NTCRI melds free-form digital metalworking into stone craft
What sort of chemistry develops when free-form digital metalworking meets the solid stone craft? The National Taiwan Craft Research and Development Institute (NTCRI) takes the concept of Transdisciplinary Mutual Creation to a whole new level as the integration between tradition and technology launches a pioneering project for Taiwan’s local craft industry. Craftsman Hsu Ching Fu meets digital fabricator Li Jian You and the table is set; the sculptural cutlery prove to be a pioneering combination for the art world.
digitally fabricating and working with sandstone from Guoxing
all images courtesy of NTCRI
craftsman Hsu Ching Fu meets digital fabricator Li Jian You
The project began when Hsu Ching Fu, an experienced stone craftsman meets Li Jian You, a digital fabrication scholar from National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University. Li Jian You, in charge of digital design, points out that metal 3D printing so far has been mostly deployed in medical and industrial fields. With this NTCRI project, a new opportunity unfolds as the technique begins to be applied in the craft and the cultural and creative industries. Hsu Ching Fu adds that modern technology could potentially offer diverse possibilities for stone craft and metalworking, which then can form an ideal combination between the sensibility of handicrafts and the sense of 3D printing.
‘Stone craft is the perfect partner that metal 3D printing has long been looking for!, says Li Jian You.
Li Jian You (right) and Hsu Ching Fu (left) with the collected resources
a backstory on NTCRI’s new form of digital craft art
Stone working has long been an iconic type of craft in Taiwan. Back when Fujian and Guangdong immigrants crossed the sea to Taiwan, the various types of granite used as ballasts on ships were widely made into decorating and building materials for houses, as well as stone sculptures in temples. After settling, the Nationalist government had been actively exploiting mineral resources in the eastern part of the country, such as high-quality marble, serpentine, and stone-processing techniques. However, since stone is heavier and more difficult to process, its application was limited at the time for furniture, sculptures or small items like doorplates.
NTCRI comes and asks: can digital technology open this art to new possibilities? With this in mind, the Institute includes a series of works that combine stone craft with metal 3D printing. Aimed at fine dining and men’s fashion markets, the first launch includes tableware and razors that are both functional and aesthetic.
spoon made out of fossil from Zhongliao, Nantao
Choosing razors, chopsticks, and chopstick rests as the debut products is a strategic decision. As stone materials and metal 3D printing technology are both costly, it makes better sense to target the high-end market with a higher price acceptance. On the other hand though, high-end tableware can be introduced to the fine dining and top-notch hospitality industries, and can even go viral through collaborations with Internet celebrities.
Hsu Ching Fu’s job is to fine-tune and finalize the design after a detailed look
white marble, hematite, sandstone, and fossil
In terms of the types of stone used, Hsu Ching Fu used his expertise to select a wide variety to offer diverse choices, including dark jade and white marble from Hualien, hematite from Puli, sandstone from Guoxing, and fossil from Zhongliao, Nantao. Each of these five local materials possesses different properties. For example, dark jade is tough and resilient and can resist fracturing even when sliced thinly, making it ideal for delicate items. On the contrary, marble and sandstone have visible crystals and are easy to crack.
the delicate fork crafted out of white marble from Hualien
The duo showed great teamwork from design, to sampling and production. While Hsu Ching Fu was hand making the stone parts, Li Jian You was utilizing the metal 3D printing machines from the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) to create the metal parts. It was Hsu Ching Fu’s job to fine-tune and finalize the design as both the stone and metal parts relied on the craftsman’s skill and experience. Different surface treatments such as polishing and sandblasting were also carried through to perfect the finishes.
stone craftsman Hsu Ching Fu
Traditional craft and digital manufacturing complement each other. The natural grains and warm texture of stone bring an added feel to 3D printed products that have always been thought to be mechanical and methodical. However, digital tools can also break through the limits of traditional craft. For example, the parametric modeling technology can show a preview of the final product, while 3D printing technology can help fabricate metal parts with greater freedom by solidifying metal powder into organically-curved shapes through laser sintering.