Although 3D printing has revolutionized the way products are designed and manufactured, 3D printing for production still remains elusive for many designers and manufacturers. Age-old preproduction scenarios—including multiple collaborators, incompatible software tools, and inconsistent production timelines—can gum up the works long before the 3D printer’s power button is pressed.
French design firm Le FabShop has sought to solve these 3D printing problems by streamlining design and manufacturing processes in the cloud across three separate offices in the land commonly known as “the hexagon.” In doing so, Le FabShop has changed the focus from prototype to end product by accelerating production timelines and reducing tooling, machining, and manufacturing costs.
Because of this, Le FabShop is able to directly manufacture some unusual products for multiple industries. Le FabShop’s viral claim to fame, the Articulated Elephant, belies the firm’s innovative designers and products. Le FabShop has worked with IKEA, Sony, 20th Century Fox, Le Bon Marché, Microsoft, SNCF, and Paris City Hall, aiding in the design and 3D manufacture of toys, lamps, bicycles, automobiles, clothing, fashion accessories—even a 3D Printed Fiancée.
“We will often create short series of objects, in quantities of 10 to 1,000, using FDM machines,” says Le FabShop Creative Director Samuel Bernier. “We made a series of trophies for French awards presentations for Futuremag and Positive Planet. We’ve also made some goodies, like fun key chains for L’Oréal and Brittany Ferries. Right now, we are creating close to 100 3D puzzles to be used by the French government to test people’s ability to think in three dimensions and solve volume problems. We’ve also designed lamps that can only be 3D-printed; then, we sold them directly to local stores.
Le FabShop also produced the Muse Corset, designed to perfectly conform to a model’s body, entirely in a 3D printer. The files can be modified to any female form. “I made a corset from a 3D scan,” Bernier says. “I drew over a scanned bust of the woman to make the corset perfectly fit the shape of the body.”
Another current Le FabShop project involves children’s imaginations and black holes. It’s both a design and a software challenge. “We are working with an astrophysics teacher instructing students in space and black holes,” Bernier explains. “It’s also an art class for the kids. While the teacher is explaining black holes, the kids are drawing their interpretations. We turn their drawings into 3D images. If they draw the rings of Saturn, we try to make real 3D models of those drawings. This involves many steps, from pure science to children’s sketches, and hiring 3D designers to interpret their drawings.”
Le FabShop’s team brings together multidisciplinary designers, engineers, and technicians. One floor of its Paris-based facility houses the design team and the other, manufacturing. The team has produced, among the many other projects previously described, a complete miniaturized Parisian village for a Christmas window display.
“We used software to reproduce all of Paris urban furniture in miniature,” Bernier explains. “We imported street photos and drew over the images to make a miniature village.”
Bernier and his team are able to accomplish all of this—across its three offices—thanks to modern 3D-modeling and cloud-collaboration tools, namely Autodesk Fusion 360.
“A lot of design software is good for one thing,” Bernier says. “One will be good for animation; another will be good for picture modeling. Fusion 360 is affordable software that embeds various software tools in one product. For instance, it places the fabrication application tool inside the design process with a plug-in that sends your art to a 3D printer or a CNC application. It allows you to visualize the way your object will be carved into the material while still in the design software. You can modify the design, and it will automatically adapt in the fabrication process. Very few affordable software tools managed to do that before Fusion 360.”
Bernier admits that some Le FabShop designers didn’t automatically warm to their new software tool. But once aboard, every designer in the firm’s Paris, Brittany, and South-of-France offices was able to collaborate more efficiently than ever before.
“Most people don’t want to learn new software,” Bernier says. “All of our designers were professionally familiar with other software. People using one program wanted freedom of shape; people using another program wanted to be able to easily modify designs by pulling the corner of a cube and moving it. I had been looking for software that could replace all of these. I discovered Fusion 360 a year ago, and it managed to meet all these needs. For teamwork, it’s pretty amazing.”