In order to ensure that all incoming students are comfortable (at comparable levels of proficiency) with the skills, processes, and facilities they'll be engaging from day one of their first semester, the Designed Objects program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) recently created the first classroom in the world equipped with a class-count of individual 3D printers with support from Printrbot, Taulman 3D and Simplify 3D. The 11 students were encouraged to 3D print output by proposing textiles, printing intelligence and a future that celebrates the immediate, provisional, and transient. The course is action-oriented and exhibition-driven, and is more about experiencing fast and complete cycles of realization (with idea development de-emphasized in favor of range of exposure).
Although the incoming class participates in the summer intensive every year, this was the first year that 3D printing was part of the curriculum. Instructor Brian Anderson was in conversation with Printrbot for a personal project early in the summer and our exchanges expanded into the possibility of pulling together the first classroom with so many accessible printers, and the desktop 3D printing component ended up taking the final quarter of the six-week course. Here he shares the story behind "Immediate Objects: Explorations in 3D printing."
Text & Images courtesy of Brian Anderson
Each year, SAIC's incoming Master of Design students spends six weeks in a pre-term boot camp exploring the how and when of rough and refined design visualization and prototyping. Through daily and weekly projects the class advances digital design skills and gains comprehensive exposure to the fabrication and production capabilities across the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Using these capabilities and tools, students in the course explore approaches to visualization and construction ranging from simple to sophisticated and exhibit drawings and objects developed through integrated approaches. This summer, the Designed Objects boot camp culminated in a week-long 3D printing intensive, a low- to medium-fidelity laboratory that explored the idea of ubiquitous 3D printing.
Because of the relatively high price of equipping classrooms with ten or more semi-pro 3D printers, courses focusing on digital output often can only afford to provide students access to one or two machines. Responding to this impasse, I conceived of a collaboration intended to marry accessible, low-cost 3D printing (the Printrbot Simple is the world's least expensive 3D printer) with a print material that is readily optimized in terms of print volume and strength (it takes less nylon to achieve high structural integrity and Taulman 3D is actively involved in developing this and other aspects of print output) and lastly a simplified and robust software interface and workflow (Simplify 3D's Creator software).
SAIC received the first Simple machines shipped from Printrbot. The Simple is inexpensive enough ($300) to consider consumable or semi-consumable or as having a limited lifetime that can be extended by re-purposing components or rebuilding the machine. A course budget that could cover one semi-pro machine comes close to outfitting an entire class with printers. Taulman 3D helped the course acquire 645 and 618 nylon filament and an advanced quantity of T-glase. Simplify 3D pre-released a version of their Creator software modified to communicate with Printrbot boards.
Each of the 11 students—whose backgrounds range from architecture, industrial design and space design to TV/film production, literature/writing and liberal arts and even puppeteering—received a 3D printer to work with. Direct day-to-day contact with the printers was intended primarily to blast through the technical bog that often becomes the focus of 3D output, to exercise unrestricted access to a technology that is often out of reach or managed by others.
The Designed Objects program considered the 1:1 ratio of printer to student to be an achievement and an experiment worth running; simply demonstrating the possibility was a win. In the classroom, there was zero distance separating the CAD environment with 3D output for all students. And what was once black-box technology for most grew into an intimate relationship (of understanding, tending, tuning and maintaining) with machine and material. The class named the machines, and by the end of the course each bot had a recognizable personality.
Since the students were likely to be at different points in learning and working in an information-noisy, trial-and-error learning environment, the curricular material was delivered through video tutorials. The classroom was run as a minimally-structured collaborative studio in which the fleet of machines was nimble, responsive, active, demanding and rewarding. Across an intensive period of use (not all students printed at the same time), momentarily redundant machines were cycled through the classroom when there was more than a need for recalibration.
The Simple offers a relatively small print envelope in a market that trends toward a cubic foot. This seeming drawback was beneficial in the classroom when considering time to print (the time it would take to print larger print envelopes is at odds with the typical class or studio period), and the imperative of iteration seems to demand smaller, faster, incremental prints that are strong and can then be subjected to basic subtractive processes. Larger volume projects immediately necessitate the development of strategies for modularity.
Alongside object output, the class produced short videos (below). The Immediate Objects series assumes future ubiquitous printing. The short videos ask not what can be printed now, but muse about a not-so-future world where 3D printers are as familiar as domestic objects like toasters or sewing machines? What if we printed clothing at home what we wore on the town? What if the g-code that defines the construction of printed objects evolved and mutated like DNA? What if future intelligent printers anticipated our needs?
Here is information from the course syllabus:
Under the general theme of Juncture we will consider the how and when of rough and refined design visualization and prototyping. Over a six-week period through daily and weekly projects, we will refresh our digital design skills and gain exposure to the various fabrication and production capabilities across the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Using these capabilities and tools we will explore approaches to visualization and construction ranging from simple to sophisticated and will present and exhibit a range of drawings and objects developed through integrated approaches.
Two general components comprise the course: visualization and realization. The objectives of the visualization portion of the Summer Intensive is to confirm and develop fundamental design and communication skills and techniques. The primary goal of the realization (fabrication) portion of the Summer Intensive is to develop a broad working knowledge of school-wide facilities and services. The curriculum components are taught as a whole and are driven by shared skills projects and exhibitions.
You will learn to plan, model and fabricate models and prototypes to an appropriate degree of fidelity in a range of materials through multiple stages of design development. And by the end of the course, you will be better able to choose appropriate speeds of execution, identify whether iteration or redesign are necessary, and how to pursue services, materials, and sponsorship outside of SAIC.
The objective of your work will not be to design objects with specific content, but through a consideration of simple forms and functions to develop technical skills and general habits of mind, action, and judgment pertaining to prototype fabrication. Fabrication itself will be considered in terms of speed and flux. Iteration is the imperative. Throughout the course we will use exhibition (filling a specific volume meaningfully) as a driving force and focusing end to our work. Assessment in this fast-moving course is based on attendance and participation.