The Death of the Modeler

I'm a techie, I have to admit. I love new technology and how it impacts the world and our daily lives.

One of the technologies that I'm most engaged with is 3D Printing. For those of you who have no clue about what I'm talking about, 3D printing is basically the technology that allows the translation of a digital drawing into a physical object.

There are a number of technologies that printers use to accomplish this, but the most common by far is something called FFD, or Fused Filament Distribution. The printer takes a digital object, slices it into very thin layers (about 0.1mm thick), then prints the layers one at a time, one on top of the other, in order to build up a 3D object. Plastic filament is melted and extruded through the print head in lines that melt or fuse together as they cool. The result is a solid object composed of plastic that can be used as-is or finished for a superior finish.

3D printing allows for the creation of objects that would otherwise be impossible by conventional fabrication methods. It also creates perfectly repeatable and high quality parts with little to no time investment on behalf of the person doing the printing needed during the actual printing process.

Now the big thing to understand is that once the digital file is created, little skill is needed to reproduce or create a part. Factor in the technology of 3D scanning, which can replicate any physical object digitally within just a few thousands of an inch accuracy, and the issue starts becoming clear... no longer is skill in fabrication needed to create.

Objects can be replicated in minutes with perfect accuracy, or else created from scratch with only a computer (not taking away from the needed skills to 3D model, but it's a different skillset altogether).

So now the debate is whether the "true" craftsman's time is at hand. What will happen when scale models can be created or duplicated in minutes or hours, where it used to take weeks or months?

I don't know that I'm qualified to answer that except to offer my opinion:

The future will see an evolution of skillsets from fabrication toward digital manipulation. Artists will use computers, virtual reality and 3D printers like they now use saws, knives and paint brushes. Is that a bad thing? I suppose the old watch will say yes, and the new may say no. Machines and technology feel cold and impersonal, where people feel a more personal connection with hand-crafted products. That feeling may change over time as digital techology becomes the norm. People will become appreciated for their artistry that originates on a digital canvas.

As someone that is straddling both worlds, I do feel sad that the hand-crafted is going away, but I can also appreciate the benefits and new opportunities that new technology offers.

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