The iPhone 6 is on sale. Apple’s series of smartphones may well earn a place in the highest echelons of the pantheon of consumer technology alongside such icons as the automobile, telephone, refrigerator, television, VCR, Microsoft’s Windows operating system, and the internet. Where would we be without them? One day a popular consumer form of a 3D printer may join them – a projection far less clear. But today, where smartphones and 3D printers tend to encounter each other is in the production of phone cases. Stories of those encounters tend towards emphasising customisation and individualism. WHYcase however, has a story with an onus upon another benefit of additive production technologies… speed.
Queueing for longer than you might have considered to see Star Wars Episode One, and may consider to see Episode Seven – even if just out of relief that cameos from Jar Jar Binks are surely impossible – iPhone release dates tend to bring out the most patient of queuing tendencies in tech fans. Even for the most hardcore, being prepared to take one’s time to be one of the first to bag the latest iteration of the Holy Grail of pocket sized slabs of communication technology doesn’t usually extend to waiting long for protective covers. For many producers of smartphone cases this means waiting for the new iPhone to be released to the public before being sure of the specifications that orientate the design of their products. WHYcase has used 3D printing to leapfrog the traditional design cycle and produce its attractive iPhone 6 case within just a week.
WHYcase had a limited budget set for the project of only €7000 (USD$8918, CHN¥54776) and an aim to produce a high quality protective case to retail at just €10 (USD$12.74, CHN¥ 78.25). The company attended a launch event for the iPhone 6 at an Apple store on September 19th 2014, joining the huge queue outside the Berlin store in order to be one of the first to get their hands on the newest version of what has become a tech icon. When the iPhone6 was firmly in their possession the team took the smartphone back to their design studio.
Founded by Piotr Domeracki, a former staff member at EOS (a producer of industrial grade additive manufacturing machines that use Direct Metal Laser Sintering) WHYcase states that they are involved in 3D printing: “Because you may call us engineers, designers, or creators, but most importantly we are unicorn chasers — in other words, we encourage wild ideas. Because we’d like to bring people value by making things faster, better and affordable. Because we want to bring manufacturing back to Europe. Because it’s time 3D-printing technology starts affecting us more directly.”
With the phone in the studio, Domeracki used professional level 3D scanning to capture a digital model of the trending new product. After honing the digital design the metal mould was soon complete, ready to act as the shape that would form the phone cases. The 3D file was then used to additively manufacture a metal mould that was to be used for injection moulding of the final transparent high grade plastic product. From there WHYcase rolled out production of a phone case every thirty seconds.
Mr. Domeracki told us that he has been “interested in 3D [for] three years right now. I had an amazing opportunity to work for EOS GmbH some time ago and now I’m on the other side ― I’m not developing the technology but rather managing metal 3D printers in my own company. [We started] mass producing iPhone 6 cases within 7 days – faster than anyone I think? And it was only possible because of the fact that we were 3D printing our tools.”
One again 3D printing makes all the difference for rapid production, once considered solely of use for rapid prototyping, additive manufacturing of the final product is on the increase, and printing of moulds and tooling for production is too.