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Barney Townsend

PhD Work

How Can Designers Utilise Rapid Manufacturing Technologies to Facilitate End-User Innovation, and a Paradigm Shift from ‘Mass’ to ‘True’ Product Customisation, in Order to Generate New Revenue Streams?

Rapid Manufacturing (RM) is defined by Hague et al. (2006) as ‘The use of CAD-based automated additive manufacturing process to construct parts that are used directly as finished products or components’. The elimination of tooling enables limitless complexity in part geometry, in batch sizes of one, for minimal additional cost. Further benefits include part consolidation, simplification of assemblies and/or reducing stock holding; the ‘design freeze’ may become obsolete as parts can be manufactured to order, locally, just in time, and therefore be more sustainable. RM has the potential to embed premade components into objects to create complex assemblies; thus machines may soon be capable of replicating themselves (Gershenfeld, 2005). Surface finish, build speed, and material properties are still limiting factors, but recent research is leading to ‘production quality’ surfaces, and the use of metallic and functionally graded materials (Hague et. al. 2003). RM technologies are generating considerable interest amongst the design community, but “we simply have not yet been able to experiment widely enough and thus come up with more clever applications for their usage” (Kytannen, 2006, pp. 276).

Mass Customisation is the process of integrating customers ‘into value creation by defining, configuring, matching, or modifying their individual solution from of a list of options and pre-defined components’ (Piller et al. 2005). This modularity offers a degree of choice for the consumer, but the form of the components remains specified by the designer, and they may still be mass or batch produced traditionally. RM presents an opportunity for ‘mass’ to become ‘true, fully personalised’ customisation. The consumer of tomorrow might ‘design, order, and receive a product without leaving their home’ (Hague et al. 2003).  Evidence that users are often the source of innovations that become commercially successful (von Hippel, 1988) is, however, in stark contrast to the limitations imposed by the average consumer’s lack of formal training in the field of design and product development.

The aim of this research to investigate the extent to which RM technology can enable the consumer to create products that are uniquely customised to their individual needs, and to understand the commercial opportunities that this affords to the trained product designer or manufacturing organisation. The hypothesis is that increased user involvement in the design process, facilitated by RM, will require a revision of the traditional industrial design business model and new collaborative design methodologies.


  • Barnaby Townsend
  • PhD


    School of Design


    Innovation Design Engineering, 2013–

  • Barney Townsend studied Engineering Product Design and Enterprise at London South Bank University, where he still teaches in the Department of Engineering and Design. His research focus is into new consumer engagement models to support the democratisation of digital manufacturing tools. In the context of the Maker Movement, lines are blurring between amateur and professional designers, craftsmen, makers and hobbyists; Barney's research explores the intersections between digital and physical form creation, with a view to enabling 'user innovation'.