Computers and the Internet have no doubt transformed the design process. Where once designers had to operate together in the same room with a complex array of tools, they can now set up shop in a cafe or in their house or anywhere else in the world. Thanks to collaborative, iterative design tools, they can even work together on the same files. Yet industrial design remains on the tail end of the curve: With huge, expensive machines and a very physical prototyping process, product development has generally required a more in-person collaborative experience, with lots of studio time engaged in making or an expensive process of outsourcing production.
3D printing, as we know, is changing this, but just as the cost of production goes down, we also need new ways to facilitate collaboration in the hardware space, if not a new model altogether. Fusion 360, a new Autodesk product, opens the door for just that, allowing industrial designers to quickly and easily share CAD designs in the sort of collaborative, social environment that software and graphic designers now take for granted.
But what does that look like? What could it look like? We spoke with David Perry, founder of OpenFab PDX, a digital design and fabrication service based in Portland. Perry's embraced the open hardware movement fully, using OpenFab PDX as a platform for teaching about 3D printing and making the process more readily accessible to more people. At the same time, he's become more active online, where he both shares his knowledge and gleans that of others.
But best of all? He does Bozo's balloon animals one better by bringing 3D printing to kids' birthday parties.
"I'm a modern-day clown," he noted in an interview with Core77. "Instead of hiring a clown for an hour, I can bring a 3D printer to a birthday party—use that as entertainment and engage people around creative expression and technology." Recently, for Halloween, Perry set up a table in his driveway with dry ice, candles and dozens of 3D printed objects like a ghost and pumpkin that he had downloaded from Thingiverse. In addition to candy, kids could walk away with both 3D printed goodies and the realization that they, too, could quickly and easily make hardware products.
"That's what I think is so powerful about it," he said. "You have technology that by its own nature is entertaining and fits so well with STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathmetics] and creative expression."
Some of Perry's first explorations of collaborative hardware development began with a violin. Perry enjoys exploring his creative side to complement his background in engineering, and it started with sketches for an electric violin. He brought in his friend Dan Nicholson, an industrial designer, and they worked together to create a detailed mechanical CAD design using Fusion 360. They quickly printed the violin, dubbed the F-F-Fiddle... only to realize that they needed a new design.
"After 24 hours of print time," he explained, "we threw it together, and sure enough it was totally not playable and the bridge was really flat." Just a few years ago, crafting a new violin might have taken another few days or even weeks of production and testing. But thanks to Autodesk's CAD software and the ability to print out another prototype quickly, he was able to iterate much faster. With each revision, he noted, he was able to upload them to Fusion 360 and get feedback from the online community.
"All of a sudden," he noted, "you can go from the digital space to real space really quickly, and you show other people they can do that... [all] in under an hour."
While Perry has just begun exploring Fusion360, he's quite excited about how it's helped transform the making process. With the CAD files available on the site, anyone can download them and print them on their own printer or send them to a local printer like OpenFab PDX. And then they can upload their own designs, tinker a bit, and both get and receive feedback. It's an exciting step in making hardware a more rich and collaborative process, as designer and engineers work more closely together to develop products that leverage each other's skills.
"I would hope that as we move forward, more and more people will collaborate," Perry noted when asked about collaborative hardware environments like Fusion 360. "There are design skills I don't have nor do I want to have them. It doesn't make sense for me to develop design skills at this point. I want to collaborate with designers so they can do what they do best, and I can do what I do best. I do feel like collaboration is the way to go."