molds for jewelry where the 3D print is used as a mold for lost wax casting, this is also happening at scale. D is customized faces for dolls, this is not yet being done at scale.
With 3D printing a CAD file is sliced. These digital slices are then layer by layer turned into an object by the 3D printer. Additionally files may need to be fixed, support structures may need to be generated and parts may need to be optimized or nested in the build volume. This information is then turned into Gcode or another toolpath information so the printer knows where to print.
A typical path from a CAD model to supports to toolpath to part.
Slicers, as slicing software is called, are an important part of the 3D printing workflow. Slicers can optimize parts, fix them and lead to better 3D printed parts or higher throughput. Slicing itself though takes up a lot of processor time. In workflows where thousands or tens of thousands of files need to be sliced this can lead to delays or be cost prohibitive. A team consisting of Tsz-Ho Kwok, Hang Ye, Yong Chen, Chi Zhou and Wenyao Xu at UCLA and The State University of New York may have come up with a solution for this problem. In a new paper Mass Customization: Reuse of Digital Slicing for Additive Manufacturing they disclose a new method for slicing large numbers of 3D files:
“slicing information of one model can be reused for other models in the same homogeneous group under a properly defined parameterization. Experimental results show that the reuse of slicing information has a maximum of 50 times speedup, and its utilization is dropped from more than 90% to less than 50% in the prefabrication process.”
Identical slices from one part are used to process the second part.
The team tested examples of dental aligners and hearing aids to look at the entire result from file to end part.
If they parameterize their group of similar files correctly they can reuse previous slices for new files. This is an ingenious way to use much less computing power and accelerate the slicing process considerably. It is in solving these kinds of barriers that 3D printing and mass customization will find wider adoption. If the team went further and tied individual slices to quality control results on the part you could have a system that could predict 3D printing outcomes based on real output. Members of the same team previously worked on an image based slicing tool for a hybrid stereolithography process and a framework to use software to reduce shape deformation in 3D printing. Collectively their papers point towards an interesting new toolset to help people mass customize 3D prints. You can find a copy of this important paper here.
Metamodels for customization looking at 3D printing communities
“Reuse for customization is a process in which designers manipulate the parameters of metamodels to produce models that fulfill their personal needs. We test hypotheses about reuse for customization in Thingiverse, a community of designers that shares files for three-dimensional printing. 3D metamodels are reused more often than the 3D models they generate. The reuse of metamodels is amplified when the metamodels are created by designers with greater community experience. Metamodels make the community’s design knowledge available for reuse for customization—or further extension of the metamodels, a kind of reuse for innovation.”
The paper is interesting because it looks at a fundamental problem that mass customization has. Not many individuals are talented enough to produce high grade models that customize well. In design communities a multi tiered structure of those more talented working with people with less skills could be a possible outcome. Community generated mass customization files point to a world where things are quickly collectively developed and tested in an open way. Will this remain a hobby for relatively few individuals or will this practice spread wider still?
Examples of digitally printed textiles using Kiian inks. Since the process is digital such patterns could easily become your unique patterns.
Digital printing is expanding and leading to more and more mass customization articles. Where initially letters and mailings were mass customized now people are customizing wall stickers, pillows and all manner of textiles and other articles. TextileWorld tells us about digital printing’s applications. The article explains the value proposition of mass customization well:
“Digital printing enables mass customization and provides a competitive advantage for those companies wishing to manufacture closer to the point of sale. Because print designs are stored in a digital format and can be printed on demand, digital printing enables highly customizable products that can be made further down the supply chain and closer to the consumer. The shortened lead-times for domestic production will provide the U.S. customer with access to a quality, customizable product, at a low price in the dot com and retail markets.”
FactoryFour mass customization software for 3D printing
FactoryFour started out as a startup looking to mass customize orthotics. Along the way they saw that there were opportunities for them to pivot and focus on developing the software needed to mass customize many things. The team has closed a $800,000 funding round and is looking for revenue in eyeglasses and orthopedics.
“What we realized at that moment was that mass customization software we were making for orthopedics could be used for pretty much anything manufactured using digital fabrication,”