During millions of years the Nature R&D has created products, services and systems that are unbeatable in strength, features, energy efficiency and purpose for function.
They meet the technical, individual, social and survival requirements. Some of the products are outliers, very strange experiments, that have shown the way for the breakthrough innovations and strategic novelties (Ref. Välikangas, Strategic Innovation).
In Nature products, form always follows the function – a principle often valued also in industrial design of our times. The details in microstructures, such as bones, or larger macrostructures, such as spider webs and trees, are very difficult to copy. We have major difficulties in copying the same efficient structures, materials and adaptability in products made by man.
The advances in 3D and 4D printing technologies and new design tools empower us to copy Nature. The approach is called biomimicry. 3D design software and 3D printers are already able to create structures, forms and features that are directly copied from Nature. 3D design tools start to have functions that allow the designer to implement biomimicry and topology optimisation.
Figure: 3D printed structures with biomimicry
The capability of applying biomimical features in product design will trigger new needs and requirements for the next generation products. The requirements may be, for example, radical weight optimisation, flexibility of metal parts, resilience or better energy efficiency.
Parametric design is a core approach for biomimicry. The next generation design softwares will have parametric design as a standard feature. Accordingly, future product designers need to have capability to observe and understand biomimic rules, and translate those into product features.
Biomimicry opens new avenues for making great optimised products using industrial manufacturing systems, especially with 3D printing. Although Nature has created fantastic and rich variety of products, the mankind has not been very good in creating products with similar efficiency and sustainability.
Biomimicry is currently applied only in limited ways in our design processes. However, there are already great examples in architecture and large structures, for example in buildings and bridges.
Figures: Left: Dynamo Stadium, Russia. Right: the first 3D printed pedestrian bridge in Spain (Acciona, IAAC).
Our next steps in education, product development and manufacturing should include:
- Imagination: We must develop better capabilities for wild imagination in product development. Next generation products are built differently, increasingly with the ideas from nature.
- Outliers: Next generation products are today’s outliers, rather than evolution from the mainstream products. We need to have curiosity to explore and study the unlikely.
- Right questions: Biomimicry optimizes the function. Hence the designer needs to keep asking: What the design needs to do and why it needs to do that?
- Product evolution: Nature is efficient in iteration, continuous prototyping, serendipity and learning from failures. Biomimicry leads us to new product development processes.
- Tools: Although 3D printers can implement biomimicry, they are not optimized for that. We need to develop better 3D printers and materials that open the new cost efficient industry for biomimic products.
- Parametric design. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parametric_design
- Strategic Innovation – The Definitive Guide to Outlier Strategies (2015). Liisa Välikangas; Michael Gibbert
(c) Pekka Ketola, January 2017