It sounds like an Apple story. Working from his garden shed, an Israeli inventor, Izhar Gafni, has tinkered with the conventional bicycle design and come up with something revolutionary: a cardboard bike. Apparently, although cardboard is very strong when used as a box, it becomes far more challenging to cancel out its weak points when designing a bike frame and wheels to support a grown person.
After a year and a half of tinkering though, Izhar has finally perfected his design and the cardboard bike is planned to enter the market with a price tag of around $20, making it ideal for the transportation needs of billions of people in regions such as the Sub-Sahara, Middle East and parts of Asia.
It could also become a big hit with the environmental green community and students looking for more viable and sustainable alternatives to traditional short-distance transport.
So what's the connection to 3D printing you may ask? Well actually, its not so much a connection as an indication of a future trend. As far as I know, Izhar didn't use a 3D printer for the prototyping of his bike (needless to say, cardboard and plastics are world's apart in terms of structural properties and performance), but there was one quote from the UK Telegraph article that struck me an indicative:
“This is a real game changer. It changes ... the way products are manufactured and shipped, it causes factories to be built everywhere instead of moving production to cheaper labour markets, everything that we have known in the production world can change,”
The key to this change is that a cardboard bike does not require the financial investment in machines and production line used to create the precise metal stamped parts and assemblies of a regular bike. So it's now easy to set up a cardboard bike factory anywhere. All you probably need is one or two inexpensive cardboard presses and the raw materials and presto. Beginning to sound familiar?
The benefits of 3D printing are quite similar. While the materials may not be as cheap as cardboard, 3D printing is essentially the ability to make anything you want, right here and now. No expensive factory and no production line required. Consumers get the chance to become the designers and manufacturers all rolled into one. And in the process they cut out the extended supply chain and the need to hold inventory - which all helps to reduce the end cost that's passed on to the consumer.
In short, everybody wins.
I'll continue to watch this story and see where it goes from here. Stay tuned and remember: you heard it first on the Objet blog!