#3D #PRINTING: mass customized #jewelry from nervous system’s cell cycle

Via Wired:

Diamonds are passé. Wanna get someone a truly unique gift? How about their own biology-inspired jewelry? Cell Cycle is a line of 3-D printed rings, pendants, and bracelets that let customers collaborate with designers over a web app to create custom pieces.

Created by Nervous System, the company’s organic ornaments offer a glimpse into the future of mass-customized design, but to understand why, we’re going to have to learn a new word. Settle in.

Cell Cycle is a physible generator.

Physibles are digital files destined to drive a 3-D printer or other rapid prototyping tool to create a physical object. You might have heard about them when The Pirate Bay launched them as a new category, alongside audio, video, apps, and games.

Like MP3s, AVIs, and ISOs, physibles are things that you will send around to your friends. Unlike those other files, the final destination of the physible isn’t a speaker or a screen, it’s a 3-D printer. If computer-driven manufacturing programs like CAD are geared toward the professional set, physibles are for the rest of us.

Cell Cycle samples

Here’s how Cell Cycle works from design to delivery: You start by visiting the Cell Cycle webtool. Once there, you can play with settings which allow you to design a completely unique bracelet, pendant, ring, or coffee table curio.

After designing something you like, Cell Cycle checks your file and sends it off to Shapeways for printing. The printed pieces are sent back to Nervous System where they are tumbled for several days to give them a smooth finish. The final step is a UV protective finish to protect the nylon from yellowing and degradation. (If you ordered in color, Nervous System dyes them in the studio. If you picked silver instead of nylon, a wax mold is 3-D printed and is the basis from which the sterling silver is cast.)

The heart of this process is the web tool. The variety of designs possible with the tool is astounding.

Perhaps more astounding is how all the variations share an aesthetic. Even though every piece is unique, when you look at a bunch of them side by side, it’s clear they came from the same family.

“We worked to create an aesthetic that truly pertains to both 3d-printing as a medium and generative design as a process,” says Jessica Rosenkrantz, who co-founded Nervous System with Jesse Louis-Rosenberg. The generation system is inspired by cellular forms and is based on a physics simulation of a spring mesh.

Rosenkrantz lists off the ways that Cell Cycle exploits its physible origins and 3-D printed endpoint. “The geometry is very complex and is difficult to create using traditional CAD tools. The multiple layers of pattern prevent them from being molded and mass-produced. The cellular structures are beautiful and evocative, but also structurally rigid while using very little material. This mean you can create large objects at a low price.”

So much for the atoms. Let’s talk about the bits.

Cell Cycle webtool

It is through these constraints that Nervous System expresses their aesthetic values (and ensure that you’ll create a valid 3-D printable object). “It’s more like sculpting a bonsai tree than directly specifying a design,” Rosenkrantz says. The result is something that can look like a lot of things, but can’t look like just anything. For the end user, this is very powerful because it means they can start working with it right away and they are guaranteed that–whatever they make–it won’t be completely terrible, but it will be uniquely theirs.

The key insight here is that by making tools that are easy to use for lay people, these designers are finding new ways to relate to their work. The designers hand is still very much visible in the final product, but so is the user’s. It’s a collaboration. Neither could have done it without the other.

Rosenkrantz sees Nervous System’s work as being part of a larger trend towards mass-customization. She hopes that more objects, be they hand made or industrially produced will be individualized in their creation. “We think we are moving to a new system where more products will be made locally on-demand and interactive techniques are used to more directly engage the customer in the creative process.” If she’s right, physibles will be at the core.

For more information on Nervous System, check out n-e-r-v-o-u-s.com

To find out more about the Cell Cycle project, click here.