Mass Customization and the Future of Engineering Software
is available for a fee
Dan Stanwick, April 2, 2007
I swapped emails with a
colleague recently, discussing the analyst material available on Rapid
Prototyping (what CADCAMNet likes to call part of the 3D Conversion market).
At the end, my colleague commented that “our entire market is boring as
hell.” Well, having spent the last three or four years immersing myself in
the current state of the art but also doing my real job of trying to
extrapolate where a number of different technologies are headed, all I could
do is laugh. Boring as hell? I beg to differ; allow me to explain.
The Rise of the 3D-Literate Consumer
The younger generation is IT literate in ways their elders find
mind-boggling. These same users are more 3D aware than any previous
generation. Then there’s Second Life, a social networking service in which a
user guides his or her avatar (virtual world persona) through a 3D
environment that can be shaped by the participants. The corporate world is
falling all over itself to have presence in Second Life.
Whatever the technology, now and in the future, 3D awareness will only be
more prevalent. Soon there will be no need to train designers, engineers and
manufacturers the art of creating or interpreting abstract and ambiguous
orthogonal views from 2D drawings. You’ll have a new generation of
professional user, with levels of expectation for user experience for any
software that is so in advance of what ‘the industry’ currently offers.
Print Your Product
The push is for richer 3D environments everywhere in product development.
Look at the advances in the Direct Manufacturing/Rapid
Manufacturing/Additive Fabrication market and you have devices that can in
some instances produce end-use components direct from the computer-based
model. You do know that the days of the unusable, fragile and brittle
resin-based RP models are quickly disappearing, don’t you? Laser sintering,
while I’m sure is not the killer app, provides a means with which you can
build functional parts using functional materials, either plastic or
Herein lies the future of engineering software, placing the skills and
knowledge of product development into the hands of the mass-market consumer.
The average person—lacking design skills, confidence, and infrastructure to
create a product—nonetheless wants the ability to customize a product the
way teens “skin” their cell phone screens today. Millions will gladly pay
extra for a product if they can work it over in “MyDesignSpace” and then
have it arrive on their doorstep in two days.
Technologies like the Functional Design tools within CATIA and soon,
Autodesk Inventor give you the ability to define the function of a part
(plastics in particular) long before you define the external form.
If you look at a lot of products, particularly in the consumer space, the
internals are all standard. The PCB’s, displays, the mechanical/electronic
interaction features (mounting boss)—these are all standard. What changes is
the external. It will become possible to create products that the user
adapts to their needs (or whims) through a web-based front-end and quicky
have the internal interface features update to match.
The externals could then be built on a EOSINT P machine in China. An
employee on-site would snap in the internals according to the spec (perhaps
located and displayed on screen above the workstation by scanning an RFID
tag linking the physical part to the originating 3D CAD data and customer
requirements). The whole thing could be shipped within 48 hours.
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