Stephen Cass, IEEE Spectrum
Success will belong to products and services that focus on the object simply being made, rather than on how it was made.
In the consumer and tech markets, 3-D printing is used to build cars, robots, footwear, rockets, gun and just about anything else you can imagine. But in the world of art, visual artists are just beginning to explore the creative ways to use 3-D printers to expand their work. A painter’s canvas, one dimensional until now, suddenly can show depth and perspective, while a sculptor’s own laser-scanned body can become the working model for 3-D printed works.
Reclining Figure by Sophie Kahn
Way back in 2003, while studying at a university in Melbourne, Sophie Kahn observed a group of architects using 3-D scanning and printing. “I started using the scanner on my own body in the lab, and to me it was very reminiscent of art history and classical sculpture and indicative of the fragmentation and decay of ancient art,” Kahn said. “So I am interested in the melding of ancient and futuristic art.”
Here, she combines 3-D laser scanning and 3-D printing with ancient bronze casting techniques to achieve a timeless, deconstructed look.
Kahn says she purposefully uses a 3-D model in a way that will generate errors and glitches in the final printing process.
“I use motion of the body because the scanner does not handle a moving breathing body very well. It misunderstands that, so you get multiple overlapping figures,” she said. “I sculpt that, and it’s very labor intensive. I spend a couple of months on each piece, using digital sculpting software. When I’m happy with it, I send it out to the printer."
Kahn’s work can be seen at sophiekahn.net, and in an upcoming exhibit at Connecticut College, Oct. 28 to Dec. 6, 2013.
Protocolonization of Commons
Artist Shane Hope sits at the intersection of science and technology via molecular nanotechnology, the science of modifying objects at the atomic or molecular level. “My goal is to glean abnormalities that aesthetically accentuate messy molecular modeling,” he said. “I've hand-hobbled together a bunch of bots (3-D printers) from scratch and I employ them more like painting assistants.”
Hope, whose work will be shown Oct. 18 to Feb. 2, 2014 at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts “Dissident Futures” exhibition, was trained as a painter. Although he has no formal computer science training, he uses open-source nano molecular design software to create his complex designs and uses several 3-D printers in his studio. Each piece uses thousands of 3D-printed models.
In the heart of a 150-acre redwood forest, architect Bryan Allen and art practice psychologist Stephanie Smith installed Echoviren, a 10x10x8-foot, 3D-printed translucent enclosure. “We used seven printers running 24 hours a day producing essentially 500 individual pieces,” Allen told DNews. “We used run-of-the-mill 3-D desktop printers. The 3-D printer compresses the time from conception of an idea to its fruition and building. You use the same tool to evaluate your design, to produce prototypes and to produce the final design.”
The artists’ goal was to create a space in the forest influenced by the environment and coastal redwoods.
“For us, it really democratizes the production of large scale work,” Allen said. The project will decompose naturally within 40 to 50 years.
Frank Stella can safely be called a pioneer in the use of 3-D printing for art, since he first started experimenting with it in the mid 1990s. Stella gained fame in the 1950s with geometrics in nature paintings.
Stella starts with a handmade model, sometimes made from paper, which he scans and captures as a digital image. He then cuts and pastes from other existing models before manipulating and refining the image and sending to a 3-D printer.
Stella, whose work will be shown at the Museum of Art and Design in New York City from Oct. 16 to July 6, 2014, sometimes adds elements of wire or steel tubing for more texture and depth. “Stella sees the 3D-printed form as a canvas for him to apply paint,” said Ron Labaco, curator at the Museum of Arts and Design. “The works range from tabletop, about two and a half feet across, to larger free-standing or wall hangings that are as large as six or eight feet across. He works with some of the 3-D printing companies in Europe that have the largest printers.”
Fans who were surprised at the intricate artwork on Kanye West’s 2012 album, “Cruel Summer” can thank Parisian artist Hugo Arcier. Arcier, trained in digital filmmaking and 3-D graphic arts, creates original objects using 3-D printers. “Using 3-D printers probably blurs the line between art and design and some projects I do with 3D-printing technology can be considered more as design,” Arcier told DNews. “I’m excited about the link between art and science.”
Arcier, whose work will be on display at Show Off, the annual Paris art fair, form Oct. 21-23, says artists have a long history of incorporating technology into their work. He points to Andy Warhol’s use of screen printing as an example.
“3-D printing is a technology that evolves very quickly so I am paying close attention to it,” Arcier said. “There are more and more materials available. I am doing some tests now with rubber material. I think it can be used very creatively. I also look forward to the possibility of printing bigger objects, since the size is really a limitation now."
The 2014 CES will be remembered as the year when 3-D printing arrived. Sure, there were plenty of grizzled veterans around who were willing to point out, as 3-D Systems’ Avi Reichental did, that “3-D printing is an overnight success 30 years in the making.”
But on the other hand, there was poster-boy Bre Pettis observing that five years ago, “MakerBot was the only 3-D printing company at CES.” This year, CES opened a zone of show floor dedicated to 3-D printing for the first time — it promptly sold out, had more space added, and then sold out again. (MakerBot itself announced no less than three new printer models at the show.)
However, many technologies have had notable arrivals at CES following years of patient nurturing, only to fall by the wayside — 3-D TV, HD DVD and the MiniDisc are just a few examples that spring to mind. So what are 3-D printing’s prospects like outside the CES bubble?
First, in the next few years, expect to see a brutal culling of the eager startups who were filling the booths on the show floor. One reason is that 3-D printing has evolved from its roots in the volunteer maker movement into a highly competitive business, with much less room for error. Another is that many of these startups are chasing the market for domestic 3-D printers with cheap and cheerful machines. But, in absence of a “killer app” for personal printing, the home market is further off than the hype would suggest, and so many of their efforts will likely prove premature.
But there is reason to believe that 3-D printing will begin to infiltrate the mainstream, with success belonging to products and services that focus on the object being made, rather than the hobbyist’s thrill in the futuristic manner of how it was made. 3-D printing services company Sculpteo, for example, often combines 3-D printing with more mundane manufacturing methods, such as casting, in order to produce highly finished objects in a much wider range of materials than the plastics used in many printers. 3-D Systems offers a booth that scans your face, so if can be printed on one of a number of Star Trek figurines. And Mcor Technologies uses an innovative paper-based process that allows objects to emerge with photo-realistic color: it’s teamed with Staples to develop an in-store retail 3-D printing service.
Once it’s commonplace for a wedding cake to topped with complex 3-D designs made out of sugar, for full-color busts of family members (even unborn ones) to become as normal as awkward portraits, and for every child to own a toy with their own face, the ground will be prepared for moving these devices towards the dream of home production.
But in the interim years, 3-D printing could still have a big impact on manufacturing, by enabling the continued rise of mass customization, where each customer gets to pick their own combination of features for a basic underlying object, such as a shoe or smartphone. Mass customization solves one the big challenges for 3-D printing, which is that most people are not familiar with the modeling tools needed to create objects from scratch. (Although 3-D printer manufacturers are eager to get schoolchildren engaged with the technology in the hopes of bringing up a population of “print natives” within a generation.) But allowing customers to adjust a few parameters gives them enough control to take ownership of a design, without overwhelming them. If every object is a one-off, then 3-D printing would have an edge over traditional mass production technologies.
Even in traditional mass production, 3-D printing is beginning to find applications, albeit at the small scale. Chris Milnes, who sells a widget for Square credit card readers through retail channels, has turned his home into a bot farm for all his manufacturing. And Sculpteo, which announced new software-assisted batch control technology, has printed as many as 21,000 copies of a part for a company that was at risk of missing the release date for a product because the component couldn’t be made and shipped in time using conventional injection molding techniques.
Perhaps most interesting of all the visions of the future of 3-D printing given at CES was that provided by IBM’s Paul Brady, who discussed the results of a study that looked at the impact of 3-D printing in combination with two other technological movements — advanced robotics and open source software. A mutually reinforcing interplay between these three domains could mean that in a matter of decades the higher labor costs associated with manufacturing in the developed world would be greatly diminished, leaving transportation to stand as a significant portion of the cost. In such a world, even for non-customized objects, such as appliances, it would no longer make sense to manufacture products in one continent and ship them to another. Eventually, it wouldn’t make sense to ship objects beyond a few hours drive.
But one thing remains clear from this year’s CES: if we can just stop virtually every 3-D printing entrepreneur opening their presentation with a slide of Henry’s Ford’s Model T assembly line, then future of the industry will be brighter already.
Get more from IEEE Spectrum
Profile: Bre Pettis
SPECIAL REPORT: 2014 TOP TECH TO WATCH
Obama Administration Wants to Speed Up Hydrogen-Powered Vehicles
This article originally appeared on IEEE Spectrum, all rights reserved.