We’ve seen 3D printers showing up in more dramatic TV series like Grey’s Anatomy in a recent season and among a lot of other TV shows. The general public has this perception that 3D printing is easy, but that’s just not the reality of it. It’s no surprise that the general public does not understand the amount of time, effort, and work it takes to go and make anything on a 3D printer that is a complete usable item or product design. Unless you do it yourself and you’ve studied it, you’ve been taught it, or you bought your own 3D printer and started learning CAD software on your own the hard way just to explore it, you’re not going to know that it’s going to take hours and hours. Tom debunks some of the 3D printing myths to help illuminate the eyes of the general public about the realities of 3D printing.
Listen to the podcast here:
3D Printing Myths
I have something I was inspired to talk to you about. It’s about a comment on Facebook to an advertisement that my company put out there. I’ll have to set this up. It deserves a little background. I’ll also mention and address the elephant in the room. If you recall, we did an episode on a case study of a 3D print project, which is this 3D printed microphone block that we created on and off over the period of a year and a half. I went through in that episode all different stages and evolution or iterations that I went through in creating that mic block.
The 3D Printed Mic Block
This was a side project at first. It was not something I needed to do for business, but sometimes we go live on Facebook or I have some video that we do while we’re recording. I wanted it branded for our brand. I made this 3D printed mic block and measured my microphone. We got it to fit on there and printed out our podcast logo or a variation of it on a photo paper. I attached it to it and you’ve got a brand-new mic block just like all the TV stations, news and newsgroups that are always out interviewing people on the street and they have their big NBC or ABC or CBS whatever logo on the microphone. It made perfect sense to me to take that opportunity to promote my brand on any video that we do.
I originally created it for us. You can go back and check out that episode of WTFFF to see the nitty-gritty of making that particular product. It’s been through about six or seven iterations of improving it along the way. In the very beginning, I used Krazy Glue to stick the photo paper to the outside of this mic block. Eventually, I got more sophisticated with it and made it. I have a template, you print it on a photo paper, you cut it and you slide your logo in. It makes a whole lot more sense. Nobody makes manufacturers on mic block that you can buy at retail for the common microphone that’s used in podcasting. The most popular microphones these days are from Audio-Technica. There’s a couple of them and I made this mic block fit a wide range of different microphones including those.
Fast forward to summer 2018, I have another company, completely separate from the product design business and the 3D printing podcast and it is a podcast production company and it’s grown significantly over the last few years. We have some marketing programs we’re engaged in, especially social media marketing, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, also Google AdWords and such. We’ve been having great success using that mic block as a lead generator. I don’t know if any of you may have seen this on Facebook, but there’s an ad that says, “Get a free customized mic block. Just pay the shipping and your show’s brand will be on display every time you record.” We only charge $10 or $9.95 or something for this thing. It covers the shipping and a little bit of labor to pack it up.
By no means, we are not making a profit on this. It’s ideally a breakeven in reality with the advertising cost, it’s a lost leader in reality. We’re trying to generate leads for that podcast business and people that want a mic block probably would be interested in some other services related to podcasting. When they sign up on Facebook, we get their name and information and we can re-target them through email and other things. Anyway, that’s what we’ve been doing and using as a lead generator. I’ve been 3D printing them myself. We’ve been shipping maybe two or three a day and I can keep up with that, just printing with my own 3D printers, but I have it planned. I’ve got an outsource ready to print them in larger quantity and actually the quality they print with their printers is a little better than the quality I compare with my printers here in our office. That will be great.
When we get that much volume that I need to have them printed out, I will do that. To why I was inspired to talk about this, it helps illuminate something about 3D printing in the eyes of the general public. I would say the people who are not very well informed about the realities of 3D printing. There was a comment on one of these ads and someone says, “It’s not hard to pay someone with a 3D printer a few bucks to make you a block at the end of your mic just waiting to be covered with a sticker or a stencil or a clear lacquer, adhering a picture to the surface and adding an extra shiny finish.” I thought it was a very strange comment.
First of all, there’s nothing about our ad that says that this is a 3D printed mic block. We don’t say it’s 3D printed in from the photograph, you can’t tell. It’s not that close up and detailed that you could tell it’s a 3D printed product. I thought that was funny that the person said, “You can get anybody with a 3D printer and pay them a few bucks to get them to 3D print you a mic block.” Then as I thought about that, after I got over the irony and chuckled at the fact that how it is 3D printed, silly. I thought about it, I was like, “That’s an uninformed statement.” I’m sure you have any experience with 3D printers and another maybe some of you that are very new to this podcast and don’t have a lot of experience with 3D printers and that’s why you’re here.
I felt like, “That’s an uninformed comment.” I’m not trying to disparage the person who said it, but uninformed comment. Because even if there was a mic block and maybe there is, in preparation for this episode, I did not go out on Thingiverse and see if there was a mic block and I haven’t put mine out there. Maybe there is. Let’s say there is, even if you downloaded an existing model file from Thingiverse for mic block and it happened to fit your microphone and didn’t need any adjustment, even when you go and print it, all of you that have any experience printing know that it’s probably not going to print exactly right the first time. It’s going to at least take you a couple of prints to dial in the settings and get the quality to be what you want it to be or what you’d expect it to be.
If you have to make some adjustments even more than that it’s going to take a little bit of CAD work, adjustments, even if you’re just adjusting the STL file. Maybe you need to make the hole in the middle of a little bigger. You’ve got to bullion it out. It’s not just you go to your microwave, pop up some frozen chicken nuggets in and hit it for 30 seconds or a minute and it’s the way you want it and ready to eat. 3D printing is not that simple. The fact that this person was griping or complaining that this $9.95 cost for a mic block shipped to you that we’re not technically charging money for the mic block, it’s the shipping and handling, it’s the labor to fill out a mailing label, put it in a package, pay for the postage, take it to the post office and send it out. $10 is not a lot of money when you think about it because the shipping alone is $3.50, including the package and the labor and all that.
This is not a big profit center for anybody, certainly not us. I asked myself, “What does that tells us about the public and what they see in news reports on television?” We’ve seen 3D printers showing up in more dramatic TV series. It was on Grey’s Anatomy in a recent season and among a lot of other TV shows. The general public has this perception that 3D printing, “It’s easy, just 3D print it.” That’s not the reality of it. If you have good CAD skills and you have good experience with the 3D printer, if you don’t have an existing model that’s tested and proven and already provided to you with all the settings necessary for your 3D printer, it’s going to be a project to get it done.
It’s a good project, it’s a great one to take. Certainly, I took it upon myself and did it. You’re talking hours’ worth of time at a minimum to get a good 3D printed mic block that is usable at the end of the day. There’s no way you could do that yourself for less than $10, especially if you’re a consumer like this person is and does not have 3D printing skills, “You need to find a friend with a 3D printer and pay them a few bucks.”
That friend with a 3D printer may not want to be paid, that’s fine. They may say, “I need a project. It would be fun and I’ll do it.” They won’t charge you anything, but they would be doing you a favor at that. A few bucks, even if you did pay them, would come nowhere near to covering certainly their time, even if they value their time at all, even if you value your time as low as something like $5 an hour. I would bet most people listening to this podcast would value their own time doing some work for somebody a lot higher than that, or at least I hope you would unless maybe you’re a student in high school or something and maybe that would be cool for you.
There are a couple things I think about. Part of me is not surprised and that’s one thought I wanted to share with you. I don’t think any of us should be surprised that the general public does not understand the amount of time and effort and work it takes to going and making anything on a 3D printer that is I would say a complete usable item or product design, whatever you want to call it. I don’t think that should surprise us. Unless you do it yourself and you’ve studied it, you’ve been taught it or you bought your own 3D printer and, and started learning CAD software on your own the hard way just to explore it, you’re not going to know that it’s going to take hours and hours. On this mic block project, I’ll grant you, I’ve been through many iterations and I changed the design a few times because I wanted to improve it unless I didn’t necessarily have to.
I bet in the last year and a half, I’ve easily got 40 hours into this project. I’m getting some good use of it because I’m using it in my business as a lead generator and I haven’t had to pay any tooling dollars to go and have this thing injection molded. I 3D printed it right here on my own 3D printers and when the volume goes up, I will have an outsource do it. I don’t think there’s any way the general public or somebody who’s not in any way informed in reality of 3D printing, that they would know that it would take that much time to make something. That’s the first thought is that there’s this cognitive dissonance. I know it’s like a hoity-toity word. There is this gap between what people think in reality. They don’t know.
What People Think Vs. Reality
On the other hand, I’m disappointed that someone would play such little value on a product that is offering them some value. We’re only charging $10 for it, we’re not talking about a lot of money here. The idea that they could pay $10 and get a way to put their brand on their microphone and get exposure for their brand when they’re on video or if they were to take photos or if you take your mic out to trade shows like I do sometimes to record podcasts and things, is $10 too much to spend? I thought that was unfortunate that the person plays such little value on it that he thought, “Instead of paying $10 for a mic block, I’m going to go find somebody with a 3D printer and have them do it for me and throw them a few bucks.” Are you kidding me? That disappointed me and I wasn’t thrilled about that.
I thought I would share that with you and offer some thoughts on that. I’m wondering if any of you out there have had some similar experiences where people who are uninformed or less informed and have come to you and assumed, “Can you 3D print this for me?” and it ends up being a significant project. Maybe you want to do it because you’re learning and you’re using this as a real-world experience to learn on. That’s great. There’s nothing wrong with that, I’ve done that a lot myself. At some point, just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should. What’s the value proposition? I’m interested if any of you have had some stories like that and I’d love to hear about it.
There’s another little project that I took on this summer just like that for a friend of mine and I’ve got some photos. I have a friend from high school. It’s been a long time since I was in high school, I have to admit. We’ve been friends for 40 years. I’m that old. We were in third grade when we met. My friend, Dean, who still lives back in the Northeastern US where we grew up, he and his family have a summer vacation home in Vermont on Lake Champlain. We used to go up there when we were kids. Dean recently found at a yard sale in Connecticut a set of cookie tins that were old style retro 1950’s style. He sent me some pictures of them and they have this plastic knob handle in the center of the lid. The lid is made of stamped and chrome plated steel thin sheet metal. Then it had a plastic knob and the center that is this retro ’50s, blue-green one of those almost like pastel colors. Not all the lids had knobs and some of them were breaking and falling off easily. He said, “Do you know where I could get someone to 3D print some replacement knobs for me? That might be a good way to replace the knobs and then have them all be new and look the same and all that.”
You’d spend a lot of money. I admitted to him, “You’d spend a lot of money having somebody create the CAD file and then print and experiment for you. I’m interested in doing it. Why don’t you send it to me and I’ll do it?” I’ve got a couple of other things that I’m 3D printing for my mom this summer, which I did. Had him send me out the lid and the knob and I took a look at it and this was a quicker project I’ll admit that the mic block because it was pretty easy for me to measure. He had one of these knobs that were intact, but the way it attached wasn’t going to work very well in 3D printing. It had this lip to it that was meant to press through a hole in the stainless-steel stamped lid. There was a circular hole. It was meant to press through it and it had a little piece that would flare out on the backside and catch it and it was molded to be a little bit springy in that area. Push through and then grip it and stay there.
When you injection mold plastic and stamp steel, you can get the tolerances tight enough that you can do something like that. In 3D printing, trying to print such fine areas wasn’t going to work. I spent probably about eight or ten hours over the course of a couple of weeks measuring and coming up with a different system. I made two parts, one the inside of the lid and one on the outside and prep made them press fit together. One behind on the underside of that stainless steel, one on the top, they press fit together and sandwich and lock onto the stainless steel.
I ended up working but still even that between the CAD work, which was eight or ten hours and then printing trial and error and then getting the settings right, getting the finished to be as smooth as possible, fine layers, it took quite a while and I did it because he was my friend and I wanted to. I thought I could use it as an example for this podcast, which I’m doing. That, to me, was worth it but still if I had to charge him for it, it would have been hundreds and hundreds of dollars, maybe even a thousand dollars total of my time and material.
MAKE iT 3D
I also want to give some credit and a shout out to MAKE iT 3D. On my 3D printers, I printed this part and it started to come out decently, but I wanted finer layers and I know they have a very precise 3D printer that can do incredibly fine layers. The guys over at MAKE iT, Russell Singer, Shelley Sun, and Salomo, I sent them the file and they were very happy to 3D print a couple of for me at a very fine level and it didn’t take them long at all. In fact, that’s also the same company that I’m going to use to 3D print the mic block in quantity when it comes because they’re pretty local to me. They’re in Pasadena. It’s not even an hour drive from where I live down in Orange County, California.
They do a great job and they have all these 3D printers set up, they’re all attached to the wall with no tables or anything to set up as a series of printers like nine or twelve ganged together on a wall printing parts and it’s pretty cool. They made me a few samples of the mic block and it’s better quality than I can print here. As my quantity increases, I will buy it from them. I wanted to again be inspired by that a comment on the Facebook ad for the mic block and that mic block project that I’ve worked over the last year and a half.
Then the little knob, cookie jar knob project for my friend. Those are fun little projects and good examples of using 3D printing to make either replacement parts or something that otherwise it would take a lot more dollars and time to make molds and perfected. You’re talking about a lot of dollars where 3D printing is a wonderful way, super easy way to go and make these things easy. Relative to injection molding, it’s easy and fast. Time and effort are involved and I don’t think consumers appreciate that. That is going to be something we’ll have to keep an eye on in the future. The industry needs to do a better job of educating the public that when they want something 3D printed, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s like popping something in a microwave and getting it out and like you would see on Star Trek, it’s a bit more involved and there’s a cost involved in it.
Consumers Don’t Care If It’s 3D Printed
The other reality of 3D printed products is consumers at the end of the day don’t care if it’s 3D printed. That’s why on this mic block ad, I’m not saying it’s 3D printed, that’s not anything that’s attracting them. The value is you can put your custom logo in it, your brand, and as you do live stream videos on Facebook or record videos, your podcast, whatever as long as it’s visual, your brand is there. You’re promoting your own brand. It makes sense to do it. The consumers don’t care that it’s 3D printed. All they care is that the product offers them value. That means that we as people in the 3D printing industry need to continue to offer products of value. If they’re a value and it makes sense to 3D print them, consumers will buy them.
If you’re banking on the fact that the consumer is going to care that it’s 3D printed, I don’t know that that’s going to be a reason to buy for the consumer. If it’s a customized item and they know it’s customized, there’s an opportunity for them to see that it’s 3D printed being made special for them. Maybe you could justify charging a little more for it because it’s customized, because you’re getting it custom done their way and done rather quickly compared to other methods of the manufacturer. In general, I don’t count on consumers carrying one iota about the fact that it’s 3D printed. I’m sure there are lots of products where people would care. There are different situations, but the general mass consumer market, if 3D printing is going to tip it retail, it’s going to be because it offers them a value of either going to get it their way or they’re going to get it faster or they’re going to get something that they couldn’t get otherwise.
I’d love to have a dialogue about that and have some discussions. I’d love to hear about any projects that you’re doing or have done maybe this summer, maybe some of you on summer break if your students and other people, maybe it’s just a summer project to do on the weekends. I’d love to hear about your projects anything that you did in this regard and things that you learned. Maybe some challenges you faced, some opportunities you found, whatever that might be, please reach out to me anywhere on social media or at 3DStartPoint.com. I will always respond as soon as we can, hopefully within a day or so, but sometimes it may take a little longer depending on our schedule.
We will reach out to you and if it’s good enough project, maybe I’ll have you on a future episode, so you can tell us all about it and that would be great. Hope you enjoyed this episode. It’s not meant to be a rant, but some things were illuminated to me by that Facebook comment and I thought I’d share it with you. It got me thinking. I hope it’s been of interest to you. Thanks so much. I’ll be back next time.
- 3D Printed Microphone Block project episode
- MAKE iT 3D
- 3D Start Point – social media
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