How much can you 3D Print with one roll of PLA? Do you keep track of how long it takes you to get through a single roll of filament? What about the number of objects you can print with it? If you’re a prolific maker, those rolls of filament may eventually just start to run together. Whoops, this one’s done, pop in another and carry on. Seriously, is it time to buy new filament already? Sigh.
A new project
Art curator Gabriel Menotti is curious about how just how much you can print with a single 800cm³ spool of PLA filament. For this, he put together a project to find out and to display the results. The appropriately named ‘APPROXIMATELY 800cm³’ OF PLA is an exhibition currently running as part of the online art event The Wrong (again) – New Digital Art Biennale. The project began with an open call for submissions of 3D design files from anyone who wanted to participate. Every day, one item is selected from the emailed entries, printed, and displayed on the project website. All selected entries have so far been printed from a single 800cm³ spool of PLA. The project will continue until the spool has run out.
It’s a fun concept that almost seems a bit gimmicky until you consider the deeper motivation behind it. As an event press release states:
“Much of the excitement about digital fabrication technologies comes from the limitless reproducibility they seem (to) allow. 3D printed materials in particular have acquired the status of a new primordial clay; able to take any imaginable shape, recuperating historical artefacts that have been ruined and restoring the capacity of walking to the invalid. But, as with other theologies of prosperity, this one can be very contradictory. The presentation of 3D printing as a technology of abundance overlook the secular obstacles of copyright legislation. It also overlooks the world’s material scarcity. The reason for that is that the transformation of prime matter into manufactured goods consumed no energy or natural resources.”
APPROXIMATELY 800cm³ OF PLA takes the limitless resources that 3D printing offers and makes them finite, making you ask yourself what you would print if you only had a limited amount of material to work with. As the project’s coordinators ask, “Will it be enough for everything that is worth being made?” Of course it won’t, and that’s the message behind the exhibition. It’s incredible to be able to create and create, seemingly infinitely, but when it becomes that easy, we run the risk of taking those resources for granted.
The project is sort of a microcosm of the 3D printing world, displaying everything from the profound to the profane. Some, like Patrick Lichty’s print of his friend’s brain tumor MRI, illustrate the incredible potential of 3D printing and crowdsourcing to save lives – Lichty’s notes state that his afflicted friend, Salvatore Iaconesi, uploaded all of his medical data to the Internet as an open source project intended to find a cure. Then there’s the “just because we can” aspect of 3D printing, like the entry from Dennis de Bel, who actually scanned and printed his own excrement. I guess that’s how we know 3D printing has really made it as an art form, because where would high art be without the scatological?
This article was originally shown at 3dprint.com.