Machinations

I do like machines, that much has come through frommy writings I hope. I like the design most machines have, the sleek or bulky shapes they have and the materials most good machines have. The composition of plastics, alloys, metals and composites is neverending and new ways to combine old materials pop up all the time. I love working with machines, especially if they require a new set of skills to learn and some practical fixing to be done. Tweaking this and that, adjusting and re-checking positions and making sure the machine works as intended, maintaining it’s parts etc. Sometimes I feel like I should be a janitor or something because of how much I simply love fixing stuff. Yet, during my time here elsewhere I’ve noticed a recurring trend of designers embracing the machines in their work, whereas the other people, the people who are potential customers, seem to think that design hasbecome a bit too dependent on the same machines.

I have to agree that my personal mindset is with the latter, but my professional approach is with the former.
I’ve discussed with various people with different working background from cleaning ladies to salespeople and beyond about the machination of design to varying degrees. The split between those who see that design has become too dependent on the 3D modelling softwares and machines is not equal, and it seems the older the person, the more they regard machined products as something cheap and low-quality. This certainly used to be the case years and years ago, but nowadays we’ve already broken the limit where machining things out is both more efficient and higher quality than traditional methods. The craftsman in me has been against this whole thing the whole time. It tells me that it would be faster to go to the metal workshop and have my way with the materials. It wouldn’t take too long to simply make whatever I’d want, that’s how I roll. That would be against the reason I came here in all regards. Yet, while I’m sitting here on my break and waiting for the machines to finish their 27h run on my product shell, I am grasped with an unknown uncertainty where I stand with these machines.A sculptor peels layers off from a block of material to reveal what’s inside. This is almost practical what the CNC machines do and there is certain fascination to see the bit spinning with immense speed, taking another layer off to further reveal that shape. The shape never existed before outside the digital dimension, and now it’s being made by a machine.Grasp the closest plastic thing near you. It is most likely injection moulded product. The mold that was used to make that product has been carefully machined out, and before that existed in only in the aforementioned digital dimension. But before that, there had to be someone making a hard, physical model of it. These machines mostly exist to make everything run smoother, but they do not detract the so-called soul of the product, if you want to use that term. While mass produced products can be of varying quality, the best ones still stand up to those that are meticulously crafted by hand. A good product will always carry the intentions of the designer and you will be able to feel it in your hands, under your buttocks or on top of your head in the same manner thousands of other people using the same product. Opinions whether the intention works and is good is dependent on opinion and those will vary greatly. Do the machines take away the craftsmanship I talk so much?

The short answer is no. The long answer is no, it doesn’t. Craftsmanship is a skill to be professional at one’s own field, and computer driven design does require the machines to be fed with a 3D model of the product. Making this model in itself might be very straightforward in principle, but it still takes good amount of experience to get good withthe selected program, be it Rhinoceros 3D, 3DSMax, Solidworks or whatever else you use. Crafting that 3D model might be completely different from crafting a table mock-up, but they require very similar senses of experience and purposeful making. A person with high skill level in 3D model making does craft like any other craftsman, just with digital tools. Some see that machine takes away something from a man, be it either a part of his soul or some other thing, mostly work related. If you have this stance, then good for you. I can’t agree with this thou. While the machines have taken away the physical making of the product from me, I still need to make the 3D model for the machine to know what to do. As much as the machines make things easier, they also add something that we need to do. It’s a plus minus thing. I don’t need to like the CNC machines I use and the method I need to work to use them, but I can surely appreciate their effectiveness and high production quality. Not liking something does not exclude appreciation, and appreciating these machines for producing your favourite product fast and in high quality is something we all do.There always needs to be a man behind the machine. There is no ghost in the shell here, thinking and doing the best choices. Behind every product there is someone who had to have their hand on a physical model and felt it that this is good. Or in some cases, cheap enough and we can make a quick buck out of it. We don’t really face it in our everyday lives and perhaps that’s for the best. As much as I recommend everyone to go out there and see how things are made and why they are made like they are, sometimes it’s just best to sit back and enjoy that nice shape of glass in your hand and enjoy the comfy couch you’re sitting on.

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