Most designers are keeping an eye on 3-D printing technologies. Although the technology has for 3-D printing has been around for a while, it is just starting to become refined and improved enough to be accessible (and affordable) to the masses. The technology is certainly one of the most exciting being developed today. 3-D printing has the potential to decentralize the production of small, simple objects and to revolutionize the design industry by making it easier than ever before to bring your models from CAD to the real world.
The potential of 3-D printing for exhibit designers is very exciting. Imagine being able to design a model and then have it be 3-D printed in less than a couple of hours, without all the tedious building of the model required. If you can imagine the exhibit design and then create it in a CAD program, you can have a physical model in less than a few hours (while you move on to something else). You can then print display graphics, labels and the rest with a traditional printer and have a full-featured model to present to a client.
But, this isn’t the only promise of 3-D printing technologies. What if a part of a client’s exhibit breaks in shipping, or maybe doesn’t make it at all? With a 3-D printer, you wouldn’t have to spend a fortune shipping an emergency replacement across the country, or think of another way to improvise and get the exhibit set up instead. You could simply print the part and move on. In this way, 3-D printing technologies have the ability to make exhibit fabrication itself easier and more affordable. If there isn’t a part or a display stand available from your vendors that strikes your fancy, simply get an industrial design intern to whip one up in X and print it out. Voila!
The prospects for this technology and the possibilities it brings along with it are nearly limitless. 3-D printing could potentially take the ease with which we currently design and create display graphics and translate it into making 3-D parts and pieces. This not only streamlines the exhibit design process, it also has the potential to make exhibit fabrication faster, cheaper and more robust. More can be done in-house and more can be achieved in terms of design possibilities.
Of course, 3-D printing technologies are still developing and are not ready for primetime in many ways. The technology still needs to improve in order to provide for the use of a diversity of materials (currently most 3-D printers can only print a couple types of plastics), and the quality of the printing itself needs to improve (resolution is still limited and the higher-res printers are quite expensive). Regardless, the potential is there. And the design industry is positioned to be one of the first to take advantage of this technology and really demonstrate its capabilities and potential.