Feb 10, 2016 | By Alec

Despite all its making potential, desktop 3D printers have a reputation of being nothing more than toys. Only suitable for creating desktop clutter. To be fair, that reputation isn’t completely undeserved, as many users create little more than pot planters and smartphone cases. That’s exactly why Ding Zhou, a Chinese industrial design lecturer at the Nanjing University of the Arts, recently hosted a workshop that seeks to inspire users and find handy solutions for everyday problems through 3D printing. And the results are very impressive; from plug removal aids to wire clips that prevent entanglement, this workshop is an excellent reminder of how much simpler our lives can become with a few clever 3D prints.

As Ding Zhou explains to 3ders.org, he was reminded of how powerful 3D printing can be while working as a visiting researcher at the renowned School of Design at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. “[That’s a] distinguished institution focusing on the application of design/research in 3D printing. My experience of working there promoted my current research focus on design for additive manufacturing (DFAM).” Upon completing his one-year program in Wellington in August 2015, he returned to Nanjing University with a new appreciation of 3D printing, and saw the need to impress that same passion and conviction onto his students and explore the technology’s potential. “As quoted from a Swedish additive manufacturing report, ‘today only the tip of the iceberg of possibilities with additive manufacturing has been explored – it has near endless potential, only limited by our imagination,’” he tells us.

Through his efforts, the University set up an educational 3D printer in November 2015 at their School of Industrial Design. To get the most out of this machine – a MakerBotReplicator-Z18 3D printer – he organized the special design workshop “3D Printing as a tangible solution”. “This event aimed to encourage the involved creators to explore the world of 3D printing, through applying handy desktop 3D printers to solve every day life’s problems,” the lecturer explains.

And the results of that class are impressive, as you can see. The focus on solutions for everyday problems, and even problems that you didn’t know were problematic, produced a wide range of inspiring objects that really show that something as simple as an original plastic shape can make everything so much easier. Just look at the fork that can be clipped onto the side of a noodle cup – I never realized that messing around with cutlery when eating noodles was something fixable, but once you use this tool you’ll never go back. The same can be said for the cutting plate that holds the fruit and vegetables in place, or a little clip that makes plug removal easier – perfect for the elderly. The umbrella extension to keep your bag dry also shows exactly how 3D printing can make lives just a bit easier.

As Ding Zhou explains, he is effectively trying to prove that 3D printing definitely has a future in households, even though some industry reports have questioned its usefulness and found it difficult “to predict where 3D printing at home will lead.” And with a series of artistic and engineering projects (like a wind-propelled car), he and his students further emphasize that there’s more to desktop 3D printers than little life hacks. All projects were 3D printed in PLA on the school’s MakerBotReplicator-Z18 3D printer, and designed with a wide range of CAD software – Ding Zhou himself uses everything from Pro/ENGINEER, ZBrush, Meshmixer, to Rhino and its plug-ins: T-Splines, EvoluteTools, Grasshopper, PanelingTools, and so on. “Because I understand each one has its features and advantages in building 3D model,” he argues. Before the students started printing, they were first trained in 3D printer use by him or the facility technician.

What’s more, the 3D printing experience has already added new vigor the student’s design workflow. “Thanks to the handy 3D printers, the students have developed a habit that to test and evaluate design result in the real world rather than their imagination,” Ding Zhou says. “From my perspective, 3D printing process challenges the whole existed industrial design and innovation theory.”

He went on to argue that this also affects manufacturing as a whole, and 3D printing could therefore greatly change a manufacturing hub like China. “Beyond rapid prototyping, 3D printing currently works as an access where world-class innovation is introduced to conventional China’s manufacturing industry. This promises benefits to product development in China,” he explained. Ding Zhou, meanwhile, is already playing his part by continuing his research into ‘Design for Additive Manufacturing’. With the backing of 3D printing specialists Profeta Intelligent Technology, he is currently working on a project on functional 3D printed textures, and also on setting up a 3D printing service. He is also looking to set up a full 3D printing course at Nanjing University and elsewhere, so we will doubtlessly see more of him in the near future.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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