We have a returning guest today, Buzz Baldwin from 3D Printlife. He’s got something new to talk about today. We had a couple of these kinds of episodes going on recently where we’ve talked about various sites that are helping people learn 3D printing or get tech support for 3D printing, and that’s what this is really about. This is about life support for 3D printing. I love the way he puts it because that’s how it feels when your printer goes down and when you can’t do something about it and you can’t fix the model or whatever. It feels like life is ending. It could be a number of other things that you really need in and around the world of 3D printing. Maybe you just need help creating a model.
We had this big issue this last week actually for a client. We had a particular part that we needed to scan. Because we couldn’t create the geometry from scratch, it was just too impossible, which is really unusual. I’ve got more than two decades of CAD experience, and this part just didn’t have a straight, flat line on it. It was very organic. I tried to recreate it in CAD and I was spending way too many hours trying to do it. We wanted to go and have it scanned, and it was really impossible.
We went to our friends at the UPS Store down in San Diego. They don’t do that anymore. It’s just become a comedy of errors. We ended up buying a scanner in this particular case. Having a place where you could go to someone, like the Life Support situation here, and be able to, “Does someone have a scanner? Could they do this job?” You can dial it in locally. It doesn’t matter where in the world they are. You maybe need model help or somebody to help clean something up or create a model for you of something particular. You can find somebody who could do that. It’s really cool.
We wanted to have Buzz back on because so many things have changed. We invited him back on the show. We saw him at CES earlier this year and said when he was ready to launch Life Support we would have him on. Let’s hear from Buzz and let’s talk about Life Support some more.
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3D Print Life Support – 3D Printlife
Hey, Buzz. It was so good to see you at CES and we are glad to have you back on the show.
Thank you. It was great seeing you both. It’s a real pleasure being back. It was one of those few things I’ve been looking forward to a lot over the last couple of weeks since we scheduled this.
Thank you. We love to chat with people in the industry and get viewpoints. You’ve got a big announcement we want to start talking about first. It’s called Life Support. I just want you to tell us why you guys came up with it first and what it is.
That’s a great question. Life Support is a global social networking marketplace for all things 3D printing. Why we built it is it has really developed over the last probably couple of years in the back of our minds but not so much consciously. In our experience, trying to sell filament into different markets of education, the library market, K-12, anyone we can find that’s using filaments. We run into cases where we have a library, for example, that has a machine that’s out of warranty from. They can’t get it working. If they call to open up a ticket with the manufacturer, it might cost them $100 just to open a support ticket to get an answer potentially, to figure out what’s wrong with the printer. We want to try to get them using that printer again and get them buying our filaments and using them, but they’ve got a defective printer.
In the past, we might try to hook them up with a college kid. We met a lot of kids at Brandeis, Caltech, MIT, etc. that are real 3D printing experts that could easily solve a problem or at least identify it for someone who maybe doesn’t have the patience to go on to an online forum, etc. That was one aspect of it. The other inspiration was just as a sales company, when you are selling 3D printers to someone who’s never used them before, there is an inherent excitement level there for them. But in the back of our minds, we are thinking, “They don’t really understand what they are getting into because these things, a lot of the time, it looks like it’s going to be an iMac or a MacBook Air right out of the box. “This is going to be a great experience.”
We all know how it goes. It’s a lot closer to Radio Shack PC kits back in the day or working in MS-DOS than it is to an iPhone. There’s a lot of modern features built in for ease of use, but at the end of the day you’ve got to really have the patience to get in there and get into the nuts and bolts of it and really get your hands dirty to get the thing working half the time.
That’s exactly where we sit with it too. There’s a lot of that where you hit on the hype cycle, you are excited about it and you want to buy the printer but then it sits there because you don’t have the time to get to learn something or you can’t fix something and you come to a roadblock and you don’t have time to research the hack to fix it. That’s that niche that you are filling. I love that.
Thank you. The idea essentially was born out of multiple experiences like that over the years where someone would buy a 3D printer and they can’t figure this out and they call the manufacturer. Maybe that manufacturer is a startup who out of the gate promises, “We’ll have great support. Support is very important to us. We’ll have Skype support, phone. Whatever you need, we will always be there for you.” They go into that with full intent of providing that service. But the reality is, especially at the startup level as you grow, you get overwhelmed very quickly because you have a small staff. It’s very hard to provide that kind of support to somebody who’s a new customer and you have all these potential new customers coming in, looking to buy things and you are trying to sell them at the same time. It’s a quagmire.
For the larger manufacturers, it’s similar. If you take someone like XYZ as an example, their business has really exploded over the last couple of years. I’m not saying anything negative about their support structure, but if you just think about it as an example, the faster you grow, the more hardware is getting out into the field. Just inherently, you are going to have more support needs because of that.
Sometimes it’s not the startup that’s the problem because there are always people really eager to help you there. But sometimes when it’s in that growth phase, it’s worse because they are outpacing their staff.
The only way to provide support at that point is to pull people off of sales or off of next gen development in order to meet that support demand. Over the past year or so, this whole idea of Life Support germinated and we thought, “We have contacts in the education market. We know a lot of these smart kids out there. There are makerspaces, there are fab labs we have contacts with that could potentially provide support for these users, whether they are someone who just bought a 3D printer and they’re trying to get it up and running. Maybe it’s a school that just bought a few printers, or if someone further down the line who has an old printer that’s out of warranty. Or they are just maybe having a hard time getting timely manufacturer support. Or maybe there’s a language barrier. Maybe the manufacturer is in China and you’ve got time zone issues and language barriers.
To try to connect the pool of knowledge that’s out there at the university level and below and above, it’s really a mixture. You’ve got your university guys. You’ve got your high school kids. You’ve got makerspaces, fab labs, even 3D printer resellers that a lot of them have taken up the mantle of providing 3D printing support and repair just to add another level with their business. They are all in that net of qualified groups that can provide this kind of support. Life Support is designed to just try to connect those people together.
It’s like 3D Geek Squad?
Yes. Geek Squad meets Uber meets Craigslist. That’s the idea. We just announced the thing at CES. Just put out a couple of press releases. We’ve already got techs signing up from all over the world; Europe, Australia, South Africa, North America. We’ve got fab labs, we have makerspaces and we have individuals. The gap is filling in just as we predicted. It’s small now. We have maybe 40 plus members on there now. But we barely began the advertising promotional process. Obviously, we hope to cast a really wide net around the globe of potential techs that can provide support.
I think it’s great. We’re up there too. I don’t know if you noticed, but we went in and created a profile and put ourselves up there. Although I think, honestly, I wouldn’t consider us as much of a tech. I don’t think we are going to go and help somebody solve a machine problem if they’ve got an issue with a stepper motor or they are having trouble calibrating their build plate. That’s not really our thing. We’re putting ourselves out there. I tried to craft in our description what we are interested in doing, which is working with companies to help them figure out what it is they want to print or what products they would like to make with 3D printing. Something more involved in the content side of things to print than in the machine support side. Although certainly, on the CAD side of things, in terms of creating something that’s very printable, that would cross over there.
A little bit different for us. As I was looking at it, I think maybe as it goes forward, you’ve categorized it into you’re either a tech or you are looking for a tech. Maybe there are a couple different kinds of support. Maybe it’s all high tech, but is it what people think of as tech? You might need a category for what we would call design tech or content tech. If you’ve got a, “Can I do this? Can I make this? Will it work? Why isn’t it working?” The “it” part of it. Sometimes it’s not your printer. Sometimes it’s what you are trying to print.
I look at 3D printing as a triangle of potential failures with many sub categories underneath each one. You’ve got the printer, the file, and the material. Usually the failure point is in one of those three categories. Sometimes it’s two. Sometimes it’s all three. But for the most part, you can narrow it down to one of those three things breaking down. You are right. We have developed an initial category selection of categories of support that techs can provide, whether it’s the hardware, the 3D printing, installation, calibration, tutorials, repair on over to CAD design, slicing help, material questions.
We are in our infancy, of course, and we are really looking for feedback from the members that are signing on to say, “What have we missed here?” We certainly tried to think of everything. But we’ve got limited categories up there that we’ve brainstormed with some of the experts we know to come up with some initial categories to put on there. Then as we grow, we’ll be adding more as we get feedback from the techs.
Here’s a suggestion that I was thinking. I think that one of the things from a person looking for a tech might be is sometimes it feels urgent. The ability to say, “I am on now. Somebody in your time zone and I am available right this moment.” Being able to have a tech check in to your site and say, “I am open for business right at this moment.” That could be a really big draw for you. That’s the Uber thing. That’s what Uber does.
It really is. I can tell you, we’ve already made a decision that our next phase is going to be basically a job posting forum, where users can come in and say, “I need this job done. I need help with this type of printing issue. I need an STL designed for me in this criteria.” Maybe they put out like a bid, “I am willing to spend X amount of dollars to get this made.” Let the tech take a look at that and say, “I want this job.” A tech might fill in a bunch of categories and subsets and say, “I can perform support in all these areas, but my real sweet spot, the thing I really enjoy doing is X.” If they see a job that fits that description, they’ll be more likely to jump on it.
Especially if you’ve developed a platform to push notify them. If anything hits in like CAD having to do with design, clicking these two buttons, it push notifies us. We don’t have to actively go into the system and look for those things. Because that’s the big problem with like a 3D Hubs that’s gone wrong there. There are a lot of people who’s signed on to the hub but there aren’t as many active on the hub. You don’t get as many choices as you really wish you had as the person coming in looking for services.
It’s a challenge for us. We are out of the gate. We are essentially beta testing in the field right now. We are looking for all that feedback coming in to help us create what our next gen is going to look like. Both of those ideas are great. Thank you.
You’re welcome. The reality is, it’s really easy for us looking at it from the outside when it’s something new to say, “This is really good. But it could do this and it could do this.” You could probably have a list a mile long and you’d overwhelm your development people to do it. But the reality is it is a resource. It is a place where people can go to find someone to help them. I think this is a really important thing. Because I’ve had it happen several times where people have reached out to us because of our podcast or our 3D Start Point website to say, “I’ve got a friend or I’ve got a client who wants to buy a 3D printer. Which one would you recommend?” It’s always the question everybody asks and I don’t like to answer it certainly without having a whole lot more information.
Usually, they will say, “They are this type of company.” When I hear that they are a company that really doesn’t have any internal IT support, they don’t have any internal technicians of any kind, I immediately have been steering them into machines that are much easier to use and pretty foolproof even if the capabilities are less. But if they really want those capabilities, I could recommend a different machine if I knew there’s a resource I can send them to have virtual tech support whenever they need it.
You really touched on one of the basic needs that the site is designed to fill. As you go up in capability, you go up in complexity of the hardware and there’s more things that you need to learn, more things that could go wrong. Depending on where that manufacturer is and their level of growth, they are either at the early stages of development and they are in a startup phase and they are going to get overwhelmed quickly. Or they are a large manufacturer that has a great support staff in place, even the larger ones, not all of them do. Some of them have great support but you might wait a couple of days to get a response because they are just overloaded with support questions.
We’ve been lucky. We approached the 3D printer manufacturers at CES about this and said, “Look, we are looking to build this platform. We’d like to help you with your support, whether it’s machine that are old and out of warranty, or it’s new customers, if you have a school buying ten printers, you can have somebody go in onsite and perform the installation, calibration. Give them a tutorial if they have never done 3D printing before and make sure that on day one, they have a better user experience. That prevents those inflooding of support calls that you are just inevitably going to get with a new user. It gives you the opportunity to create a better chance of sale retention on new customers like that and it just gives them an overall of more warm and fuzzy feeling. It’s something that certainly they can charge for.
The manufacturer can charge the school for an onsite installation. The manufacturer can find a tech in their area and check them out, let them make sure that they are expert enough in that area to provide the service that they are looking to perform. At that point, it’s a win really for everybody, especially the tech who gets to increase their income doing an onsite install like that. Some companies are willing to pay thousands of dollars for that service.
I think it’s great because you just don’t know what’s going to come up but you really don’t, in the early days of building a 3D printer company or a material company or whatever it might be, have the resources to be able to do that. To have a place to go where you know you can reliably refer people, that’s wonderful.
We were surprised. We were a little nervous going into broaching the idea of the subject with the 3D printer manufacturers. We’re worried we might get a response like they are going to say, “Our support is top-notch. We take a great pride in it. We don’t really need this.” If that’s how their support runs, great. That’s fine. The reality was the response was really overwhelming. A lot of them were very excited about the idea, especially the ones that have manufacturers in Taiwan and China who have inherent time zone or language barriers issues. Even domestic manufacturers who say, “We get these issues with customers and we end up having them ship the printer back to us. As soon as we look at it we say, “If we just had someone there to look at it, we could have solved the problem in no time. Now we have to pay to ship this thing back here, do a minor repair, and pay to ship it back.”
That’s just a killer for a manufacturer. The thing is, Buzz, I really agree with that. Let me put it this way. I’ve had a lot of experience with the different customer service departments of a lot of the 3D printer manufacturers out there. What I find happens quickly, I wonder if you’ve had the same experience and I wonder if some of our listeners who are a little more advanced have had a similar experience. There will be a technical issue that I am having. It’s a software or a firmware thing usually or a connectivity issue, whatever. It starts as a simple thing. You call and you talk to a customer service department of the 3D printer. What I find is, pretty rapidly, I get beyond that phone text knowledge and capability. I actually know more than they do about their own printer. They have their punch list of all the standard things they go through. It becomes clear pretty quickly, they haven’t operated one of these printers themselves. Why would they have? I don’t think that a lot of companies have the time to invest in training every phone customer service agent in maybe 40 hours’ worth of working on a machine so they can really understand it from the first hand. It’s just not a part of certain company’s training process.
You are absolutely right. A lot of the techs that we are looking to bring on in this initial phase are college kids and makerspaces or 3D printing resellers. The people I’ve met at some of these universities, Brandeis for example, these people in this lab have thousands of hours of 3D printing experience. Far more than I’ll ever have, more than the manufacturers will ever have. They don’t have time to print that much. They are making the hardware. They are not using it as much. Certainly, of course, they are doing internal testing, etc. But to have someone who’s spent years 3D printing and knows just about everything that can go wrong with a printer from firmware, software, hardware, filaments, slicing, CAD, all of that. Every level of issue that can possibly go wrong with a 3D print job, they have experienced and they have troubleshooted.
They have taken machines apart and put them back together. They built their own machines. They’ve tested every kind of filament under the sun. They’ve tried to use Filabot to make their own filament. They have gone through so much trouble. Their knowledge really, to me, far exceeds that of anyone else I’ve met at that lab and some of the other labs around, like Caltech, MIT, etc. There are kids out there that know so much. Part of the reason for this too was that really we’ve got all these kids out there that are learning 3D printing. Once they graduate from school or even if they are in school trying to offset whatever meager income they have as a student, let’s give them the opportunity to make some money on the side.
For the techs, we try to make it as beneficial as possible to be a member here on Life Support. We are not taking any percentage of the transaction between themselves and the customer. A user finds a tech, they describe their problem, the user decides, “This person can help me out and solve my issue.” They negotiate a price together and the tech will invoice the customer directly. We are not taking any cent of it. No transaction or processing fees. For one thing, it will be hard for us to manage anyway. I really don’t have any interest in doing that. I just want to grow the space. That’s all I want to do. I want to get those 3D printers that are out there and that aren’t working. I want to get them up back online. For new users, I want to get them up and running quickly.
We feel the same way about content. We feel there needs to be more designs and content in the world so that the printers are running all the time and everyone’s excited about using them. That’s how we feel too.
That’s the Holy Grail for me. Give me a catalogue of everything I ever wanted to print and never thought of. I want that.
I agree. I just want to say something about that. What you are pointing out is a really good thing. The customer service professionals, especially the bigger a company gets, these are trained to handle customer service calls and route them, and follow a formula in a script. They are not necessarily trained to have used the printer. In the early days of a startup, like the guy who’s been fixing stuff on the broken printers around the startup is the guy who’s answering CSR calls as well, the customer service calls as well. You were getting someone at a higher tech level early on. But as they hit a growth phase and as they get more established, it’s actually usually a professional service.
It’s a different route of type of technology. You have to go through that and get to the advanced techs. Sometimes you just need to circumvent that process. That’s the frustration that we had over time. We do it in a really interesting way. When we review a printer here, we don’t go to the contact that sent us the printer. We go through the normal customer service channel and try their chat groups, their phone service. He tries everything through the process a normal user would go through. It’s like secret shopping. That’s how we approach it.
At first, we don’t tell them who we are and that we’ve been sent this unit by their company to review it, because we want to experience their customer service. Then eventually, it’s happened a couple of times, where they are not resolving the issue. Usually it’s a software or a connectivity problem from computer to printer or something like that that gets beyond my technical capability because I am not a software coder or troubleshooter like that. We do tell them, “This is taking a really long time and I only have so much time for this review.” I do then tell them who I am if I need to if it gets to that point.
We’re surprised still that they haven’t gone in to the back of the building and found this guy who knows what he’s doing and got him on the phone to help resolve the problem quickly. Because this is for a review. I am going to write about it and I am going to be honest about it. It’s really an interesting situation because it’s an inherently technically complex field and the products are inherently technically complex, the 3D printers themselves, the slicing software, the CAD software. I think actually the material side of it, what you guys do for most of your business is I think a little easier to understand and deal with than the technical capabilities like a lot of the machines they are meant to go with.
Agreed. I would never want to make a 3D printer. Making quality filament is hard enough.
It is hard enough and there’s a lot to it. There’s a lot to be said for quality filament. No question. We both know some people who started up 3D printer companies and expected their machines to be fully baked on the market by now and they are not because it is very hard.
The time zone thing you mentioned is very real. I had a Leapfrog 3D printer for a while and I was having to get support from over in the Netherlands and I am in California. There is a heck of a time difference. I was up at 1-2 in the morning several times trying to live chat and Skype with some of these people because, again, I got beyond their email tech support capabilities where they didn’t know it and I am experiencing things. I am having to shoot videos of things and send them over to them. Finally, I was able to get somewhere, but I would have much rather had somebody that I could reach out to here in California that had experience with that printer and could help me rule out a whole bunch of things.
The interesting thing on that example is that we eventually found a super user, a guy who was a user, who had a machine and had been using it for a really long time. He was just really great. We had found him in their chat group or their community and that ended up being the most help that we got. That’s what you are talking about really here, is creating tech super users. That’s fantastic especially if you can match them up and say, “I have this printer,” and this is a tech super user on this printer. You are going to use them so often that they are going to become your best friend. That’s really awesome. You mentioned something about vetting. How are you planning to do that? How do you see that working in the future?
Great question. For now, it is certainly self-regulating from a customer rating process. However, we know that it will be ideal to have some online test that they could take for every category they want to provide support in. Basically, a quiz, “Let’s test your knowledge in each area.” Depending on how you score on the test, either you get a rating from us as, “You are level X tech” or you are just saying, “Sorry. You need to work on this a little more before we can bring you in.”
That’s a really interesting way. If you could really put something together like that, that would be very useful. You would know that everybody who is rated as, as qualified or acceptable. There probably needs to be more of a pass-fail thing than have a grade system. But you would least know that the people that you are reaching out to or you are talking to about helping you have a minimum level of competency in certain areas. Some obviously are going to be rock stars compared to others, but at least you know you are not getting someone who’s saying they are all this and they really don’t know what they are doing. An interesting idea for the future might be, because you are talking to so many printer manufacturers, almost like endorsement certification from the printer manufacturer level.
I am glad you mentioned that. Actually, that is something that the manufacturers we’ve been talking to are looking to provide. Airwolf was really excited about this, about Life Support and even talked about doing an onsite two-day training course, where techs could come in and take apart a printer and put it back together, and troubleshoot it every way to Sunday. Then, turn them lose out in the field with an official rating from Airwolf.
That makes a lot of sense. I have to say, I have actually experienced and been to their facility because we bought an Airwolf printer at one point. I went in and paid for some training from their own staff to learn about this printer I just bought and how best to operate it. I could see that certification being something not only the techs might pay for, but companies would pay to send an employee to get certified like that if they have bought one. Or I think even people who just bought their own, that would be a high level of training they could sell and make money on.
Outside of an onsite training course where people have to travel and book a hotel, etc., there’s always the online option. Some of the manufacturers are talking about that. Doing an online web course where techs could either pay to register and come on or maybe the manufacturer will just do it for free and just have a giant webinar and have techs come in. The manufacturer will provide an overview of the machine and how it works, troubleshooting issues and how to fix them, etc. Those techs could get some certification that they took this online course and they are able to order spare parts from the manufacturer when needed, add cost or whatever the level needs to be. There’s that aspect of it.
Another aspect that came in just fortuitously was feedback from people at the Fab Foundation who want to bring fab labs on as tech members. That extends to makerspaces. We actually have the Illinois MakerLab on board as a tech. They are, I think, the largest makerspace in the country. A place like that could serve as a neutral third party location where a customer can actually bring in a printer to get worked on it. But you could also have a manufacturer sponsored training course there, because it’s a space made for that thing. You have an XYZ printer and you have a rep from the company there training them on how to use it or someone from the makerspace training people on how to use it. That’s one of the potential functionalities that could be built it in.
Certainly, if people live close enough to a member of Life Support or to a makerspace, that is certified or whatever, you could bring your own printer in to work with it. It can be a bit of an ordeal depending on the size of the printer, really transporting it and not causing more problems for your printer. But if you have a vehicle big enough where you can do that and you are going to drive carefully enough and you are not going to cause more problems, I think bringing it in is a great thing to do. But not everybody can do that.
I love this idea of certification and manufacturers being involved in maybe setting some certification standards. Maybe the first manufacturer that really does it could set the standard for the industry. If any of you manufacturers in our audience out there, you might want to jump on it. You might want to be the first to jump.
I have another thought. Buzz, I guess, as a recommendation if I can make one, is that don’t lose the customer rating or user rating system. I think having certifications would be excellent, but also for those that contract with people on your site, allow them to leave a rating. Make sure it’s verified if you can. Verify that they actually worked with this person and paid them to do something. Here’s why. I had this experience and I think you will appreciate it. You know how a lot of people loved MakerBot when they were more open sourced and a little more of a startup. Then when they closed their printers down from software and firmware side of things, there was a revolt almost in the RepRap community.
I’ve recently found somebody who is actually a friend of mine. I sent this friend of mine a MakerBot 3D printer, one of the newer closed machines, their current type of machine. I was shocked. This guy is a technical and computer absolute rocket scientist. Within a day of receiving it, he not only was printing with it, which I expected him to do, he had hacked the firmware on this machine to expand the printable surface area on the build plate because he noticed as he started to print and as he is checking their software compared to the build plate and looked at the hardware, the printer had the hardware capability to actually use about 20% more of that built plate surface area than it was using.
He was frustrated. He’s like, “Forget that.” He hacks the firmware and then he’s printing with it. Then he is sending me pictures over text messages over the weekend of these objects. I am like, “Proportionally, that doesn’t make sense. That’s pretty big. How are you doing that?” He not only figured out how to make it work bigger on the built plate itself, but then he added another built plate to it. He double stick taped a piece of plastic plate that’s bigger than the build plate to the original build plate and then hacking the firmware was able to get to get it to print a significantly bigger surface area. This is on a closed machine. My point is, if I was a customer and I had that kind of experience with someone that I was having, “Help me with something, or print something for me or work on my machine.” I would give that guy an incredible review saying, “This guy knows more than any customer service department that any 3D printer manufacturer that’s going to know.” That’s the reason I bring that up.
I can tell you, first of all, I’d love to have that guy on. Second of all, the customer rating system is a permanent feature. It is critical. Most people buy things based on reviews and testimonials. We’ve got to keep that portion of it alive. It certainly will provide incentive for the techs to provide the best job that they can. If we don’t have that vetting process where we are able to provide a test or a quiz that techs can take to become a member or there’s no online certification from the manufacturers yet, that’s really our self-regulating system. I can’t imagine that a tech is going to come on and create a profile and say they are an expert in a category and try to provide support on something they have no idea about. I can’t imagine that’s going to happen. But you think you know a lot of about a thing until you meet somebody who’s been doing it for a lot longer than you, and realize that you know 10% of what you should.
It’s more like, “I know how to do this, but am I an expert in it?” It’s the level of that that you have to vet over time.
Maybe they can provide support for 90% of the issues that are going to go wrong in a certain category, but then there’s always that one thing they have never seen before, they have no idea how to fix so they’ve got to pass the ball over to somebody else and that’s okay.
I think that is okay. I think if they are just honest about it, “This is something beyond me, but let me help connect you to somebody that might be able to help you or have a solution for this.” Then that’s going to be a victory too. I think social proof, you are right, which is really what we are talking about here with these ratings and reviews. Social proof of real people’s experience, “It doesn’t matter if I say I am good. It matters if the world says that I am good at what I am doing,” is a self-regulating process. It’s easier to set up because it already exists.
By the way, Tom. You are good at what you’re doing.
Thank you. You too, Buzz. The other part about it, the reality is there’s a possible future in the techs talking to each other. When they come to a troubleshooting problem, “Look, I am a higher level tech than you, but you asked me that problem and I helped solve it. You are going to refer somebody to me next time.” Being able to let them in the future chat and talk to each other when they have issues that they come up to a roadblock on would be helpful for the community as well.
We can make it fun too. We’ve created Dungeons and Dragons level categories of tech expert.
I just came across that. We have this good friend out of Florida who’s a game guy. He gamifies everything. He just gamified his membership group. You get badges for participation and things like that. It’s not just the techs that you want to measure. You also want to measure those seeking tech. Are these active people? Are they going to be bringing you return jobs? Are these lookie loos and just really asking quotes all the time but never closed a deal?
There’s going to be those that are just fishing for information without actually paying for support. Look, if you find a college kid and you can pay him $10 for a phone call, I think we are all comfortable with that.
A lot of times, people just want to make a phone call and just ask a question. Nobody wants to wade through that automated support queue or try to talk to a company that’s halfway across the world. You name it. We’ve all been there. You make that call, you are in a queue and you say, “Forget this.” Maybe it’s worth $10 just to call somebody locally or not. Over the phone, it could be anywhere. Anyone who could just solve your problem in a hurry. If it’s a tech that says, “Yes, I am an expert on the MakerBot or the Leapfrog,” as an example, perfect. Let’s let them do that. Let the college kid get a little extra cash. Let’s solve your problem and get you back up and running right away.
That’s the worst thing, it’s downtime. Nothing frustrates me more than downtime. When I was dealing with the Netherlands on this one 3D printer, I had a lot of downtime. It really was so frustrating. That’s why I love that you call it Life Support. That’s what it feels like a lot of times. I hate to say that, but it feels like a lot of times when your printer goes down, life or death. You’re just like, “I needed to nap.”
It always seems to go down at the most critical time. When we are printing objects for a trade show and one of our machines are fried, it is panic level. One machine you have a hundred objects to print and you are just like, “I don’t have time to do this.” You are printing 24 hours a day at that point. It’s always at the most critical time that the thing is down.
Certainly, just your average consumer, I hope they come on and use the site and get the support they need to get maybe a machine they bought for their family last year and they can’t get it working. Let’s get that machine back up and running. But for schools, if you are an educator that convinced the school to give you a grant or pay $3,000 to start your own 3D printing program and if you are having hardware issues and trouble getting manufacturer support, that makes that teacher then look bad. Let’s help them get up and running. For businesses, of course, time is money. We all know that. There’s a reason it’s an axiom at this point. Businesses are going to be willing to pay more for someone to come out onsite to get them back up and running immediately.
There is a reason why Stratasys and 3D Systems for so long have these commercial machines out there and it’s not just the hardware. The service that the resellers provide, in terms of tech support, are oftentimes ten times over what they paid for the machine. A lot of these machines require a tech that the company is going to have to pay $80,000 a year to operate and maintain. A business is willing to pay money to get their machine up and running immediately.
But it doesn’t make, after you spent $500 on a machine or $1,000 on a machine, it feels any less urgent to you.
Of course. It’s funny. I don’t 3D print nearly as much as I used to. I literally just don’t have time anymore. It’s sad. It bums me out. My printer is actually in a box next to my bed right now. It’s serving a coffee table function, basically, at this point, a table function. It’s depressing. I’ve got to get it out. I don’t have time in the day. I wish I did. When I need stuff tested, I lean on others who have more experience than I. They are going to do a better job of vetting a new material than I can, so let them go for it. I’ll just see that it comes out of the nozzle and go, “Yes, it’s great.”
There you go. We are really thrilled about Life Support and we are big supporters of it, which is why we joined the site this morning. We hope that others will follow our lead because we know we’ve got some really great super users out there in our audience.
We’d love to have them if they have any questions or feedback of things, features they like to see added on. They can log on and send us an email and we’ll absolutely take their input. We’ve tried to think of everything, but you know how that goes. Of course, there’s going to be stuff we miss. As long as we don’t miss anything catastrophic or critical, great. We absolutely are in the process of gathering information from the new members as they come on. We want to try to make the site as easy to use and as efficient as possible for everybody and really create a marketplace where these guys and gals, of course, can make extra money.
Thank you so much for coming back on, Buzz. We look forward to talking with you again. Keep us posted how it’s going.
It was a real pleasure, guys. Thanks again.
3D Print Life Support – 3D Printlife – Final Thoughts
I am glad to see that 3D Printlife is trying to do something to help support the greater community of 3D printing and really putting together what is a directory and trying to connect those that need help of one kind or another regarding 3D printing with those that have knowledge and experience to be able to try to help them. It’s really so critically important to the education community that Buzz’s business mainly has served. They have a larger portion of percentage of their businesses in that education community, whether it’s at college level, high school level or just makerspace level in general. It’s that kind of tech support that doesn’t come from the manufacturers enough and it’s because the tech support that you get from the manufacturer is so narrowly defined. You don’t have someone who could help you with the models, with the materials, with the software, and with the printer itself. You can get one of those but you don’t necessarily get all of those. That’s really where I think they’ve filled a nice gap here.
This is a global directory. You can find somebody in every country pretty much wherever you would need to find help. I just think they didn’t have to do this. They are certainly not really making any money on it. There is some nominal costs that people who are listed in the directory, I guess, are paying to be listed there, but it’s very, very little. It can’t even cover the cost of having developed and put this together. The cost is so little. There’s lot of sites like this that I’ve come across recently. There’s this speaker site that I’ve been working with and working on. What I found is that, in order to be successful in a site, if you are the tech support guys or if you are the tech support girls, if you are that person out there, you have to be active in it. In other words, you have to really make sure that you pay attention to the job board. That you apply to those jobs as fast as possible. These are some tips for being successful in a job site.
Getting in on the ground floor, being one of the first to opt in to one of these sites is a really smart play, because you have the opportunity to be the five-star review fastest and that has long term effect. That’s what I found out from a lot of other sites that operate like this. Not in the 3D print world, but in other areas. I was an early adaptor into the Clarity platform, Clarity.fm and that is really one of these platforms where they look for somebody who’s an expert in something. They type in questions. What I did was I went in and I answered a lot of questions for people. We still get, maybe once a week, some inquiry through there. They will pay by the hour for my expertise to have me give a call to them and talk to them about something. It all came from being an early adaptor into that platform. It actually has led us to two or three clients over the last year. It hasn’t lit the world on fire, but I also don’t spend a lot of time on it. But having spent a little bit of time in the beginning when it first started has made all the difference to my still maintaining visibility and being up there in the listings over months and months now.
It’s really hard to know what all the tangible benefits might be of not only being a tech listed on there, which I went and have listed us on there, mostly for our clients. We provide certain services all related to 3D printing. I am not going to be someone who’s going to come over to your house and help you troubleshoot slicing for your printer or whatever because it’s not really what we do. But if you had a particular project that fit with what we do, 3D printing related, then sure, I would be interested in that. Or design model problems that we can help with. That’s in service to our community here. This is a way for us to do that.
I like it. It’s just in its infancy, so it remains to be seen. I like what 3D Printlife is doing, not just with this whole system, but also with their company continuing to develop new products and new filaments. They are not just a filament distributor. They actually manufacture. They have their own lines of filament they manufacture. They’re just going another step further, I guess, into being a part of this community. I respect them for that.
They have just launched a Kickstarter on their BioPETG. That wasn’t really the focus of this interview because this was recorded a month ago, but they had just launched here, within one week of this airing, a Kickstarter regarding a new eco-friendly, premium quality filament. That’s really been their game. They have done a lot of filaments in bio. From their ABS that is biodegradable and then they have their PLAyPHAb which is their PLA that’s very biodegradable with our favorite reel.
The spool is our favorite. The filament spool is very eco-friendly. That’s a problem that continues to really annoy me because we go through a lot of filament here, especially lately, and I have all these plastic spools that you just have to put in the recycle bin, which is great that we do that. But the plastic, I don’t know if it’s really going to get recycled as much. Not every spool that we get from every manufacturer tells you what the recycle code is. Here, you obviously can see their spool is made of heavy chipboard and then has a steel core. There you can separate them and recycle them pretty easily. I’ve always loved that about their product.
If you’ve never tried out their filament, that’s certainly the one that you should check out. I have a bunch of it that I have tested here as well. They are good guys there. 3D Printlife is a good company. We just really like them. We really appreciate the contributions that they have made at the 3D print community and we want to do whatever we can to support them. That’s one of the reasons why we want to encourage you, if this is your game and what you are interested in, to join 3D Print Life Support.
One other little brief mention about 3D Printlife, we mentioned that we saw them again at CES this year. I’ve realized after we said that, they are one of the few companies that has exhibited at CES each year that we have gone to CES for WTFFF and 3D printing in general. From the very first year, they were there. We didn’t really understand who they were, what they were doing the first time. We hadn’t really met them yet, but after that, they have been back every year. When we talked about the number of people exhibiting at CES reducing year over year in the 3D print section for a number of legitimate reasons, they have been a steady, a mainstay there. That’s a credit to the fact that they really are tapped into their market and really close to their customers. That has given them that longevity and really make them continue to flex and be valuable to them, which is why I think this Life Support is a smart choice for them and really a smart gap need for the market in general.
Anyway, there’s always going to be something that goes on in social media usually on Facebook and Pinterest and that’s @3DStartPoint as well. Hope you enjoyed that interview. We will be back with another three episodes next week. This has been Tom and Tracy on the WTFFF 3D Printing Podcast.
- 3D Printlife
- 3D Print Life Support
- BioPETG – Kickstarter Campaign
- Fab Foundation
- Illinois MakerLab
- 3D Systems
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