How can something three dimensional come out of a printer?
3D Printing is constantly hitting the headlines. But If you're anything like me, you just can't get your head round the concept at all.
Innovative use of 3D Printing from Kevin Koekkoek
To help demystify the process and understand how it might be useful for artists and designers, I'm excited to be interviewing Kevin Koekkoek - a London-based designer-maker and pioneer in the exciting new world of 3D Printing.
I start by getting Kevin to give us the idiot's guide to 3D printing.
Can you explain in the simplest terms possible, Kevin, what 3D Printing is?
3D Printing is a form of rapid prototyping. Instead of carving out material to create an object, like with traditional manufacturing methods such as drilling, cutting CNC milling or laser cutting, a 3D printer creates an object from a melted material.
Makerbot 3D printers - which are now very popular with consumers - melt plastics, creating objects layer by layer. The more professional 3D printers are even able to 3D print metal, by melting metal powder with a laser.
What is your background? Tell me a little about yourself. How did you get into working with this technology?
I’d actually trained as a fine woodworker in Holland, so I was used to designing and making my own creations but I was confronted with 3D printing during my career as an Architectural model-maker.
I was freelancing regularly for the Dutch architectural firm UN studio. Their workflow was completely based on 3D generated designs and data, as their designs were quite organic and sculptural and most of the designs could only really be done on a computer.
The model-shop manager of UN studio, who is also a friend of mine, encouraged me to get my head around 3D printing, to make sure I could compete with the new kids on the block. So, that is what I did. I used my time at the company to learn how to learn the CAD software skills which are so crucial if you want to work with a 3D printer, and play with the machine.
About 2 years ago I bought my first 3D printer, without really knowing in which direction I would go. Of course I played a lot with my new toy and explored what was possible to do with the machine.
I created loads of designs and I documented my process with screenshots. I then used all my experiments as case studies in my book 3D printing projects, 20 projects for your 3D printer.
About one and a half years ago I started renting a studio space at Create Space London, where I now have three 3D printers, a PC and two 3D scanners.
It's a great art space. The fact that there are loads of artist and loads of art is constantly being produced, really fuelled my interest to create my own 3D printed designs. I now also design lampshades and jewellery, through 3D printing.
Kevin Koekkoek's book 3D Printing Projects: 2D Design Projects for Your 3D Printer
What kind of learning curve is involved in learning how to use a 3D printer? What sort of existing skills, knowledge or aptitudes would someone need?
The one thing you need, which most people are not aware of, is a good knowledge of 3D CAD software. This is where most of my time is spent, creating the designs and making sure that the files are watertight so that when the machine prints the objects, there are no holes, the edges are smooth, etc.
The good news is that, as 3D printing is getting quite popular, big software companies such as Autodesk are creating user-friendly and free CAD software, such as Tinkercad and 123design for the beginner. The learning curve can be steep, but the 123design has links to free tutorials on YouTube to help you learn the basics of the software.
It would also make sense for 3D printing to be incorporated in the training for artist and craftspeople, as it is a very useful tool.
What kind of artists and craftspeople do you think would most benefit from the technology? What kind of objects or products are being created by them using 3D printing now?
This can be anything from a 3D printed piece of jewellery to a 3D printed piece of furniture, or even a house.
Artists who want to explore new shapes that are difficult to produce by hand or with other machines, can get a lot from 3D printing.
Artists who create a range of versions of their work before they come up with their final one, will also get a lot from this technology, as you can easily change the size and proportions in the modelling software.
Experimental artists that want to use code and/or programming to create interesting shapes will also have a lot of fun with this technology.
A great example of this is the work of Jonathan Keep, a ceramic artist who generates 3D printed ceramic pieces designed with the help of code and 3D modelling.
Jonathan Keep trying out a 3D ceramic printer
Should artists and designers aim to buy a 3D printer themselves or to contract the services of someone like you who has one?
To have a 3D printer on your desk is great. You can design something, and a few hours later you can have your design in your hand.
But if you are not computer or CAD savvy, there are still possibilities to get your designs 3D printed. One of them is to do face-to-face or remote sessions with a CAD designer.
(I’ve done both in the past, so if your readers needs help, I’m happy to be contacted.)
The other option is, before you buy a 3D printer, to play with the software to create some drawings and then use websites like Shapeways to print your designs. In this way, you can see how much you enjoy the process and whether it’s going to be worth you buying a machine for yourself.
I know that you have been experimenting with using 3D Printing to produce designs in silver. Can you explain the process? How much of this process is actually done through the 3D printer and how much needs to be outsourced?
I use both new technology and traditional investment casting, which I outsource.
If the design is not too complicated, I print the object (a ring, for example) with my own 3D printer and give that print to a silver casting company. The 3D print is then cast in plaster. When the plaster is set, the plastic is melted away in a kiln, leaving the plaster mould behind.
The silver is then cast in the plaster mould. When the silver cools down, the plaster is broken away, leaving the silver ring.
The silver ring then needs to be polished. I usually do this myself.
Is this balance typical between 3D printing and outsourcing or does it vary considerably according to the final material involved?
I’m not aware of many other people using this process, but I imagine this balance is typical, until we can afford machines that print in the material we want.
How do the costs for making the silver jewellery compare to using a more traditional process?
I have a feeling the costs are very similar – but you save a lot of time. It’s much faster to customise a ring, for example, when you can design your object, print it in plastic in your 3D printer and hold it in your hand. If you then want to change the size or the thickness, for example, you just go to your computer, change the file and ten minutes later, you can print another prototype again. Only when you’re completely happy with your design do you then send it to be cast in metal.
What other ideas do you have in mind for how you'd like to move forward with 3D Printing?
I'm discovering that 3D modelling and 3D printing are great tools to create abstract shapes and designs myself, and also to help artists realise theirs.
I'm always looking for ways of using 3D printing, to create objects in a wide range of materials. For example, at the moment I’m developing ways of working with ceramic artists, while I continue to design silver ring lines myself.
Thanks so much for your time, Kevin. I finally understand what 3D Printing is and I'm sure that a lot of artists and designers out there are going to find this both helpful and stimulating.
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