How digital fabrication is changing our world, and Japan



This is part of our coverage of the Infinity Ventures Summit 2013 in Sapporo, Japan. You can read more of our reports from this event here.

On day two of the Infinity Ventures Summit there was a conversation discussing digital fabrication, featuring a distinguished lineup of panelists from here in Japan (pictured left to right above):

  • Kinya Tagawa, CEO, takram design engineering
  • Hiroya Tanaka, Associate Professor of Keio University & Founder of Fablab Japan.
  • Shigeru Kobayashi, Associate Professor, Institute of Advanced Media Arts and Sciences
  • Nobuyuki ‘Nobi’ Hayashi, IT Journalist/Consultant

Mr. Tagawa started off with some background information noting that the innovation cycle in manufacturing used to be very slow. But just as digital innovations have changed most industries, we’re finally also starting to see it seep into manufacturing. Tagawa noted the importance of Make Magazine and its contribution to growing the culture in this space. Manufacturing was once limited to professionals, but now it appeals to a far wider group. The emergence of the ‘maker’ overlaps the previously separate spheres of innovator, producer, and consumer.

Hisashi Imai’s nail clippers design (thingiverse)

Kobayashi followed up with an explanation of how 3D printing is making it easy for people to experience things like data processing, scanning, and fabrication. His organization holds workshops that teach these processes, and he notes that new digital fabrication tools like laser cutters make it a very accessible activity. He emphasized that traditional fabrication can co-exist in a sort of hybrid state with new methods like these. Kobayashi cited one example of a very simple but innovative design was Hisashi Imai cleverly designed nail clippers that allows people who may have limited mobility in one limb to use a nail clippers easily. Other designers can take such a design, and adjust the parameters to their own requirements.

Tanaka pointed out that there lots of fab labs around the world, now over 200 in total. He projects that in the future stationary stores could be places where you create your own stationary. Similarly, clothing shops could be a place where you implement your own designs. He adds that services that connects all the people and workshops doing great work in this space would be valued.

Nobi gave some fun examples of great makers like Osaka University’s Hiroshi Ishiguro, who has created some things that you’ve likely seen before, including the now famous android clone of himself. There’s also Maki Sugimoto who creates 3D scans of organs, and then can use those items to practice surgeries. Organs have a wet feeling to touch, so he is even trying to use 3D printers to reproduce this.

This is a space where I expect Japan is going to progress rapidly, given some of the creative things that we have already seen in these early stages. There are lots of mad scientists in this country, says Nobi, and they getting more involved in fab labs, helping Japan stand out in this space.

Maki Sugimoto
Maki Sugimoto, photo via WSJ