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Social Aspects of 3D Printing

Recording of Prof Deborah Lupton's talk

Posted April 20, 2015 in category General by Angela Daly

We were very pleased to have Prof Deborah Lupton visit us at Swinburne on Friday and give an engaging seminar of her critical sociological research into medical applications of 3D printing, including the use of 3D printing to create objects comprising visualisations of self-tracked health data.

For those who couldn't make it in person, an audio recording of Prof Lupton's talk is available here.

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upcoming SISR 3DP seminar with Professor Deborah Lupton

Posted April 14, 2015 in category General by Angela Daly

We are delighted to be welcoming Professor Deborah Lupton to the Swinburne Institute for Social Research this Friday to present some of her recent 3D printing related work.

Professor Lupton is Centenary Research Professor in the News & Medical Research Centre, Faculty of Arts & Design, University of Canberra. She is a sociologist who over an academic career of over two decades has published extensively on the sociocultural dimensions of digital technologies; medicine and public health; risk; the body; food; obesity politics; and pregnancy and parenting. Her current research interests include self-tracking, data practices and cultures and digital health technologies. She is the author/co-author of 14 books and is currently working on two new books: one on self-tracking and the other on critical digital health studies.

The title of Professor Lupton's seminar at Swinburne is "3D printed body objects in medicine and health". It will take place on Friday 17 April, from 12noon until 1pm in BA802-803 in the Hawthorn campus. All welcome.

Abstract: The advent of 3D printing technologies has generated new ways of representing and conceptualising health and illness, medical practice and the body. There are many social, cultural and political implications of 3D printing, but a critical sociology of 3D printing is only beginning to emerge. Deborah Lupton seeks to contribute to this nascent literature by addressing some of the ways in which 3D printing technologies are being used to convert digital data collected on human bodies and fabricate them into tangible forms that can be touched and held. She focuses in particular on the use of 3D printing to manufacture non-organic replicas of individuals' bodies, body parts or bodily functions and activities. In analysing these new forms of human bodies, Professor Lupton draws on sociomaterialist perspectives as well as the recent work of scholars who have sought to reflect on selfhood, embodiment, place and space in digital society and the nature of people's interactions with digital data. She will also address some speculations about where these technologies may be headed and outlining future research directions.

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Issue #6 of the Journal of Peer Production now out!

Posted January 16, 2015 in category General by Angela Daly

We are very pleased to announce that Issue #6 of the Journal of Peer Production on 'Disruption and the law' is now out!

This special edition has quite a few articles looking at the socio-legal disruptions caused by 3D printing.

Firstly, Robbie Fordyce from the University of Melbourne addresses the intersection between additive manufacture, the political imaginary, and Italian radical thought, exposing the outcomes which are conceived as possible by 3D printing within the political imagination of dissident groups.

Then, we have our own article looking at intellectual property sharing practices in the Thingiverse 3D design file platform.

Finally, Isaac Record, ginger coons, Daniel Southwick and Matt Ratto from the University of Toronto discuss their attempt to manufacture a non-functioning version of the Liberator 3D printed gun and illuminate the various social, legal, ethical, economic and technical contextual issues around it.

Thanks to all authors and reviewers involved in what we think is a super edition of JoPP!

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Sneak preview of our first major research output

Posted December 16, 2014 in category General by Angela Daly

We have a peer-reviewed article forthcoming in the Journal of Peer Production's special edition on law, disruption and peer production which is the first major research output of the 3D printing project. The special edition will be published in early 2015, but for the moment you can see a sneak preview of our article here.

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Sneak preview of our first major research output

Posted December 16, 2014 in category General by Angela Daly

We have a peer-reviewed article forthcoming in the Journal of Peer Production's special edition on law, disruption and peer production which is the first major research output of the 3D printing project. The special edition will be published in early 2015, but for the moment you can see a sneak preview of our article here.

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Film review: Print the Legend at MIFF

Posted August 12, 2014 in category General by Angela Daly

It's fun being legal and social researchers of 3D printing - we knew this already, but it's always reinforced when we do fun stuff for our research like go to the movies. In this spirit, last night we went to see 3D printing documentary Print the Legend which was playing at the Melbourne International Film Festival. Print the Legend provides the viewer with the recent history of 3D printing, and in particular its breakthrough into the mainstream, with MakerBot featured prominently as an example of the 3D printed 'American Dream' - a tiny start-up set up by some geeky techy friends which a few years later was sold for US$600 million to Stratasys (along with 3D Systems, the Big Two 3D printing behemoths), with its own Steve-Jobs-esque figurehead, Bre Pettis.


Along with MakerBot, the film tracks the progress of another start-up, Formlabs, which grew out of another friendship group of MIT students. Formlabs' road to success is more rocky: while they seemed to have no problems in raising capital to fund their project, the actual delivery of properly functioning machines to investors was subject to considerable delay, only for the company to be accused of patent infringement by 3D Systems itself, embroiling the Formlabs team in a lopsided struggle with a hint of David and Goliath about it. This dispute appears to be still ongoing even now, and there are rumours that 3D Systems and Formlabs may also have been negotiating some kind of settlement in which Formlabs would be taken over by 3D Systems.


The 'dark side' of the 3D printing story is also told via Cody Wilson and his infamous Defense Distributed 3D printed gun project. Wilson's success in creating 3D printable designs for a viable weapon is detailed, along with the media furore and the response from law enforcement agencies.While the film's other subjects are keen for commercial success, Wilson seems contented with being the centre of a more political storm, with a distinctly American flavour given the gun control debate there and the right to bear arms enshrined in the Second Amendment to the US Constitution.


Print the Legend thus raises various themes with which we are already very familiar from our own research. Firstly, we see implicitly how policies around, and attitudes to, intellectual property change as a company matures, with MakerBot being a particular case in point. Initially its printers were released on an open source/open hardware basis i.e. the design files were publicly available and anyone could make changes to those plans which were fed back into the development of the models. However, once MakerBot matured as a business, got larger and more attractive to investors, its intellectual property policies changed to more proprietary and closed models - a change which one of MakerBot's founders actually termed a 'betrayal'.


With the Formlabs story, we also see the emergence of 'patent wars' in stymieing competition entering the 3D printing space, although such intellectual property battles are not news to those familiar with other areas of technology, with the protracted litigation between Apple, Google and Samsung over smartphones and tablets in various jurisdictions being a prominent example. 3D printing as a maturing industry thus displays similar tendencies to other technology markets.


Nevertheless, Cody Wilson's story does demonstrate the successes and failures of State law enforcement apparatus in addressing 'dangerous' or 'unwanted' items that 3D printers may produce. While designs for the gun may have been removed from MakerBot's popular design repository Thingiverse, and the machine Wilson himself was renting for creating prototypes was physically removed from his possession, the decentralised nature of the Internet as a means for distributing content as well as individuals' ability to make their own 3D printers via the RepRap project (more about that in a minute) entails that it is difficult if not impossible to ensure that no gun designs are available online and/or that printers themselves can be fitted out with certain digital 'locks' that disallow certain kinds of designs to be printed - since one need not buy one's printer 'off the shelf' but can actually make one oneself. This entails that the ability to regulate 3D printing effectively, either vis-a-vis intellectual property infringement or vis-a-vis the production of 'dangerous' objects.


The film was limited in its scope to being entirely US-centric - while the US is a principal locus of 3D printing and certainly the start-up community around it, there have been important developments elsewhere in the world (and in some less-likely places). The RepRap project, a British initiative founded by Dr Adrian Bowyer at the University of Bath which developed a 3D printer that could print most of its components (and thus was self-replicating), was sadly missing from Print the Legend's narrative. The project has released printer plans on an open source/open hardware basis, and represents a radically different, public-spirited direction in 3D printing at odds with the idealistic capitalism inherent in for-profit start-up culture. RepRap is also significant inasmuch as MakerBot's initial printer offerings had some basis in/inspiration by the RepRap's designs, and without mention of this the MakerBot story is incomplete. Print the Legend also does not look at start-ups coming out of less likely places than MIT/Brooklyn hackerspaces, such as Mcor, a paper 3D printing company based in a town with around 3,000 inhabitants in Ireland. Furthermore, China's burgeoning 3D printing industry is not mentioned at all.


Nevertheless, Print the Legend is a good introduction to the world of 3D printing and some of its personalities for those new to the subject, and for those with some prior knowledge, it charts some of the successes and obstacles of 3DP start-ups and more established companies in some detail for posterity.

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Swinburne at Melbourne Inside 3D Printing conference

Posted July 15, 2014 in category General by Angela Daly

Some of us from the 3DP project attended the first Australian edition of the major international conference Inside 3D Printing last week, and presented our research on Thingiverse users' choice of Creative Commons licence for their 3D printable design files.

We also wrote reviews of the conference for 3D Printing Industry, which can be found here and here.

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Upcoming 3DP interdisciplinary seminar - 24 June 2014, Swinburne Hawthorn

Posted June 03, 2014 in category General by Angela Daly

We are very pleased to announce the forthcoming Swinburne Institute for Social Research seminar on 3D printing which will take place on Tuesday 24 June 2014 from 11am to 1pm in EN210 (Hawthorn campus).


The seminar is entitled 'Maker politics, culture and law' and comprises three presentations looking at different aspects of 3D printing in society.


For the first presentation, we are pleased to welcome back Dr Matthew Rimmer of ANU College of Law and ARC Future Fellow, who will look at the Maker Movement and their engagement with political processes in the US.


Secondly, Angela Daly (SISR research fellow) and Darcy Allen (RMIT PhD candidate and SISR research assistant) will present the initial research output of the Swinburne 'Legal and Social Implications of 3D Printing' project, which examines the extent to which sharing practices are prevalent in the Thingiverse user-generated online content platform for 3D printed design files.


Thirdly, Dr Amanda Scardamaglia (Swinburne FBE lecturer and SISR affiliated researcher) will explore some legal issues arising from 3D printing, specifically those affecting trade marks, passing off and consumer protection law, from the perspective of both intellectual property owners and the 3D printing community.


The event is open to all, but we request you register with if you wish to attend for logistical purposes.

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SISR seminar on 3DP with Dr Thomas Birtchnell (UoW)

Posted February 10, 2014 in category General by Angela Daly

We are very pleased to welcome Dr Thomas Birtchnell, Lecturer in Geography and Sustainable Communities from the University of Wollongong to Swinburne on Friday 28 February 2014 to talk about his work on 3D printing. His seminar will take place in EW303 in the Hawthorn campus, from 1-2pm.


Title: Reviving Australia's Maker Cultures through 3D Printing


Abstract: A global challenge for post-industrial hubs is how to drive manufacturing innovation to offset regional declines in traditional industries and soften the blow for communities who depend on the industrial sector while they pursue education and re-skilling. Additive Manufacturing (AM) - colloquially '3D Printing' or 3DP - offers a provocative opportunity, as these next-generation technologies are enabling a new industrial order hinging on extreme customization and personalization, localized sustainability and efficiency dividends. Overseas, governments and industry leaders are taking notice and developing collaborative clusters with university partnerships in order to support and apply 3DP activities in new industrial sectors. This presentation assesses the opportunities available for Australia to spearhead a similar initiative regionally through 3DP investment and growth.

Bio: Dr Thomas Birtchnell is currently a Lecturer in Geography and Sustainable Communities at the University of Wollongong. Before this, he was a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Lancaster University in the UK in a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and led by Distinguished Professor John Urry. The research project (ES/J007455/1) examined the past and future impacts of 3D printing on transport and society. His research interests lie in mobilities in a global sense and examine the interface between manufacturing innovation and grassroots innovation in India. He has recently published in the peer-review journals Area, Contemporary South Asia, Futures, Journal of Transport Geography, Mobilities and South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies. His latest books are the monograph Indovation: Innovation and a Global Knowledge Economy in India (2013 Palgrave Macmillan) and the co-edited (with Javier Caletrio) volume Elite Mobilities (2013 Routledge).

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3DP symposium round-up

Posted December 19, 2013 in category General by Angela Daly

We are very grateful to all of our speakers and audience for a fantastic symposium earlier this month.


Some of the presentations are available online here (we will upload more as we get them in):


We are also very pleased to have the event covered by 3D Printing Industry, both in the form of a preview and review.

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3DP symposium - Dr Matthew Rimmer (ANU) announced as keynote

Posted November 25, 2013 in category General by Angela Daly

With only ten days to go until our 3D printing symposium looking at social and cultural trajectories of the technology, we are delighted to announce that Dr Matthew Rimmer, ARC Future Fellow and Associate Professor in Law at the Australian National University will be our keynote speaker.


Dr Rimmer is an expert in intellectual property law and will be talking about the interaction of that legal regime and 3D printing, a subject on which he has also written, here and here.


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3D Printing Showcase at the University of Melbourne

Posted November 07, 2013 in category General by Darcy ALLEN

Today we headed to the 3D printing showcase at Melbourne University. Here's just a few of the people we talked to.

Firstly, we talked to Objective 3D, and had a look at one of their printers. This is the Mojo 3D Printer. This is a step above the consumer-grade printers, which print on an open platform. Although this will set you back about $10,000, the enclosed build environment (which is heat controlled) allows much more accurate 3D models, with much less waste. The printer prints its own supports, which are water dissolvable.  



We also talked to Dr Ryan Jefferies from the Harry Brookes Allen Museum of Anatomy and Pathology. The museum provides a range of teaching services for students, including medicine, biomedicine and physiology). Only within the last month has the museum utilised the benefits of 3D printing, with working on conserving historical models. What you can see below is a model of Ned Kelly's head - using 3D modelling software the museum was able to repair and print out very accurate copies. This one took over 16 hours to print! Although this was very expensive, and might not be widely spread in museums just yet, this is a look into the future!

One of the most interesting demonstrations was by FARO, where there was a fantastic example of where 3D scanning is heading. The measurement arm below, coupled with some very powerful software and a built in touch-screen, shows the way of the future. This allows point cloud-to-CAD comparison, rapid prototyping and reverse engineering. Applications include aerospace, automotive and metal fabrication. The arm itself will set you back about $40,000, and then add on $15,000 for the scan head and $15,000 for software (approximately - depends on the application). FARO is an Australian company, while the arms are manufactured in America.

 We also met with the team at Digital Graphic Supplies. The DGS team have some intriguing 3D printing technology that is both eco-friendly and full colour - all using only office paper! This technology has only been around for about 12 months, and only in Australia since June. The Mcor IRIS machine will set you back roughly $60,000, but allows full colour printing with standard A4 office paper. Here's an explanation of how paper 3D printing works. And, after you have no more use for your model, it can simply go into the recycling!

Finally, we talked to the team at Stratasys and Tasman Machinery. Unlike many of the other companies, Stratasys focused on the entry level industrial and pro-consumer market. There are wide applications here in low-run production, functional prototypes for designers and even complex surgery modelling for vets.

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Posted November 04, 2013 in category General by Darcy ALLEN


EURISKO 2013 was on this weekend. We attended, and it was great. A group of like-minded makers, hackers and 3D printing enthusiasts, all in the one venue - the Arts House Meat Market. Although there is too much to cover in one post, below is a quick look into some of the people we met.

Firstly, I had a chat with Andy from the Melbourne Hackerspace. There was a 3D printer printing out whistles, a great selection of 3D-printed and laser-cut 'things', as well as a recently designed app-controlled robot. You can find out more details of meetings on this calendar - with some 3D printing events open to all! You can also find Melbourne Hackerspace on Twitter.

This particular printer was churning out whistles.



We also visited evok3d (website and Twitter). They are based in Melbourne, but also offer 3D printing services right across Australian capital cities and New Zealand. At EURISKO, evok3d were offering digital scanning and printing of minature models - very cool! Here you can see the machine at work in the background, as well as some great objects (some even impossible using traditional manufacturing techniques).



We also met with The Robots are Coming (website and Twitter). They provide a range of services, from workshops on 3D printing depository access to guidance on the full process from the idea in your head into a 3D-printed object.



If anyone is interested, there is a 3D Printing Showcase coming up this week at the University of Melbourne - tickets are free here.

Also, don't forget to register for our symposium on December 5th. Registration and relevant details can be found here, with the draft programme. Look forward to seeing you there.


 - Darcy Allen (@DarcyAllenEco)


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3D Printing and Additive Manufacture: Myths, Facts and the Future

Posted October 31, 2013 in category General by Darcy ALLEN

This week IPRIA and RMIT presented a fantastic public seminar: '3D Printing and Additive Manufacture: Myths, Facts and the Future?' Dr Martin Leary (RMIT University) and Greg Munt (Patent Attorney with Griffith Hack) both presented some into the forefront of additive manufacturing, future strategic opportunities and the challenges faced with intellectual property. Presented below are some of the discussions from the seminar.

Dr Martin Leary ? RMIT University (Advanced Manufacturing Precinct)

There is no consensus when it comes to the various terminology used in the 3D printing industry. While there are formal definitions of additive manufacturing, 3D printing and rapid prototyping, they can be used relatively interchangeably. The term 'additive manufacturing' is derived from the physical process -  an 'inside-out' process where materials (from a standard feedstock) are progressively added as desired (from a mathematically perfect design). Traditional manufacturing, on the other hand, is an 'outside-in' process that starts from a solid and removes materials as they are not needed (not mathematically perfect).

Additive manufacturing provides some significant strategic opportunities, of which Dr Leary discussed five; (1) Rapid prototyping; (2) Fixturing; (3) Low-medium volume production; (4) Mass customization; and (5) High value structural and functional components. The combinations of these strategic opportunities provide significant scope for development of the technology, yet also a wide variety of challenges.

Dr Leary discussed where this 'third industrial revolution' will lead. For this to be a revolution, it needs to be disruptive. From what we can predict, the disruption looks like it will only hit some industries (of which we do not know, yet). There will be varying impacts in different sectors. For example, while the building sector may be hardly impacted, prototyping in the engineering sector willWhen we get caught up in the hype and possibilities of additive manufacture technology, we tend to overlook the benefits of traditional manufacture. To understand which sectors, we must look to the relative benefits of additive over traditional manufacture.

One of the most important advantages of the new technology is that the cost of additive manufacture is independent of batch size and complexity. This allows us to design some highly complex objects, with little cost, and some objects that are impossible with traditional manufacturing. On the other hand, there will still remain some simple, high volume products that will always be cheaper to mass produce traditionally. After all, additive manufacture is not rapid manufacture.  

Dr Leary discussed how some of the biggest movements within 3D printing are towards highly complex products through Topology Optimisation. That is, using complex algorithms to develop highly structurally efficient objects that were previously impossible to design. These new 'organic' designs tend to have significantly less mass. Currently, this is looking to have high potential in the aerospace industry - where mass is at a premium.

Greg Munt (Principal, Patent Attorney, Griffith Hack)

Intellectual property, particularly patent law, is a significant concern for the future of additive manufacturing. Greg proposes we need to ask ourselves if current IP laws provide protection for owners of Intellectual Property rights. The good news is that some of the current laws are still relevant for the new designs being developed. The bad news is the ability to enforce these laws.

There?s no stopping an additive manufacturing designer patenting their significant new design, but there is big challenges when they want to enforce it. Although personal use (printing in homes) does not avoid infringement of patent and design rights, it certainly is hard to find these law breakers. Secondly, the enforcement must be initiated by the owners themselves, which is a costly effort.

There is also a significant 'data problem' when it comes to additive manufacture. As well as printers, we need files to print. Although it may be an infringement to create the core data files that impact on current patents, we face serious issues when the designs come from overseas. While there is considerable harmonisation across different countries, IP laws are national by nature. If the designs are coming from overseas individuals or companies, there is very little we can do under current laws.

 Thanks go to Dr Martin Leary, Greg Munt, IPRIA and RMIT University for contributions.

 Darcy Allen 

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3DP symposium registrations opened

Posted October 18, 2013 in category General by Angela Daly

Registrations are now open for '3D printing: social and cultural trajectories' symposium taking place in Swinburne's Hawthorn campus on Thursday 5th December 2013.


The registration fee is: $50 (full), $25 (student).


The event will be catered and the registration fee is designed to cover those costs.


To register, please download and complete this form and send it to

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