Digital demons


“The revolution is not additive versus subtractive manufacturing; it is the ability to turn data into things and things into data”

–Neil Gershenfeld

There has been a lot of talk regarding virtual security, malicious attacks on virtual worlds that have physical world impacts. It has become common to hear of malware and ransomware attacks in the news that shut down companies for days or weeks demanding assets before handing over data and information. An area of less collective concern is the potential technological attacks posed by physical objects that are created digitally. 

A digital revolution is on the periphery. The computational and digital communication revolution began in the 1950’s and led to globalization, modern warfare innovation, and improved standards of living. These seemingly separate initiatives all bear a common byproduct, with new technological advances come the consequences and unexpected nuances that develop alongside advancements which open a void into problematic issues around industrial power, rights to innovation, and what can be considered “disruptive technology.” Today we are seeing a digitization unlike that of the past which resided in a virtual world, we are experiencing digital fabrication in the physical world. Digital fabrication allows individuals to design and produce tangible objects on demand whenever necessary and in most environmental conditions. 


The beginning of this revolution dates back to 1952 with researchers at MIT wiring an early digital computer to a mechanical milling machine (1). This numerically controlled milling machine was able to produce more complex shapes that a basic machinist was unable to comprehend by utilizing a rudimentary computer programming language that plotted x,y, and z coordinates. 

Today most products are touched by some type of machine hardware that’s a descendant of the MIT development in 1952. The critical turning point began in the 1980’s when manufacturing processes began to develop computer aided fabrication that added material versus subtracting it. Technology like the milling machine cut material away rather than adding to create the form. This revolution made it possible to build complete objects from the inside out, although these assemblies were limited to single materials and typically elementary materials (poor quality thermoplastics and experiments with steel in the 1950’s) it nonetheless sparked an interest in fabrication that continues critical development today. A range of printing processes are currently available that stem from initial explorations in computer aided milling processes, including thermally fusing plastic filaments, using ultraviolet light to cross-link polymer resins, depositing adhesive droplets to bind a powder, cutting and laminating sheets of paper, and shining a laser beam to fuse metal particles (1). 

Additive manufacturing, Better known as three-dimensional printing was first developed in 1981. Hideo Kodama of the Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute studied and published the first manufactured printed solid model (2). Soon after “rapid prototyping” and “digital-to-physical” modeling quickly emerged. Like the name implies, “additive manufacturing” is the process of creating materials and objects that start with a digital model and use an additive process of layering material in sequence to build an object. Traditionally manufacturing processes utilized a “subtractive” process where material was shed from a solid blank object by way of milling. Depending on production method a milled master would be used to then create moulds for reproduction. It is costly to develop prototypes using milling processes in manufacturing. 

In 1984 the first commercial design of a 3D printer was designed by Charles W. Hull. Like almost all new inventions this machine was costly to produce and costly to maintain. Throughout the next twenty years the development of the 3D printer has brought additive manufacturing closer to the everyday user. Price drops mimicked that of the personal desktop computer making 3D printers a now reasonable price. It has become an embedded part of many fields such as architecture, medical, and military. 


The basic workflow of three-dimensional printing consist of the computer modelling phase, printing, and product finishing. Contemporary printing techniques utilize a wide range of materials during production methods from ceramic and steel powder to thermoplastic and laser cured liquids. With the added benefit of rapid software development and precise manufacturing methods, technology for printing is achieving results on a scale ranging from microscopic biology sampling to crude industrial concrete forming. With this new and rapidly developing technology there is always hazards involved, and area of concerns to address. This writing will focus on the implications of additive manufacturing processes and potential mass threats that stem from this new technology by shedding light on a few innovations and historical landmarks in additive manufacturing’s short history. 

On May 6, 2013 a company from Austin, Texas called Defense Distributed released the digital files for a fully functional handgun that could be 3D printed. The file was able to be downloaded by anyone. For just 6.8mb of hard drive space you’re able to own the digital components of a fully functioning handgun. This was a turning point that the pioneers of personal 3D printers like MakerBot’s Bre Pettis simply never imagined. Although it sounds simple a person who downloads this file still needs access to a fairly expensive machine and ammunition. But once word circulated that a fully printable handgun termed, The Liberator, was freely downloadable on the internet thousands downloaded the file. Creating a scare, The Liberator was ordered to be taken down by the US Department of State, but by that time it had been shared, saved and copied 100k plus times. The files were taken down from Defense Distributed website, but immediately became available on torrent sites like The Pirate Bay (3). Question of authenticity quickly arose once people began to download the gun from third party sites. It is hard to detect whether a 3D file has been corrupted or changed, and without having a way to compare it to a physical copy or an original digital file provided by Defense Distributed, the first release of The Liberator lost traction as a reputable regulated and quality fabricated object. This instance not only drew fear in the eyes of the public and government officials, it also brought on concerns within the community of advocates representing the weapon, striking conversation about ways to legitimize a reproducible 3D file, especially one with such consequences. 

It goes without saying that this sparked numerous conversations about implied regulation on the creation of weapons in a digital environment. But just like the music industry has seen, once files are obtained by the public it is very hard to regulate and control where they end up and what happens to them. Multiple variations have since been published and are easy to download. The question whether or not these files should be banned is more than the debate over gun laws and regulations, it stems past into authorship and accountability of all parties involved in the production of 3D printed objects. Soon, machines that print arbitrary chemical compounds or organisms with arbitrary genetic information will similarly challenge drug and biochemical warfare regulations. When something is impossible to regulate, it makes more sense to focus on education and discussion than censorship (3). 


In August of 2016 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon stated that digital manufacturing along with additive processes are a global threat. Among the standard chemical, nuclear, and biological threats, Ban said new super-technologies such as 3D printing pose potential massive destruction if in the wrong hands (4). The UN Secretary’s statement is inline with the thought that terrorist groups may have the ability to simply make things they cannot procure by other means. Although this requires a substantial setup and the raw material to create potential products of destruction, all of the equipment is readily available, and typically for a relatively reasonable price. Ban’s concern has less to do with 3D printing guns and more to do with components and accessories of other equipment or machines. The ability to print common goods and disguise them as weapons is all the more real with the ease of downloadable files from open source websites. Mechanical development like counter striking drone parts is marginal and poses a threat to global facilities where these machines can be launched at nuclear facilities or chemical plants. Many websites offer fully printable drones with simple specifications and links to order necessary electronics. It may sound counter intuitive to 3D print a drone, but what  Hannah Rose Mendoza brings up is it’s very easy to track purchases, it’s easier to camouflage a download, build and develop weapons behind closed doors. The idea that 3D printing unlocks anything is very real. By doing a couple quick searches it’s easy to see the wide range of printable applications available and the accessibility of customizing parts with a range of software. The privatization of these parts and processes make detecting advancements very difficult if not impossible. 

The majority of the public have an unrefined image of additive manufacturing technology in their heads. Plastic objects for household use or novelty typically come to mind as the only things that can be manufactured with 3D printers. The majority of prints are just that, but recent news seems to bear scenarios seen in science fiction movies rather than reality. A number of labs in different countries are creating processes of additive assemblies. Unlike 3D printers today, these will be able to build complete functional systems at once, with no need for parts to be assembled. The aim is to not only produce the parts for a drone, for example, but build a complete vehicle that can fly right out of the printer (1). The advancement of this begins at such a small level it seems incomprehensible, but nonetheless plausible. This is achieved by configuring atoms and molecules into specific structures–building from the atomic level up. With current technology this sounds a bit like a hoax, but it is a top priority on the agenda of major institutional labs. Even if the goal is years away, speculating the impact of these types of manufacturing is a very real. The technology being developed for this kind of precise building is already in its early stages in the medical industry. To analyse possible disruptive scenarios, questioning advancements in the field of 3D printing in medicine is a good place to assess.  


While researching I found an example by Eric Drexler, an engineer who wrote his thesis at MIT on molecular nanotechnology where he coined the term “gray goo.” This doomsday material in Drexler’s eyes is a self-reproducing system that can create multiplies out of control, spreads over the earth, and consumes all its resources. Drexler studied the spread of nanotechnologies in relation to disease and other outbreaks. In 2000, Bill Joy, a computing pioneer, wrote in Wired magazine about the threat of extremists building self-reproducing weapons of mass destruction. He concluded that there are some areas of research that humans should not pursue. Assessing the risks of additive technologies has even been taken as far as Prince Charles asking fellowship scientists at the Royal Society to predict possible future outcomes of self-replicating systems (1). It difficult to tell whether the possibility of printing self replicating materials that will inhabit the planet will actually come to be, but it begs the question of who is incharge of these types of systems and how easily available is this information? By stepping back, it is easier to see the shift in technology over the past thirty years that may lead to such destructive circumstances as the gray goo. 


It is possible to track the evolution of 3D technology and highlight the paradigms that make us question the potential threat of new digital technologies. The first shift began with the ability to utilize drafting technology to accurately represent digital models. This was the first steps in rapid prototyping that used fairly simple materials to create scale models and simple functioning things with the aid of precise numerical computation. The second movement began with the open source revolution. Material exploration was still on the rise, but now we have the ability to share digital assets to create, change, and alter objects to our specifications, combining the Maker or novice and the professional industry. This directly fueled the improvement of materials and forms of printing. The ability to cure metal and ceramic powders became available in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s with the help of Carl Deckard. Throughout the 1990’s patents around Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) and selective laser curing were put in place primarily making 3D printing an industrial and scientific development tool. It wasn’t until 2009 when the patent expired that a resurgence of interest came into the consumer market. For most, it was the first time 3D printing was introduced to them. Over the next few years and up to the present the consumer market of additive manufacturing drastically improved and initiated other new innovative forms of industrial manufacturing processes. A new field is emerging paralleling the advancements made in the medical field. 


We are seeing forms of printing that don’t just involve a digitally programming analog material, like plastics and metals. Scientist and innovators are creating digital materials directly. The easiest way to explain this is looking at it the biological and on the molecular level. Ribosomes are proteins that produce proteins in the human body, which in forms is like a molecular machine. At this level we can build up, in specific order, material (ribosomes) to produce mechanical outcomes. Just like the self-replicating ribosomes, 3D printer researchers are building molecular material that can self assemble and create everything needed to produce fully functioning objects. By altering the sizes of these molecules advancements have been made to produce electrical conductors and magnets that can be used in motors and circuit boards, all from the molecular level. 


With this presented information and technical achievements comes speculating of the role additive manufacturing in globalizing threats. One area that has been touched on and continues to be investigated is the medical field. We live in a time that is paradoxically incredibly dangerous and yet safer than ever. Additive manufacturing is mostly seen as a tool for saving lives, through the medical industry, not taking them. Initiatives like the National Institute of Health have created sectors related directly to the research and innovation of 3D printed prosthetics, models, and diagrams that contribute to new forms of care for patients. Fueled by the support of the open source community, development of heart valves and stents, to laboratory hardware, real life applications are worked on directly in public view. At the same time this learning opens up a potential security risks and allows easily accessible information to be acquired by people attempting to do harm. A group of Scottish researchers have developed models of cancerous tumors that mimic human anatomy and allow for the replication and natural culturing of cancers. Typically in the past a 2D sheet-test was created, not allowing natural forms of reproduction to happen like that in the body. With downloadable cancer tumor models available now, it’s possible to use real living cancer cells to print tumors to better study them. Although this is highly regulated, the possibility of a medical breach is always prevalent. This opens up the potential onslaught of unknown effects of biomimicry and rapid disease out spreading that we have to carefully navigate. Until recently we have never been able to reproduce tissue cells that have the precision to molecularly align cells to form biological samples. The risk for creating new forms of disease or biowarfare are more real than ever given the technology. 

Three-dimensional printing is quickly taking shape in multiple formats, with risks growing ever higher the more diverse and quickly developing printing becomes. There are always two sides of the coin, and the inbetween. The look into the developing history of additive manufacturing and the potential threats it poses may be a premature conversation, but one that I believe will become a priority within the next five years. Although we don’t hear or see about threats being issued via 3D printing, it doesn’t mean they are not being developed right now by selective agencies and at home extremist. The US Department of Defense is prepared to spend 13 billion dollars on technological advancements with one of their primary interest being in additive manufacturing (6). This alone gives reason to the conversation around possible threats related to additive manufacturing. 

Personalizing total automation: Working with new technology

Automation: the technique, method, or system of operating or controlling a process by highly automatic means, as by electronic devices, reducing human intervention to a minimum. 2. a mechanical device, operated electronically, that functions automatically, without continuous input from an operator. 3. act or process of automating.


After The Machine


Today, more than ever, digital automation, fablabs, DIY spaces, and the democratization of 3-D printing raises questions about emerging methods of production that are becoming increasingly familiar. These technical forms of automation are on the brink of inserting themselves into many of our daily lives and routines. The “promise of total automation” was the battle cry of Fordism, the techno-medial apparatus its weapon. However, automation cannot be reduced entirely to an eco-productive process: it is also a socio-cultural one.


Presently, the lines have become blurred surrounding production, the advancement of machines, and their relationship to workers. Many top researchers, economists, and philosophers are speculating, and have been for some time, about the day automation rids us of our labor and the consequences that come from such a change. For many, it is easy to imagine the self-sustaining and self-producing manufacturing facility. It is a principal theme of many science-fiction films and appears in headlines of stories focused on the business practices of GAFA, the major tech-based corporations of the world—Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon. It is important to ask: what does this emerging landscape portend for designers? There is a critical need to examine what it means to have access to producing multiplex forms, efficient outputting methods, on-demand printing, and the ability to generate complex three-dimensional forms, and what that implies for designers’ future roles and creative strategies. 


The answer lies in addressing the “apparatus” that shapes designers’ conduct as they adopt these machines. Today, the Fordist battle cry still lingers. For this reason designers and do-it-yourselfers should consider actively resisting the passive attitude that these systems often engender due to the perception that they are closed systems built around incomprehensible and inaccessible coding languages. The technologies that comprise Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) give the appearance of an autonomous organism. However, the significant human labor involved in using these systems should be considered as part of the apparatus required to allow us to work with these programmable and automated machines that reinforce anti-assimilation and the tendency to buy into structures of predetermined design output.


In order to work past the imagined autonomous construction of design products, defining the apparatus in which all of this works in detail will shed light on preconceived notions and illuminate the nature of emerging dialog between designer and digital machine. Giorgio Agamben, in his book, What Is An Apparatus and Other Essays, attempts to clarify Michel Foucault’s usage of the term, “apparatus”. From a philosophical view, an apparatus is much more than the physical mechanics of a collection of instruments and devices. It is better understood by expanding the definition to include a more extensive network of forces that exist along with the machine. Agamben provides us three characteristics of an apparatus that he extracts from Foucault’s theory. First, it is a heterogeneous set that includes virtually anything: linguistic and non-linguistic forms, discourses, institutions, buildings, laws, police measures, philosophical propositions, and so on. The apparatus is itself the network that is established between these elements. Second, the apparatus always has a concrete strategic function and is always located in a power relation. Third, it appears at the intersection of power relations and relations of knowledge.1 The apparatus can be thought of as a kind of formation, that at a given historical moment or particular time, has as its major function, the response to a particular urgent need. Therefore, it has a strategic purpose.


Computer Integrated Manufacturing is rapidly overshadowing all other forms of production, increasingly demanding we pay attention to a future where machines make, process, and run our day-to-day operations. As a society we have largely succumbed to the digital machine (computer, smartphone, Amazon Prime, etc.) that dominate our personal lives. In the factory, the days are long past where rows of workers, each outfitted with a specific duty, churned out product after product through hand assembly—where the worker and the machine were agents of themselves rather than the system that united them. In contrast, in our age of rapidly increasing digital automation we see the boundaries blurring and roles changing for how information and products are created through continuously shifting technology and production. The post-Fordist system of accumulation is a witness to dislocation and dispersion of the sites of reproduction today. The effects of these new arrangements between technology, the worker and the designer can best be understood by examining the history of automation and factory production and the power relationships that resulted over time to arrive at a set of questions, guidelines, and perspectives relative to this phenomena today. 


The Steam Engine And The First Steps to Dispersion


To define dispersion, we should compare it to its predecessor, dislocation. The traditional craftsman’s role can be viewed as a state of being dispersed: spread out across multiple disciplines, making it harder to aggregate, access, or control into a collective enterprise. The origins of this dispersion can be traced back to the invention of the steam engine and simultaneously the factory for which it was made. The 19th century factory was organized around the concept of a central engine whose motion circulated to all of the workshops via shaft and pulley systems. At the beginning of the day, this powerhouse would be switched on, and the workers would have to adapt to the rhythm of the billowing engine, becoming a functioning part in the whole series of production. 


In the beginnings of the 19th century, workers were faced with the need to keep up with a machine that could outwork and outperform them if run continuously. This type of labor completely defined role of the workers. Prior to this, craftspeople were identified by the products they produced, rather than the machine they operated.2 The change and pace of the factory tied the laborer directly to the omnipresence 

of the machine emphasizing a new relationship—weavers to the loom, ironworker to the steam hammer. This was the first instance where worker and machine developed a firm interconnectedness with the mechanism of production, being forced to adapt to its reasoning and logic. 


The relationship between the worker and machine evolved into the 20th century giving way to mechanical automation and a partial removal of the worker from the real-time needs the assembly line required. When processes were developed that involved both craftsperson and machine, the worker had some chance of forming a creative relationship with the technology. A worker at his or her loom is a classic example of the potential of planning, subjectivity, and a more intimate relationship devoted to creating a shared logic of production. Although paced by the steam engine, the loom-worker still was able to choose the various colored silks, imprinting active taste into the work alongside the machine.3 As mechanical automation increasingly replaced the worker, a gradual shift occurred within the factory. Although workers were freed from their labor intensive duties, the social dimension of the workplace was negatively affected. The downfall of creativity and uprise of alienation set in when the worker became a monitor of production processes rather than an active participant.


Taylorism: Breaking Down the Workflow, Fragmenting Labor

and Production


In the name of production efficiency, Fredrick Winslow Taylor developed a branch of manufacturing theory that came to be known as Taylorism. Taylor’s aim in his seminal 1911 book, Principles Of Scientific Management, was to segment tasks in the production of a consumable product into small, simple jobs, which could easily be taught and replicated.4 Introduced in the early 20th century, Taylorism fragmented occupations, minimized skill requirements—along with job learning time and job training time, all in the name of production efficiency and increased output. Taylorism was developed to support war efforts, and in a social economy much different than what we see it today, but this form of manufacturing and labor is still highly alienating and its effects remain with us. Within the last few years for example, the mega-internet retailer, Amazon, has been accused of employing Taylorist techniques to achieve efficiency in its warehouse and distribution centers. Measurement, one of Taylor’s primary strategies to increase production, forces workers at Amazon to keep pace with the automated machines with which they work–robots, self-organizing shelves, content generators, and more. The workers who fail to meet set production numbers are eliminated, causing a high turnover rate within the company. “Digital Taylorism,” a term coined by employees at Amazon, is becoming a new trend in the ever evolving race to keep up with new forms of autonomous technology.5 We can see the effects of Taylorism throughout modern institutions and workplaces where once intensive and demanding jobs now require single task inputs within a limited set of guiding parameters.


Marxist theory of modern industry presumes that all workers are interchangable. This is manifested by defining workers as mechanical beings rather than contributors who serve a thinking or creative role. As an example, consider one of the largest digital productions facilities in modern time: Google Books. Google Books prides itself on accumulation and digitization of previously published literature. In the mid-2000’s, Andrew Norman Wilson, an artist from San Francisco, uncovered Google’s “ScanOps” department where ordinary low-wage workers were tasked with hand-scanning books to be entered into Google’s database. Scanning requires the Fordist tasks of processing millions of books to accumulate and log all of the information contained within them into a central location.6 This process is one of manual labor dictated by the machine with little room for worker collaboration. It is not hard to guess that once Google is able to develop a robot capable of flipping the pages in a book these workers will soon be replaced by identical machines ready to pursue the same task, faster and with increased profitability. We see this continuously in modern industry where a set of workers is replaced by a few specialists who monitor the processes of production with the sole purpose of an increased production rate and limiting of human involvement for capital gain. However, what is often overlooked in this view, is the form of anonymous human presence that continues to reside inside the seemingly disembodied digital processes we tend to take for granted. Wilson reminds us of the slippages of material and productive labor, tangible as aesthetic accidents and paginated ruptures, of the human presence inscribed in the seemingly immaterial processes associated with digital reproduction.7 Not all books can merely be scanned. Fragile, broken, and precious documents need attention and care that robots cannot yet achieve. In order to understand this anonymous form of labor, it is important to recognize the strategic function the apparatus built to attain predetermined ends, where these forms of labor might have a more creative role, like that of the designer, creating a new relationship with digital machines.


In the hierarchical structure of Taylorist management, first there is always a set role for a supervisor. The supervisor is the one actor removed from the centralization of the physical processes of production. The supervisor has no direct relationship with the machine. Workers on the other hand, may have an understanding of the way in which a machine functions, but they cannot be part of the process that allows for adaptation or improvisation in work flow or design. The individual worker becomes an onlooker to the movement and results of the machine’s work. Gilbert Simondon, a French philosopher, discusses this change as the advent of the technical individual. One who becomes an onlooker:

“We should like to show that culture fails to take into account that in technical reality there is a human reality, and that, if it is fully to play its role, culture must come to terms with technical entities as part of its body of knowledge and values.

Now, however strange this reality may be, it is still human, and a complete culture is one that enables us to discover that this stranger is indeed human. Still, the machine is a stranger to us; it is a stranger in which what is human is locked in, unrecognized, materialized and enslaved, but human nonetheless. The most powerful cause of alienation in the world of today is based on a misunderstanding of the machine.”8


In order to close the gap and devise a new definition of the technical individual, one who doesn’t just organize the complex sets of machines, but instills value and artistry into their work (3D printer, CNC, optical scanners, etc.) we must look at automated manufacturing as an extension of human reality and its closeness to the designer. The unfamiliarity needs to be embraced, embodied, and materialized in production. This sensibility is essential to accommodate the machine with the makers involved in order to facilitate a creative relationship.


Creative Futures: Maintaining a Machine Relationship in

the Anthropocene


Shifting the focus to the present day, we can attend that grappling with the Anthropocene can raise our awareness to the various relationships between humanity and technology. By competing for accumulation and progress, humans often find themselves becoming more isolated socially, less in direct contact with others, and therefore lonelier than in previous epochs. Computers simultaneously give us a connection to communities and networks of people while, at the same time producing a feeling of social isolation brought on by the machine itself. Although a study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that digital technology engagement actually leads to less isolation, person-to-person diversity interactions have declined.9 To better understand this simultaneity and the way it functions in the apparatus of new production methods, we can look at the efforts designers are making to bridge the gap between the human and the machine, personalization and standardization, the public and private. 


By renewing and reinvigorating our relationship with machines, designers are focusing on inventing new approaches to create work that adapts the mechanics of industry to make them more personal and palatable. Tom Lauerman, a designer at Penn State University, is developing an open source clay printer in conjunction with the engineering department and the University’s Learning Factory Center. The intention of this digital machine, sponsored by Penn State’s Center for Innovative Material Processing through Direct Digital Deposition (CIMP-3D) is to adapt consumer-level 3-D printers to print traditional materials like clay and concrete. To spread the results of their work, Lauerman and his team have provided lists of components and other source materials to the public to help them modify their printers. Perhaps one of the best examples of a creatively designed machine is Markus Kayser’s Solar Sinter. Powered by solar energy, Kayer’s machine sinters (a process of melting layers of material with a laser) sand from the desert into functional objects. This mobile apparatus combines accessible digital files from sites like Thingiverse and MyMiniFactory with creative logic, transforming machine and material from information gleaned from social networks (open source websites) to create aesthetic work (as a form of new creative thought) that becomes functional (a vessel). Through varied practices, designers are investigating new creative environments and seem to be hinting at spaces like fablabs, DIY communities, and artisanally spirited labs that produce innovative projects as a response to an unconscious need felt by individuals to create a paradoxical proximity with the production apparatus that has been adversely affected by a dominant industrial strategy. The need for understanding material and the way it’s shaped and formed is a constant concern of the designer, a outlook that would be beneficial if adopted among a broader swath of society.


Fablabs and maker-spaces are unique cultural environments where resistance to the dictates of ready-to-use machines are at their highest. In contrast to Fordist and Taylorist models, these spaces represent new areas for production and creative work where there is minimal hierarchy, a spirit of direct interaction and significant knowledge sharing among participants.10 While admittedly using automated machines, these institutions may be thought of as alternatives to industrial automation, organizations that favor the person-to-person and person-machine relationships. 

Although, taking the stance of encouraging the creative imagination of all artists and makers to employ digital machines may pose a challenge. There is still the need to overcome the dense, impenetrable languages of manufacturing and robotic programs and to address material and experiential setbacks, not to mention the economic hurdles needed to acquire some of the machinery. 

 Numerical programming languages like gcode, used for 3-D printing and milling are difficult to code by hand and require knowledge and material mastery to anticipate machine reactions and environmental settings in order to generate quality results. To expand our relationships with machines and the forms they produce, a creative logic needs to be deployed to diversify production output rather than focus on the machine’s ability to generate products in mass quantity. Testing the flexibility of the machine, or what can be considered “misusing the medium” and can provide unexpected fruitful results and applications. A machine is generally designed to work within a particular set of constraints. But what can designers do to “hack” the material or machine to better suit a creative outcome? The strategy of hacking is described by Léa Boutteville as:

“Going from a quick idea to a work, but not only. It is also a way of rethinking the world by generating a future for our contemporary devices in the face of obsolescence, whether programmed or not. The hack questions the repairability of objects and machine use while trying to find out how they work. This attitude assumes that everyone is capable of generating things, of discovering, of trying and of appropriating the world without having to be a “great scientist”.” 11


A designer often does not directly manufacture the products they design, but they still play an important role in rethinking the tools and machines of production by modifying them to achieve a desired output. This is where the power relation between end-users and the larger corporate world can be adjusted to respond to the needs of creative communities who strive to gain an understanding of the tools and technology with which individuals and designers work.


Handiwork Does Not Always Mean Made By Hand


The model of creative collaboration between designers, programmers, and engineers has been in place within the institution for some time, but is now breaching its way into smaller spaces where communities where people want to create, prototype and experiment. Nowadays, the hand is no longer the sole requirement for working with machines and designers need to look beyond the affordances of traditional workmanship and into the realm of multidisciplinary associations between workers, artists, and programmers. Design history shows that many designers maintained a close relationship with the printers and manufacturing sites they employed to produce their work.12 With new technology, the depreciation of the hand does not lead to necessarily inhuman objects. Intelligent use and machine understanding can give rise to sensitive works that are imbued with humanity through careful consideration of production size, accessible design object specifications, and the labor employed in their creation. 


Maker-spaces, independent studios, and open public facilities that engage designers and individuals can form a less alienating connection, one where the focus is on the diversity of output rather than the repetitive production governed by the search for performance and quantity seen through the history of manufacturing. In essence, a relationship should grow between all of the sectors of production where machines can be modified and understood so they do not become just a tool for output, but a tool can be creatively work with.


It is inevitable that factories will continue to produce our goods and designed products and a majority of these facilities will be well equipped with automated processes requiring little human labor.13 In order to avoid turning the site of design into autonomous factories, designers must consider entering an intimate environment in which they work with these machines and collaborators. Designers will still want to embrace the humanity of hand work and to physically engage with material things and learn by doing. Responsibly misusing a tool can generate improvisation and lead to impactful solutions in unconventional ways. It may take some imagination to envision a world where the evolution of machines will foster work that is not inherently manual, but this evolution will also result in a world where designers, artists and everyday citizens will have routine access to ready-to-use digital machines like 3-D scanners, virtual modeling programs and rapidly emerging new technology.



1. Giorgio Agamben. What is an apparatus?: and Other Essays. Stanford University Press. 39-54, 2009


2. Sohie, Fetro. Working With Digital Machines. Vol. 1. Back Office. 64-72. 2016.


3. Fetro, 64.


4. Brett Ryder. Digital Taylorism. The Economist. September 10, 2015. Accessed November 15, 2017.


5. Ryder


6. Gilbert Simondon, Cécile Malaspina, and John Rogove. On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects. Minneapolis, MN: Univocal Publishing, 2017.

7. Gershenfeld, Neil. “How to Make Almost Anything: The Digital Fabrication Revolution.” Foreign Affairs, 6th ser., Vol. 91, 2012, 43-57


8. Fetro, 68.


9. Lauerman, Tom. Open Source Clay Printing. The 3D Additivist Cookbook, 2016


10. Anna-Sophie Springer and Etienne Turpin. Fantasies of the Library. 18-25, 2016


11. Léa Boutteville. “Discovering the Maker Movement and 3D Printing.” Paris1Design.


12. Gershenfeld, 48