It’s difficult to predict where the confluence of trends like 3-D printing, mass customisation and the social web will end up.
But, just as the publishing and music industries got democratised (or destroyed, depending on your point of view) by cheap and easy access to digital tools and information, so too will the way we make things; for ourselves and often by ourselves.
For transplanted Belgian, and now Waitarere Beach (north west of Levin) resident Tom Kluyskens, one of the parts of the puzzle is in finding compelling ways to narrow the divide between designers, manufacturers and end users of products.
Kluyskens is a designer and computer graphics software engineer, and having originally trained as a civil engineer spent over 10 years working in the film industry.
His observation is that while tools such as laser cutters, CNC routers and 3D printers is getting ever cheaper and access to these tools is becoming easier, designing for such machines still requires a fair degree of Computer Aided Design (CAD) knowledge.
Services like Shapeways and Ponoko, a Wellington-originated trailblazer in the ‘personal factory movement’, have drastically lowered the threshold for creators and DIYers to manufacture and sell their designs, by providing standards and a portal to manufacturing capacity and material suppliers, along with an online marketplace.
These services still count on people who are knowledgeable about design software, to upload designs. And on the other hand, buyers still have limited control over what they buy.
“So there’s a need for software that allows designers to infuse their designs with a measured amount of flexibility,” says Kluyskens. “There also needs to be a way to provide intuitive and easy control over that flexibility to end users, so they can personalise and customise what they’re about to buy.”
A few years back, Kluyskens founded Made on Jupiter, a collective of seasoned graphics engineers and industrial designers interested in exploring new ways of making things, in what they call a ‘post-digital’ world: a world where “atoms are the new bits.” MoJ works at the confluence of digital manufacturing techniques and entertainment graphics software.
MoJ’s efforts caught the attention of a windsurfboard manufacturer.
“With them, we are exploring the idea of mass customisation,” Kluyskens says. “Windsurfboard manufacturing is a particularly good test case.”
Currently people can buy a board that’s mass-produced in South-East Asia, or alternatively, a surfer can approach a ‘shaper’, a person who makes customised boards.
Where MoJ is targeting its software is in the middle ground. An intuitive and interactive online interface formalises the conversation between designer and buyer, windsurfer and shaper, guiding the creation of a custom board which is adapted to the user’s skills, biometrics and personal tastes such as colour and graphics.
“There’s infinitely more variation possible than with mass-produced boards, yet the parameters and production process as so well defined, that boards can still be made very efficiently,” he says.
Kluyskens says his multidimensional background, particularly the creation of digital effects for the film industry is of great advantage in design interface software.
He’s designed complex movie effects such as digital water and lava for The Lord of the Rings, a chocolate river for Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, digital surf waves for Surf’s Up, and the spaghetti twister for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
Digital effects creation requires an artist and engineer to work closely together.
“It is the effects engineer’s task to simplify a complex system – often involving a good chunk of maths and physics – to a simple interface that an animator can intuitively work with,” he says.
So it is with mass customisation.
“What the whole mass customisation movement needs are better interfaces, a better user experience, a more intuitive way to use complex machines,” says Kluyskens.
And hence, MoJ.
The start-up is creating its own multipurpose software, and is looking for people who want to provide their customers with an engaging, personal interaction with their own product line(s).
MoJ is also looking for the right kind of investors interested in modern ways of manufacturing and intuitive graphics software solutions.
As well as having plans for a first round of investment towards the end of this year, Kluyskens says MoJ is always open to chat with local developers, designers and businesses who have a keen interest in the matter.
“We’re looking to help in democratising the manufacturing process,” Kluyskens says.
“It’s about reinstating the respect for the things we buy, buy giving us a role in their creation process. It’s about giving things a story, as well as better function.”