Exhibition focuses on 3D printing advances

The McDonough Museum of Art was working on an exhibition to showcase 3D printing technology even before President Barack Obama singled out Youngstown’s National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in January’s State of the Union Address.

Leslie A. Brothers, director of the McDonough, said, “We felt if NAMII was really going to be embraced by the region, we needed to make it accessible to the public and let people know what 3D printing is all about.”

“Reshaping Ideas: Ingenuity in 3D Technology” will give audience a glimpse at what the technology makes possible, and it is the fourth in a series of exhibits at the McDonough focusing on ideas and projects that are important to the Mahoning Valley.

The exhibition has been in the works for more than a year.

“With these shows, you start from zero,” Brothers said. “How are we going to do this in a way that is visually interesting, engaging and exciting?”

While the 3D printing has been in the news a lot lately, the roots of the technology date back to the 1980s, and the staff has created illustrated timelines that track the evolution of the technology over the last 25 to 30 years.

Video galleries will give visitors short bursts of information on how the technology is used in everything from aeronautics to fashion, and longer video segments will include TED Talks and lectures from MIT that address 3D printing.

Elements will illustrate how 3D printers are being used today, such as a doctor in South Africa who has designed a prosthetic hand for children who have a disease where they are born without fingers.

“You can print out the components of this hand for about $150, and as kids get older, you can print out new hands that adjust to the size of their body,” Brothers said.

One artistic component of the exhibition just was confirmed in the last month. This week in Pittsburgh was the RAPID 2013 Conference devoted to 3D imaging and additive manufacturing. In conjunction with the conference, artists were invited to design work using 3D printers that is inspired by the creations of Andy Warhol. Designer Murray Moss selected the five finalists, whose designs were produced for the conference. Those pieces will be on display at the McDonough.

It’s not surprising that artists have embraced the technology, Brothers said.

“Pushing the limits on what’s possible, that’s something artists have always done. They always been there, anticipating the next thing. … In the 21st century, artists have been working with scientists, physicists, engineers, architects. Artists have been involved in collaborations that have resulted in very meaningful, very fascinating projects. It almost seems antiquated to say what are artists going to do (with 3D printers). They’re already so woven into what’s happening in these other fields.”

Visitors will be able to get some hands-on knowledge of 3D printers. Applied Systems and Technology Transfer, part of the Youngstown Business Incubator, has a lab at Choffin Career & Technical Center in Youngstown, and the company is moving its equipment to the museum for the summer. Visitors will be able to sign up in advance for printing lab time and create items from a series of available designs. They can either take their creations home or create gears that will be added to an installation created during the run of the show.

“I think when you’re standing in front of one of these printers, and a bracelet comes off that you can stretch and fits around your wrist, it’s like magic,” Brothers said.