CAD models

model produced using Layer Manufacture

plaster mould

finished eramic object

Digital Creativity

I have been researching the use of digital manufacturing technologies in the process of designing and making three dimensional objects since the mid 90’s. With my colleague Martin Woolner I worked on Crafts Council and University of Plymouth funded projects on how Designer Makers are and could integrate computer technologies in to their practice. We conduced some of the earliest work in this area and published a number of articles and papers on this subject. For some early papers on this topic follow these links. There is some exciting and interesting work going on in this area, see the resource page for links to others working in this area and information on processes, manufacturers etc.

I have been using 3D computing to generate, develop and communicate ideas for my work in ceramics, for a number of years. I enjoy the fact that it is possible to take to the computer a basic idea, and to visualise and develop that idea through many variations until a solution emerges. I like the dialogue that is possible between drawing and forms within the digital space and real models and objects. I feel this approach works for me, because I take to the digital space, a technical and aesthetic understanding of the ceramic material, gained through years of involvement and fascination with the material. I can 'see' how the object in the computer screen will look when glazed and sitting on a kiln shelf. It is of course possible to model in the computer (and to have manufactured using Layer Manufacture and other CAM processes) objects of immense complexity. But that is not why I use these techniques. I am interested in the fact that I can generate forms that, while visually quite simple, have a complexity or a formal 'twist' that make them unusual and intriguing. Take the Ripples Platter for example; this form is possible within a computer programme, but almost impossible to model by hand. Ripples Dish is like a 3D photo. It emulates a normally brief and ephemeral moment of ripples on water and like a photograph, freezes that moment in time. It captures the complexity of the radiating rings and the interference pattern that the two converging ripples create.

The Computer offers no magic solutions, you need the 'ideas' and have the skills to implement then through the making process, to make exciting, beautiful objects.

Over the years I have used simple methods, such as printing and computer vinyl cutting, as a 'aid' to making models (computer 'aided' manufacture CAM?) but converting 3D computer models into actual objects, has always been an aspiration. I knew about rapid prototyping technologies and layer manufacture technologies, and their use within industry, for many years. I first say Stereo Lithography demonstrated at Rover Cars in the late eighties when they had one of only two machines in Britain. However, until recently, cost has always been a barrier to getting involved and integrating it into my own work. Over the last few years a number of new layer manufacturing technologies have been developed. The Z-Corps process, which uses a 'glue' to bind fine plaster, and fused deposition modelling (FDM) which 'prints' in 3D with plastic, are cheaper than the older technologies. It is this relative fall in cost, and accessibility that has enabled me, as a small designer/producer, to realistically use Layer Manufacturing as a way of generating models for making ceramic objects.

craft skills
But CAD/CAM does not replace completely the skill of the modeller and mould maker. I pride myself in my craft skills, in particular with plaster. Many of the Layer Manufactured models are simply not of a high enough standard, the surface quality in particular can be poor. Also, some of my objects are developed around the idea repetition. One smaller form is the sub-set of the whole. These objects need many models and moulds and many hours in the plaster shop.

RPT's and Layer Manufacture
Rapid prototyping relies on "slicing" a 3-dimensional computer model to get a series of cross-sections, which can then be made individually. There are many different ways to make the slices. Each technique has its own advantage and limitations. The most common techniques are stereolithography (SLA), selective laser sintering (SLS), laminated object manufacture (LOM) and fused deposition modelling (FDM)

If you wish to find out more about all aspects of RPT's, visit the links on the resource page.

The series of images to the left, explain the process used use to create the ripples range. A model is produced on the computer, in this case using 3D Studio MAX, and exported as an STL file (the standard file format for all layer manufacturing). When the model was created using FDM it needs to be assembled and there is still some work to do on the surface to get the quality I want.

A silicone mould is taken from the RPT model and then a series of plaster 'waste' moulds to get to the finished model. This is then 'cased' and working moulds made.