Just imagine a hybrid of traditional master carpenter and rapid prototyping machine? You would have a treehouse in no time. Jokes aside, it does get you thinking. Isn’t it about time we ushered in a new era of digital craftsmen? No longer should the digital world and the bastions of traditional craft sit at two opposite ends of the table, refusing to speak, let alone break bread. Does it really need to be one, or the other.
Since the industrial revolution the craft fraternity have heard alarm bells ringing whenever they are introduced to a new form of manufacturing technology, normally claiming to do things better, and ultimately attempting to kill off the hands-on human touch that are the hallmarks of attention-to-detail and true quality craftsmanship.
But is there any reason why Britain’s rich history of quality artisans cannot co-exist alongside the latest technological advancements, or more than this, working together to create a better designed and more modern design process? Leading to more original, more sustainable, and more bespoke design collections.
The relationship between traditional hand craft and 3D printing is curious, as essentially, despite being complete opposites from the outside, they are the two boom areas of interest and forward thinking in design and innovation. So while both have witnessed something of a renaissance – one is hands-on, and one process relies on a computer’s algorithm.
Previously on Humans Invent we showed you ‘Lab Craft’, where avant-garde designers are making strides to cross the divide and use the latest tech to usher in a new age of digital artisans. But now Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Joon Han Lee has developed a way of humanising the 3D printing process.
It’s called Haptic Intelligentsia. It’s essentially a human / robot hybrid that allows users to build products around a virtual model using only their sense of touch alongside the 3D printing process. The computer algorithm is always there, but the individual has the final control over how much material is dispensed, in this case glue, and what direction it moves in.
It is the first experiment of its kind with 3D printing working harmoniously with human touch, and the results produce unique objects that embody the human being behind the process.
The beauty being you can actually see the difference in products between different people – proving that those hallmarks of quality craftsmanship and originality can be found in a 3D printing process.
The apparatus consists of a closed box, that you have access to through a pair of rubber gloves, and glue gun that is attached to the computer-controlled robotic arm. Lee then programs a virtual object into the computer to be built, much the same as 3D printing, while a high-tech haptic prosthetic is used to guide your hand, with which you wield a hot glue gun.
Using only haptic feedback you trace the virtual shape into reality, but the hand is merely a guide. Whether you choose to obey the path is another thing, with the individual making their individual mark on the product – so no two products are ever the same. In short, while 3D printing can produce bespoke mass produced products, this haptic technology allows the introduction of human hands, and in that, natural human error.
The introduction of human touch and feeling is crucial to the young designer, Lee: “The robotic arm will give a sensation that you are actually touching the contour of the virtual object, with a tip of the glue gun,” Lee says. “If the user moves the glue gun around in the air, they will feel a subtle haptic force in the area where the virtual object is constructed. I’m trying to find a new way of crafting.”
The boom in handmade craft, from Pashley bikes to a Saville Row suit has told us that maybe we are not all simply lazy slaves to the convenience that 3D printing could offer us. For some it maybe all or nothing, but what Lee is proving is that there is a middle ground between technology and traditional craft, that can produce exciting and original product possibilities. And who knows what the future of manufacturing will be? That robot-carpenter hybrid might not be as far fetched as we first thought.