Unless you’re a professional organizer, you probably don’t spend that much time thinking about containers. They exist to store things, categorize things, and keep them away from your main work area, but they’re not the most interesting subject in the world. However, when 3D printers are brought into the mix, containers suddenly get a lot more exciting. Whether they’re used to customize home decor, revolutionize a well-known product, or help astronauts navigate zero gravity, 3D containers have proven to be more than just simple storage.
At the hobbyist level, companies like 3D Systems have uploaded free design files to their website so that anyone can print their own catchall containers. Designed by the FreshFiber team, the “Square” takes a typical container shape and uses printing power to extrude a wavy, playful pattern. These 3D containers are the perfect size for stray stationery, jewelry, or small toys, and they can be printed in whatever color you like. If you have a lot of stuff to categorize, you can always print a few catchalls in different colors and then stack them up. It’s a great first project for a desktop 3D printer — not too difficult, and free to download.
At the corporate level, Thermos has also adopted 3D printing tech to help speed up product development. Previously, the famous travel mug brand would spend three to five days waiting for a prototype to come back from the factory, and it takes quite a few prototypes to reach the finished product. Now, the company has brought 3D printers in-house, so they can realize an idea in just a few hours. With this arrangement, they can hone in on a particular feature and keep improving it with limitless prototypes, until they’re finally happy with the result. In addition, testing a new product with 3D printers is about one-fifth the cost of the traditional method — essentially, you only have to worry about paying for materials and electricity. With such clear advantages, it’s pretty obvious that more companies will be bringing 3D printers into their design studios.
Outer Space Storage
We’ve seen how 3D containers can be used at the personal and corporate level, but what about space flight? To help usher in this new technology, NASA has announced a 3D Space Container Challenge, asking kids in grades K-12 to come up with their own 3D designs.
On a spacecraft, containers are essential for keeping things organized and utilizing the little room you have; they also provide a way for plants to grow in zero gravity. Basically, if something isn’t contained, it’s going to fly around the cabin and potentially harm the crew, so it’s vital that the containers are secure and easy to use. NASA also has plans to employ a “print-on-demand machine shop” on future missions, which would give crewmembers a way to fabricate objects as they need them, thereby saving even more space. This technology could be used to create special tools for the mission or make food using ingredient “cartridges. The possibilities are truly endless.