In 2014-15, I collaborated with visual artist, Nicole Clouston, on arts and humanities approaches to digital fabrication. From a materials design perspective, we studied numerous techniques involving both additive manufacturing (3D printing) and subtractive manufacturing (cutting, etching, engraving, milling, and routing). Then we outlined their relevance to the processes of prototyping, archiving, and assembly as well as to issues such as distribution, maintenance, and aesthetics.

We published that work as a chapter titled “Fabrication and Research-Creation in the Arts and Humanities” in Doing Digital Humanities, edited by Constance Crompton et al. While the chapter is not open access, below are links to the book (available in paperback, hardback, and ebook formats), Nicole’s website, a related MLab course on “Physical Computing and Fabrication,” the MLab’s project page for fabrication research, a 2014 environmental scan conducted by the MLab of digital fabrication labs in Canada and the U.S., and a 2013 talk I gave on the topic of computer vision and fabrication in the humanities. After all the links, I’ve also included the first paragraph of the chapter. The image below, of Gustave Trouvé’s “L. Bienfait” signature from the MLab’s Early Wearables project, was made by Danielle Morgan using a laser cutter. Many thanks to Nicole, Danielle, and Katherine Goertz for collaborating with me on this research.

Photograph of a box laser-engraved with the signature, L. Bienfait.

Fabrication and Research-Creation in the Arts and Humanities
Published in Doing Digital Humanities (Crompton et al., eds.) in 2016 | fourteen pages, including three figures

Links: publisher’s page (HTML); (HTML); MLab project page (HTML); course (HTML); environmental scan (HTML with XLSX) of digital fabrication labs; talk (HTML) at Kansas with slides (HTML)

A quick scan of digital fabrication research across the academy suggests that computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) is most common in mechanical engineering, architecture, design, and urban planning departments (Goertz and Morgan 2014: n. pag.). For two examples among many, consider Taubman College’s Digital Fab Lab at the University of Michigan and the John H. Daniels Faculty Fab Lab at the University of Toronto. Inspired by Neil Gershenfeld’s groundbreaking work at MIT (2005), digital fabrication — or the creation of digital models in tactile form using additive or subtractive computer numerical control (CNC) techniques — appeals to practitioners in these fields because it tightens the loop between screen and prototype, code and material, idea and object. It also allows those practitioners to better anticipate surprises, reduce error in the manufacturing process, and rapidly test their ideas before projects are delivered for small-or large-batch production. But, aside from a few recent publications (e.g. Elliott et al. 2012 and Kee 2014), very little attention has been paid to the relevance of CAM techniques to arts and humanities research. In response to such a lack, below we walk readers through the particulars of digital fabrication, with an emphasis on materials design, digital/analog convergence, and manufacturing techniques such as 3-D printing, cutting, etching, routing, and milling. Ultimately, our aim is to demystify digital fabrication for researchers who are new to it, giving them a granular sense of computer-aided manufacturing before they start a lab, acquire equipment and materials, commit to a specific technique, or even write about it from a critical perspective.

Image from the Early Wearables project care of Danielle Morgan and the MLab. Other image, of wood stacked in UVic’s Digital Fabrication Lab, care of the MLab. Both used with permission. This page was created on 20 August 2019 and last updated on 14 June 2021.