Could the “Next Industrial Revolution” be about Studio Furniture?

Shopbot/Ted Hall

Saturday, June 27, 2015 @ 10:15am - 11:15am

When people speak about the coming revolution in manufacturing, many of them become starry-eyed over machines that will work a lot like Star Trek replicators. Nifty as these machines may be, they won’t be transmogrifying grey-nano-goo into pieces of solid furniture any time soon. Meanwhile, the increasingly available versions of the technologies that we refer to as “digital fabrication” could actually empower a near-term revolution in how we produce things – and maybe, in the process, bring new opportunities for furniture making.

The essence of digital fab technology is that it provides the ability to make stuff with precise fidelity to a digital model. It is a capability that, owing to industrial history, has been frequently associated with automated, repetitive, mass production. It’s what the last industrial revolution was all about – and many find it offensive.

But this association of digital fab with mass production misses the most fundamental and promising virtue of the technology: How its inherent precision and fidelity allow complexity in the design of objects, a complexity that can be built-in at little or no cost. The oft-heard shorthand for this aspect of digital fab is that “complexity comes free” – whether that complexity is the embedded internal structure of 3D printed objects or the precise cutting, drilling, and machining that can be done with subtractive tools – digital fab allows parts and objects to be made with an intricacy of features and structure that would be difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to do manually, and previously was only available to industrial mass production. It is the ability to embed significant engineering into fabricated components at very low cost, whether for a small run or large run. By embedding engineering we make “smart parts;” parts that aid assembly, functionality, and even contribute to aesthetics because they have been designed purposefully and then digitally fabricated.