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3D printing and the future of product design: Inside Quirky

3D printing and the future of product design: Inside Quirky

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Published by: Crowdsourcing.org on Feb 10, 2012
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3D printing and the future of product design: Inside Quirky
by Rich Brown February 9, 2012 4:50 PM PST
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
How far can you get with a 3D printer and a dream?CNET photographer Sarah Tew and I took a tour of Quirky's new Manhattanoffices this morning. As depicted in her frankly great shots in the slideshow at thebottom of this post, we got a firsthand look at the inner workings of a serious,professional product development company.Normally I don't go in for facility tours. The articles that tend to result from suchthings too often take the appearance of marketing material. It was the promise of the chance to see how a real design company uses a 3D printer that drew me toaccept Quirky's invite.
1-2 of 17Quirky's story has been told already. You'll find profiles of the company and CEOBen Kaufman all over the Web dating back to 2010, including coverage bymyown colleagues at ZDNet. The short of is that Quirky has a business model based on crowdsourced productideas. An inventor submits a product concept to Quirky's Web site, where it goesthrough various phases of community-suggested refinement. Eventually Quirky'sown designers vote on a user-submitted, community-honed idea to bring intoproduction. Everyone involved, from the inventor to the participating communitymembers to, of course, Quirky, gets a piece of the revenues from the final productsales.Quirky brings real consumer products to Amazon.com, Target, and other largestores. To get products into those places, the company not only relies on acommunity of 150,000 active users, but also has its own team of designers andengineers of various disciplines. Quirky uses a quarter-million-dollar 3D printer toprototype products during development, but even that machine isn't designed tomake the final product. For that Quirky relies on large-scale manufacturingfacilities in Asia, just like most other technology product vendors.
 A few steps up from MakerBot.(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
The likes of  MakerBot, 3D Systems,and others selling this new class of consumer- oriented 3D printer make no claim that their devices will let you print your ownproduct ideas at home to drop off for mass retail availability at your nearest Wal-Mart. Still, look at MakerBot's Thingiverse open-source 3D object design library,or retail 3D printable design sites likeShapeways,or 3D Systems' Cubify, and it's hard to avoid feeling suddenly empowered. Snapped your spatula in half? Just printout a new one. Take that, Oxo.I'll confess, I've also purchased an object printed on a consumer-level 3D printer.After I wrote this post-CES article on 3D printing,I was struck by Emmett Lalish's Screwless Heart Gears design. Lalish himself told me he gave his blessing to avendor on Etsy to take his open-source design and print out the gear hearts to sell.The seller,CarryTheWhat,prints the hearts on an UP 3D Printer,a $2,690 device made by a company in China. I bought a printed gear heart for my wife.

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