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Evolving Printing Paradigms

My October column in Mechanical Engineering magazine.

I’m writing this month’s column deep past midnight on the eve of what those of us in the publishing world have come to know dreadfully as “drop dead”— or the very last moment when our Midwest printer will accept final page proofs in order for the October issue to be printed, bound, and then shipped to you on time. Some of our key editors will complain that this isn’t the first time I’ve pulled this little stunt. But even as I write this, those same editors and I have yet to finalize the headline that will appear alongside this month’s captivating cover image when you receive the magazine.

Drop dead, as an editorial concept, is not unique to the traditional ink-on-paper printing process, it’s ubiquitous, common to editorial content dissemination on all formats—on a website, on a digital edition for a tablet, or chiseled somewhere in the blogosphere by an indiscriminate scribe.

The reason our cover is giving us headline trouble is that there’s more than an undercurrent of discord among us on how to succinctly and elegantly describe a new form of 3-D printers that are helping to reshape the way designers think about their craft. Hod Lipson, who teaches at Cornell University and is the author of the article, surmises that “years of observing mass-produced objects made subject to traditional manufacturing constraints” may be at play in why some designers occasionally come up empty when given the opportunity to show their design mettle.

In a not-so-subtle nudge at CAD systems, Lipson quips that design creativity may be stunted by the thinking imposed by using conventional software. Conceptually, he says, “CAD software remains today a 3-D drawing board that records our intentions but offers little insight or ideas of its own and offers limited access to the vast new space of geometric complexity.”

Making his case for a new generation of three-dimensional printers that empower designers with the control they never had before over the shape and composition of matter, Lipson argues that new tools democratize design and enable the growth of new types of designers, some of whom may not even have formal engineering training.

Lipson is not suggesting the demise or even a diminished role for the engineer in the design process, per se. What he is offering, however, is the suggestion that certainty is transient. And that being flexible and able to adapt to changing technologies is a key to increasing the probability of one’s long-term success.

In keeping with that sentiment, we here also have adapted and thus adopted distribution methods for the magazine that take advantage of technologies that aren’t reliant on traditional models. For example, you can now access a digital version of the magazine on asme.org and through your mobile or tablet devices.

Not long ago, magazines only came printed on paper, and the engineering designs that came from printers were blueprints. Though change brings uncertainty, in the end, it often helps us be better at the things that we do. And this is progress.

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3 Responses to “Evolving Printing Paradigms”


  1. October 30, 2012 at 6:47 am

    I like google SketchUp, however, is there any free software that is even better than it?

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The Editor

John G. Falcioni is Editor-in-Chief of Mechanical Engineering magazine, the flagship publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

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