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T E C H N O L O G Y Digital Fabrication James Thurman 16 April 2014 SchoolArts Continued on page 49. F or the past several years, I have been teaching an online course on digital fabrication. Students work with a variety of online resources to have their digital files made into physical objects. The objects are then critiqued based on images posted on each student's blog. The follow - ing is a basic introduction to digital fabrica - tion. While not all schools own the proper equipment, this can help to facilitate the development of potential projects for teachers who are interested. What Is Digital Fabrication? Digital fabrication is commonly used by design professionals who focus on physical objects, such as architects and industrial designers, but the tools and technologies have become affordable enough that even individual hobbyists can now pursue it. In my course, we focus on digital fabrication that involves the significant alteration of physical materials by a machine, guided directly by informa - tion from a digital file. The type of software used and type of file created are essential because the information within the file is what directs the particular digital fabrica - tion machine. Digital fabrication machines that use vector-based files cut, etch, and/ or engrave flat, planar materials such as paper, plastics, felt, leather, and metal. Smaller-scale projects (jewelry and other small functional/decorative items) usually use a laser to cut the desired materials. Larger-scale projects (furniture, lighting, and architectural components) may use a laser, but might also use a waterjet cutter, plasma cut - ter, or router, depending on the mate- rial, desired accuracy, and budget. Approaches to Digital Fabrication For the creation of more dimensional objects, the two main approaches used are either additive or subtractive. The most common equipment used in a subtractive way is a Computer Numer - ical Controlled (CNC) router, which is typically used on softer materials, such as wood and plastics. There are a wide range of additive processes that were primarily devel - oped by manufacturing industries to create prototypes before putting a part into production. Most of these processes are referred to as three- dimensional printing. The simplest way to think of how three-dimensional printing works is to imagine a basic inkjet printer printing layer upon layer of a material to build an object—like a computerized version of a clay coil pot. Three-Dimensional Projects The best way to understand digital fab - rication processes is to utilize them as part of a project. Any good digital fabri - The simplest way to think of how three-dimensional printing works is to imagine a basic inkjet printer printing layer upon layer of a material to build an object. 11_18_4_14.indd 16 2/20/14 3:02 PM