In a few years, accessibility to 3d printing has significantly increased. So why is it struggling to be considered a mainstream resource? Enrico Bassi of OpenDot explained to us where we are and how to benefit from it

How much mistrust still hovers around 3D printing? Is this a resource grandly considered by insiders alone or is there a possibility that it has made its way to becoming (almost) mainstream ?

First of all, it is necessary to understand what the level of knowledge of the sector is, to determine how much 3D printing embodies the future, the present or even the past of design in the collective imagination. In particular, that design horizontal, democratic, which starts from the bottom and responds to a 'common' need.

For experts, design and project professionals, this is an established matter - perhaps even outdated, at least subject to hyper-fast evolutions - for 'mere mortals' (i.e. all those who appreciate architecture but are not experts in it) 3D printing is still a futuristic entity that is slowly, perhaps, peeping out.

Closer, certainly, because today there are devices capable of creating additives to be installed at home, just for fun. But still niche because despite 3D printed residential projects are now a reality, thinking of them as everyday life still requires time and a good dose of not mistrust.

Read also: Living in a 3D printed house

We spoke to Enrico Bassi, director of the 'fab lab' and creative hub OpenDot, to understand if and how 3D printing can be considered, today, a democratic, sustainable and economic resource.

Was there a time when 3d printing became popular?

The real revolution took place about 40 years ago: instead of digging a block of material, we began to choose rapid prototyping, that is a system that avoids all the hassles of the milling phase (dirt, waste, excesses, vibrations) by choosing a method that depositing the matter where useful.

From there in just under 20 years everything changed: the first patents on filament 3D printing expired (the technologically simpler one, which starts from the melting of a plastic thread) and the real experimentation, not only of product but of instrument. In England in 2005 the first open source 3D printer was created, the RepRap , which can be replicated with simple pieces of hardware and electronic boards produced in house.

The huge leap forward was given by the fact that from that moment the projects could be shared, a source of study and innovation that came from many heads. For 3D printing, the loss of the patent represented an exemplary case study of slowing down - and not protecting - innovation.

Thus a multitude of low-cost machines were born, often self-built kits and little perfected in terms of technology and in the space of a few years, arriving today we have come to be able to buy a small format 3D printer for 300-400 Euros, discreet and very resistant to produce pieces of about 20 x 20 x 20 in a private and homemade way.

What was the impact of its advent?

There are two major impacts observed. The first was about medium-small creatives, that is self-producers and small designers, artisans, startuppers or very specialized companies that suddenly had a tool at their disposal to produce pieces in freedom. These are realities far from industrial manufacturing and, on the other hand, handicraft production is struggling.

With 3D printing they can produce hundreds of pieces with ease, they can create a functional and study model, numerous Beta prototypes for further user tests, pieces for a promotional campaign or a presale, but also additional pieces for a limited edition, for crowdfunding ... And all with the same machine.

This resource ensures a continuity that makes the development of projects and products much easier, going beyond industrial limits such as the number of pieces, the cost and various preventive millimeter evaluations.

The revolution therefore lies not in having a home machine available, but in the availability of production technology. Before, you either produced or asked a company to invest. Today there are open production technologies, modifiable, easy because well documented and by communities of people who share the knowledge they have. This is what made it possible to develop innovation.

One of the most recent projects is the 3D printed Amsterdam Bridge.

Exactly, here's the thing. The guys who designed it started from an intuition born by chance, almost for fun, because they were experimenting on the production of a self-built 3D printing machine.

Any other examples?

MakerBot, which was sold for $ 600 million to a large 3D printing company, was born in a New York hacker space. But also Ultimaker, another great brand in the sector, was born in a hacker space in Utrecht. The question to ask is: what happens if we democratize the possibility of producing industrial quality products?

The Italian company WASP has the dream of printing houses in 3D starting from raw earth and straw prototypes and thus greatly improving the quality of ceramic printing.

Then there are realities that have tried their hand and pursue the use of 3D printing outside the sector: an example is Foodini in Barcelona which has machines designed for cooks but also to make more appetizing foods for those suffering from dysphagia.

It is an all-pervading resource. As always happens in technological innovations, one attracts the other: being able to work on products that have no imposed limits, we have moved on to wanting to improve software.

You were talking about two major impacts: what is the second one?

The big companies . They are hyper organized, have large budgets and R&D departments but many have never experienced 3D printing and have never done prototyping. If by chance it happens that they are in the hands that are useful for the area of ​​intervention, they develop great things.

This is the case of HP which has always made 2D printers, then by modifying a printing technology it has created a printer (the Multijet Fusion) that produces parts with fantastic mechanical characteristics and costs. contents.

As well as Adidas, which is engaging in the production of 3D printed shoe soles to be customized on how an athlete moves his foot.

If we talk about large companies, we cannot help but think about the environmental consequences: is it a respectful resource?

Yes, especially when it comes to local production: the environmental impact drastically decreases because a series of costs and waste linked to steps such as transport and warehouse are avoided. Production is usually measured, not exceeding in stock spare parts for years.

It also allows you to save material: the software behind the 3D printers is able to tell me - enormous difference compared to traditional sculpture - where and how much material to lay. It allows me to do simulation-based optimizations that no designer can do in mind and/or common sense.

In your opinion there is enough talk of it today, outside the industry?

I think so, I think it is now cleared through customs; my university students today are all used to it, many even have a home printer at home to experiment with. Perhaps some false myths on this subject still need to be highlighted.

For example?

The fact that only plastic parts can be printed, that printers are slow, care, that they have no future. These are topics that were endlessly discussed in academic courses years ago, but which today have been dismantled by the evolution of technologies.

Perhaps the question would be resolved if a professional updated continuously and relentlessly, which is possible but objectively, the developments today are really accelerated. However, I find that it is not a game and I find it necessary to emphasize the fact that it is useful for producing structural and functional pieces.

Is OpenDot doing any specific projects in this regard?

Yes, different. One is a research project in application in the medical field made with very advanced machines that work metal together with the CMR and a Romanian company. It's called DigitBrain and it's a research brand.

What do you self-produce at home?

I have a lot of fun, I have to admit. I use my home 3D printer a lot to make small pieces of everyday use. For example: we have a system to collect rainwater for plants, in order to use less drinking water; if I miss the hooks or something else I print them myself.