The Pennsylvania State University

School of Visual Arts

Lauerman Leads 3D Printer Creation

Lauerman 3D Printer Building

Want to learn how to build your own 3D printer? In a two-week intensive workshop this summer at the Anderson Ranch Arts Centre in Colorado, Tom Lauerman guided a dozen workshop participants to do just that. Lauerman, an assistant professor in Penn State School of Visual Arts, hopes to bring the workshop to the University in the near future.

“3D printing is a powerful technology that we are only just beginning to integrate alongside all the other tools and techniques artists and designers regularly use,” said Lauerman. “If we intend to use this new tool well, to its full potential, we have to understand it in the way artists have always understood their tools. One very good way to understand something is to build it.”

In 2015, Lauerman was an Artist-in-Residence during a three-week "Winter Intensive" session at Anderson Ranch. When asked afterward to "pitch" another workshop idea for summer 2016 he seized the opportunity to introduce 3D printing technology in an intensely hands-on way by building the printers step-by-step using inexpensive, off the shelf components and custom 3D printed parts. The workshop was a success and Lauerman has been asked to repeat it next summer, which he hopes to be able to do.

“This experience changed my view of how students can interact with this technology. You wouldn't want to teach photography without knowing something about the darkroom, the enlarger, or the printing process. It’s the same in this case; understanding the mechanics of this tool allows artists to push what the technology is capable of and even to go too far, break the tool, fix it, and try again. There are no mistakes when you understand processes deeply and have confidence in your ability to make, unmake, and remake.”

An inveterate tinkerer, Lauerman has designed his own version of a 3D printer based on open-source precedents, and has been working on adapting his printer design to be able to print with not only plastics, but also clay. The clay printing effort is being developed in collaboration with engineering students as part of the University's Learning Factory program. Students from Mechanical Engineering, Industrial Engineering, and Material Science have all worked on the clay printing process. The work is supported, in part, by Penn State’s Center for Innovative Material Processing through Direct Digital Deposition (CIMP-3D). (CIMP-3D,). Some background on the process of 3d printing in clay and its recent history can be found on Lauerman’s site:

This clay printing collaboration is in its third semester, and through it, Lauerman says he is “learning interesting differences about what it means to be creative as an engineer vs. as an artist.” The project is open source, meaning anyone can download and build the tools being developed. The design for a print head developed to 3D print clay can be found here:

Lauerman works within the overlap of sculpture, craft, and design. He synthesizes digital fabrication processes with craft techniques in pursuit of an eclectic and personal form of bricolage. Lauerman’s printer design, the collaborative development of clay printing, and some of the work he creates with these tools will all be on display in the Zoller Gallery in October as part of the Penn State School of Visual Arts faculty exhibition.


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