Currently most manufacturing techniques employ mass production processes. These methods produce standardised goods in large quantities and at low cost. In this way, industry can respond to demand by providing products at affordable prices. However, this method cannot provide goods to fit individual, unique consumers. This is particularly important when making products designed to fit with the human body.
When a customer requires a special size or variation of a product, parts must often be made as unique pieces, and even by hand. This increases the price of the item, making it inaccessible to many potential buyers.
Moldable is a flexible manufacturing system for mass customisation. It is a human- centred manufacturing mould, which can change its surface shape and the shape of the resulting product. Moldable will enable manufacturers to include individual measurements at early stages of the production. This will then shape the product part on the same production line as usual, but will fit the needs and requirements of a specific user. This process can then create bespoke products without losing the speed and efficiency of other mass production techniques.
Moldable started out by trying to understand the relationship between users and the technology used by manufacturers, with a strong focus on human-centred design. We wanted to link design and manufacturing to provide solutions to variable user needs.
We aim to improve the fit, performance and flexibility of products from an early stage. A helmet, or specifically the helmet liner, is the perfect example to illustrate the impact of Moldable’s technology. The shape variation of the mould is generated by a series of motors controlled by a computer programme. This allows the mould to follow the exact shape of a human head. A specialised scanner measures the user’s skull and changes the shape of the mould in seconds.
Nevertheless, the impact of this technology is intended to go further. The final goal of Moldable is to provide a high level of variability, and reduced cost of manufacturing, for personalisation in other functional, wearable products. These include customisable shoes, body protection and safety equipment. All products where performance is affected by the level of fititng. Moldable could even be used to produce personalised cars and car seats. As the system is modular, the same mechanical components can be used to make new moulding systems and different products.
As a manufacturing system, Moldable improves the efficiency of providing tailor made products. By keeping all the attributes of a mass manufacturing technique, Moldable stays competitive with the emerging additive manufacturing technologies. We believe that we shouldn’t put all of our efforts into just one technology. This is why our project looks at moulding solutions as well as emerging technologies such as 3D printing.