Programming the 4th Dimension

Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist Skylar Tibbits is spearheading a new technique: the 3D printing of responsive objects that adapt to their surroundings–aka 4D printing.  Not only can objects be printed, but thanks to geometric code, they can also change shape and transform on their own.  Yes, you read that right. Everything from sneakers to water pipes can adapt to their environments and stimulus as needed.

“With a 3D printer, an operator plugs in a virtual blueprint for an object, which the printer uses to construct the final product layer by layer. To make something 4D, though, Tibbits feeds the printer a precise geometric code based on the object’s own angles and dimensions but also measurements that dictate how it should change shape when confronted with outside forces such as water, movement or a change in temperature.

In short, the code sets the direction, the number of times and the angles at which a material can bend and curl. When that object is confronted with a change in environment, it can be stimulated to change shape. Pipes, for instance, could programmed to expand or shrink to help move water; bricks could shift to accommodate more or less stress on a given wall.”

Continue Reading at Smithsonian Online.

Zahner’s New Software Aids in Facade Design

Facade fabricator Zahner has launched a new software tool to assist with design and fabrication.  Called CloudWall, the software is a web based program that provides a user interface to design and fabricate curving metal facades (like that of the Zahner Headquarters in Kansas City).  Users can upload their own images and manipulate the design of a custom facade.  Furthermore, the user can export and download 3D models of their facade design, making the transition from screen to site a not too distant reality.

Find out more at Arch Daily.

Autodesk’s Collaboration Lab at Pier 9

Autodesk may be known primarily for its software, but the Pier 9 Workshop on the San Francisco waterfront is radicalizing collaboration through an artist in residency program supported by next-gen manufacturing. With every imaginable type of equipment–from 3D printers to CNC machines and laser cutters to more traditional woodworking gear–the goal was to create a space that could be used by Autodesk staffers as well as a small group of artists in residency.

Learn more via Instructables.

Quirky’s Dynamic Approach to Invention

Quirky founder Ben Kaufman is reinventing invention: at noon every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, he and his team bring a new product to market.  A collaborative up-voting process takes place to determine which products will be manufactured and then product designers and industrial engineers go to work, while the quirky community pitches in with branding feedback. 

This entire process is entirely transparent, with clear timelines of each production phase, design options, and how much money each of the inventors has made readily available to all community members.  The choice for this model was an easy one for Kaufman: “Think about what I’m asking people to do with my company — I am asking them to take the thing that is most important to them and put it on the Internet for everyone to tell them that it’s shit. Why are they doing that? Because they trust me. So I go to great lengths, whether it’s livestreaming every public meeting we have, or showing how much sales we’re doing per day, or what we’re working on at any given time to make sure I maintain that trust.”

Through radical transparency, Ben Kaufman redefines agency in the age of making.


Tesla Motors: a Robotic Ballet

The scene at Tesla Motors is straight from the future—specialized robots build slick electric cars in a factory poised to revolutionize the American auto industry.
Read more

Nike weaves a more holistic running shoe design

Nike’s new Flyknit is every athlete’s dream:  a shoe that has supreme durability and performance capabilities but feels as comfortable as a sock.  Those traits alone make it remarkable, but the manufacturing process is even more groundbreaking:   through computer-controlled weaving, the entire upper part of the shoe is knitted in a single piece that’s then attached to the sole.  This method cuts labor costs and production time while increasing profit margins and customization options. 

The environmentally sustainable, one-piece upper also reduces waste since multiple materials and material cuts are not necessary as in traditional shoemaking.
With the most labor-intensive steps removed–the assembly of multiple machine cut pieces–the impetus to target cheaper labor markets like those in Asia is reduced.  “This is a complete game-changer,” says Charlie Denson, president of the Nike brand.  “The process cuts costs so much “that eventually we could make these shoes anywhere in the world.”

Read more via Bloomberg Business Week

A look inside GE’s Global Research Center

When facing even the most complex problems, GE starts small and quick.