The new manufacturing revolution

The world that exists, crushed between the physical and digital has been playing on my mind recently.

Coming from a physical product-design background, and diving into the realm of digital interaction via public sector service design delivery I’ve been trying to piece together each of these sections, find the overlaps, and find a comfortable way of them to sit together in a productive manner.

I’ve moved from physical-to-service because the processes of designing, group methods and subject of experiences and interactions fascinated me. I loved that design could be applied in a discipline that wasn’t actively focused on making more ‘stuff’, but making elements of people’s lives (often difficult and trying elements) more understandable, enjoyable and efficient.
I’ve moved from service-to-digital as I wanted to learn more about the methods of delivery, of testing and of bringing real-life interactions to life. I wanted to learn how the digital side of service delivery worked, what speed concepts developed at, and how my skills could be folded into the mix.

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk at Made by Many about bringing an element of 3D, of products, into the offerings we’re creating. My ears perked up, I started researching and scribbling. The addition of Ben to the Many has prompted a great group interest in the production of things; tactile and evolving. Together with Andy, the process of resurrecting the 3D printer has begun. The code has been tinkered with, temperatures and bed height adjusted and re-adjusted. Now we’re cooking on gas.


The question is, what should we be making?
With a new material, crafters the world over start with experimenting. Trialling to find the boundaries of what they feel they can produce within. This is necessary not only to try out ideas, but to work out what you’ll be able to produce once your ideas start growing. We now know that we can make things (due to some rather impressive tinkering) and now we’re asking, what can we be making that shows a different way of thinking, or provokes a new response?

Recently, Ben and I attended Playful and, along with a handful of others, a 3D printing event at Protein. Both events spoke of 3D printing as the new manufacturing revolution – sparking further discussions of the industrial revolution/arts and crafts movement, 3D printers in our homes, how this may affect the international trade economy, as well as projects currently being undertaken and people’s reactions to these.


Here’s some thoughts I’ve been attempting to process, and why this new move is making we want to roll up my sleeves and get stuck into it all:

– If our economy is pushing for more local, independent making and manufacturing, of uploading and trading 3D files as a new product currency, what if anything, will be our equivalent resurgent movement? Who will be our modern-day William Morris? Is there an expectation of an anti-progress…

– What is being produced at this early trial stage strikes me as being, well, a little useless. We’re making things that we’ve always made before. Toys, vessels, sculptures, chairs. With a new production method, shouldn’t we be thinking about new ‘things’ that we can be making?

– The conceptual projects really intrigue me; printing fabric, meat, ice. These are steps towards answers to some big social issues. While they may appear idealistic, and often better suited to the pages of a design magazine, they are posing some interesting questions.

– The oncoming meeting point between design, craft, digital craft and services; touched upon by Hannah Donovan at Playful, we’re rapidly approaching the time when all digital craft should, be considered craft. Let’s throw away the preconceptions of quiet stitchers, knitters and sculptors – crafters are everyone who creates, invents and tinkers, who has a skill, a medium and a desire to make new things. The fact that these could weave together the physical and the digital fascinates me.

– Also from Playful, Mark Sorrell and Einer Sneve Martinussen (in particular) talking about ideas and advances in interactive behaviour. We’re seeing a move away from the screen, into a new 3D version of gaming, learning and expressing that is aided and enabled by computers, but not enacted through them. Essentially, we need to get out more, again. I loved that these examples, along with ones from Siobhan Reddy, and the Techsquad showed that being playful really has to go back to it’s core – to the playground, to learning by watching, to evolving a game to make it more fun, to eye contact and the feelings of striving hard for something as well as being awarded for success.
I love that the environment, the way in which you physically interact with your team and opponents played a crucial part in these examples. This new playful revolution is taking us away from our screens and back into the scenarios we were built for.


Next Steps:

It’s my plan to investigate how these thoughts can manifest themselves with 3D production. How 3D printing can find a place where it is useful, desirable and potentially a little bit ground breaking. I’m excited to delve into further examples of how it is being pushed, how it can be mixed with digital (either existing platforms or new ones), who is trialling different techniques, and crucially, what people think and feel about the outcomes.
Watch this space.

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