Thursday, 10 March 2016

The dark secret of consumer 3D printing

Consumer 3D printing is afflicted by a dreadful and undeniable flaw. Simply, there is little of value for the consumer to print. 

Using your imagination is not as easy as we thought. 

Design is difficult.

Making things of value has always involved skill and taken time. The invention of 3D printing changes nothing.

Why am I writing this? What has piqued me into writing this? The thing that has got my blood up on this occasion is the hysterical reaction on social media to a the artists Jan Nikolai Nelles and Nora Al-Badri supposed hoax. 

The artists released a scan that they claimed they had clandestinely made of the bust of Nefertiti at the Neues Museum in Berlin. Their stated intent was to challenge notions of ownership of artifacts "With regard to the notion of belonging and possession of objects of other cultures, the artists intention is to make cultural objects publicly accessible." In this case the Nefertiti bust which clearly originated in Egypt and for historical reasons is now "property" of a German museum. A print of the bust made from the scan was apparently exhibited by the artists in Egypt.

Somewhere along the line the most important element of this engaging artistic narrative became whether or not a Kinect scanner was used. The artists said they were helped by some IT specialists with this and claim to be non technical.

From my experience running a 3D print bureau there are a great many artists that do not know the first thing about modelling in software but want to use 3D printing as a medium. This does not stop them and nor should it, they simply find someone who can do the work for them. It is perfectly normal for artists to hire specialists to do work for them whether it be casting bronze or scanning artworks.

There are artists that are completely immersed in technology and to a certain extent the technology becomes an end in itself and there are others who see the technology as a means to an end.

Anyway my point is that the hysteria that has blown up about whether a Kinect was used or reflects reflects directly back on the consumer end of the industry that is utterly inward looking. Focussed obsessively on the technology because in truth it there is not much you can do with it.

Consumer 3D printing and scanning has nothing at its centre. It is a great big void with no purpose. 

Amid the outcry about how the Nefertiti image was made there are consumer 3D printing enthusiasts discussing how best to print it. Sometimes and without irony the same enthusiasts are shouting down the artists that brought this data to them in the first place. 

There is a hunger if not a desperate need for good part to justify the continuing existence of consumer 3D printing. Again, using your imagination is not easy, design is difficult and making requires skill and time. 

The traditional rapid prototyping (3D printing) industries remain high value low volume prototyping and modelmaking. There is real business there and nothing changed with the advent of consumer 3D printing. 

The fact is that the 3D printing part of the process is a relatively quick and minor part of the process compared to the time involved to design the parts that are printed. Often data is being created by teams of people working over extended periods of time to create the data that we print overnight or in a few days as the case maybe. 

There are many people engaged in trying to make a living at the consumer end of the market and it is not pretty. There is little money here. Its tough and people are going to lose their investments. 

Expecting individuals with little or no software skills to create meaningful parts to print at home is laughable. Choosing parts to print from on line catalogues is little better. The materials and quality of a home printer is incomparable to mass produced traditionally manufactured product. 

Artists have a real use for these new 3D technologies. They have exercised their imaginations over many years. It is difficult for some people to understand that artists do not necessarily make objects. How they make their work is irrelevant in many cases. 

The fact is that with photogrammetry it will not be possible to prevent 3D images of artefacts being "released" from their "captor" museums in future. This is the real story that will exist long after the inflammatory language of lies and hoax and fraud and even the even weirder accusations of profiteering havedied away.

I strongly suspect the hysterical reaction to the utterly irrelevant Kinect question has much more to do with a reactionary loathing of artists daring to put their heads above the parapet with a meaningful and subversive statement than it does to do with which technology was used to make the statement.

The consumer printing crowd would do well to be less concerned about how their data was created and be thankful that they have something of value to print. 




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