Camille, an algorithm to “compost” plastic with 3DPrinting

Haraway describes String Figures as stories that propose patterns for participants to inhabit. To a certain degree, 3DPrinting works in the same way. The most common 3DPrinting processes extrude a string of plastic and place it layer by layer with the help of a computer to build something. 3DPrinting uses this technique in such a way that we are able to create connections between two other things that might no be related at all. Moreover, if we allow ourselves to think a bit deeper, the plastic in 3DPrinting, which originates from oil, which in turn originated through layering of organic material,may also connect us to the history of our planet. Also deep, but in another direction, 3Dprinting connects us to the economic ways of the world. It is a mini factory that squeezes centuries of technological development in a little box for us to fabricate almost anything. With 3DPrinting we are able to modify our world in ways that other generations could not think of. And yet, incredibly, it is there, in our fablab/classroom/basement printing bunnies for us with strings of plastic that say so much about our world even if we do not pay attention to them.

In my opinion, framing the 3DPrinter as a string figure should not stop just in drawing a map of the intricate relationships that it brings together. Instead, it should empower its users to participate in the making of these strings. String figures propose patterns for participants to inhabit which consequently should make us ask ourselves: which pattertns should we propose? How can I engage with the collection of relationships availiable to me through my 3DPrinter? Is there a way to 3DPrint a bond that ties environment, economics, and our local experiences together?

This project is an attempt to do so. I is an experiment about making 3DPrinting products that turn themselves into explicit String Figures. Products that bind entrepreneurs with their locality and the environment. Camille is a collection of grasshopper algorithms that exploits complexity freedom in 3DPrinting to bind disposed objects with products of local entrepreneurs in order to produce chairs. The algorithms adapt to the interfaces in old furniture, different chair sizes, filament selection, and the available printing volume. The result is a flower shaped chair that connects econimics, local practices, and the environment in a functional and metaphoric way. It uses the 3DPrinter just like vermicomposting uses worms, it metaphorically composts waste material to produce new life.

Entrepreneuring multidimensionally

The project is the implementation of a PhD study focused on understanding how to exploit 3DPrinting in entrepreneurial ventures (Esparza, 2020). This study highlights the potential that additive manufacturing has in making entrepreneurial ventures more flexible and organic. From a technology management perspective, the study found that the flexibility in 3DPrinting allows the continuous incorporation of functional interfaces between components in the architecture of a product. This creates the possibility for the entrepreneur to experiment with different supply chain configurations without extra costs. This means that contrary to other methods for entrepreneuring, using 3DPrinting allows the incorporation of partners and objectives that otherwise would be eliminated because they are costly. Such is the case of sustainability and social enterprising goals that do not align to the economic goals but add up to production costs. Thence, it allows the entrepreneur to think of the market opportunity as something that can be created socially with local resources, rather than searched with the help of huge investments. With 3Dprinting, entrepreneurs can incorporate partnerships with economic, social, or environmental goals by just merging interfaces in 3Dmodelling.

However, the implementation of 3Dmodels and additive manufacturing relies on the ability of the entrepreneur to design with technical tools on top of the entrepreneurial skills that are necessary to make the venture successful. Conventionally, these processes are facilitated by a department of design engineering specialists. Therefore, the main objective of this experiment is to find a way for entrepreneurs to create connections between venture economics, social partnerships, and environmental goals. Accordingly, the Camille algorithms were designed to bypass this need for an organization by parameterizing the design process of a component in a specific case: a chair.

The grasshopper algorithm parametrices the interface between a tripod and a seat. It uses the flexibility of 3Dprinting to make a lattice structure from minimal surfaces that other manufacturing processes cannot fabricate. Such structure provides the algorithm with a better model for analysis and FDM printing. A minimal surface enables the creation of closed toolpaths without sharp angles and with better structural performance. At the same time, it models a two dimensional surface distributed in three dimensions that can be analysed as a structure under tension. The algorithm can use the mechanical data for each filament to detect which areas are at risk of breaking and need to be reinforced. According to the results of the analysis, the algorithm adds thickness to the rings that suffer of greater displacement. The structure adapts to different shapes of leg interfaces, their angle, and the printing volume available for the entrepreneur. The resulting model provides three fixing points for the legs that can also be used to attach the seat. With the assistance of the algorithm, the entrepreneurs concerns reduce to the selection of the printer and material, the legs, and the design of the seat.  

The Camille workflow is as follows:

  1. Source legs
  2. Trace legs perimeter (now manual, automatic in development)
  3. Select height
  4. Select printing volume
  5. Design seat 
  6. Let Camille work
  7. 3DPrint

Removing the technical concerns from the design process provides the entrepreneur with the flexibility to incorporate partnerships through the sourcing of legs and the design of the seat. It has been suggested that successful entrepreneurs use their products to build partnerships in suppliers and distributors that keep the venture afloat (Sarasvathy & Dew, 2005). Thus, the Camille algorithm is designed to be implemented in fablabs where craftsmen, designers, and entrepreneurs can build these partnerships. Camille provides a space for two or more actors to co-design a small supply chain (my subproduct + Camille + your subproduct = chair). It binds the two subproducts and distributes the commercial workload of finding retailers and customers. It does so with minimum investment considering that it can be used with equipment and materials already present in a fablab.

The binding of partnerships through Camille and the 3Dprinter does not stop at the entrepreneurship level. The adaptability of the algorithm allows upcycling of discarded material to be used as legs, or even as something else that exploits the same configuration to build something other than a chair. By optimizing FDM 3Dprinting available in fababs, Camille also permits the use of biodegradable or recycled filament as long as the mechanical data is available. Therefore, the algorithm proposes a pattern for different actors to engage in the production of something new. In such sense, it works as a string figure where human and non-human actors compost trash into new products. Therefore, the final shape of the product of Camille is proposed as a flower that emerges from “inorganic” material. The current implementation of Camille uses filt to create a stool. Yet, other materials such as laminated plastic and wood can be used. It is free for the entrepreneur to design and develop the shape of the flower that will emerge from her plastic compost.  

The main objective of this experiment is to make a tangible manifestation of ideas about economics and sustainability that today are everywhere but yet seem to be far away in the future. Nonetheless, in experimenting with these different economic, environmental, and social spheres, we see a world full of sources for experimentation. We see new possibilities for making partnerships with agents that are excluded from our system, human and non-human that can also contribute to the design of a new future.

References:

Haraway, Donna J. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press, 2016.

Esparza, A. (2020). Entrepreneurship With Additive Manufacturing: Implications of Complexity Freedom in Product and Firm Ideation [Thesis, Auckland University of Technology]. https://openrepository.aut.ac.nz/handle/10292/13125

Sarasvathy, S. D., & Dew, N. (2005). New market creation through transformation. Journal of Evolutionary Economics, 15(5), 533–565. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00191-005-0264-x