Francesco “Franz” Colorni and Massimo “Max” Temporelli were among the first to embrace the personal manufacturing vision and found a Fablab in Europe. Their early vision, together with third partner Bernardo Gamucci, evolved into TheFabLab – Make it Real and, recently, they opened a new The FabLab laboratory in Turin. From the very beginning they focused on presenting themselves as a serious partner for larger companies, both for prototyping and out-of-the-box thinking. This led to a successful partnership with Magneti Marelli among several other high profile projects.
As product designers coming from fields as varied as physics and architecture, the team at TheFabLab always set as one of their main goals the idea of creating real products that people would actually buy. They chose to pursue this goal through personal manufacturing tools such as 3D printing. The launch of the new Superstuff brand of digitally crafted products represents the culmination of that early vision.
Superstuff is not just the result of chance events. It builds on the incredible success enjoyed by TheFabLab’s first mass-produced 3D printed product, the Umarell 3D printed figures, designed by Bernardo Gamucci. “Umarell” is an affectionate name for elderly people that watch construction sites for countless hours. They even have an official association. The idea behind the 3D printed Umarell is that you can place it on your desk to watch you work and create.
Official figures for the number of Umarell figures sold are in thousands, driving several thousands of euros in revenues which, in turn, fueled the expansion of TheFabLab’s 3D printing production line. It is a modern success story and one of the very first examples of a 3D printed product reaching – or at least approaching – the mass market. Superstuff’s second line of products, Trapulin, is aiming even further but we’ll get to that a little later down.
What is particularly impressive about the Umarell project is that it appears a simple idea that had a stroke of luck with some viral visibility. But it is far from it. Max, Franz and Bernardo were able to execute it thanks to the experience they had built up with running the lab and its machines for several years. Their design background enables them to create a stylish low-poly design that ideally leveraged 3D printing. Their (especially Max’s) continues efforts to raise awareness around personal digital manufacturing enabled him to reach out to key media outlets and thus give the story its first legs to run with.
For us, the Umarell story is particularly interesting because it is one of the very first products where 3D printing proves to be the most cost-efficient option even for production of several thousand pieces. TheFabLab is currently making as many as 250 units a day and while they did consider and analyzed injection moulding as additive manufacturing option it just did not make sense.
“We set out to make a product that would be able to go straight for prototype to production skipping the industrialization phase. We were initially overwhelmed by demand and considered injection molding as a necessary option. However this would have required us to modify the original design for molding. For example we would have had to remove the collar and – even more importantly – we would have had to change its leaning posture since a solid figure would be too heavy and would fall over. With 3D printing we are able to make it lighter, which also means we use a lot less material. and we can produce them, even in high numbers, as we need to.”
Francesco Colorni, TheFabLab and Superstuff Cofounder
The on-demand production is quite a literal concept. As the orders kept coming into the Paypal account, TheFabLab decided to invest in new 3D printers. They chose to purchase a few Ultimaker 2+ and found the best deals through Apple Italy (it is listed under iPhone Accessories). They now have a virtually zero-cost production line which is serving as the base for the next generation of Superstuff products.
These include the previous Leonardo Machine series (replicas of Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions to assemble, created to leverage a laser cutter’s capabilities) and the upcoming Trapulin. These are a series of parametrically designed mini-containers and vases. They are created using Grasshopper so that each one is different, with infinite possible combinations of parameters. Will it become the first million euro 3D printed product? That may be unlikely but the path is clear toward massively customized production.