People and Places

EVENT PREVIEW: Up close with Mini Maker Faire designers Ecotonos


Anthony Dewar, industrial designer and part of the 3-D Ecotonos team. Photo by Dwayne Brown

At this year’s Mini Maker Faire, the festival of artistic craftiness that celebrates the do-it-yourself spirit, a special printer is likely to garner a lot of attention. The event, which takes place at the Museum of Science & Tech on August 16 and 17, shines a light on the process behind the production of an object and explores the notion of access to manufacturing. So it’s only fitting that a strong contingent of makers is looking to learn about making three-dimensional products with a digital printer. Among those getting behind the technology are Alëna Iouguina and Anthony Dewar, industrial designers and founders of Ecotonos.

Three 3-D Things
Ecotonos produces a wide range of objects, from simple hand-held tools like guitar picks to more complex products that call for a longer design process. For example, Ecotonos will soon be selling beautiful earrings with custom-designed sterling silver hardware, all made using their 3-D printer. Their technological prowess, though, is fully revealed in the environmentally progressive Smart bike generator, which Ecotonos presented at last year’s Maker Faire.

A Design for Life
While unique in structure, all Ecotonos products are conceived with the same fundamental vision in mind. It’s something Iouguina describes as “biologically informed design.” Combining the fields of bionics and biomimicry, their approach uses what we know about biology to address challenges in sustainable development. It’s about learning from nature, devising powerful designs, and using real materials that emulate ecosystems and processes to create things that have the potential to benefit future generations. “We decided to reimagine the way humans make,” Iouguina says.

Step by Step
Similar to any other artistic venture, it all starts with an idea. These ideas come from many sources, but many are derived from scientific research. One of their favourite sources of inspiration comes by way of so-called “business trips” that see the team hike along country trails to collect little snippets of natural life, from twigs to insect corpses. “Where one would see leaves, gravel, grasses, and rock, we learned to see a masterfully orchestrated mosaic of shapes, textures, and tone,” Iouguina says. After sketching it, next comes a series of prototypes — 3-D printed layer upon layer. Questions are asked and answered, developing dozens of iterations until finally the product is born and ready for the online store.

Beyond Biology
It has been heard through the grapevine that the future will see 3-D printers in every home, enabling the production of everyday items. But there are limitations, Dewar says, most notably maintenance of the machines and the potentially hazardous chemicals released during printing. As for Ecotonos, Iouguina says the team plans to evolve their process by integrating locally grown biopolymers and renewable energy sources into their products. In using these sustainable materials, they can begin to partner with local farms and renewable energy sectors, making the future of 3-D printing, and sustainable development as a whole, look brighter than ever.

The Next Dimension: The 3-D Process