Arthritis, 3D digital modelling and 3D printing

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As a jeweller, I didn’t know when embarking in 2000 on a research fellowship that I was develoing arthritis in both my thumbs. The research I did eventually led to the development of a haptic 3D modelling package (Anarkik3D Design). In a blog in 2012 I wrote that I used Anarkik3D Design and 3D printing to design and make my daughter’s wedding ring. I didn’t mention in the blog that I had to use 3D printing because it was too painful to hold a small ring securely as well as holding the tools to carve the titanium. I just said that this was now hard for me to remak at the bench.

Wedding-ring 3D printed in titanium

Wedding-ring 3D printed in titanium

In these five years since, I have used Anarkik3D Design a lot, both testing each version that comes out and designing samples to 3D print out for classes and for corporate commissions. The haptic device we use has a spherical grasp with 4 buttons and I am really pleased that using it to design causes very little pain, even after a long session.

Falcon haptic device

Falcon haptic device

Having my designs 3D printed means that much of the making that previously would have been done at the bench has been accomplished using this technology. I can cope with light bench work such as finishing pieces, adding brooch pins and ear fittings, connecting units into a necklace etc..

Necklace 3D printed in paper

Necklace 3D printed in paper

I designed this necklace a couple of years ago and had units made for 3 necklaces, one for myself and the other 2 for two women to celebrate the super work they do promoting 3D printing.

Last year I made an exhibition piece, the first for a very long time. I was, with 20 or so others, invited by the Association for Contemporary Jewellery to send in a new piece of work for their 20:20 Vision Exhibition which opened in January and will tour for a year or so. I designed and prototyped various units, with the final ones printed in paper and strung onto Ninjaflex. And the process was almost pain free as it was very light work. The blog on the prototyping process is here.

Neckpiece in 3D printed paper

Neckpiece in 3D printed paper

Now with an exhibition at Galerie VundV in Vienna planned for October/November 2017 I am really looking forward to getting back to designing and making a cohesive collection of pieces. This will be my first show of work where I have used our Anarkik3D Design package exclusively to do the designing for 3D printing! Exciting year in store!

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

Using Cloud9 to create work for InsideOut

I have this piece of work in the Inside Out exhibition (http://www.insideoutexhibition.com/) which is a compelling international touring exhibition which opened in Australia last June and features forty-six miniature sculptures produced in resin using 3D printing technologies. The Exhibition illustrates how developments in virtual computer visualisation and integrated digital technologies are giving contemporary makers new insight and opportunities to create objects and forms which were previously impossible to produce or difficult to envisage.

I used Cloud9 (version 1) to initially explore ideas and had 3 different streams/themes and not particularly struck by one enough to take it further. But on my bike going home something went ‘click’ – which was to bring two of these together as the basis on which to form my mini sculpture.

I have since recycled this idea/piece for a bookend competition and now re-working it for a piece of jewellery. This intensive time I have had using Cloud9 has highlighted a couple of very interesting advantages our combined soft/hardware has, re. haptics and 3 degrees of movement (as against 6 degrees of movement – x,y,z and rotation in x,y,z). The default material ‘feel’ is rubberyness so that not only do you have touch to let you know where you are in the 3D space, the fact that the form you touch flexes with contact with the cursor gives a strong visual cue to see your exact position- and 2 cues are always better than 1.

The other insight is more interesting for me and I hope generally! From our Tacitus Research Project it seemed that 6 degrees of Freedom (6DoF = x,y,z and rotation in x,y,z) is superior to 3DoF and for some interactions this is true. With having only 3DoF, using the more affordable Falcon haptic device, we focused on programming and adding shortcut keys to provide greater usability. What I experienced during designing and creating my sculpture is that the combination of dominant/non-dominant hand actions for 3 degrees of movement and 3 degrees of rotation was sufficiently intuitive for working fluidly AND brought just the right measure of control to the process. So for working intensively there is an excellent degree of immersion experienced as well as effective control for reflective and purposeful actions. So I am feeling very elated by the progress we have made with version2 of Cloud9. I hope you can try it sometime!

(The InsideOut exhibition is the result of collaboration between the Art Technology Coalition, the University of Technology Sydney and RMIT University in Australia along with De Montfort University, Manchester Metropolitan University and Dartington College of Arts at University College Falmouth in the United Kingdom.  The exhibition opens in the UK in Sept and opened in Australia on June 4th.)

something just ‘clicks’

When people try Anarkik3D’s Cloud9 haptic software something just ‘clicks’. It is this gut reaction that is interesting as it validates the 4 years of research work (Tacitus Research Project) that formed our approach to development.  and is embedded with the values from designing and making.

 The main research site was Edinburgh College of Art and we had designer makers test the haptic software demonstrators in iterative user centred trials with their feedback informing all stages of development. Cloud9 is the result; haptic software which, combined now pragmatically, with affordable hardware, seems to be a distillation of designer maker ways of thinking.

I recommend this white paper by FemmeDen as so much in it articulates what we are about! Titled ‘Sex on the Brain’ it is by 4 women designers at SMART Design Company (New York/Barcelona) and is a call for a more ‘universal’ approach to designing and solidly references very interesting research findings. http://tinyurl.com/c9g35n

The Research team, and now the development team at Anarkik3D, is more or less balanced between the arts and science. There is a bias towards the arts, specifically designer makers and applied artists, and a bit towards women as a female designer maker (me) led the research project and is the companys’s CEO. Any overt influence is adjusted by a well balanced technology side!

The FemmeDen whitepaper explains why we have a more ‘unconventional’ approach to developing 3D modelling on computer when compared to that of conventional CAD and other 3D modelling packages which are very prescriptive and precision based. Yes it is more female biased but I prefer the terms non gender biased and ‘universal design’ as the Cloud9 haptic package appeals to designer makers of both genders. 

We are also serious about providing a useful professional level ‘tool’, one that enables designer makers of both genders to access all the benefits and advantages of digital 3D modelling and access to 3D printing. To slot in well to their pipeline of designing and making, it is crucial that a level of competence can be achieved swiftly, and retained, without jeopardising the all important time in the workshop to make, as well as the time to explore and experiment with real materials and processes as these are fundamental for understanding the constraints and affordances for making successfully.  It is through this hands-on process that designer makers build an important source of knowledge, albeit tacit, that is needed for good concept generation and designing. And by continuing to ask designer makers to feed back their thoughts to us to improve Cloud9 for how they want to work Anarkik3D can develop a valuable universal tool that suits a wider range of people.

This is a very good place then to thank all the designers, designer makers and artists who since 2000 have contributed to the development of Cloud9. Please stay on board as we will to develop it.

 See MA Student Farah Bandookwala at www.hapticjewellery.ning.com

About Xiaoqing on Ada Lovelace day

Xiaoqing testing an application

Xiaoqing testing an application

This is to celebrate the talents of Xiaoqing Cao who is the technical manager and senior programmer in our Company, Anarkik3D Ltd. She is also a co-founder of the company and we have been working together since Summer 2005 developing haptic software. She is extra special as not only has she skills in computer science she is also an artist and combines her sensibilities,  talent and skills to create elegant software applications that are so visually satisfying too. Having a high level of aesthetics embedded in our products is important as the main group who use our applications, designers, applied artists and artists, will instinctively ‘evaluate’ the software on what the interface looks like and how well they can interact with it. 

Our company is founded and led by the two of us and we are proud that we are at the leading edge developing haptic (virtual touch) technology for application in the creative industries.

I am also really pleased to have the opportunity here to acknowledge  the others in the team, Abi and Mark, as together we are a great team with an excellent range of talents between us which we need to remain at this front edge and especially now as this is difficult time for small business.

Today we celebrate the bringing together of science, art and design!