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Grimshaw, D., 2017.

Crafting the Digital: Developing expression and materiality within digital design and manufacture

Output Type:Journal article
Publication:The Design Journal
Venue:Sapienza University of Rome
Publisher:Informa UK Limited
Volume/Issue:20 (sup1)
Pagination:pp. S3735-S3748

The paper presents a research project that seeks to challenge current approaches to 3D digital design & manufacturing, and its application in the production of highly regulated, controlled and predetermined outcomes. The paper presents an investigation into the production of a series of digitally designed and made wooden objects where the final physical characteristics are not fully determined at the CAD design phase, but continue to be developed, informed, and are responsive to, the physical making process, and the material of manufacture.
The project utilises the CNC Router for milling and carving, selected as a tool located at the convergence of processes that can be understood to be at once manual, mechanical and digital. The machine has the flexibility to enable interventions within the digital manufacturing process, adjusting the physical output through variation of cutting tools, and the resolution of surface finish through adjustments to step over distances.
The use of wood within the project also connects the digital manufacturing to the material traditions of hand making, and is reflective and responsive to the discourse around making and manufacturing proposed by David Pye within his definitions of workmanship.
Pye proposed definitions of making practice as the "workmanship of risk" where a maker's skill and judgement are causal to the individuality of making, and the "workmanship of certainty" where an object's manufacture is highly regulated and predetermined. Pye's own work whilst pre-digital, usefully interrogated this inter-relationship of maker, material and machine/technology, utilising a self-made "fluting engine" which allowed for manual control of a chisel held within a movable frame to set the direction, depth and arc of the cutter.
Through the use of this machine, the level of skilled hand making was semi-automated, and to a great extent the "workmanship of risk" reduced. However, importantly the process still required the maker to bring his judgement to the manual cutting of each flute, and it is this tension and correlation between risk and certainty, hand and machine, craft and manufacture, that is central to the current research project.
Material character is a central tenet of craft practice and is often disregarded in mechanical and digital production. The project work presented reveals the potential for digital manufacture to develop more nuanced and variable outcomes within digitally controlled design and manufacture, informed by the dialogue with physical materials as practised by traditional material craft makers. It highlights the value of craft knowledge of materials and processes, and the value of utilising controlled risk within highly regulated manufacturing processes.
The project challenges categorisations of material and virtual making, and the often narrow, deterministic and separatist approaches to these practices, developing a body of work at the intersection of craft and digital making practices, revealing and establishing a craft informed material language, within digitally designed and manufactured artefacts.