Last week D2W exhibited at the inaugural 3D Printshow in New York.

The arrival at JFK was already eventful.  When the immigration officer asked if the visit was for business or pleasure?  The answer was business.  “And what business are you in Sir?”  Without thinking, Jonathan cheerily blurted “3D Printing!”  There then followed a long interrogation about precisely what D2W print and what kind of “dangerous shit” we were going to be exhibiting……… So for you officer, here’s the “dangerous shit.”  (more of this episode at the end)

The venue at the Metropolitan Pavillion on West 26th Street was lovely.  An old converted warehouse with bare faced brick walls and lots of great original ironwork.

As usual, the objective of our display was to show examples of the really good stuff that can be created by industrial printers, without the distraction of the equipment itself.  With the tsunami of hype that currently surrounds the technology, we think it’s so important that the objects that can be created today, are left to speak for themselves.  We had only decided to attend at the last minute, therefore we were logistically limited in terms of what we could physically bring along.  As a result there were only 5 small display stands (and a mannequin) to play with, so here’s a little synopsis of each display:

Catherine Wales’ Project DNA received a huge amount of attention when it was launched last year and it was really nice to see the excitement of some of our visitors as they were able to see some of these iconic pieces in the flesh.  One lucky person was delighted to actually meet Catherine herself at the end of the show on Saturday.  Catherine’s pieces are a beautiful demonstration of how you can break down your design in to component parts which are 3d printed and then beautifully and elegantly reassembled to create relatively large scale functional pieces.  The application of gold leaf is just the icing on the cake!

To illustrate the potential when using 3d printed plaster (we learned that this is known as “Sandstone” in the US) we displayed some busts alongside our Inverted Portraits.  A lot of visitors were charmed by the busts, at which point Jonathan intervened to explain why he felt they were not that exciting.  There were many stands at the show displaying variations on the same bust/figurine theme.  Our contention is that these are examples of quite lazy 3d printing, whereby one has the 3d form and image data which is then processed through a colour 3d printer to produce what is in fact an incredibly traditional object.

We think that our Inverted Portraits are more interesting.  They use all the same data that is required for the busts, however something more is done with this material than the obvious.  We take the shape of the face and then subtract it from a solid panel, therefore providing a perfect imprint of the person’s face.  This is then overlaid with the 3d photographic data which is then colour printed on to the inside surface of the impression.  This produces a fascinating object that not only plays with your perception of inside and outside but also allows you to see different views of the person as you move around it.

Regarding the traditional busts; if you know the person depicted, then it’s quite an impressive object.  If you do not know them, then once you are over the initial admiration of the technical skill, you care very little about it.  When thinking of the inverted portraits; if you know the individual, then it has a similar preciousness to the bust.  However if you don’t know the person depicted, it remains a compelling and interesting object. We make no great claims for these, but we do think that they are a good example of not necessarily doing the obvious thing and are an illustration of always remaining alert to what more these new digital tools might bring you.

Our Nylon SLS fluid “fabric” samples, conceived by our product designer Tom Mallinson, were probably what gained the most interest over the course of the 3 days.  Coincidentally, New York Fashion Week overlapped with the timing of the 3D Printshow and consequently a lot of fashion designers took the opportunity to come and see what 3D printing might offer them creatively.  One of the fabrics’ admirers, from a planet that we didn’t recognise, even flushed blue with pleasure! (see title image)

The limited range of 3d printed materials available means, that for the most part, current 3d printed fashion is rather rigid and in most cases little more than sculpture that is suspended from the body.  These samples demonstrate that just because a range of flexible materials are not yet available, there is still the potential to use rigid materials, printed all in a single piece, that have flexibility designed in to them.  This doesn’t make the exercise an easy one, however it does present some very exciting design opportunities.

These were not presented at the show as any kind of finished product, but only as  a demonstration of what can be achieved, given the understanding and effort.  We think that they are not just visually beautiful but also have exciting qualities of touch and sound that will make the efforts of expert designers well worthwhile.

As a result of the amazing interest in these pieces, we will shortly have samples available via the shop on our website and we look forward to the opportunity of developing this with people who understand pattern making!

On another table we showed our Nylon container system which we blogged about last year.  Visitors were very complimentary of the way in which we exploit the building characteristics of the Nylon SLS printer to contain multiple parts and get the machine to help us.  They also enjoyed the clear pricing system that gets around the often arduous quoting stage of any job.  The big question was “do you ship to the US?” to which the answer is yes.  This, allied to our relatively fast turnaround of parts, just might make us a viable alternative to larger more local services?

The Nylon thickness swatch is to demonstrate that what distinguishes Nylon SLS from virtually all other current 3d print materials is that it has properties of its own.  Most other 3d printed plastics have few material properties to work with and you’re constrained to just producing dumb rigid copies of the objects.  Not so with Nylon SLS.  If you print it solidly, it is extremely strong.  If you print it thin, then it bends.  Not only does it bend, but it also has a material memory and returns back to its “home” position.  Therefore this is a material that once understood, you can actually design in concert with.

Again, like with the fluid fabric samples, we’re trying to encourage people to understand and exploit the technology as it stands today.  It’s not actually necessary to wait in the hope that the technology will have to improve before you can make really great things!

The final table displayed D2W and St. H’s 2 part folding bird box which featured in another blog last year, so no need to elaborate other than saying it’s a fine example of the performance achievable with this material.  Without the ability to bend and fold, this would have been a very dumb 3d printed box and the ability to break it down and create working components meant that the whole object became much more sophisticated and CHEAPER.

We had a wonderful time in New York describing the “dangerous shit” to the public. We have returned to London feeling really invigorated by the many stimulating and fun conversations about what might be possible with 3d printing, not in the nebulous future, but tomorrow!


And finally to return to our experience at JFK Immigration.

When we returned to London with our luggage, we found a little card inside the suitcase informing us that the bag had been opened and searched by US Customs.  We’re not ones for conspiracy theories, however we can’t help wondering if our US Immigration Officer at JFK hadn’t flagged us.  Everything was still there in once piece and we hope that they enjoyed the “dangerous shit” as much as visitors to the show did.

Thanks so much to all that came and we hope, that with your help, we’ll  have some even more hazardous objects to show next year!