Moore's law at work

Moore's Law at work - 2015-16
MAFAD (the Design Academy in Maastricht) decided to purchase an extra 6 3D printers and to integrate the basic course in regular curriculum of Design.
Now we haven 2 Leapfrogs, 2 Ultimaker II and 4 Wanhao Duplicator 4s (basically a Makerbot clone).
For 2016, the professorship Technology Driven Art will finance the purchase of two SLA 3D printing machines (which laserprints the object in a liquid) and build - in collaboration with Eric Steenman - a research course around it.

This all may seem very basic on a research level, and it probably is. But this project had an immediate influence on how 3D design evolved at MAFAD. It teaches us that writing is way more difficult than 3D-printing. It affirms the research assumption that technology proliferates at a logarithmic rate, after it has been introduced, even if the environment seemed to be a bit reluctant at first.


First steps on slipery road

Implementation of 3D printing in 3D Design
a 'Technology Driven Art' research project
by Sascha Bien and Eric Steenman (ABK Design)

first steps - 2014-15.
It felt a bit weird that 3D printing wasn't integrated yet in the regular teaching course of a design and architecture school. Design students attended a project of a few weeks where they could print some objects and the FachHochschule in Aachen, and some of them used the services of the local FabLab. But it wasn't an integral part of their regular design process.

Although the initial enthousiasme from decision makers was quite low (Students will have no interest in it, 3D-printing is old news, students already use third-party services for printing…), we installed 2 3D-printers (Ultimaker 2 and Leapfrog) and organised some introducing courses. The idea is that 3D-printing encourages a new way of 3D-Design, with 3d-design programs as the main tool. As a scenographer, I always conceived and designed my sets directly in 3D, with almost no preliminary sketches on paper. The research question is: will the introduction of these 3D printers challenge the supremacy of the pencil as the main design tool? And how will it influence the designs themselves?

Eric Steenman gave the introducing 3D design and printing courses on a voluntary basis. He guided the technical process of the printing. Sascha Bien gave an introduction course in 3D design, using SketchUp and Cinema3D.

Almost immediately after the introduction of the printers (which took some time), interest among students turned out to be huge. Everybody wanted to print. 3D-printing being an excruciatingly slow process, we had to limit access to the printers. So we asked all interested students to produce some kind of a one page motivation letter (could be anything). To our big surprise, we only got 4 letters out of some 40 interested students. Writing proved to be far more challenging than 3D-printing. This reflects the difficulty almost everybody at school seems to have (both teachers and students alike) to write any kind of 'public' or 'official' statement.
To put it bluntly: everybody hates writing. Or at least, most art practice teachers seem to avoid it, especially if they are asked to put in on a public blog. It most probably will not happen.

After a rocky start, and after some encouragements to write at least something to apply for the course, some ten students started printing. At first, they printed downloaded models to get the hang of it, later on they started to explore the boundaries of 3D-printing. Can you print flexible textures and textiles? How thin can you print? Maybe the roughest (and speediest) quality has a useful, tactile texture?…
Quite quickly, the peculiarities of 3D printing (which are manifold) influenced the design concepts.

To end on a funny note: the first object printed at MAFAD, was an iPhone jacket (by Sascha Bien). That came out quite OK.
It's touching to see how one technology takes good care of another… And it goes to the core of research of this brand new professorship on Technology Driven Art…

july 2015 - Peter Missotten