Jess W. from The Exhibit Company explains how 3D printing could work for exhibitions.
The benefits of the 3D printing process remain largely unknown to the majority of us. If someone handed you a 3D printer, beyond little trinkets most of us scratch our heads in bewilderment, uncertain of what we might print.
The adoption of any new technology is faced with reluctance while people slowly learn tangible ways they can introduce it to their lives experience the benefits for themselves. Fast forward five years, as in the case of the mobile phone, iPad and even the Thermomix, and people can no longer live without them. Funny.
What is 3D Printing?
3D printing is a process where a printer layers ‘ink’ from the ground up. The properties of the object are determined by the type of ‘3D ink’ you use, allowing the object to be heat resistant, ovenproof, clear or even a timber material (which is said to smell like wood too).
The current state of affairs
I have been to a few shows with some exhibitors using a 3D printer as a draw card for giveaways but for me, this isn’t exciting enough. You’ll certainly get a few people mesmerised by the performance, but it’s short lived and can detract from the brand.
There are already 3D printing attachments for the home user. Eora 3D have a bluetooth controlled turntable that works with an iPhone attachment 3D scanner empowering us all to get creative at home. The opportunity here is for printing one-off household items or toys. I read an article recently where someone replicated a stereo knob for a vintage car. You beauty! The future will see people buying files online to print objects at home, rather than ordering them online and waiting for delivery.
WinSun, a Chinese construction company has already made a few houses out of 3D printed parts. This may well be the future, but for now I see it as more of an experiment to prove it’s possible. In reality, bricks are cheaper than the set up cost of such an incredible printer.
Dr Hank Haeusler, senior architecture lecturer at the University of NSW was interviewed for an article on news.com.au and was quoted saying, “If you want to design and build a house like the Opera House where you couldn’t’ get the components, then 3D printing becomes an advantage.”
3D Printing in Exhibitions
Where I see real value in using 3D printing at exhibitions is to print large format structural shapes. Think jaw-dropping compound curved domes that are otherwise labour intensive (and therefore costly) to produce. Built the traditional way, this type of construction would be difficult to package for transport or recreate, but relying on the talents of a 3D printer would allow global companies to simply send a detailed CAD file overseas. Knowing this is possible makes the concept of shipping crates across the globe in the name of maintaining brand integrity seem ridiculous.
Smaller items like table centerpieces incorporating corporate logos are easy enough and, with the right plans, you can have items with handles to turn and cogs inside. To create the objects I’m talking about at such a large scale is still a long way off. The only snag with printing larger items is the printer size, which needs to be many, many, many times larger than the size of what is being printed.
Until there’s a strong demand for the larger printers the cost of them will remain astronomical and until this method of producing exhibitions is common practice, there won’t be many suppliers willing to invest in anything so substantial. But mark my words, once feasible,, there will be a call for agencies to have experts tasked with creating these detailed CAD packages. Companies will send files across the globe instead of physical structures and each region can recreate an identical copy of their exhibit. Strict corporate brand guidelines? No worries.