Additive Manufacturing, or 3D printing as we have come to know it, represents both an emergent personal production platform and a scale-able manufacturing process. Fundamentally it is really nothing new. Researchers and private enterprise first filed patents on stereolithography in the early 1980s. And it has been present in Industry for some time since, though usually expensive and usually complicated. Though the fundamental process of material production of a “real world” 3D dimensional objects from 3D data still seems pretty far out for most of us, it is only recently that we have felt its impact widely through a new era of personal production platforms and hybrid applications [9, 7].

It is no small coincidence that we are experiencing a renewed interest in the fundamental technology of 3d printing given that 40 years have passed since the original industrial patents took effect. Commercial machines beget personal production platforms. This newly enabled production capacity on the desktop—the transition from digital content directly to true-life object regardless of geometric complexity—presents massive challenges and development opportunities. We now have the ability to realize previously unimaginable material goods quickly (of one material or other) simply and if need be, serially, at home. Virtually any object can be printed now, albeit in fairly limited materials enabling a virtually limitless applicability. At what cost? This paper will discuss this in greater detail in the sections that follow.

Additive Manufacturing processes or Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM) are built upon a fluid digital infrastructure that actually allows for a level of public participation and interaction that is unprecedented, perhaps unpredicted. Powerful PCs and laptops, affordable full-featured 3D modeling programs, and high-speed communications networks allow for the design, production, sharing and refinement of any aspect of 3D printing architecture, even at home. It was only a matter of time that proprietary rights held through industrial patents fell away offering a pivot, an unlock to access (and meaning) [8].

Traditionally, Research and Development (R&D) that incorporated 3D printing was a complicated, expensive, material and time-consuming process controlled primarily through vertical proprietary technologies and materials. It was out of sight, and out of reach for most of us. 3D printing as we now know it, has emerged from the Open Source. 3D printing offers access to design development to an audience that was previously unaware of it, never seriously considered it and most probably unable to afford it.

What is it?

So, 3D printing is a technology with the capability to produce virtually any type of form regardless of its complexity, in a range of materials. Despite this asset there are distinct barriers and compromises to uptake. As commercial 3D printers produce objects of high resolution with high reliability, but operate at a relatively high cost, most commercial systems operate within a closed loop—output equipment is tied to proprietary consumables—this arrangement produces an ongoing, reliable revenue stream to manufacturers but also acts to perpetuate common commercial verticals. In turn, many printed objects tend to be limited by budgetary considerations and constrained material palate rather than opportune design intent or technological capacity.

  • 3D Printing offers access to design development to an audience that was previously unaware of it.

Open Source Hard Wares

Open Source communities, Doing It With Others, and 3D Print service bureaus are rich Social/Make sites that help shape solutions by lending a greater cultural context to a problem, be it endemic to material things, hardware, a communication strategy or product service. Direct Digital Design and Additive Manufacture are facilitating new pathways for the design, development and distribution of material goods within this paradigm. Existing sites for knowledge exchange and our core assumptions about what makes up a contemporary material practice are being radically redefined. This renders the likeness of objecthood in a new, more meaning-full light. Here is an opportunity for Makers, Artisans and Designers to develop anew as we shift towards a new paradigm for making/design/craft and production.

Within the design process and analogous to any research and development cycle, carefully considered iteration is a core concept. One could argue that matching a refined concept to its appropriate material production, is a core strength. Open Source Appropriate Technologies (OSAT) remove barriers to knowledge production and design development [4]. Pearce, writing from the perspective of a research scientist, looks to identify the key characteristics of what OSAT is, “Open source appropriate technology … is the ability to harness the power of distributed peer review, source transparency, and the gift culture from the open source movement/academia and the contextual development capacity of ATs” (appropriate technology). Pearce’s definition of OSAT, for our purposes in the PMP lab here at Emily Carr University affords a meaning-making directive to our emergent technology, techniques and processes. OSAT and Peer Production are disrupting our notions of what it means to make on a large scale just as new media has redefined our relationship to entertainment.

We have entered an era of democratized production, an era of product on demand, and an era where ideas are largely independent of vertical infrastructures. The relationship between an object, how it is made, what is made of, where it is made, by whom and when is now the responsibility of the consumer/designer of that object. “Transformative change happens when industries democratize, when they’re ripped from the sole domain of companies, governments, and other institutions and handed over to regular folks” [1].

3D printing has seen a great deal of proliferation and diversification (democratization) in recent years as influenced by the Open Source. Inspired, and in some instance parented by Adrian Bowyer’s Rep Rap, a machine that is “revolutionary” and one that will “bring down global capitalism,” a vast selection of open source printers designed to be shared—modified and re-shared—aim to bring high quality, low cost printing to anyone [6, 5]. Meanwhile large industry players, commercial manufacturers, continue to compete by absorbing competitors and other manufacturers into higher verticals on a regular basis [2].

All of this activity has created a broad understanding of the technology and a wider base of engagement. There is a highly diversified field of opportunity that ranges across: how content is made (modeling software, user interface, output technology type), what our relationships to products and markets are (shared, co-designed, disposable, customizable) and how production is defined (made at home, made locally, or made offshore). Like the freedom of complexity found in the virtual 3d space, each of these elements are scalable, they can address the individual and/or large collection of allied individuals, small industry with a local mandate or large industry with considerable geographic reach.

What is it We Do?

The Material Matters research centre at Emily Carr University of Art + Design is actively exploring these new digital properties in tandem with traditional methods and material production. “As 3D printing becomes less expensive, more powerful and more pervasive it diffuses into a wider range of opportunities” [7]. As hybrid forms of methodology and processes emerge they intersect with established means for making and knowledge transfer for students and faculty alike. “Material Matters examines these intersections with an emphasis on four interrelated components: material research and development, lateral application, partnerships, and knowledge transfer” [7].

Critical Thinking is Critical Strategy

What does it meant to identify as makers in contemporary society? What does it mean to re-situate and to re-contextualize our knowledge of making and craft? Contemporary reflective practices in both Design and Material Practice act as a means to identify an evolving connection between new digital processes and established material practices. How we approach our craft and Craft’s implicit relationship to the individual, ultimately affects the way objects are perceived.

Material production technologies are inherently about the process of making—the transition of inspired idea into material form—and it is this intersection of the how with the why that defines what Material Matters is.

This raises numerous opportunities for exploration: Process knowledge—3d printing at a large scale is a relatively new field with a multifaceted workflow. In order to adequately engage the technology multiple skill-sets must be implemented; Design Methodology—as 3D printing redefines production pathways objects take on the very character of their design parametrics, influencing the complexity of material practice and production while affording variables in ever increasing diversity; and Knowledge Mobilization through distributed Social/relational Forums—social forums are at the ready, offering an immediate call out to expertise.

Materials Matter

We are developing alternate pathways to object making that conflate the new digital workflow with the inherent strengths of legacy processes like Ceramics, like Foundry. Collaborations in material research with teaching faculty and students enrolled in studio courses, both in fine art and design, have lead to a greater integration and enabled forums for reciprocal knowledge transfer between what we recognize as the distributed processes of making (the craft) and the artisanal (the Craft). Our research and pedagogic activities have us casting directly into 3DP forms and objects in “true-life” materials in the foundry, forms that are originally conceived and iterated in digital modeling software and printed as a void of the true materiality of the intended outcome. The tensions that are found in this translation between this conflagration of “true-life” material properties drive discovery and new insights [10].

How Do we Do?

Ideas drive inquiry, and responsibilities flow freely across participants. Our individual strengths, and a studio—based methodology have the latitude to be applied to their best advantage as synergies between partners develop organically as project grow and diversify.

Conceived as a symbiotic methodology—rather than a plan for a discreet service bureau for Rapid Prototyping—we are examining pathways to production through social make spaces and forums for reciprocal knowledge transfer.

“Our work explores how new technological means of production that can interconnect with and carry forward legacy process (rather than simply supplant them); create scalable fabrication methods that capitalize on 3D printing’s innate link to customization; engaging a broad spectrum of practitioners on both an industry and personal/individual level.” [7]

Material production technologies are inherently about the process of making—the transition of inspired idea into material form—and it is this intersection of the how with the why that defines what Material Matters is.

Applied Partnerships

Industry partnerships drive an innovative spirit (and pragmatic calendar) in the lab. Faculty, students and industry converge in what can be described as a third-space, a cooperative learning environment that is mutually beneficial to all and reciprocal in nature. Students, or HQP (Highly Qualified Personnel) research alongside, and by the guidance of teaching faculty, they research matter of fact problems, true-life problems of design, development, manufacture and commercialization.

Material Matters projects pull on a unique mix of practice-led design research, technical expertise and facilities residing within the institution (Emily Carr) and the complimentary portfolio of technology and processes all residing in one location.

Material Matters 3DP Forums

From the very beginning of the Material Matters 3D Print Forums (a monthly meet-up style event) we have actively engaged with: Small to Medium Enterprises, Industrial Designers, Manufacturers, Resource Enterprises, Filmmakers, Animators, and Venture Organizations & Entrepreneurs. Over the past 4 years, the 3DP Forums have been facilitating a wide range of dialogues and workshops that have added to, informed, and furthered our own critical yet creative approaches to design, development and material production. This hybrid of pure and applied research within a creative context has created a space that offers the ability to freely explore ideas, technologies and material innovation to the greater benefit of the University, our faculty and our partners:

Guard RFID Vancouver BC, exploring rapid prototyping and co-creative research practice in wearable security bracelets, Offload Studios, Abbotsford BC, developing innovative 3DP recipes for legacy print feedstock, FP Innovations investigating more sustainable material options for 3D printing through value added products for the building trades, Bolson Materials, cost effective print materials innovation and distribution, Rayne Longboards, North Vancouver BC, sporting equipment development and additive manufacture, Industrialis, Vancouver BC, hardware development, Lifebooster Inc, Vancouver BC Wearable technologies, Lululemon Athletica (Whitespace Innovation lab) innovating fashion design methods, The Plastic Bank, Vancouver BC, sustainable (recycled) print materials, Plantiga, North Vancouver, Smart Shoe development, Mirage Screen Systems, Surrey BC, Innovating retractable Screen door hardware, GoFigure! Vancouver BC Direct sizing and manufacture of garments, Greenthumb Technologies, Squamish BC, indoor gardening, Blue Marble Labs, Vancouver BC, wearable environmental sensor, Totics, Vancouver BC, innovative digital manufacture of ankle foot orthotics for children, Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (Ottawa & BC), Canada Makes & the ECN/EEN, National Additive Manufacturing Network and the Enterprise Canada Portal for research


  • [1] Anderson, Chris. Makers: The New Industrial Revolution. New York: Crown Publishing Group, Penguin NYC. 2012
  • [2] Hurst, Nathan. 3-D Printing Giants Stratasys and Objet Merge to Create $3 Billion Firm. Wired. 2012 .
  • [3] Hoskins, Stephen. Issues of Tacit Knowledge, within 3D printing for Artists, Designers and Makers. Society for Imaging Science and Technology. NIP 30 conference proceedings, 2014. 426-431
  • [4] Pearce, Joshua M. et al.3-D Printing of Open Source Appropriate Technologies for Self-Directed Sustainable Development, Journal of Sustainable Development. Vol.3, No.4, 2010, pp. 17-29 Retrieved 2013-02-09
  • [5] Pearce, J.M. The case for open source appropriate technology. Journal of Environment, Development and Sustainability. 14(3). 2012. 425-431.
  • [6] Randerson, J. Put your feet up, Santa, the Christmas machine has arrived. The Guardian. 2006.
  • [7] Robbins, P. Day Fraser, H. Doyle, K. (2014). Material Matters. Autonomatic Conference Paper. Falmouth: Falmouth University. 2014.
  • [8] Singer, Peter W. Direct Digital Manufacturing: The Industrial Game-Changer You Never Heard of. Brookings. 2011.
  • [9] Troxler, P. (2011). Open Design Now: Why Design Cannot Remain Exclusive. Amsterdam: BIS Publishers Amsterdam. 2011. 86-97,
  • [10] Wakkary, R., Doyle, K., Robbins, P., Mortimer, S., Lin, H. Low, L. Desjardins, A. ‘Productive Frictions: Moving from Digital to Material Prototyping and Low-Volume Production for Design Research’. 2016.