3D printing

In the last 2 months I have attended 2 symposiums where 3D printing has been a major topic for presentations and discussion. The first was in conjunction with the Power of Making exhibition. The second, earlier this week, was specifically about 3D printing ceramics. In Crafts Magazine 3D printing has been a fluctuating but growing topic with Tanya Harrod questioning in the current magazine whether 3D printing is ‘the right tool for our time’. This follows on from her previous ‘Thinking Aloud’ column where the power of making is celebrated for remaining central in designers’ and makers’ practice, both in real world materials and using digital technologies. Also our continuing captivation for all ways of making is fostered and supported by the ease with which we can access information and support through ubiquitous digital media and technology.

There is a desire of course to democratise with the introduction of DIY 3D printers and I agree with Tanya that for the majority of people there is no desire for making for themselves at this level. What is happening is that within the crafts, designer makers are approaching 3D printing from both ends and taking ownership of these as tools to be pragmatically exploited for their advantages within the different craft disciplines. The ceramic symposium presented research and development supported by grants, academia and business as well as a self–developed and subverted system by a ‘lone’ and determined individual.

As a jeweller I will move across all levels of quality print, material and finish depending on my design concept, from high end finesse of 3D printed titanium, to finely grained starches and on through to the refreshing non precious and crudely extruded plastic from one of the DIY 3D printers. Here at the bottom ends lies the enticement of experimentation with little risk and cost and the challenge of designing for inherent constraints. It is this enthusiasm for using new ‘tools’ in context that will bypass the type of critical notes that Tanya highlighted from the Dezeen ezine readers that ‘just because something can be made, it doesn’t mean it should be’. This was about the gross fractal table purchased by the V&A in 2008. But then we can be mesmerised by bravado of this kind! Mine was short lived when I saw the table in the V&A 20th Century Design Gallery – there were more inspiring pieces to go see.