Imperfect Aesthetic: How the changing use of plastic in objects has changed our perception of it.
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From its very beginning, plastic has been a material valued for its high aesthetic qualities, in fact, early plastics were developed as substitutes for materials such as ivory and tortoise shell, materials highly sought after and prized for their unique visual and tactile qualities. With the arrival of synthetic plastics in the 1900’s, plastic is used in objects not only for their decorative value but as a substitute for more traditional materials such as ceramic, wood and metal. In the 1950’s processing and material innovations allows plastic to be moulded with high gloss surface finish and in a wider variety of colours, features embraced by the Pop Art movement of the 1960’s. Further developments towards the end of the 20th century see high performance plastics emerge, continuing the erosion into the domains of more traditional materials. Today plastic is ubiquitous. The widespread use of plastic is in part due to it being available in a variety of formats; rigid, flexible, transparent, opaque, solid or liquid. This variability is also applicable to the possible processing methods available for plastic materials, examples include; injection, extrusion, blow and rotational moulding. One of the most recent advances in material processing technology is the advent of 3D printing. Although today 3D printing is able to accommodate a wide variety of materials including metal and foods such as chocolate and pastry dough, it is the 3D printing of plastic that is having the most significant impact in the field of object design. 3D printing first emerged in the 1990’s and today it is challenging existing manufacturing paradigms. Many of 3D printing’s initial problems relating to structural integrity, dimensional stability and material selection have now been resolved and current solutions produce parts equal to or better than conventionally processed plastic. The one area that 3D printing continues to struggle with, with respect to conventional manufacturing, is the ability to generate parts with a high gloss surface finish, a feature which is synonymouswith plastic. One quality however, where 3D printing is superior to conventional methods is in the creation of complex geometries. The perceived imperfection of 3D printed parts does not seem to be impacting on the increasing popularity of this technology. Online enterprises around the world are commercialising objects made using 3D printing technology and desktop 3D printers are now available for personal use. It appears that the novelty of the 3D printed technology, the manner in which the parts are made and its ability to manufacture forms previously not possible overrides any flaws in the processing. It is this acceptance of the imperfect that is of particular interest, why do consumers accept 3D printed objects as appealing? Within the context of the recent history of plastics, how has the impact, success and future potential of 3D printing technologies changed the perceived value of plastic objects from the design, manufacturing and consumer perspective?
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