Sustainability is defined by the United Nations as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” I am a firm believer that at OVR Technology we can run a successful company and still adhere to this principle.
A Disruptive Technology and Some Notable Stats:
When I first learned what 3D printing was and how it might affect my life as a designer in the years to come people were saying some outlandish things. I heard a professor at Pratt once say that “we would eventually all have these machines in our homes and we would only be buying files for the things we need.” Or that machines would be able to make final products in materials like ceramic or metal in just a few short hours! At that time I would spend hours in amazement watching an old room-sized SLS machine push powder around and make very brittle single-color parts.
Just a few statistics from the past two years tells a story that brings us closer to the things we were discussing 20 years ago:
- In 2019, the global additive manufacturing market grew to over $10.4 billion, it’s highest in its 40-year history.
- In 2018 overall VC investment in additive manufacturing related startups exceeded $300 million.
- The US has the largest installed base of 3D printers in the world with 422,000 and growing daily.
- 79% of surveyed companies expect their use of 3D printing for production parts or goods to at least double in the next 3 to 5 years. (Jabil, A Survey of 3D Printing Stakeholders in Manufacturing 2019)
– Stats Reference- https://rb.gy/cnlh1d
Decentralized Everything: The New Normal
When the Covid-19 pandemic started OVR Technology like many other companies had to make substantial changes to our process and corporate culture. We all started working from home, communicating digitally, and everyone took various tools and supplies to their respective safe places to try to keep the company productive and moving forward. I now refer to OVR as a decentralized company. This was also disruptive, much like how additive manufacturing has been to the world of product development and manufacturing in the past 25 years or so.
Utilizing FDM, Jet Fusion, and Resin printing the “decentralized manufacturing” approach has been extremely valuable to our now decentralized development team. Our first demos, prototypes, and short runs were all made via additive manufacturing allowing us to quickly respond to early adopter and internal feedback. Development of the ION went through 10-12 different iterations that varied in shape, scale, functionality, UI/UX, and color applications. Ultimately we came to rest on our first short-run device that we are currently using. Each iteration represented improvements and ultimately a great first attempt at something that really had never been done before- Interactive miniaturized hyper-accurate dispersion of scent in VR. Without this powerful tool, these many variables would never have been able to be tested and optimized in such a short time.
We are actually still using additive manufacturing for ION shells in the form of the HP Multijet Fusion (MJF) technology due to the changing/ diverse nature of our clientele. Let’s say for instance a government client wants a slightly more rugged appearance but then a medical trial wants a more soothing or subtle looking device. We can easily change the outer shell to match the needs of either client in a matter of days. If we were trying to do this in tooling it would be an expensive breaking change and the cost would have to be passed on to the customer.
Why additive manufacturing will reduce the need for injection molding in most applications in the next 10 years: Print Farms, AI, mass customization and affordability
Additive manufacturing, extreme flexibility, and staying lean are the name of the game in hardware startups and it begs the question- why are we still sending so many parts all over the globe to be injection molded? I think we will see heavy industries like injection molding be scaled back for very specific products at very high volumes. At the same time, we will also see mass customization come into play for brands that want to be cutting edge at all times. Mass customization puts a lot more weight on the AI and software side for most companies but allowing customers to tailor products to their needs is the inevitable future. Also just like Squarespace or Wix eventually the programming wizards will make it easy to do mass customization commerce for the masses.
When I think about something like footwear I see incredible new technologies being developed. For instance the partnership between Adidas and Carbon with their DLP resin printing machines. These machines make it possible to create materials, geometries, and new types of footwear that were never possible before. They also print extremely fast allowing incredible scalability for 3D printing technology. They can also combine all kinds of colors, textures, and options for the customer. In today’s fast-moving hyper-individualized digital world this is what many people are looking for in new products.
One way that additive manufacturing can replace molding is in the form of smart AI-driven print farms. We can look at Prusa for a glimpse into how powerful this approach can and will be for many companies in the near future. They have a massive print farm making hundreds of thousands of parts per year for their machines. When they have a new version come out they just upload a new file to the machines and fire up the marketing team. Each iteration of their product has improved immensely over the years to the point where they are making a machine that over 400,000 people worldwide have in their homes. I have 2 Prusas myself and know this power all too well. We had our dishwasher break recently and I reverse engineered the part, printed it up, popped it in, and whallah! We had a fixed dishwasher overnight.
Where are we headed?: The Circular Economy, recycling, and sustainability
If we think about the way plastic is utilized and the massive amounts of carbon energy used to obtain it, we should accept that for all the great things this material has done for us it also comes at a great cost to the planet and future generations. In order for additive manufacturing to continue on and help this situation, we need to think about employing more circular techniques in our approach to business. At OVR we have a product that is very much designed to be a managed service rather than a direct to consumer product. This means our customers don’t currently own the product. We need to be responsible for putting out an innovative product and also taking it back and applying that same innovative thinking to reusing or recycling as many components as possible. The bonus selling point to many customers is that when we upgrade the device to the next version we can offer to replace the old version for them.
Also if we apply the decentralized thought to manufacturing a company like OVR could conceivably have small manufacturing cells for our products spread around the globe that would shorten supply chains and only make what is needed as it is needed. This creates an environment around fast iterations and just in time manufacturing that is very attractive and efficient. I believe it is possible that this type of facility could make parts, assemble, QC and test, pack and ship as well as take in old products to recycle and reprocess them all in one small footprint. This approach could also help keep company supply chains more protected from the forces of geopolitics and viruses which as we all have found out with Covid-19 is a very real concern.
There are far more environmentally conscious and business savvy ways to produce hardware now due to the vertical curve technologies like 3D printing are on. I believe that 3D printing will allow us to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
– Erik Cooper, OVR Technology Head of Design