Still in Pittsburghia

Melissa is still talking about her week in Pittsburgh. Will it ever end?

During my travels I overheard a local mention that Pittsburgh was on its way to becoming ‘the new Portland’. Given that actual Portland is only a 3 hour drive from Seattle you think I’d be able to make a call on this… I’ll let you know when I get down there.

So while I was in Pittsburgh I spent part of Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday teaching a group of seniors at a local high-school the basics of working with recycled materials, so that each could make a small wearable pendant. I don’t have images of those guys, but I hope to have images of their works to share with you at some stage.

What I do have however is an image of what I made on Wednesday before class, after an overnight dumping of 5 inches of snow. It’s meant to be a snow kangaroo – a ‘White Boomer’, if you will.


Yes, I know, it’s more of a snow wallaby. Or a snow quokka even.

On Thursday I went out to Slippery Rock University with assistant professor in metalsmithing Sean Macmillan. He also just happens to be one of the first people to have put one of my works in an exhibition in the ‘States, many moons ago. Turns out I incorrectly stated that he was actually the first to bring my stylings to America. I have since had a read of my own CV (memory failing already is it jewellist?) and realised that I first got a piece into SFASU in Texas, with Slippery Rock not far behind. Sorry guys!

Out on the big Slippery Rock campus I first got a tour of the jewelry/metals building and then did, for want of a better description, a technical demonstration of Autocad. Using my computer I went through a bunch of my drawings and explained what and how I ideate and then design straight into cad. I had with my one of my lasercuts as well as a bunch of my drawings printed at scale and a few completed works that I make from such a beast. Using them as props I described how I work, the concessions I have to make for the laser and the general process I have for when I’m making drawings for someone else to cut.

After this we had a coffee and a quick tour of the creative buildings of the campus, including the new textiles facility, before I went back to the 3d/sculpture building to give a second presentation on my work. The lovely Sharon Massey (previously mentioned as part of my Monday night capers) came out to The ‘Rock (she now runs the gallery that Sean was previously in charge of on campus) and we all went for lunch that turned into a great discussion that lasted half the afternoon.

Metalsmithing studio overview.
Metalsmithing studio overview.
Metalsmithing studio, view over the soldering/casting area.
Metalsmithing studio, view over the soldering/casting area.
Sharon Massey in the enamelling room of the SRU's metals building
Sharon Massey in the enamelling room of the SRU’s metals building
Sean Macmillan in his office/studio.
Sean Macmillan in his office/studio.

Laser Sintering

Melissa discussing laser sintering, as it has recently come to gold.

**edit** I got so excited about the technology yesterday, I didn’t clearly articulate that I was referring to specific source material, just published by the BBC. So here goes:

Chris Vallance for the BBC has just published an article on How tech is transforming jewellery. In his piece he specifically reference a new machine that uses laser sintering to create gold jewellery works. As I mentioned in my presentation at the 2010 Jewellers and Metalsmiths Group of Australia conference – the next big thing in jewellery manufacture would be laser sintering. Finally I have some justification!

Sintering? Printing directly onto a granulated media using a laser – in this case with gold powder. (In my presentation I mentioned steel and titanium, but it was only a matter of time before gold got a guernsey.) It’s similar to the existing forms also known as direct deposition printing which are available through your average print shop (Shapeways or Ponoko), which to date have been able to work with plaster and a few types of plastic, in that there is a deposition of the media, then the laser comes in and fuses that layer to the one previous. (With plaster/plastic there is not necessarily a laser involved in fusing layers, instead a layer of adhesive is applied, then the next layer of material.)

Unlike building with a wax, you don’t need to also deposit supports as the loose media surrounding the object stabilises the piece until it is finished, after which you just brush the excess material off. My guess is that it will still have striations, a hallmark of other ‘printing’ processes, but being gold they will be relatively easy to work with. Cleanup of these kinds of printed works present their own challenges however, in that the resolution of a print is not always kept during sanding and buffing procedures. Speaking with a local designer who works with many ‘grown’ objects, he tells me that you have to be careful of your resolution, since if you design really small features as a part of a larger object, they might not survive the cleanup.

Cookson’s, the company featured in the article (Ok, full title, Cookson Precious Metals), are like the Rio Grande of the UK, and are located (well, at least the branch I visited) in the jewellery quarter in Birmingham. They have invested in a new machine that you can use (obviously with the right 3D file – and plenty of money to pay for the print and the actual part), which now takes its place alongside all of their other supplies that they sell for jewellery makers.

Interesting times ahead!!

Thanks to Wing Mun Devenney (@ispymagpie on Twitter) for the heads up.

Free Cad

Cad cad cad cad cad cad cad. AutoCad. DraftSight Cad. Cad cad cad cad cad.

So, I’ve been talking Cad recently, after doing a flip-flop and reverting back from DraftSight to a new license of AutoCad Lt.

In what appears to be a battle to get more users, Draft Sight has stepped up their marketing by adding value to their product, and put out a ‘Getting Started Guide’ for free, via their website.

So if you were looking to try using Cad for the first or maybe second time, Dassault Systemes, makers of DraftSight, have just made it that little bit easier.

AutoCad, by contrast, still uses a web-based help tool accessed from within the program, augmented by the tonnes of user forums that answer specific user questions, both hosted on their own site and found on many others. Not to mention many actual paper publications written on the topic over the years.

I taught myself AutoCad on-the-job in the early 00’s, (admittedly after a couple of long-forgotten lessons at uni, and of course having relative proficiency in ArchiCad learned at my previous employers) and even then it was easy to Google an issue to figure out how to make the thing do as was required. Now of course there are YouTube videos and online tutorials to help out, which show you exactly how to performs certain tasks, and offer useful tips and tricks. Very handy if you’ve just, say, updated your copy of Cad, and would like to find out what the new tools are. Especially handy if said new tools replace a whole bunch of hit-and-miss calculations that you used to have to perform in your head and on the page to get a design to work ‘just so’.

AutoCad LT 2013 – I have it!

Melissa + Cad. Don’t get her started…

That title is bait for resident Australians, because AutoCad LT 2013 has only just been released in the US (late March), and has not yet been released in the UK (I’ve been reading complaints about this on the Autodesk forum.) So as far as I’m aware, it’s not yet available in Australia.

Moving to the USA to get an $899 copy of AutoCad from the Apple App store? Priceless.*

OK, gloating aside, I’ve been holding off my purchase of a new license for a while, and only in part because I knew I was moving to the US where it’s cheaper (sorry folks). I had been thinking about permanently moving my drafting to DraftSight, but I eventually decided that if they were giving away, for free, a version of CAD that I had paid over $2000 for, maybe the technology had moved on in the six or seven years since I had last paid for a seat.

AutoCad now runs natively in MacOS for starters (not that draftsight doesn’t), which removed one more irritating thing about running AutoCad on my current computer. I had run my 2005 LT license on a laptop since I got it in 2005 (incidentally, I’d been running the 2005 version for the year before this while I worked at Lotterywest – Autodesk like to make the issue date in the future for some odd reason), and when I was convinced to switch to Mac in 2007 by Turbo when my former laptop died, I had to run AutoCad in a windows virtualiser. If you’ve ever used CAD in a virtualised environment, you’ll know it’s highly, highly annoying. And you have to keep updating your virtualiser (thanks Parallels) and if you change, to say, VirtualBox, it can become just downright unstable.

It reached a head after I arrived in Seattle and set up my computer and printer again. Whether I wanted to print a PDF or an actual document, AutoCad would crash. Being able to design and draft wonderful works is one thing, but not being able to get them off your machine? Kinda pointless.

So yesterday I got a new copy of AutoCad.

It’s ah-maze-zing.                                 For realz.

I was playing around with it, acclimatising, if you will, and kept musing out-loud as to the wonders I was experiencing. In kinda short burts. “Oh, woooow.” And “Unbelieveable.” And “Whoa mama!” All interspersed with bursts of chuckling and even some giggles.

It led CSS, our roomate, to comment over dinner that the fried chicken we were having was really good, in fact “Almost AutoCad good.”

Yep, AutoCad LT 2013. It’s better than chicken.


*not actually priceless, still $899, as listed. Or AU $867.


Melissa cosies up with a new piece of Cad software; TurboNerd look out!

I’m a keen lurker. I read a bunch of blogs, on some of which I am fond of making the odd comment. However, on many more I just read and learn. One such blog is Digital Morphogenesis, which boasts the lofty tag line of “Evolving architecture through computation.” Now I might say that it’s a lofty aim, but from what I’ve read, blog author and PhD Student Danial Davis, seems to be doing a good job. Well, he’s educating me, at the very least.

So I was very interested when on Monday I got around to reading his latest post on some new Cad software launches. I was so interested in his description of a new piece of free software called DraftSight, I checked it out and downloaded it.

Why was I so interested?

Well, I use a clunking old version of AutoCad LT from 2005, which in software years is far more ancient than it sounds; AutoDesk is currently retailing AutoCad LT 2011. When I bought this program for myself I had a fairly new notebook, but the previous year my employers had to build me a specific machine to run it (well, they were a little behind times, lets be honest), while I had a second machine to connect to the intranet, access word processing tools and write emails, etc.

These days I run my license in Parallels, since I now own a Mac. This is not an ideal situation, and I have never managed to configure my mouse to run as well as it did when running natively in Windows. There are other native alternatives, but they’re either expensive, or being open source, have fewer resources. So Davis’s article told me that not only is the DraftSight software very similar to what I already use, it runs native on OS X (AutoDesk plan to bring AutoCad back to OS X in the new year, after ignoring Mac users for about 18 years) and what’s more, the DraftSight software is free. I felt almost obliged to give it a spin.

So I downloaded it, configured some settings, did the drawing you see here and saved it (which included registration of the product), all in about 45 minutes.

The drawing – with and without guidelines. (They’re my construction lines – consider it an insight into how I actually made the drawing 🙂 )

Yep, it works similarly to AutoCad 2D. One reason I did this piece so (relatively, at least) quickly is because I’m familiar with all of the commands as they’re so similar. They are more similar than what I recently found Rhino to be, but then again, Rhino is a much bigger and more powerful package. Of course there’s differences – it handles a little differently – an extra ‘enter’ here, a highlighted line when hovering there (which struck me as potentially useful for beginners) but in all, a pretty easy transition. And the website says that’s what they built it for, so it’s a big tick for them there.

And then lets not forget to mention the startup time. It took seconds. I’m not used to that. AutoCad loads libraries, a big help section and of course I have to engage Windows from the outset, so startup time is a real pain, especially if I just want to do a quick print as I also have to engage my printer in its non-native environment. But with all of the time that AutoCad takes, it is able to offer a lot of inbuilt support, which I get the impression this software doesn’t have.

In fact, they tell you in their demonstration video that you have access to lots of online communities and help, which is great, so long as you’re online. This doesn’t matter to me so much now that I know what I’m doing (and it helps that the internet is more ubiquitous than six years ago), and I have to say, most of my AutoCad was self taught from user forums and communities. So not only is it cheap for them, it’s also good for most users. In the end I suppose, at least on that front, you get what you pay for.

In their license agreement they also make mention that this is a BETA version, so they don’t recommend actual manufacture using this release. So I guess I’ll be waiting on the final product to ensure it’s stable before sending it to my laser cutter.

I’ve been a little worried about my Cad skills getting rusty of late – in my first three years as an interior designer I picked up two Cad packages and some rendering packages that went with them. Since then I’ve been getting better at image manipulation, but I worry that my Cad knowledge is getting out of date.

Using this software told me two main things. My Cad knowledge is transferable for 2D drafting (at least in this instance), and the basic technology hasn’t needed to change much in five years. I especially would recommend DraftSight for anyone who hasn’t learned any form of Cad fluently, since this product presents a cheap and easy way to learn a valuable, and it would seem, transferable, skill.

Now, if I wanted to use a 3D printer to fabricate all of my pieces, that might be a different story…

a rapid ring – part 3

Melissa reveals – a rapid prototyping process – courtesy of the good folks at RMIT who have this new whiz-bang machinery.

Building this ring was left up to the machine at RMIT, which relied on a Rhino STL file for its instruction. In the actual process of laying down the model in such a state that once done it will be ready to be cast, it has two type of wax at its disposal.

The purple wax is for building supports for any overhanging parts of the design. For example, each of my quatrefoil-shaped windows would have had to been filled with the purple build wax in order for the blue wax to have something to build on top of as each hole curved back up.

Each layer of wax is added to the previous in really small increments, and then is shaved back to ensure that it is true before the next layer is added. So the thing in this image that looks like a vacuum cleaner hose (on the RHS, near Jason’s hand) is actually a vacuum cleaner hose! As the work is planed back, the attached vacuum cleaner next to the machine starts up to suck up all the scraps so that they don’t interfere with the build.

Because the tolerances that the printer is working with are so fine, it continually adjusts and recalibrates itself. This is a ticker-tape of testing paper, that is continuously dotted with the two waxes as the machine prints. It’s not all this precise though. To the right of this (visible in Tuesday’s image to the right-hand-side, below the container of blue wax’s lid) is a little container with two larger puddles of wax that have been made during processing.

Once the models are ready they are pulled out of the machine, but they’re still attached to the build plate. To release them they are carefully heated, and after about 20 minutes they will just pop off the build plate, with no damage done. The printer puts down an extra bit of pink/purple wax to allow for this process.

After this the purple wax has to be removed. It is put into the small bath of acid (on the RHS of this image) where it is gently agitated while being eaten away at by the acid, to get all the superfluous wax out. The blue wax is apparently impervious to this solution. And the agitation? Say you had a more intricate design that had a large cavern inside the piece; something like that might be hard to flush out by just lying static in the solution.

Finally at the end of all this, you have your piece. Which you have to then cast in metal to make it robust.

In all, a little finicky for me, but if you like casting already then it’s a superb way to get a really reliable wax model. I’m a little more impressed by the idea of laser sintering, and being able to print directly in stainless, or even (the new kid in sintering school) titanium! 

(Gold is so old hat for additive production – Ted Noten did it in 2009 already…)

Previously: a rapid ring – part 1 + part 2, and the rapid prototyping course that resulted in this ring.

rapid? prototyping…

Melissa wonders aloud if there is really much ‘rapid’ in rapid prototyping…

At the end of day two of the Rapid Prototyping course, this was the drawing that I had completed, showing two pendants. They’re both specified to be in 1mm material, with the ‘outer’ quatrefoil shape 9mm in diameter, so all up both ‘pendant’ designs are pretty small pieces.

And to clear up something in case you were wondering, these were designed with the gypsum colour printer in mind that resides at the campus where Nicole works in the US. (Or a laser sintering machine, if you happen to have one lying about the place.) See, the bails are not joined to the body of the works, so those of you who know anything about casting, they would have to be sprued separately. They could end up accidentally attached to the main body of the piece at a weird angle due to the vagaries of the casting process if not done carefully.

Via the gypsum printed method (as just one of many direct object printing technologies, where the printed material is the final finished material) the unfixed nature of these pieces would not be a hassle. The bails, once released from the unfixed print matter that holds all of the objects in place while they are being printed, would be ready to go. Just like a bought one!

When drawing this piece I was inspired by the fact that Nicole has kindly offered to reprint our rings with her machinery back in the US,  so we can experience the same designs in a different material (thus making me keen to make something appropriate for gypsum-based 3D colour printer).

The first print of our files was fired off today by the new RMIT wax-extruding machine (more on that soon), which we can have cast afterward, by the caster of our choice! (Nominations of ‘choice’ casters gladly accepted in comments.)

The rings in progress today (some students had theirs done overnight last night) will take 38 hours to complete. My little baby is only accounting for 4 of those, and with maybe six rings being done simultaneously, I could tell you who is taking up the lions share of time, but that would be impolite!

Suffice to say, while it may be called ‘rapid’, this is in name only, and not due to reputation.