3D Printing Pop Culture & Viral Objects

20190508 Pop Culture 3D Print

As regular readers of this blog will know, I’ve been involved with 3D printing, making, education and various online communities for a while now. Which is why it’s very exciting to share my latest piece of writing, a book chapter titled “The Popular Culture of 3D Printing: When the Digital Gets Physical” which I wrote with former colleague and fellow maker Paul Bardini from Griffith University.

As the name suggests, the chapter looks at the popular cultural context of 3D printing, rather than the more technical aspects featured in most academic writing. As makers, we are both really interested in the growth of 3D printing and spread of 3D printing files on platforms like Thingiverse, MyMiniFactory and others, so we got a bit scientific and collected some data. The results are very interesting!

Print

Firstly, one of the things we did was collect the total number of files available from a range of 3D printing file repositories, as well as other more general 3D file repositories. Above is the data we collected (on 26th August 2018) which clearly shows Thingiverse to be the largest specific 3D printing file website. This is no surprise given that the website began in 2008, well before most competitors, building a network effect that still seems to be going strong despite some of the most recent challenges Thingiverse has been experiencing. However, there are plenty of other much larger libraries of CAD files that could be searched for 3D printing files, and even though some will be specific to certain CAD software, there’s always a way to make these 3D printable.

Print

Given the size of Thingiverse, we then looked at the most popular designs on the platform, collecting data (you will have to check out the full chapter for this!), and then calculated the average downloads per day for these designs. The graph above shows this data against the date the design was uploaded to the platform. Some of the names you may recognise: #3DBenchy, Baby Groot, the XYZ 20mm Calibration Cube and the Xbox One controller mini wheel. But what does it all mean?

Well, the short story is that objects uploaded to Thingiverse today will be downloaded in higher volumes per day than objects uploaded earlier in Thingiverse’s history. The trend line is increasing, matching the growth of 3D printer ownership; more people are downloading more things, with the Xbox One controller mini wheel recording 700 downloads per day when it was newly released. However, #3DBenchy is by far the most downloaded design of all time, right now having been downloaded over 900,000 times on Thingiverse alone, as well as being available on almost every other 3D file platform. This has lead to our classification of it as a “viral object.” Similar to viral videos and viral media campaigns, a viral object extends these concepts into the physical world through 3D printing, being first spread rapidly through online file sharing communities, then turned into physical objects in their thousands despite each being made in a different location, by a different machine.

This raises some interesting questions:  A viral video or piece of advertising made up of digital bits can easily be deleted, but how do you delete a viral object made up of physical atoms? Simply discarding 3D prints into landfill is unsustainable, and new solutions are necessary that make recycling of 3D prints affordable and accessible to the masses. It is also worth looking at the quantities an object like #3DBenchy is being downloaded and 3D printed, which is clearly in a magnitude similar to injection moulding and the mass production paradigm that 3D printing is supposed to disrupt. While it’s useful to have an object to calibrate and compare 3D printers, it’s also interesting to see that people still want to print and own the same object, rather than being truly individual.

The trend for viral objects is certainly one to watch, and the chapter provides a detailed analysis of this and other emerging trends related to 3D printing and pop culture. If you’re interested in reading the chapter, you may use my author discount code “IGI40” to get a 40% discount, or if you’re at a university you may find you already have access through your library subscriptions. Paul and myself certainly welcome your feedback and thoughts 🙂

– Posted by James Novak

Reflecting on my 3D Printing Journey

20160731 3D File Market

A few days ago it was exciting to announce the publication of my first tutorial for Formlabs, and now it’s a pleasure to also announce that my downloadable designs are now available through 3D File Market – just follow the link to start downloading and printing 🙂

To coincide with being listed as a featured designer, I was interviewed about how I got into 3D printing, and the journey to get to my 3D printed bicycle. The full story can be read here, and it was actually a great experience to reflect on my first experience of 3D printing way back in 2009 (there is a photo of my first ever 3D print in the article!) and the moment I quit my job and became a poor uni student again in 2014, starting my research into 3D printing. A real turning point in my career, and a gamble that well and truly has paid off.

Thanks to Philip for getting in touch and for dedicating his time to the 3D File Market website – what’s unique about the website is that all files uploaded are verified, meaning that the files are of a high quality and proven to print. They are also not owned by a large 3D print company that is trying to sell printers or materials, so there is no bias in their articles. If you’re looking for somewhere to share your designs, check them out, or if like me you’re already using one of the big names, 3D File Market might make a good addition to reach a wider audience.

– Posted by James Novak

June Events

20160617_3D Workshop School

It’s been a busy month for me and 3D printing even though it’s meant to be the mid year break from uni! Above are some photos from a full day 3D printing workshop I ran for a local high school in our new 3D printing lab, with a handful of students all being exposed to CAD, 3D printing and 3D scanning for the first time. By the end of the first session each of them had their first small design 3D printing over the lunch break, which just shows how quickly young kids are able to pick up this technology. We were also able to demonstrate for the very first time one of our brand new chocolate 3D printers, the Choc Edge. Yes that’s right, a chocolate 3D printer! I’m sure it won’t be long before everyone has something like this on their kitchen bench, but for now if you want to see how they work, come along to our Gold Coast campus open day on July 24th where we will have 3 in action for your sugary delight!

20160621 Innovation Brisbane

Last night I was really privileged to be a speaker at an event called DRIVEinnovation, hosted by the Brisbane West Chamber of Commerce. As the name suggests, the discussion was all around innovation, and how businesses can better adopt new technologies and keep up with the rapid changes across all industries. I was part of a panel with Ty Curtis from local augmented reality company Activate Entertainment, and Sam Forbes from cloud services company 6YS. The questions were certainly challenging in the short time-frame (how do you even begin to describe how to innovate in just a few short minutes?), but it’s really great to see such an active council asking these questions and building a community of very talented people. There were even some virtual reality and augmented reality demonstrations (that’s me in the right photo looking at a human skeleton with augmented reality). If you’re in the local area, it’s definitely worth following the Chamber through email or social media as these events happen every few months.

Coming up next week, and running over 2 weeks, are some intensive workshops at Griffith University for teachers. The workshops run in 2-day blocks, costing $180 (which also allows you to bring a student for free), and are on the following topics:

  • InDesign (beginner and advanced)
  • Photoshop (beginner and advanced)
  • 3D Animation (beginner and advanced)
  • Games Design (beginner and advanced)
  • Hand Lettering
  • 3D Design
  • 3D Printing (beginner and advanced)
  • Design Modeling Techniques

I will of course be running the 3D printing workshops, and there will be 2 levels of workshops each week: Workshop 1 is for beginners to CAD and 3D printing, where people will get to build a functioning product assembly. Workshop 2 is for more intermediate users who have some experience with CAD and 3D printing, and we will be combining this knowledge with 3D scanning to create wearable devices. If you’re interested, get in touch and I’ll pass on details to the administrator organising the event.

– Posted by James Novak