Digital Blacksmith: Drawing, 3D Printing and the rise of a new ‘Carpentry’

This is a guest post by Paul Mignone , a PhD Candidate at The University of Melbourne where he works on the modelling and simulation of composite materials. You can follow him online at and on Twitter @paulmignone.

Recently, there was an article which interviewed Michael Gough, head of experience design at Adobe. In this piece, Michael highlights how children embrace drawing in their early years, but are then (incorrectly) pushed to embrace writing as the main communication medium in primary/elementary school. In this system, drawing is relegated to an ‘extracurricular’ or frivolous activity reserved only for art classes. While the cynics among us might dismiss this as an attempt to market Adobe’s drawing products, there is a significant body of research which supports the need for drawing as a primary form of literacy. In Dr Susan Sheridan’s  ‘Scribble Hypothesis’, she argues that drawing or ‘scribbling’ will help children further develop and improve their skills in speech, reading and writing.






Can drawing at a younger age make us better engineers when we’re older? (Images sources 1 and 2)

While the benefits of drawing literacy remain a subject of debate, I believe that practical benefits do exist for students and researchers who embrace computational three dimensional drawing (technically known as Computer-Aided Design or CAD). I realised this in my own research where I designed (using CAD software) and 3D printed a sample holder for an experiment. In short, utilising the CAD and 3D printing resources at the University of Melbourne allowed me to save hundreds of dollars of research funds. Such cost-saving efforts will become increasingly important in Australia and other countries where government expenditure in research has been gradually declining over the long-term.

While CAD and 3D printing skills can be valuable for researchers, there are some barriers in getting them to adopt the technology, such as:

1.   Making researchers aware of how the technology can save money (e.g., such as designing and printing experiment apparatus).

2.   Educating researchers as to when CAD and 3D printing technology is appropriate to their research objectives (i.e., should the researcher design and print the experimental apparatus, or defer to the specialists?)

3.   Teaching researchers the necessary skills to design and print their research products.

To address these barriers, myself and the ResBaz team recently created and taught one of the world’s first “Digital Blacksmith”  (#digismith) programs, where researchers were taught how to conceptualise ideas, how to use open-source CAD software and how to 3D print structurally sound objects. While a traditional blacksmith conceptualises and creates an object by forging and shaping metals, a #digismith replaces the traditional blacksmith tools (e.g., hammer, anvil etc.) with CAD and 3D printers to create their objects. The summer and winter #digismith training programs, combined with freely available course notes, have been highly successful in developing this new, burgeoning research community.








Students learning how to use CAD software during the #digismith course

By recently participating in the Mozilla Science Lab sprint, myself and the ResBaz team at the University of Melbourne wish to take #digismith and this “new and unnamed form of Carpentry” to the next level of collaboration between researchers.  The #digismith github repository is now online and we’ll be spending the next few weeks adding content from the original PDF version”. Whether it’s called #CADcarpentry, #PrintCarpentry or any other name, we invite the research community to help develop a carpentry the teaches researches to explore their ‘inner designer’ and help them save a few research dollars along the way.