NAU Pioneers 3D Printing

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David Van Ness holds several sculptures that he created with the help of a 3-D printer. Photo: Josh Biggs/Arizona Daily Sun.

What we can imagine, we may soon be able to print, says David Van Ness, Northern Arizona University (NAU) lecturer, sculptor, and coordinator of foundations in the School of Art.  Van Ness is a pioneer in the new field of 3-D printing.  3-D printing is a process of making a three-dimensional solid object from a digital model. Successive layers of material, such as plastic, are laid down in an additive process to create the object.

In a July 20, 2013, interview with Arizona Daily Sun reporter Cecile LeBlanc (, Van Ness describes the 3-D printing process and explains that one day soon it may be possible to print everything from coffee mugs to bones. “If you have a broken doorknob (some day) you’re going to be able to download a doorknob design from and print it,” Van Ness said. “Art can be a research field like any other. This is a bright new future,”

Van Ness says the new field of 3-D printing is an interdisciplinary endeavor, straddling the fields of graphic design, art, engineering, and computer technology.  “I like the fact that it can only really be done by machine. … It’s a real ‘machine aesthetic.’”  

At the June 2013 RAPID conference and art show in Pittsburg, PA, Van Ness contributed a piece that has taken him three years to print. The National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute has also asked Van Ness to create a work for its Youngstown, OH, headquarters.  

In addition, Van Ness has received a grant from the NAU Parent Leadership Council to purchase a 3D printer for NAU’s School of Art. The printer will arrive in time for the fall 2013 semester and will be used for art and design classes. “This [printer] will be just as much [a part of]  the classroom as a carving tool,” Van Ness said. He believes that 3-D printing is the wave of the future and wants to make sure that NAU students will be able to compete globally or, as he says, “ be future proof.”