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.


World first – 3D printed titanium wedding ring?

Could this be a world first – a wedding ring in 3D printed titanium?

Kari's wedding and engagement rings

Kari's titanium wedding ring and gold engagement ring

I designed and made my elder daughter Kari’s wedding ring for her marriage to Rob this last June in a beautiful setting in the Scottish countryside. It was a perfect day. It didn’t even rain.
Rob proposed to Kari. She wanted a specific engagement ring, one I had designed and made in titanium, machined and hand carved to flow around an oval diamond in a gold setting. This is now hard for me to remake but in January this year i-materialise announced their new service – 3D printing titanium (see http://bit.ly/hHMMnL) and Kari and Rob agreed enthusiastically to have it made this way. Personally, this was perfect as I am a 3D print evangelist (since a Stuart Devlin Masterclass at the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths in London in 1990) and I could 3D model it in Cloud9. The design would be super fluid with titanium flowing around the diamond of an interlocking gold engagement ring.

With this general concept my daughter and I visited London’s Hatton Garden to look at diamonds before she and Rob chose one – a beautiful square corner cut one.

3D printed titanium with nylon prototypes

3D printed titanium with nylon prototypes

Jeweller friend, Teena Ramsey, and I then finalised the designs for both rings which were then 3D printed as prototypes nylon for Kari and Rod to see, check ring size, how they slotted together, and for Teena to work with.
With all checked and approved an .stl file of the wedding ring was sent to i.materialise and in 2 weeks I was working on the titanium! Once finished we fitted them together – it looks as though the diamond is floating within the flowing titanium bands.
Kari’s 3D printed titanium wedding ring and gold and diamond engagement ring

Kari’s 3D printed titanium wedding ring and gold and diamond engagement ring

 Mum, having made my wedding ring has given us a unique and special gift and our rings are now all the more precious to us.’  Kari

Cloud9 cheating?

“Is a designer  ‘cheating’ if they use 3D modelling packages that are incredibly ‘easy to learn and use’ ?” 

A CAD user remarked that a designer is ‘cheating’ by using easy to learn haptic 3D modelling package (specifically Anarkik3D’s haptic Cloud9) for her design work. My supposition about what is meant here by cheating is that CAD users have invested heavily, money as well as a lot of their time, to get to the professional level their work requires and that using less complex packages such as Sketchup, Sculptris, K3D etc (which are also free) or ‘easy to use’ Cloud9 is a major cop-out.

I have countered a similar putdown from CAD users when I have demonstrated Cloud9 by reiterating that Cloud9 has been developed specifically for the needs of non CAD users who are professional designer makers and applied artists who want to access digital technologies such as 3D printing and machining. It is also an ideal tool for product designers for ‘quick and dirty’ modelling and early concept generation, as it complements the more prescriptive aspects of CAD. Adoption is not underhand in any way, just a different but more straight forward way of interacting and modelling in 3D that actually suits a lot of us.

There are reasons and times when ‘cheating’, as it were, and exploiting easier to learn and use 3D modelling software is appropriate!

  • many do not need CAD’s high level functionality and complexity: therefore avoid the effort, pain, time and money that CAD requires of its users. Those who need CAD’s functionality can justify the commitment.
  • only a small percentage of time might be spent designing: one-person bands have to do other things to make a living: make, market, sell, , etc.. With CAD complexity and incoherent interfaces it can be difficult to retain know how about functions when there has been a time gap.
  • achieving a balance between CAD proficiency and hands-on time in the workshop which has to be sufficient to gain and maintain skills, knowledge about materials, properties and the processes to successfully make artefacts. This knowledge and know-how is crucial for designing, whether on paper or on the computer.

Steep learning curves negate this balance. CAD originates in engineering and is designed and developed to specifically deal with the complexity and prescriptiveness essential for engineering industries, product manufacturing, architecture and construction. So it possess an inbuilt way of doing and thinking that is different to the way many designer makers, etc. think and do, making the curve steeper.

  • a great many of us must be ‘wired’ differently to CAD users:  to adapt and switch to conventional CAD practices is difficult, even more time consuming and enough of a soul-destroying thankless task to deter us from either starting on this path or reaching any reasonably competent level.
  • CAD blocks creativity. CAD is not designed and developed as a creative tool, per se. Of necessity it is a prescriptive system and its complexity is reflected in and dominates its interface. Cognitive flow is central for all creative work BUT the merest digression such as frustration finding where in the menus a specific function can be accessed severely disrupts flow. That brilliant idea immediately dissipates possibly forever.

For a huge group of us CAD is basically a lousy tool for designing in both 2D and 3D. This is bad news when we need digital data to be able to access digitally controlled manufacturing systems such as laser and water-jet cutting, 3D printing and machining:  CAD is a major barrier. We do want systems more adapted to how we work, design and practice with the applied arts and making, that ARE easy and non-complex to learn and use, that are highly usable. This is not about ‘cheating’ any system, it is about including.

I have a request regarding the many designer makers and other very creative people who are not CAD literate, who want to access both the amazing digital functionality and the valuable risk free environment that computers do provide, and the cutting, printing and machining that can offer a route to a more sustainable business.

It is to the gatekeepers of these technologies who are mostly extremely CAD literate and totally at ease with it, to please recognise that many of us are not at all at ease with it, to not be patronising, to encourage and support. Please be more inclusive. The following thoughts might help:

  • Include ‘easy to learn and use’ 3D modelling software in your courses in schools, colleges, where-ever. Who knows, these made make CAD easier to comprehend and get into
  • female only classes: some of us cope well with CAD and with machinery and mechanical devices, a huge number don’t and guys can be very intimidating. We need to go with our own methods and at our own pace, and some guys might also appreciate this approach
  • introductory events, demonstrations, videos, better manuals and tutorial materials, all in  straightforward  language without jargon, specifically targeted at non CAD users

It would be great, both interesting and useful, to get a frank and full dialogue going. Does what I say make sense? I hope it does as this is distilled from my knowledge and experience gained from my practice, research, teaching, software development, CAD use for designing for laser cutting and 3D printing.

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Designing my daughter’s engagement and wedding rings

Kari's rings designed using Anarkik3D's Cloud9 software

My eldest daughter Kari got engaged end of December and told me that a ring I had designed a number of years ago in titanium with a oval diamond was her dream engagement ring.

In January i-materialise announced their new service – 3D printing titanium (see http://bit.ly/hHMMnL) – and when I mentioned this as a way to make the ring she was all for it. For me this is my dream come true – the combination of organic modelling using Cloud9 and 3D printing titanium means the design can be super fluid with titanium flowing around the stone. And all for my own daughter …

We had a great time in London looking at possible diamonds and she and her fiancée settled for a square corner cut one. As a jeweller my materials are mainly titanium, niobium, aluminium – I don’t work much in precious metals so we are working with proper jeweller, Teena Ramsey, to get the designs for both the engagement and wedding rings to be an elegant integrated set. The final design is for the wedding ring to be in titanium and the engagement ring to be in gold which Teena will make, set the diamond, and fit it to the 3D printed titanium wedding ring. It sounds complicated but its working out very elegantly.

The process so far has been designing the titanium wedding ring using Anarkik3D’s Cloud9 haptic 3D modelling package (of course – http://bit.ly/lJR7t link to anarkikangels website and Cloud9), getting a test ring 3D printed in steel by Shapeways for Kari to see and try on (too small!), creating an accurate digital diamond in Rhino, mocking up the engagement ring with the diamond as a digital model, emailing it to Kari and Rob and getting the designs passed by them.

Final adjustments were completed this week, the ring size checked, and  the .stl files of all the rings uploaded to Shapeways to get prototypes for Kari in London to try on for size, and for Teena to use to fit the gold engagement ring to the wedding ring.

The pic above shows the two rings together.

Now I have to be ultra patient waiting for the prototypes to arrive. Meanwhile I am looking at the timing for getting the titanium 3D printed and for Teena to make the gold ring and set diamond. I am panicking a bit as the Wedding is in June and it is May 1st this Sunday. Just hope there is no more tweaking necessary. Then there is the groom’s wedding ring……..

Testing next Cloud9 release


This stage of software development is exciting, testing that new developments for the next release of Cloud9 combine well with existing functions. The additions for Version2.1 include improvements to Boolean (uniting 2 objects into 1, subtracting 1 from another, and subtracting both objects to leave the area in which they overlapped as a new form), slicing an object with a flat plane, wire mode, sub-meshing and reducing mesh, and controlling moving an object in x, y, and z axes.

Anarkik3D has 2 methods for testing its haptic software package.

The standard one is methodically ploughing through all the functions and features, testing one main one against all the others, separately, then in scenarios, recording anomalies and  bugs plus noting inconsistencies and usability issues.

As Cloud9 is for applied artists, designers, makers, artists, etc, a sector known for a ‘what if’ approach to concept development and for whom serendipity has value as an aid in ‘out-of-the-box thinking, Cloud9 has these as default settings. So strange combinations of functions are going to be used. We therefore wisely test Cloud9 under as many designing/ sketching/ exploring/ playing situations as possible.

I mentioned in an earlier blog that I use my experience as a designer maker and jeweller as the pre-pre alpha tester, use exhibition themes or requests as the brief, and the deadlines for focus. Just occasionally the brief is my own, something that has been mulling away and just needs the little window to get on and do it. Today was such a day as for a few hours I wasn’t able to access either my emails or the internet, and I needed to re-test part of a test scenario.

With the test completed and no more to add to the report, and Cloud9 running, I had a fabulous 90 minute slot designing the candlestick above. All that’s needed now is the dimension of a standard candle to scale the candlestick and hole to fit it. And I didn’t come across any bugs

to block my flow and to report. What bliss!

A good New Year Resolution will be putting aside a block of time each week when emails and internet are firmly switched off. Is there an app out there that can be set to perform this task – or keep at me and remind me of the benefits of doing this?

I have just thought of another NY resolution ……..

The wish for easy 3D modelling for access to 3D printing …

It has been an amazing year for 3D printing and there are some interesting threads on various blogs to follow on through.

A year ago Fabbaloo posted their “wishes for 2010” and one was for Easy 3D Software as the packages on offer do require a lot of learning to become fully capable. My issue with most is that they have un-needed complexity. With too many functions also cluttering up the interface many are put off by the steep learning curve and thereby exclude from access to 3D printing.  In Fabbaloo’s wish list  there were 2 developments in 2010 they noted that improve the position:

  • Google Sketchup 8 was released, including some interesting features. This free tool is the gateway for many people introduced to the technology.
  • Anarkik3D released version 2 of their haptic-based 3D design software. While not yet widely used, this approach cou

    Anarkik3D: Cloud9 interface and design for bangle

    ld make things a lot easier for 3D modellers.

Anarkik3D’s haptic based 3D design software is Cloud9 and our distributor (A1 Technologies) imports the Falcon haptic device from Novint in the United States, bundles the software and device together and markets the package as Chameleon.

Another blog (RPES blog) on August 10th covered the designer jewellery created by Farah Bandookwala during her Master’s Degree at Edinburgh College of Art. I have already written about Farah’s work in this blog as she had a residency with us in Summer 2009 to investigate using Cloud9 for her work and we have worked closely with her since then.

To quote from Rachel’s blog: ‘Using Chameleon alongside a traditional 3D CAD package, Rhino, Farah found that the differences between the two software packages were extreme. Most notable was that while the 3D CAD offered control and precision with surfaces, it just could not compare with the ability to freely sculpture the shapes by directly deforming and manipulating surfaces to create the desired morphing. Indeed it is the freedom of the software that is one of the greatest attractions for truly creative design, with no constraints.

Farah secured sponsorship with Shapeways and LaserLines to have her designs 3D printed, from concept stage where she experimented with constructions and fastenings, through to the dyed and finished pieces into which she embedded magnets as connectors.

Farah’s work proves that Fabbaloo’s ‘easy 3D software’ wish for 2010 is here already, as Cloud9 has levels of usability and functionality that are balanced, a rubust .stl format for 3D printing (of course) and compatibility with CAD, it is affordable (£495 with the Falcon haptic device) and it is available (A1 Technologies).

Replicator’s  blog on December 23, 2010 about ‘Who is Getting Interested in 3D Printing? Server Log Stories‘ by Joseph Flaherty says that, yes, ‘3D printers are an amazing technology, but haven’t yet broken into the mainstream. Largely because companies haven’t figured out a way to profitably employ them. Yet. However, based on my Google Analytics I can see some interesting companies are looking into the technology. These are big companies and if they apply 3D printing to their businesses it will make for some really awesome products.’

I am interested in Joseph’s focus on Fire Mountain Gems‘ an ecommerce powerhouse that serves the multibillion dollar home jewelry making market. Using their catalog and online shopping carts crafters crank out beautiful pieces of jewelry. It seems though that the folks at Fire Mountain might be interested in how 3D printing could expand their service offering’. How I agree, as I am sure would Farah, as 3D printing materials are developing fast with steel, ceramics and glass now available at Shapeways, expanding the plastics, nylons, and starches, the range of colours, and resolutions now on offer. We will watch with interest and expect to see a category for 3D printed beads in Fire Mountain Gems catalogue!

On Anarkik3D’s blog I am covering an Mcor/Anarkik3D project as Cloud9’s capability for organic forms, combined with 3D printing in layers of coloured paper using Mcor’s Matrix printer, will illustrate beautifully the potential their technology has for designers. I am particularly interested in the use of actual 3D printed pieces as end products.

Joris Peel’s blog at Materialise has a review of the highlights of 2010 and is well worth reading. His clips for November 23rd cover .MGX opening its flagship store in Brussels, the world’s first store for 3D printed goods.

This area of ‘off-the-machine’ making is now a very exciting, well established state of things, with great designs available from a growing number of companies and individuals. One major example –  see the FOC Collection

What would Fabbaloo wish to happen in 2011?

· A capable and assembled 3D printer for under USD$1500. Yes, especially for early concept work.

·  A consumer-oriented online market for 3D models. I agree with them that Thingiverse is oriented around makers, not consumers. Shapeways and Ponoko’s business models could be tweaked to develop a more consumer orientated online resource but Sculpteo has with its company name more potential to attract those customers who are seeking more ‘desirable’ less techie things to 3D print.

It would be good to have somewhere appropriate to put out some 3D Cloud9 designs as .stl that others can access and get printed – as Fabbaloo says ‘Things They Like. Not things that engineers like to print’. I have put one (my apple and worm) on our Anarkikangels’ website – maybe we should have more!

Virtual 3D world is very bright and tangible – but not pink!

Fabbaloo published an article about Bits from Bytes about getting a new website and unveiling a RapChick at Euromold last week! What is a RapChick?

The new RapChick is a 3D Printer Kit  designed ‘especially for female users in response to the growing numbers of women engineers and creators within our community.  The RapChick features pink accents and unique branding that will appeal to this rapidly expanding, underserved audience’. Unlike Fabbaloo my immediate response to the above description was not favourable and neither were the first 2 comments to their article. Why is it assumed that woman engineers are not capable of building the Rapman? Many creators are capable too but there are those who also have better/more pressing things to do, like design, make and market, than spend precious creative time, and money, building for the technical exercise and a few quid off.  A good few like myself really don’t want to grapple with techie stuff: we don’t understand it nor do we want to. But we want to 3D print.

The RapChick’s ‘pink accents’ did made me see red as it seems that pink plus the branding were the only design differences between the RapChick and the Rapman! There is an excellent article by Femmeden http://www.femmeden.com/pdf/SmartDesign_SexontheBrain.pdf  that explains precisely why I was incensed. And all designers should read it. 

Seriously, I do applaud what BfB are doing but to truly democatise 3D printing (as BfB say they are doing), they have to also appeal to all rapidly expanding, underserved audiences. For non technical groups Rapman and RapChick kits are not the way to do this.

Development must be on usability and understanding how to include people of all ages who have different learning styles, requirements and preferences who want to engage with this very exciting technology. So thank you, Shapeways, Sculpteo, and I am sure Ponoko – I haven’t experienced their 3D services yet – for making the route to 3D printing so straightforward.

 Thre is a remaining barrier to more people being able to use 3D printing: how to create that virtual model. CAD is not suitable for many on many levels. It is prescriptive, has a huge learning curve, designed for operatives working with it almost full time, complex interface, too many functions that will never be touched or used, too expensive and difficult to justify when used sporadically in conjunction with other tasks such as making and marketing. It does not fit comfortably, for example, with the way many in the applied arts work within their disciplines of ceramics, jewellery, metalwork, furniture, accessories etc.

The main influencers to many budget holders, responsible for selecting and recommending 3D hardware and software for schools, colleges, workshops, fablabs, are themselves CAD users and do not fully grasp the divide that exists. Many in the arts have turned technophobic, overwhelmed by complexity and prescriptiveness, becoming a barrier unto themselves and teachers for their pupils to the extent that digital technologies are now off their radar.

I only fully grasped why our haptic Cloud9 3D sketch modelling software was special when I read the femmeden article (link is above) a few years ago – Cloud9 is INCLUSIVE. CAD isn’t. By using a haptic device to replace the 3D mouse, to give the user 3D ‘virtual touch’ and movement in 3D, interaction in the digital environment remains familiar. Cloud9 is so intuitive and free flowing, serendipity is a default. It is  easy to learn and to use, and fun (virtual 3D touch is special), caters for all stages of creativity (amateur to professional), can be picked up quickly again after a long break as the non complex interface taps into our more natural way of interacting in 3D, is being developed with the feed back from stakeholders and other users about what they want and need and how they want to work, and unbelievably the software and the haptic device bundle together costs under £500.

It can also be difficult to justify even this until the enormous potential of 3D printing is understood! And from Cloud9 you can 3D print your model directly. £500 then becomes a no brainer. Design companies internationally are buying Cloud9 as it fits into their design pipeline and complements CAD. Schools are purchasing: all kids should now be able to access 3D technologies. Colleges are buying into it too.

Previously I spotlighted Farah Bandookwala. She uses Cloud9 with Rhino, and Shapeways for tangible output for her whole Masters Degree Show. Have a look on her website: http://www.farahb.com. See Shapeways, Ponoko, FoC and so on for the rising numbers of applied artists working internationally who are using 3D printing to create wonderful pieces of work. 

Creativity and the inspiration for this fantastic work can be sparked off by having a good understanding of the process of 3D printing and the properties of the material used. The BfB products are excellent for seeing the build up happening and therefore understanding the affordances and constraints. Plus the resulting parts are inexpensive enough to experiment and play with so this valuable part of creativity is not checked by any ‘preciousness.’

What many of us need then is not so much the Rapman kit but a ready built 3D printer with easy processing of 3D data at an entry level price in a workshop/fablab nearby as this way it would get more usage and more people engaged. 

3D virtual world is indeed very bright and tangible.

Bits From Bytes