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