Digital fabrication is the future of design as a discipline. At present, it is an important tool which cannot be overlooked in developing prototypes. In the past, digital fabrication was quite expensive for small and medium sized businesses. However, in modern times, it has been made relatively affordable through revolutionary technological inventions as well as innovations. In brief, it entails manufacturing processes which rely on computerized machines to accomplish tasks instead of depending on traditional approaches where an individual had to draw shapes, or figures, used in the design process.
With innovative technologies, machines are programed in such a way that they can make consistent products from digital designs. Notably, three forms of digital fabrication exist which include 3D printing, CNC machining, and finally, laser cutting. The first approach, 3D printing, is an additive technology that develops a product from the scratch in what can be termed as a bottom to top process. On the other hand, the CNC and laser cutting are known to be subtractive technologies which make use of large materials to develop final products. In the book, the New Industrial Revolution, Chris Anderson argues that an additive process involves depositing materials where an object is found whereas a subtractive process takes away materials from a selected object to come up with the final design1. Undeniably, digital fabrication plays a critical role in design as well as in the field of built environment. Mostly, it enables designers to come up with quality products which suit the needs of clients. The process of subtracting and adding materials to come up with final designs seems to be an easy one, but the real procedure is so complex. Expectedly, the process has some pros and cons.
One of the benefits of digital fabrication is that computers are utilized in the configuration and manufacturing processes hence saving on time and resources. Traditionally, a designer would waste a lot time trying to give shape to a drawing. Unfortunately, this was also expensive and less effective. However, with the use of machines, it is possible to produce identical products without any error. The consistency leads to increased customer confidence. Moreover, a designer can easily change a product using a computer when the need arises unlike in traditional drawings which demanded the redesigning of a product from scratch if changes were to be made. Since it allows changes and adjustments, the products can be personalized using digital fabrication technologies. Many customers prefer customized products. In fact, a majority of them treasure personalized products. In the traditional designing process, however, a designer would have to take a product to an expert in a different locality for a more personalized finishing; the use of machines gives a designer a chance to customize their designs hence cutting on costs. Using a machine in the designing process prevents wastages from excess materials. By extension, it also reduces pollution on the environment. Notably, traditional manufacturing methods were slower, but the use of CNC and laser cutting are faster and efficient2.
While digital fabrication is considered the next big thing in the design industry, some critics point out that the technology does not give room for economies of scale since the first product has the same cost as the last one. In this regard, the technology does not benefit those wishing to employ it for mass production. This implies that it only benefits designers intending to practice their profession at a small-scale level. Furthermore, the use of 3D printing takes longer times compared to traditional methods and techniques, which are faster3. In addition, machines need energy to run which implies that designers must incur extra costs. Besides, they have to find stable sources of energy before putting up their businesses. Unlike the traditional methods, the use of machines only allows the production of a single product at a time. However, despite the shortcomings of digital fabrication, it is still the best approach for those wishing to improve customer experiences.
- Anderson, Chris. Makers: The New Industrial Revolution. London: Random House Business Books, 2012.
- Iwamoto, Lisa. Digital Fabrications: Architectural and Material Techniques. New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press, 2013.
- Johnston, Lucy. Digital Handmade: Craftsmanship and the New Industrial Revolution. 2015.