When Did 3D Printing Become the New Jargon Term?

Somewhere in the last five years, 3D printing has become the hot new jargon term. And now every English major out there who wants to build a following is flinging the term about with mad abandon and no real understanding that not every 3-dimensional object out there is created with 3D printing.

I was first exposed to the concept of 3D printing at an exhibit at the FIT museum space (~2004?). They had just mounted an exhibit about new designers coming out of Amsterdam (an aside here – I’m not sure what all those designers in the Netherlands are smoking but their creativity is astonishing!).  The exhibit included a number of really interesting artifacts including furniture and jewelry created through a process called ‘laser sintering‘. One piece in particular made a big impact on me; it was a necklace that had been created in situ inside its carrying case.

Laser sintering is a type of manufacturing that uses laser energy passing through a container of special powdered substrate. A special software program creates a design file of ‘layers’ of the desired 3D object. The design file layers are the guides for the laser beam to create the 3D object.

Being naturally curious I loved the whole idea, but laser sintering devices were certainly not cheap and not common. Even during my most recent degree program at FIT, where I studied accessories design, we did not have access to any sort of 3D printers. They were just too expensive.

Moving ahead to 2008, and a nifty small business called Desktop Factory. Desktop Factory had a functional prototype of a true desktop sized 3D printer. It had a speed of about 1 cubic inch/1-3 hours, and a consumable cost of $1/cubic inch. They were planning to launch it at $4,995/unit. Unfortunately, 2008 was a wintery year for venture capital, Desktop Factory was unable to close funding (they came so close, so many times, but the venture capitalists out there, being the visionary sorts they are, rolled a one. Yes, suits, I’m talking to you.) and ultimately this technology was sold to another company.

Fast forward to February 2010, Fashion Bar Camp, and the guys from MakerBot were demoing a Thing-O-Matic. (I think it was this one shown in Wiki, in fact). Fascinating? You bet. Useful to John Q. Public, not so much, unless you were also into DIY making. MakerBot was sold as a kit, for a little under $1,000. You had the ultimate DIY project to create your very own 3D printer.  I thought about getting one (hey, I’m a technical designer. I make stuff all the time. How hard could it be, really?) but ultimately that $1,000 price tag for a bunch of parts put me off. Still, it was intriguing enough that they sold 3,500 units. It was also interesting that initial cost and consumable costs were starting to converge to cheap.

Two and a half years later, ‘suddenly’ there’s a $2,500 desktop printer out there; costs of consumables are plummeting, and everyone is on the 3D bandwagon. It’s gotten so bad that I actually ran across a blog post claiming that biotechnology used to create muscle fibers was ‘3D printing of steak’.

So let’s set the record straight here. 3D printing is not ‘everything that uses a machine that ends up with a 3 dimensional product.’ It’s quite specific:

Additive manufacturing (AM) also known as 3D printing is defined by ASTM as the “process of joining materials to make objects from 3D model data, usually layer upon layer, as opposed to subtractive manufacturing methodologies, such as traditional machining. Synonyms include additive fabrication, additive processes, additive techniques, additive layer manufacturing, layer manufacturing, and freeform fabrication“.

I did not make up this definition. It’s the ASTM International’s (American Society for Testing and Materials).

If you played very fast and loose with all of the words in the definition, and stretched the actual meaning to the breaking point, you could conceivably say that all forms of making stuff are ‘3D Printing.’ I mean, when I make samples, it is technically accurate to say I take layers of materials and join them together in a process that results in a 3D object.  But I really think it would be much too hard a stretch to say that creating a prototype sample with my sewing machine is 3D printing, even if every step of the process up to actually stitching the sample has been touched by technology. (And yes, I do start from a 3D model and end up with a 3D model).

Given my science background (at the University of Michigan I doubled-majored in scientific illustration and botanical biotechnology back when Murashige-Skoog was the hot new jargon term) I think it’s stretching to call culturing muscle fiber in vitro ‘3D printing’.

There’s also a ton of other crap being dumped into the 3D bin, because 3D printing is the latest jargon. Unfortunately, as any good technical designer can tell you, methodology matters, materials matter, and so does technique. Making sure you have the right words to describe how you want something made is as important as the sketch you send along, or you get back a sample that is the factory’s best guess.

This is not to say that companies out there aren’t using 3D printing. Nike, Adidas and UnderArmour are companies that are all known for their high standards in development. Increasingly it seems that fashion designers are going to need to take their ability to think in 3D and use it to develop their design files in 3D packages so we can send them to 3D printers (which will be things, not people).

So let’s get it right with 3D printing, and not just use it as a jargon term. It means something a lot more specific than that.


Presenting at FashionCampNY 2010 Saturday, February 20

Virtual goods are hot, and 3D is even hotter!

In this 45 minute presentation, new methods of marketing, sales and development using 3D will be showcased.  You’ll learn about a sizzling new way to showcase your work using 3D in a 24 x7 virtual fashion show. Pick your models, pick their looks, pick your runway, and then select the outfits, garments or accessories you want to showcase..it’s that easy.

Want to go deeper? How about easy-to-use product demo stations, where your buyers can interact with your product offerings, changing colors and patterns.

Want even more? Your buyers can purchase your product directly from the runway; look at tech packs, or anything else you want to show them.  Your buyers are overseas or not easy to reach? No problem. If they have a web-enabled or mobile device, they can get actual videos of your product.   Join us for this visionary approach to marketing your product, and be at the forefront of trend. CEO Shenlei Winkler presents “Virtual Fashion, Real Money” in this 45 minute demonstration at FashionCampNY.

Fashion Camp is a free, volunteer-run, 2-day barcamp-style conference with workshops and presentations focused on current topics in fashion, technology, and innovative marriages of fashion and tech, including fashion tech/wearables, fashion eCommerce, and fashion2.0.

Assets for the Land Grant Program

Through our research collaboration with Intel Labs, Fashion Research Institute is overseeing the ScienceSim land grant program, as announced in this blog post.  A critical part of developing the program was the need to explain to users how they can use the grant and what our expectations are of users’ behavior. We opted for a combination of a legal agreement and a covenant.  The legal agreement is made with the principal holder of the grant and holds them responsible for their use of the grant.  The covenant explicitly defines a code of behavior by all users towards the ecology of the virtual environment and the other users.  The covenant  is based on best practices drawn from managing tens of thousands of user experiences on our islands in Second Life.

Part of the covenant deals with the body of rich content we’re providing for the users of ScienceSim.

“Selected content is provided for the use of land grant recipients, including premium avatar content, default avatars, textures, office equipment, and buildings.  This content is provided only for the use of residents of ScienceSim under various licenses, and may not be removed from Sciencesim or otherwise used to develop derivative works anywhere except in ScienceSim.  Users are encouraged to create their own content as well.  Pirated content will be removed immediately.”

This content was developed using our patent-pending Black Dress methodology and the provenance of each piece is known and has been tracked.   This is original content and has been created in situ in the ScienceSim grid as opposed to our own development platform.  We opted to develop in this way because it provides us with records of everything that was done to create the work on ScienceSim.  We have mixed licenses depending on how the content was developed, the creator’s intended permissions of the content, and how the copyright ownership is assigned.

Our content base includes more than 170 prefab buildings, in six styles, each style developed in six color options, with multiple sizes for each style.  We have extensive avatar customization content available for both male and female avatars. We have created a library of high-quality seamless tiling textures.  We provide landscaping content such as trees, shrubs, fountains, sculpted flowers, and bits of whimsy such as animated water, sun dapple and spider webs.  Our script resource includes scripts optimized for OpenSim.  We have sculpted animals, birds, and marine life.

All of this content is delivered through our special content management vendors, which track who accesses this content and when and puts that information in our usage database.

We also provide sandboxes where users can create their own work or change the content we’ve provided.

Our intent is to provide a rich nucleus of content for new users, who can take what we’ve provided and use it as a foundation for their projects and programs. It is a broad but by no means comprehensive resource.

As one of the grant recipients put it, “This is a very grown-up way you’re going about the program.”

We think it is important to be able to provide the users of the land grant program with content with a clean provenance and pedigree.  We equally think it is important that we set a functional standard for curating content into a significant body of work.  We set out to define standards for quality, for the development and for the management of a content collection.  We think the content of a virtual environment is critically important to the success of the programs conducted within them. To that end, we invested considerable time developing standards with which we comply in developing and curating content.

We are currently providing overview presentations through next week.  The program is filling rapidly.  We would encourage interested parties to attend one of the overview presentations and to get their applications in early.  We are accepting applications and assigning parcels on a firt-come, first-served basis. Our next presentation is Wednesday, January 6th at 3 pm PT/6 pm ET in our Second Life Shengri La Hope region.  We will be providing a formal tour of the land grant regions in ScienceSim on thursday, January 7th from 1-2 pm ET.

FRI’s Open Classroom in ScienceSim


As part of our regular office hours on ScienceSim, Fashion Research Institute will be presenting a series of regular content creation events in the Shengri La Rosemary region located in ScienceSim.  Please join us from 1-2 pm ET ( 10-11 am PT) every Thursday to participate in our open classroom sessions.  ScienceSim residents are encouraged to attend.  The sessions are open to the public.

Today’s topic will include the creation of small showrooms which may be used for display space for projects, store fronts, or offices.  Our expert content creators will teach  attendees to develop a simple space with windows and signage space.  We will showcase five different styles developed from a basic template which may be further customized for the user’s specific needs.

The instructor’s completed models will be donated to the ScienceSim library for the use of new users to ScienceSim, and new users learn valuable development skills to apply to other creation challenges.  Please join us today or any Thursday from 1-2 pm ET.