Ann Marie Shillito – “One of my personal aims is to make 3D printing accessible to artists and designer makers who struggle to create what they want using CAD”

Ann Marie is a contemporary designer jeweler & maker, teacher, lecturer, research fellow, founder & CEO of Anarkik3D Ltd. She is passionate about enabling non-CAD using designer makers, 3D artists, creative amateurs, hobbyists to engage with 3D digital making using technologies such as 3D Printing. She is also the author of ‘Digital Crafts: Industrial Technologies for Applied Artists & Designer Makers‘ & Fellow of the RSA.

Ann Marie, could you let us know about your background and what brought you into 3D printing in the first place?

My first profession is designing and making contemporary jewelry, and titanium was my metal of choice for a long time. I was always looking for more effective methods for anodizing and cutting it and in 1989 I had funding from the then Scottish Development Agency to investigate laser cutting refractory metals (titanium, niobium, and tantalum). 2D digital data is required to cut profiles so during this research I made the move into using computers for the design process and started to teach myself 2D CAD.  

It was during this project that I attended a MasterLecture by goldsmith, Stuart Devlin, at the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths in London. At the end of his lecture, he showed a 3D printed ring in resin, printed using stereolithography technology. This was in 1990. It was so very exciting but all the technology, the 3D design packages and cost of printing were way beyond my means.

What was your very first experience with 3D Printing?

In 1997-1998 I managed to get myself onto the two-year CALM project (Creating Art with Layer Manufacture) in the UK, funded by the Higher Education Funding Councils that culminated in the creation of sculptures by twenty-two British Sculptors. Not being a sculptor I had to push hard to get onto the project and managed to sneak on as jewelry is small and wouldn’t use up too much funding. I desperately wanted to be included for the fantastic support available both on the design side and for 3D printing, with a visit to Warwick University’s 3D printing center to understanding both the constraints and the potential for creating designs that would be impossible to make any other way. My intention was to produce a piece that demonstrated this so I designed a bangle printed as one piece with 3 captured rings that could be rotated separately. It was 3D printed in ABS and finished with a painted pattern and with gold leaf whose lustre emphasized the texture produced by the physical process of 3D printing by extrusion.

I have been very fortunate in getting funding from various sources to try 3D printing in wax for casting and to learn different 3D CAD programs such as AutoCAD, TrueSpace and Trispectives. As an artist, I found 3D CAD programs unbearable and in 1999 became a research fellow at Edinburgh College of Art to investigate more user-friendly programs for people like myself (Rhino was a slight improvement). Within a year I successfully applied for research funding to test 3D haptics (virtual 3D touch) as a better interface to 3D modeling for applied artists and designer makers. We eventually built a haptic demonstrator in 2005, a 3D modeling application called DrawnReality, and tested it with a number of designers and artists. The hook to get them involved was the opportunity to have their models 3D printed – we wanted to make sure the modeling process produced printable models and that our .stl file format was robust and could cope with the wonderful free-form designs that were produced. Only one out of the 12 or so models was not 3D printable!

In 2007 Xiaoqing Cao, our senior software engineer at the time, and I spun out a company, Anarkik3D Ltd to commercialize the research findings.

Could you explain furthermore what Anarkik3D and Anarkik Creations are about and the services that you are providing?

Anarkik3D specializes in haptic software development and in 2008 Xiaoqing and I decided that we would focus on developing an affordable 3D modeling package as a new 3D haptic gaming device had come onto the market. We had tested it and the haptic experience from its force feedback was of a quality sufficiently good for immersive engagement when designing. The free movement of the device arm and grasp enables you to feel virtual objects in the round and to interact with them to model.

One of my personal aims is to make 3D printing accessible to artists and designer makers who struggle to create what they want using CAD. To 3D print you need a 3D model and by providing a program that taps into how we naturally interact with the real world through touch we have produced an affordable haptic 3D modeling package. Also, the capability to 3D print the models created was paramount for marketing the product. Our first success story was the accomplishment of a Masters student at Edinburgh College of Art. Farah Bandookwala’s degree work was all 3D printed in polyamide (which she dyed herself), steel and resin, designed using our haptic software as well as with Rhino, and then she went on to win an award to help fund the designing and the 3D printing of four large interactive pieces.

Digital image in Anarkik3D Design and the 3D printed, hand-dyed finished interactive piece of student Farah Bandookwala

I do see myself as a pioneer within the applied arts sector advocating these 3D technologies as great, exciting tools for creatives to expand their practice and their range of work by tapping into the amazing potential technology such as 3D printing offer to prototype new work and to produce finished end products. Bloomsbury commissioned me to write a book – ‘Digital Crafts: Industrial Technologies for Applied Artists and Designer Makers’. In late 2013 this was published and includes all that you need to know to have the confidence to get into 3D printing!

I keep up my expertise as a jeweller by continuing to design and 3D print wearable pieces and this is where AnarkikCreations comes in. We intend this new company to be an e-commerce channel to market the 3D printed work of the designers using our Anarkik3D Design 3D modelling software and this includes me. As it is easy to learn and to use, and is great for creating more organic, free-form designs, it‘s great for art jewellery and we want to promote the exciting and very non-CAD aesthetic that users are demonstrating in their different styles of work.

We crowdfunded to get an e-commerce site designed and developed, with a manager to take the venture forward and were not able to raise sufficient funds to do this effectively and well. Also, Anarkik3D successfully won funding with two consecutive grant applications to investigate, then develop, a middleware platform, a potential 2nd product. This major project, Touchable Universe (now a spin-out company), was focused on the education sector and was a collaboration of 4 micro companies. AnarkikCreations had to go on hold and we are now relooking at our business plans for it, looking for investment and a manager with marketing expertise!

How did you come to build the company?

When Xiaoqing and I first set up Anarkik3D, the haptic devices available commercially were very expensive so we concentrated on developing bespoke software for big companies who could afford the expensive hardware. But neither of us were that enthused doing this so with the introduction of that more affordable haptic gaming device we switched to developing our product for applied artists and designer maker. We have both invested in the company to develop Anarkik3D Design, have had a SMART Award to prototype a middleware platform (our AFrame), an Innovate UK grant to develop AFrame towards a beta version, crowdfunded for specific projects and worked to build up revenue from sales and from running classes and courses. It is intensive and has been tough. I am very passionate about what I am doing and I have a very supportive family who understand what drives me! Sadly, Xiaoqing went back to China for personal reasons but this hasn’t stopped development. We are currently working on V3.1 of the 3D modelling package for release this summer and will be promoting it into the creative arts sector to gain new customers.

Do you have any (fun or not) story about the company to share with us?

One of our projects to promote Anarkik3D Design and our aim of providing easy access to 3D printing was definitely fun, titled ‘3D Consequences’. The objectives, through collaborating with others, were to generate greater awareness of Anarkik 3D Design and 3D printing by promoting the project and exhibiting the work that arose. Secondly it had an educational element – to give a designer maker who is new to 3D technologies the opportunity to use our Anarkik 3D Design package (with access, training and support) and design for 3D printing. Her experience was recorded as a case study and circulated through various media such as Slideshare and blogs.

This is how ‘3D Consequences’ worked: 3 designers from Scotland and New Zealand, owning and using Anarkik3D Design, plus our newbie each created a model and at a given date put it into a Dropbox. We reallocated the four models, and using the theme ‘ Reform’ we each re-worked the model and this new model was again added to the dropbox to be reallocated a second time. This 3rd iteration’s theme was ‘re-mix’ and produced a further 4 models, making 12 in total. 8 of these were 3D printed by Sculpteo who sponsored the printing and the results are great. The other 4 were 3D printed in paper on Mcor’s Matrix printer – they also sponsored the project.

The twelve models were all on display at the 3DprintShow in London on our Anarkik3D stand and again in an exhibition Studio Fusion Gallery also in London where they also showed work by other jewelers using 3D printing. There is more information and images here

As a woman entrepreneur, what was/ is your biggest challenge?

It’s a mix of things that combined to make being an entrepreneur quite a challenge. Coming from an arts background and working in the creative arts/design/craft sector there are very few investors who see any potential value in our business and therefore willing to invest. Hence the reason for internal funding. The advantage of this is being able to remain in the arts but growth is slow.

I spun out Anarkik3D when I was 60 and I have encountered ageism too along the way. I have built up a lot of knowledge specific to digital technologies for the arts and at Touchable Universe where I am the Creative Director, I am very fortunate as I work with great guys who respect my experience and skills.

Anything exciting coming up you’d like us to know about?

When I was in Vienna last year I was introduced by Birgit to the owner of GallerieVundV and she has invited us to have an exhibition of 3D printed jewellery there this October. This means that I have to make the time to design and produce a portfolio of work. In the office we have an Ultimaker2 which is used in classes to demonstrate the principles of 3D printing and I use it for prototyping. I have prototyped the first set of designs and have sent the .stl files off to be 3D printed in steel, polyamide and multicolour. I am always very excited when the packet arrives and I open it and see these beautifully printed pieces ready for the next stage of making and finishing.

For another idea which I have been working on for over a year now, the models will be printed in colour in paper using Mcor’s new ARKe 3D printer. It’s really great to have the freedom to design for different 3D printing methods and materials and explore the potential of each.  Paper is so different to titanium (I designed my daughter’s wedding ring for 3D printing in titanium!), extrusion in ABS or PLA so different to sintering polyamide or metal. I use my collection of 3D printed samples and wearables in my master classes as I cover designing for the different systems and materials. Because people can be creating within a very short time using Anarkik3D Design, they can get a lot done in a couple or three days to grasp both the potential and the constraints of 3D printing.

The next version of Anarkik3D Design will be released shortly too and one of my tasks at present is to thoroughly test the system and all the changes made to functionality. Testing development is one job I won’t delegate and I test using live projects because the user interface and how art-work is created are interconnected and comprehending how is fundamental to the way the functions need to respond to allow the user to work with as little cognitive disruption as possible. This is the core principle that we work with, and was defined during the work I did as a research fellow at Edinburgh College of Art. As a designer maker I know if a function isn’t working in a ‘good’ way and I have learnt to respect gut feeling and to question assumptions such as: Do we as artists work differently to how, for instance, industrial designers work? CAD is an essential tool for them, but why for many artists do CAD programmes stymy the creative process? How do we make sure our programme is fit for their purpose? At our masterclasses we can observe and listen. We also get feedback from users to keep improving and enhancing the programme.

What was the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?

e-NABLE is definitely top of my list. The e-NABLE Community is an amazing group of individuals from all over the world who are using their 3D printers to create free 3D printed parts from which to construct the prosthetic hands and arms for those in need of an upper limb assistive device. These are people who have put aside their political, religious, cultural and personal differences – to come together and collaborate on ways to help improve the open source 3D printable designs for hands and arms for those who were born missing fingers or who have lost them due to war, disease or natural disaster. There is more information at this link about the remarkable people who initiated this and how it has grown into a global community of 3D printing people. It makes what I do seem very trivial.

What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you:

  • As a business person and designer? 

As a business person and designer maker it is that specific capability that facilitates production of objects in small / limited quantities affordably and effectively. The 3D print service companies make it possible for small micro businesses to produce more efficiently, to expand their range of work, test the market with new ideas and be more successful. This is especially important for designer makers as the statistics regarding income show this definitely needs to improve. I do see 3D printing as a tool that can provide greater opportunities for experimenting, using these processes and materials to generate and test out new ideas through playing and exploring. This is why I am so passionate about developing Anarkik3D Design for this sector as it does give access to 3D printing and, with a much smaller learning curve than that of CAD, it does not take an inordinate amount of time away from being at the bench keeping up hand skills.

  • As a woman?

Most of us love jewelry and 3D printing is perfect for jewelers and for jewelry. As jewellery, on the whole, is fairly small the costs of printing are justifiable, the cost of designing can be spread over a number of pieces and although jewelry is not too affected by price – if we like it we will purchase it as long as we perceive the value inherent in either the materials or in the design – the fact that it is 3D printed can also be a strong selling point.

What is interesting is the plethora of 3D printed jewelry out there to order from the various websites. My own premise for this popularity is that architects, industrial, product and character designers (mostly guys!) can enter this market with ease as they have CAD skills and processing expertise from their work and can, therefore, design objects and format the digital 3D data for printing. More importantly, 3D print service companies offer three really important services: casting in silver and gold, finishing services such as polishing and dyeing (anyone can get their designs finished without having to own their own polisher or dyeing set-up or have the skills to use these to a professional standard), and thirdly, their shops where anyone can begin selling their 3D printed designs.

Anarkik3D Design 3D modeling package appeals very much to women and this is not so surprising. It is designed and developed by two women, myself and Xiaoqing. We set the values and the approach, and access to 3D printing was at its core. 

And so, in your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?

I want to encourage more women to get into 3D modelling so they can use 3D printing, especially those women who are designer makers. Designer makers have a distinct advantage for working digitally in that through physically handling lots of materials and working with them they bring to virtual designing real world tacit knowledge about the properties that materials have, how to treat them and how design for them. As 3D printing is a new technology there is also new knowledge to be gained, explored and designed for. Designer makers are pretty good at embracing those tools and techniques which they see hold potential for new work. I will continue to explore 3D printing through my own work and disseminate my knowledge to inspire others to have a go.

What do you think of the 3D printing industry today?

It’s all moving so fast it’s hard to keep up with all the new developments in materials and printers and their application in probably every part of our life. So I tend to focus on what is happening within the arts and applied arts sectors and use Fabbaloo to get the gist of what is happening overall. While the 3DPrintShows ran in London Anarkik3D had a stand there every year because it was an incredible mix of exhibitors: established companies and start-ups, 3D printer and material manufacturers, and the service companies. The 3DPrintShows included an exhibition of art work and fashion shows, all of which pulled in a great variety of visitors over the three days and made for a vibrant and buzzy action packed place to find out what was going on in this industry. I admire Kerry Hogarth enormously for building up the 3DPrintShows and now the industry specific shows held globally.

And how would you like to see it evolve?

The industry will evolve as need directs and in those areas where investors see a potential for returns on their money. I wouldn’t even consider speculating on where or how it will evolve as there is so much research and development going on in the industry and in universities at macro, micro, and nano levels. What I hope is that more community projects like eNABLE will emerge as these bring humanity together for the betterment of society. 3D printing is such an amazingly wide reaching and exciting technology – I feel particularly privileged to be involved in the small way that I am.


Thank you for reading and for sharing! 

We invite you to join Women in 3D Printing on LinkedIn and to like our Facebook page for further discussion.

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