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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: Rapid Prototyping Journal, Volume 20, Issue 5
Last week I attended a conference entitled “All makers now? Craft values in 21st century production”, held at Falmouth University in Cornwall, UK. I want to say thank you to Katie Bunnell and her team in the Autonomatic Research Group at Falmouth University for making me so welcome and for their first-class conference organisation. The conference was held to address the issues being raised through the setting up of Makerspaces, Fablabs, etc., which offer almost anyone the opportunity to become a digital entrepreneur. Users of these facilities can harness the power of digital technologies to create, co-create, collaborate, make and sell their own products. This new way of operating is very disruptive, and if it becomes widely used, it can have an immense impact on the UK and, indeed, on global economy. The conference raised questions about “how, where and why the complex and subtly nuanced characteristics of craft merge with those of digital production, rapid prototyping and the superfast information highway”. In particular, the impact “everyone being a maker” on the craft community was explored.
Obviously, additive manufacturing or three-dimensional (3D) printing is an important technology in this domain, but by no means the only digital technology available. Indeed, the conference covered a wide range of making technologies, some of them digital, e.g. laser cutting and digital crochet, whereas others were more traditional and even manual, e.g. knitting and pottery-making. The most interesting content, from my personal point of view, was when a clever combination of digital and manual skills was employed. For example, Jennifer Gray from the Edinburgh College of Art demonstrated how 3D printed models could become the starting point for more detailed hand carving through their conversion into a wax model. The final design she created was therefore a product of both digital and manual modelling. The need for “co-creation” between a professional designer and a lay-person was explored by a number of speakers, indicating that the role of the designer is not necessarily threatened, but possibly enhanced, by this paradigm. The conference also included the opportunity to visit the “MakerNow” workspace at the Penryn campus of Falmouth University and to participate in some hands-on workshops. I am hoping that the research of some of the conference speakers will feature in future issues of the Rapid Prototyping Journal.
The message I took away from the conference was that even if the “All makers now?” question is answered with a “yes”, then the traditional role of designers and makers is not necessarily threatened, and could actually be enhanced. Computer-aided design systems to be used by lay-persons will still require a level of skills and knowledge that only a professional designer can bring if a product is to be beautiful, functional and safe. Likewise, current 3D printers cannot replicate the level of finish or range of materials used in the craft industry. There needs to be some form of “hybridisation” between the consumer and professional, and between the digital and manual domains. The important questions are “how can this best be achieved?”, “how will everyone involved be properly rewarded?” and “how will the complex relationships among humans and technologies evolve over the coming years?”