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16.04.2009 - Product Tank Salt Shaker

A few months ago, I saw a program about the production of a star trek replicator. Scientists predict that in 20-30 years time, they will be able to build with atoms, to create materials almost out of thin air. I think the time line is a little optimistic but the statement raised a potential glimpse into the future. If possible, I think the machines would initially be too expensive for everyone to own one. Instead Customers would shop on line, choose a product and a database would locate the nearest manufacturing centre, send them a manufacturing file, the customers address and additional finishing info (colour etc). One local centre would produce the goods for all retailers. So designers would be global and manufacturing would become local.

This is already a possibility. So, as a first step, I wanted to sell an SLS prototyped product (a method of building parts by laying down consecutive layers of plastic powder fused together using a laser) through e-bay without having manufactured it first. I’d find the address of the buyer, locate their nearest prototyping bureau and send them an igs file, detailed finishing instructions and the customers address. I mapped the main prototyping bureau’s with SLS machines in Great Britain (accurate at time of publishing). The map shows that in England no home is further than 100 miles (as the crow flies) away from a bureau.

I chose a salt shaker, because I wanted something simple and functional that didn’t have moving parts or require extra materials. The design is made in two parts, the body and a ½ turn screw thread base. It’s important to have a base for cleaning out residual powder left from the manufacturing process. Because of wear between parts, the base isn’t intended to be used for filling, only for cleaning. Filling is done from the top via the funnel. Salt can be scooped or poured into the shaker and left to drain into the base; like an hourglass.

Currently a prototyped part of this size costs about £150, which is too expensive to make an SLS salt shaker a commercial proposition, but in time maybe prices will drop and machines will be able to recycle reclaimed plastics. Maybe we don’t pay for the true cost/value of materials in our products as it is.