I did it my way: user engagement in post industrial manufacturing

ATKINSON, Paul, MARSHALL, Justin, UNVER, Ertu and DEAN, Lionel, T (2012). I did it my way: user engagement in post industrial manufacturing. In: IPSER, C, (ed.) Fabvolution: Developments in Digital Fabrication. Barcelona, Institut de Cultura – Disseny Hub Barcelona, 81-87.

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The onset of direct digital manufacturing, in particular 3D printing, has brought with it a number of well-understood benefits. These include the facts that it is an additive rather than subtractive process achieving close to zero waste, and that the removal of the requirement for investment in tooling means that manufacture can be achieved by remote users at the point of use, removing the need for manufacturing in quantity, the stockpiling of products and the carbon miles required for distribution. The promise offered is a move from old to new paradigms of production and a huge reduction in the mass-production of goods on a global scale. These elements support a leading role for Post Industrial Manufacturing techniques as part of a sustainable future.

However, these processes, especially in their growing ‘domestic’ format of open source 3D printers such as the ‘Makerbot’, or the RepRap - distributed for free and built at extremely low cost, have their detractors. Their argument, which it has to be said has some merit, is that giving a global audience the ability to freely manufacture many of the products they would otherwise have to buy removes the value of products and could open a Pandora’s Box of product proliferation. Naysayers see such devices being used to create vast amounts of sub-standard products that, due to the ease with which they could be reproduced, will be readily discarded and replaced, increasing rather than decreasing consumption. Fed up with your ornaments? Throw them all away and print some new ones. Broken a lamp? Don’t fix it – make another at the push of a button. Lost your favourite cufflinks? Print another pair.

These are understandable concerns. Access to open design and production techniques in other areas has had a significant negative impact. Witness the graphic designers who have a great deal to say about the degradation of their discipline due to Desktop Publishing – WordArt and colour inkjet printing have proved to be thorns in the sides of creative professionals for many years now. Without careful consideration of the impact of such technologies moving into the 3D arena and the effects they will have on the designers and manufacturers of today’s products, the potential for disaster is high. Together, 3D printing and Open Design are indeed disruptive technologies. So what is to be done? The key is for designers and manufacturers to embrace these technologies and become involved in the creation of Post Industrial Manufacturing Systems that will allow the amateur user to become closely involved in the design and production of high quality, well-designed products that have deeper personal meaning to the user than off-the-shelf, mass-produced goods.

A team consisting of the lead researcher, a computer programmer, a product designer and a craftsman/maker tested this proposition. Two separate yet related product design systems were developed which utilized parametric modelling in conjunction with generative algorithms in order to allow untrained users to design and produce unique objects. The designer and craftsman/maker used their systems to create numerous versions of a number of products, which were printed in 3D for display in a public exhibition. At the exhibition, one of the systems was made available for visitors to try, and a selection of their designs were manufactured and added to the growing display. The results were incredibly positive. Many visitors returned to the exhibition repeatedly, excitingly explaining to friends and relatives that for the first time in their lives, they had created something and had it made, and that their own work was on public display. They had done it their way. Their relationship to the objects they had produced was far removed from that of their normal engagement with everyday objects; they had a meaning above and beyond mere ownership. These objects would not be thoughtlessly cast aside.

It would appear that Post Industrial Manufacturing Systems that allow a high level of user involvement in the co-creation of objects do in fact hold the key to the reduction of global product consumption for many types of goods in a sustainable future.

Item Type: Book Section
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Cultural Communication and Computing Research Institute > Art and Design Research Centre
Page Range: 81-87
Depositing User: Paul Atkinson
Date Deposited: 25 Sep 2012 08:37
Last Modified: 18 Mar 2021 09:00
URI: https://shura.shu.ac.uk/id/eprint/6025

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