I have a great interview with Grant Mackenzie. He is the sales manager for CEL who does what I’ve referred to in the past as the CEL Robox 3D Printer. Those of you that have listened to Tracy and I for a long time know that we saw their CEL Robox 3D Printer at CES in 2016. That’s more than eighteen months ago, January of 2016. We were very impressed with this 3D printer. We had arranged and we’re told originally we were going to get a review unit. For one reason or another, just the circumstances that came to be, we never received such a review unit. I even looked at trying to buy one and get one, but it was hard to come by.
Fair warning for all of you, this is not meant to be a commercial for this company in any way, but they do have a unique 3D printer with some unique features. I’m still dying to get my hands on one to review. You’ll hear in this interview later on that actually that is now going to happen. We’ll be able to really put it through the paces and give you our own varnished opinion of what we think of the printer. I do have high hopes because of some of its technology. Fair warning for this interview, for the first fifteen, twenty minutes, there’s a lot about the machine and the company. If you’re just not interested in that, then feel free, you can skip over part of it. But hang on for the latter two-thirds of this interview. It’s a long one.
We got into a lot of deep subjects regarding 3D printing, the industry and especially issues around STEM and STEAM education. Because Grant, in addition to being the sales manager for CEL, he is a STEM ambassador and he’s heavily involved in introducing 3D printing to schools and colleges, encouraging young people to think differently about design and manufacture of products because of 3D printing. You may hear over the course of this interview, the more Grant and I talked, the more excited I got. Because there was a lot of synergy and a lot of our significant alignment in how he sees the future of manufacturing, education, 3D printing in general and the way we see it.
Listen to the podcast here:
A 3D Print STEM Ambassador with Grant Mackenzie of CEL
Grant, thank you so much for joining me on WTFFF today. It’s great to have somebody from CEL on the podcast.
You’re very welcome. Thank you for the invitation.
We have been very interested in your company since CES 2016 when we first saw your dual 3D printer in action. There were a lot of little technical things that impressed me about it, so much that we’ve been dying to get one on our hands for a review. It hasn’t quite happened yet, but hopefully we could take care of that sometime soon. It’s a really exciting little printer. It has some technical capabilities that are unique I think in the industry. I think it has a valve in the nozzles to really shut off the flow of material and the fact that you have two print heads in a really rather compact machine. Those are I think the big distinctions, are they not?
You described the RoboxDual, which is the model you’re referring to as small. I prefer to describe it as compact and portable as well. The feature that you referred about the needles, that’s actually a patented technology that we have. No other desktop 3D printer has this technology, which is the needle valves physically shut off the flow of material. You’re a bit familiar of course with MakerBot and other brands or any of the FFF printers. The way that the filament stops coming out of the nozzle is that the filament feed or the extruder retracts it. That causes quite a lot of stringing. I actually own another 3D printer. It’s a Creality CR-10. It’s enormous. It’s a very, very good value for money, but it has all the problems that you associate with RepRap style 3D printers, including the stringing. Stringing is a real problem, massive problem.
The needle valves, they shut off the flow of material physically so nothing can actually come out of the nozzles. In our single material model, which is the model we launched at tail end of 2014, became commercially available in December 2014. That is a single material model but there are actually two nozzles in the same head. People, they look at it and think, “Why do you need two nozzles in the same head?” One is 0.8 mm, the other is 0.3. The reason we can have two in the same head is because of the needle valves. That means that there’s no need to remove the nozzles or change the heads or anything like that. The needle valves are really fundamental with that. We call it the QuickFill Dual-Nozzle Technology, having those two nozzles in the same head.
In a dual material context, they take on a whole new importance because you don’t have any contamination between materials. You don’t have the need to build wasteful towers and shields that you often see that are needed with other dual material or dual color 3D printers. Actually, one of our biggest competitors certainly in the education space here in the UK and in Europe is Ultimaker. MakerBot is a huge brand particularly in the US, but Ultimaker here is the big brand in Europe and in education. A few months ago, they’ve released a dual material 3D printer model themselves and it’s called the Ultimaker 3. Something that people comment on quite a lot is how slow the Ultimaker 3. It’s not just the Ultimaker 3, it’s any 3D printer that is printing two materials at the same time with the same head, because of the need to build wasteful towers and shields. With RoboxDual you don’t have that and the dual material print times are virtually the same as the single material print times.
You mentioned as well the fact that it so much is compressed into such a small or compact rather space. That’s a regular comment that we get that it’s very, very space efficient. That’s partly because we have these needle valves and we don’t need extra space to do these different things. RoboxDual has received absolutely fantastic reviews as a dual extruder 3D printer. Sales have been fantastic. Our biggest problem is that we don’t have the brand awareness that MakerBot have and Ultimaker and the other big names. That’s our number one issue, because when people see the Robox, particularly the RoboxDual if they’re looking for the dual extrusion capabilities, then it’s a no-brainer. It really is. You may expect to say that in my role but honestly, I can assure you when you receive the RoboxDual, because I’ll make sure you get one to review so you can see for yourself, I’m confident you will give an unbiased review.
I give unbiased reviews and anybody who is a long-time listener of this podcast knows that. There is a 3D printer I had high hopes for that the company sent in for review and I gave it many, many, many hours of time working with it and it just did not work how it was expected to. I wrote an honest but I think a fair review. That was the M3D. Most 3D printers, I feel like it’s not necessarily that one is particularly so dramatically much better than another. Usually, it’s that they’re a better fit for a certain type of work than another. There’s a market for each of them. Having said that though, ever since I really got started in 3D printing with a single extrusion machine, I have been dying to experience dual extrusion in an effective way. I have experienced all the things that you talked about with the ooze shields and the wipe towers and all this different stuff to get it to work. You mentioned Ultimaker. I’ve reviewed their Cura software because certainly a lot of printers adopt that as their standard slicing software for their printer because it’s a pretty good slicing software.
It’s actually the software that I use for my CR-10, my other 3D printer. I’m very familiar with it.
I’ve experienced with that software and even Simplify3D, on certain 3D printers that are dual extrusion, I can’t conclusively say if it was a hardware issue or a software issue. But between the two, I experienced the 3D printer depositing the wrong color of material in the wrong place at times, and the stringy messes are a nightmare. It drives me crazy. I have high hopes. I very much look forward to being able to try out your printer and review it. If those strings are gone, that’s just a huge, huge advantage.
There’s an interesting project that I’m working on right now. I’m going to write a case study about it. There’s a part that’s actually printing right now at home but I bought a, I think 2.3 kilogram reel of filament PETG for this huge CR-10 3D printer that I have. I realized pretty quickly that I have no way of actually fitting it to all the fittings that come with the printer. I had to design something to adapt the current fittings. Every listener who has experience of 3D printers, which is probably all of them, realizes that stringing is a big issue.
It really is. I agree with you. This is a huge distinction. When I first got into 3D printing, I didn’t really understand the fundamental physics of how the flow of material is halted on most machines. Once I learned and understood about retraction, this is a really difficult thing to control and it’s so different in every machine. It frustrated me that all we could do to stop the flow was to reverse the material that’s being pushed into the nozzle. I thought there’s got to be a better way. That’s why I’m so impressed when I understood there were these valves that actually shut off the flow. It makes a lot of sense to me.
I’m sure that the stringing I have, I can reduce the stringing significantly but it requires a lot of tinkering, an awful lot of tinkering in Cura or whatever slicing software you’re using. There’s lot of trial and error that goes with that. I’m going to mention this in the case study that I’ve put together, but the stringing that I’m getting I’m sure I can reduce it but it’s going to take a lot of time, a lot of effort. If I can outline our philosophy about the Robox, to us, a 3D printer is a tool. It’s a manufacturing tool. As a company, we make power tools. That’s our bread and butter. We started in 2006. We have something called the Power8 Workshop. We’ve sold over 100,000 of these things worldwide. It’s incredibly popular.
You’ve sold 100,000 of what?
Of this Power8 Workshop, it’s a power tool innovation. There are four tools: You’ve got a drill, a jigsaw, a circular saw. The way that this Power8 Workshop has been designed, by the same guy, my boss, Chris Elsworthy, who designed the Robox, when you combine these hand power tools with this worktop, they turn into their bench top equivalent, a tabletop. A circular saw becomes a table saw and so on. We are a manufacturer. What we’ve had to do is prototype our parts. Historically, what we’ve done, like many other manufacturers, is we’ve spend a lot of time, a lot of effort, energy, in designing the part. Then we’d send it out to someone else to get it 3D printed, to get the actual prototype made. There was a lot of expense there, there’s time. Chris, the company director, he said, “Why don’t we just make our own 3D printer as you do?” That was the beginning of the Robox project.
The philosophy has always been from the beginning that this is a tool that is supposed to be as easy to use as possible, because you put the effort and the energy into the design, into the actual thing you’re trying to make. You want to get that design right. What you don’t then want to have to do is spend hours fiddling with settings, knobs, dials and tweaking various settings to get it from the CAD software to your physical reality. As closely as possible, you just want to click on that print button and then out it comes a few hours later.
I couldn’t agree more. There is a market of people that like to tinker, especially the makers. There are great 3D printers for them, kits they can build themselves, make their own 3D printer. By all means, have a ball doing that if that’s your thing. But I think there’s a bigger market of people that could benefit and would enjoy using 3D printers if they didn’t have to tinker, if they really know they wouldn’t have to learn how to reduce the strings on a print, if they could just slice it and print it and it would come out more or less how they expect it to. That’s where I’m at and that’s what I’d like to experience.
The Robox project started as a Kickstarter project. That was fantastic from a publicity point of view. We’ve built a great network of people, loyal followers, who have been active in the community ever since, because there’s a Robox community. They’re fantastic. These people generally come from that community that you’ve just referenced: the makers and the do-it-yourself community. There are lots of people, historically, who’ve come from that market and that’s fantastic. I get a kick out of tinkering here with my CR-10 3D printer. It’s not the kind of kick that I feel I should need to experience. The kick is it’s not printing correctly so I tinker with it, I fix it, then it’s printing correctly, fantastic. That’s what I’m talking about. Surely, it would be better if you didn’t have to tinker with it in the first place. That’s my thinking and it sounds like that’s yours as well.
Definitely it is. I do also really appreciate your founder or director as you called him. The fact that this 3D printer came about as a necessity to accomplish some other purpose and it wasn’t necessarily the primary objective when it was first conceived, that to me actually says a lot about integrity, of motivation and things like that.
When Chris was designing the Robox, Chris has two kids and they’re both early secondary, high school age. Chris actually has dyslexia himself. He wanted to make not only a piece of kit that was easy to use, but also something that was safe and something that his kids could use, and that’s why in Robox, we have a locking mechanism. We call it the Safe Lock feature. It’s an interlocking mechanism. As far as I’m aware, we’re the only 3D printer with a locking door. That is actually a pretty crucial feature when you’re using a 3D printer that’s around young people. Most people who use 3D printers, of course, are adults, they are of that kind of inclination where they don’t mind getting their hands dirty and they don’t mind fixing things if things go wrong. That’s a maker community.
There’s a new market out there that I’m personally very passionate about because I actually first used a 3D printer when I was in secondary school. Our school didn’t have a 3D printer but we were connected with a school that did. This is in Plymouth, England. The 3D printer that the other school had was Stratasys BST, expensive piece of kit, £19,000 pounds at the time, and reels of filament costs over £200. It’s an expensive piece of kit. It did give me an early insight into the power of 3D printing to really accelerate innovation, inspire creativity. Education and young people using 3D printers is something that I’m very, very, very passionate about and that’s why I’m a STEM Ambassador, because part of my role naturally is to go into schools and demonstrate the Robox. If I can do some good when I’m there and help to demonstrate not just our technology, which has this advanced safety features, which is very easy to use, but if I can also explain some of the ways in which 3D printing can really be a force for good in the world and help empower people to be more creative and not be afraid to make mistakes as well. That’s quite important.
I’m glad you already segued there because I wanted to get into your involvement with being a STEM Ambassador. I did want our listeners to have a little background on you and your company and your 3D printer, although hopefully we’ll take a deeper dive in a review in the future. I think it’s important to understand there are a lot of distinctions of this 3D printer. Let’s talk about your STEM ambassadorship, your involvement there. It’s great to understand that you were actually in school with one of the first 3D printers. That’s quite something. I didn’t have that at my school. What is it that you’re seeing happening in STEM education with 3D printers today? Are you seeing enough adoption of it? Is it still lacking? What about the curriculum? I’m curious on your thoughts on some of those things.
When I first used the 3D printer in secondary school, it was an expensive piece of kit. Critically, the design software was not really catered for people who weren’t familiar with CAD already. To me, the biggest innovation that’s happened in desktop 3D printing and one of the reasons we’ve seen this growth in recent years is the abundance of free easy to use high quality design software, in schools in particular I’m talking. Autodesk, before I start singing their praises, there are no commercial ties between Autodesk and CEL or myself, I just talk about their products because they’re awesome. I see when I go into schools, you’re probably familiar with Tinkercad and Fusion 360 from Autodesk. In the UK at least, they’re free.
Fusion 360 is free in the UK?
For schools and educators and for individuals as well I understand. If you’re a hobbyist, if you’re a maker, it’s free. That’s been the big change as I’ve seen it because the technology as you know is actually pretty old now, it’s older than me, fused filament fabrication. The hardware is pretty much the same as it was. It’s a glue gun, effectively. That’s the principle behind it. Robox and other new 3D printers have features that the 3D printer I use certainly didn’t have, but fundamentally they’re the same. I think what we’ve seen is a revolution in education, in the software and they’re really easy to use. Tinkercad, Fusion 360, all of the CAD programs that they use, like Inventor as well, they are free for schools to use. Tinkercad is just the most amazing tool for engaging young people who haven’t been behind a computer before and actually designed anything.
STEM Learning UK is a support network for people like myself who are passionate about STEM and helping to inspire young people into STEAM as well. Of course, art and design is big as well, but STEM is the term that’s used. Robox was the first 3D printer that was rolled out in a council-wide, regional scheme in Scotland. Every elementary school in this council has a Robox 3D printer. They have a STEM coordinator who works for the council. I’ve seen some of the fantastic work that they’re doing with Tinkercad. I know that the kids would not be anywhere near as engaged if they were using some of the previous design tools that were out there. It’s Tinkercad and other free software, mostly it’s designed by Autodesk because they have put a lot of time and money into this, getting it right, the user experience. Or at least trying to get it better than most, I think.
I think they are trying and doing a very good job of it. I agree that there’s been this democratization of CAD software for certainly young people and also just beginners to have access to use these 3D printers. I think there was a bit of a necessity as desktop 3D printing has come to exist. If you have these inexpensive 3D printers, people could start getting into, but you’re going to have multiple thousands of dollars or pounds of a software in order to use it, that it’s going to hold back the advancement of the adoption of the technology. I’ve been an Autodesk user. I’ve been using Autodesk products since 1984. It was the AutoCad 2.0 at the time when it was still on a 2D program. I was a teenager. I was working part-time in an architectural firm.
I’ve been using an Autodesk product on and off throughout my career and they’re very good at it. I’ve reviewed Tinkercad on our podcast. We’ve reviewed a lot of the free software especially aimed at that the youth and educational market. I have some young children as well and I have had them learn and they do use Tinkercad. Tinkercad, at least last I used it and I’m sure it’s changing all the time, was very much a laptop or desktop computer program. You need to use a mouse to use it and things like this. I’ve found there are some other ones we’ve also reviewed that are more tablet based, that are much more intuitive for at least my kids to learn. I had to teach them how to use a mouse, and that was a foreign concept to them when they’re used to just touching the screen. There’s this one called Morphi App that I think is particularly good and a tablet-based software for kids doing CAD. You might check that one out too. There’s another blog post on our site for that if you’re interested too.
I’m always interested in exchanging information with people, like this Morphi App you say.
Morphi App is pretty impressive. There are others too. I think there are a lot more tablet-based ones coming. I have some kids that are pretty young and pretty much before they can speak full sentences and certainly before they can read, they figured out how to use a tablet, whether it’s an iPad or a Kindle or a Kindle Fire HD or whatever. My kids do anyway, and I see lots of kids in the US doing that. I don’t know how the tablets are used over in Europe. Certainly, there’s a lot of options though, and I think that’s the wonderful thing. There are a lot of options to get into CAD. Tell me what you’re seeing in terms of curriculum and projects for STEM and STEAM projects. Are you finding that there’s enough curriculum to engage people or is there still a curriculum gap?
There’s definitely a curriculum gap. I think it’s a broader problem in other developed countries. In the UK, we have this ongoing Brexit discussion. This actually ties in with our skills gap which we have because the idea is that we need home-grown talent. We’re not going to be able to rely in the future on being able to import the talent that we don’t have here in our country. We always should have been skilling up our young people with the skills they need for the future, for jobs of the 21st century. I think it’s a tragedy that there is this gap that exists at the moment.
Here in this country, we have a national curriculum that in the state schools, schools that are funded through government effectively, they follow the national curriculum. There is a much heavier emphasis on design, which is fantastic, specifically on iterative design, which is where 3D printers are key. There isn’t specifically, as I see it, enough focus on 3D technologies and the application of not just 3D printing, but 3D design. In answer to your question, there’s not enough curriculum support for not just 3D printing but the broader subject of design and manufacturing, technology, engineering. We have a big skills gap.
That’s where I feel 3D printers are also powerful because there is no more powerful tool than a 3D printer to engage young people in STEM. That’s what I see when I go to schools, when I go to libraries around the country and I see young people engaged with 3D design, because they can make something. It’s not just a question of designing something so it can stay on your computer screen. You can actually now design something to make something. 3D printers are key to getting young people engaged in STEM. We need more young people to be engaged with the subject. That’s the reality.
I couldn’t agree more. I do agree too with the iterative process and teaching students that it’s okay to have a failure and to learn from it and then to go on and make something better after that. There’s so many good skills and qualities that I think 3D printing inherently helps to teach students in a completely different way than they have before. I’m all about it.
We work with the James Dyson Foundation. That’s the charitable arm of Dyson, vacuum cleaners and the hand dryers. Sir James Dyson is very passionate on a personal level about filling the skills gap that we have with engineering in particular. His business suffers from this skills gap. He has a direct vested interest in us filling this gap. The James Dyson Foundation is a charitable setup that helps schools. We work with partner schools and we try to embed 3D printing and principles like iterative design and the idea of not being afraid to make mistakes because that is so incredibly important. That’s the key. That’s the James Dyson Foundation philosophy as well. That’s our philosophy, that’s their philosophy.
3D printers should, if they use correctly, be able to break down those barriers that people have. The 3D printer that I used when I was at school that was so expensive, people didn’t use it. That was the problem. There was very limited scope for iterative design on that. Actually now with materials being so cheap, with the 3D printers themselves being so cheap, it’s not an issue. If you want to design something and then you almost know that it’s not going to work but you learn from what you get out of it. We’re on the same wavelength there.
I think it’s a critical part of education. It’s only helping educate our children better. I agree with you about we have to prepare for the future. Obviously, you live in a different country than me, but we have the same concerns here that we need to prepare our youth for the jobs of the future. I think there’s just tremendous opportunity to have those jobs be filled by our own citizens and not have to import them from around the world. The education has to be there and it has to be there for everybody, not just the people like you and me that have an interest in it, have some 3D printers in their home and can give their own kids exposure to it. It needs to be much more widely available than it even is today. I admire what you’re doing getting involved with that.
We’ve got a current skills gap here in the UK and in the US, but there are also, as you alluded to, opportunities for the future. I listened to one of your podcasts where you’re talking about people actually making money from 3D printing. That was very good, very interesting. There are absolutely incredible opportunities. I think Tracy touched on an opportunity that is just so huge. Think around the world, all the warehouses that are just full of stock and think of all the money that’s being wrapped up in that stock sitting on the shelves. In a previous life, I used to organize business conferences. One of the conferences that I put together was on Rolling Stock Fleet Maintenance, so rolling stock trains basically, how to most effectively maintain trains rolling stock. One of the things that I remember being a topic was just these depots and these warehouses that are stuffed full of parts for trains that are 40 years old and they need to have warehouses. They have to have depots with every one of these spare parts there in case they need it.
I’m just thinking you can replicate this all over the world. The opportunity for 3D printing is of course this print on demand. Tracy said in the podcast that when the big guys like Walmart and Target, they caught on to this opportunity. I think when the technology is a bit more developed than it is right now, when that happens then we’re going to see some big changes and new job opportunities being created. They just don’t exist right now. 3D printers as I see them aren’t just critical for filling the current skills gap we have for the jobs that exist today. 3D printers are absolutely critical for new jobs. There are so many jobs that can be created when you got this technology. I saw your tie that you designed in 3D printing. It’s very good. It’s a great example of the kind of thing that you can do with a 3D printer, but the economics of it were the problem. When we have an ecosystem, a marketplace, where it becomes affordable and profitable for people to design and make these things, then it will be an altogether different story.
That’s very, very dear to our hearts. What we really believe is coming in the future, and what we want to be a part of, is this digital on-demand manufacturing, zero inventory models. I see that as a huge part of the future. I think ideally, consumers may not even realize that that’s what’s happening. It’s difficult. There are so many things conspiring to slow down the progress, especially with existing brick and mortar retail chains that their entire infrastructure is built around distributing physical products the old way. I don’t see them easily or happily changing that until they’re on the brink of destruction and then they’ll start to listen.
I don’t think they can stop it. I don’t think they can stop the tide of history that’s sweeping over them, which is this revolution. The third industrial revolution is what The Economist called 3D printing. First, you had the transition from making things by hand, to making them with machines and then you had mass production and then you have 3D printing. I think the idea that these big corporations, as big and powerful as they are, can stop the third industrial revolution from moving forward, I don’t think so. They’ll put up a fight.
I agree with you, it’s inevitable that these changes will occur. I think they have to, but they’re still going to fight it and it will happen anyway. At least in America, I’ve dealt with the corporate world so much. Corporations really like systems, they like predictability, they don’t like to take risks. Even though you and I can see the writing on the wall and can see the future, that it makes so much sense, it will save them money and all that stuff. Generally, corporations are risk averse. They want to do a little better this year than they did last year. Anything that involves them departing significantly from what they’ve done in the past is scary and something that they usually aren’t going to embrace. That’s very disappointing, but it is going to happen anyway. The progressive companies will adopt it.
There are specific challenges with retail adopting. There are distinct challenges there and there are going to be big obstacles that the corporations throw up. Additive manufacturing is already embedded in aerospace, in medicine. The likes of GE, just look at how much money they’re investing in additive manufacturing and 3D printing. Here, Rolls Royce BAE Systems is spending millions and millions. In the case of GE, billions. You’ve got big, big companies already putting their money where their mouth is with 3D printing. For them, it’s about shortening supply chains, it’s about opportunities for design freedom that you get, weight reductions in component parts. There are different reasons why different sectors adopt the technology. Retail is going to be a challenge. My personal opinion is that there needs to be an ecosystem. I’m not a big fan, if I’m honest with you, of the current way that it works, how designers give away their designs for free.
Designers put a lot of time and effort and love into the designs, and they are just made freely available, and the companies that make them freely available really are the real winners. The designers, they don’t see a penny. I object to it in many ways. There are so few designers out there, skilled designers like yourself. Incidentally by the way, we have who works for CEL a chap called Martin Moore. He goes by the alias FORGED3D. He’s a big fan of yours. When I mentioned that I was being interviewed at the WTFFF podcast he says, “Oh, Tom and Tracy Hazzard!” Really, he’s a big fan. He’s a designer himself and he design things for MyMiniFactory. He’s a studio designer. He’s fantastic. He has a lot of respect for you.
It’s very nice to hear that. Thank you. When you see him, please mention that we appreciate that he listens and glad that he enjoys it. 3D technology, the changes that are going to occur in our market in our economy, they are inevitable, they will happen. Tracy and I have each said this before, that there is a skills gap. We’re talking about before curriculum gap. There is a skill gap for design as well as on the maybe CAD and engineering side. Here’s the thing, I agree with you that there’s going to be so much more digital on-demand manufacturing. It’s going to make it less expensive for companies to create their own products and to bring products to market. As this catches fire, who’s going to design all this stuff? There has to be skill designers.
To me, that is a big area of the worldwide economy where there’s going to be a high demand for skilled designers who know how to develop and design product, but also understand this new emerging manufacturing technology that’s going to make the products. I’m excited. I’ve been doing things in metal 3D printing. They’re not with my own desktop machines but using outsources. The jewelry industry I think is getting very much into this already. I just see this increasing and increasing. What a great time it’s going to be in the next ten, twenty years participating in this and also watching it happen. I’m super excited, but we need more designers. Companies are going to need to hire people.
I work for CEL, I promote the Robox 3D printer, but the most exciting thing, what really gets me fired up is design. Because without the design, what’s the point in the 3D printer? You need to have those designs in the first place. To go back to the point you were just making, the fact that there are all of these models out there on platforms that are free of charge, I think that devalues the designer, number one, and it also perpetuates this idea, people shouldn’t be out there printing what other people have made. I know what I’m saying may sound a bit controversial.
The real value of a 3D printer is in its ability to empower you, not just to be a designer but to be a manufacturer, to be a maker as well. When you’re just making stuff that other people have designed, why don’t you just go down to Costco or to Walmart and buy something off the shelf? Where’s the value in the 3D printing? There are neat and pretty cool models that you can make that you can’t buy on the shelf right now, but it’s in the design. That’s where you get the most value out of a 3D printer, is when you can design properly. This is a subject that really fires me up.
Sometimes we have received comments from some listeners who are like, “You guys are going on and on about design,” and there are a lot of listeners maybe that aren’t as interested in design. As far as I’m concerned, what you’re saying is music to my ears. We agree with you wholeheartedly. I feel like you can make anything you want. If you just want to make functional things or you just want to 3D prints other people have done that you’re available for free, by all means do it. But to me, the potential of this technology is just much, much greater than even being able to 3D print out of circulation parts for products, although I do think there is a significant benefit in that.
It’s about creating something new, not having to settle for things that are vanilla. What has happened through the ‘80s, ‘90s and even is still true today, as long as this big buck stores, especially in the US, you must have it to a degree in the UK as well, this big buck stores mass market reality of consumer product distribution and purchasing doesn’t give the average consumer any choice in what they buy. If you’re going to distribute something in large volume as a company, not only making it but selling it, you generally can’t afford to take a whole lot of risk. If you make a big mistake, it’s a very expensive mistake. Everything is white or black in the stores primarily. I’m not talking about clothing. I’m talking about hard products. Everything is black or white.
The people that make the decisions for what to buy, even though they may personally, “Let’s put it in that color that’s so hot right now,” by the time they get it out in their stores, that color may not be hot. They’re going to make it pretty much black or white. There’s few exceptions to that. Color alone, when consumers realize they can have it their way, it will be a wonderful thing. I want to get into more housewares. I’m into 3D printing ceramics now and metals. I think there are so many wonderful opportunities for products not just for the designers, like me, to have a great fun doing it. For the consumers, it’s going to offer them more choice, really being able to make their own statement in their home and not have a cost any more than it would have to. Then the replacement aspect, you buy a set of dishes and you break one, you don’t have to buy a whole five-piece plate setting. You can just order the one piece you broke. There are so many opportunities and wonderful things to come with this.
What you just mentioned about replacement parts, my dad has a 19-year-old Mercedes. There are plastic widgets that are broken. He had a leak in his engine and took it to the garage. The garage, of course, they don’t have spare parts for Mercedes that are 19 years old. They have to send away to Mercedes to get the part and there’s a week delay. It’s a whole week. Wouldn’t it be better if the garage had a 3D printer and they could have downloaded the part from Mercedes? Mercedes would have charged for the part of course, or maybe some authorized Mercedes parts supplier or designer or whatever. Then they’d print it there and then and they can get my dad back on the road next day. Wouldn’t that be awesome? That’s about digitizing parts and making them available. There needs to be an ecosystem as well to go with that and that I think we’re awhile away yet.
I agree. I have a vehicle that’s very old. I have a 1972 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia convertible, which makes it about 45 years old. While there are a lot of parts for the Volkswagens available, there are some obscure parts that are hard to get. Believe me, I’m already drawing up CAD parts and 3D printing things to do what I want to do with that vehicle. There’s an opportunity not just for an enthusiast but someone who has the skills to do it, but there’s an opportunity to help a lot of other consumers with those things. It’s a wonderful new world that we’re living in.
I heard a story about a guy, it’s a couple of years ago, who was designing and 3D printing replacement parts for these classic Ferraris. In the event, Ferrari ended up hiring this guy. He was busy making his parts and selling his parts for the classic Ferraris. This is the kind of opportunity that you get when you’re able to design properly. That’s what he did. He saw that for the classic car markets, you can’t get replacement parts anymore for many of the cars.
In the 20th century, we’ve seen globalization. I think what we’re going to see in the 21st century is de-globalization, manufacturing. You’re not going to design a part in California, have it manufactured in China, to be sold to someone in Germany. Think of all the expense that’s added to that and all the fossil fuels and so on. In the future, it would be regional and local. You have parts that are designed for Germans in Germany, made by Germans, or by the French, designed by the French, for the French, made in France. From that regional, it would be local and eventually you’ll be able to cater to your local population’s needs much better and more effectively than it is possible today with mass production. When you’ve got the people that are designing the products and making the products living and being closer to the people who are using them, I think that’s what 3D printing is going to do in the 21st century. That’s really going to enhance the quality of peoples’ lives in that respect.
I couldn’t have it said better myself. I’m totally with you. We started with what you do for your day job, what you do for a living and talking about a printer that we’re very interested in and that has a lot of relevance to this podcast and to our audience, no question. I’m really pleased over the course of this time, and this is one of the longer interviews that I’ve conducted for WTFFF, because I really have enjoyed the conversation so much and just kept it going. I’m really pleased with how it went, that this was maybe to some people who are getting thoughts, “This is going to be a big advertisement for CEL.” I do really have enjoyed this and I think our audience will as well, that this really is more about the big picture of 3D printing and how are we advancing this and taking advantage of it and using it to everyone’s benefit. I think that’s a wonderful thing. I thank you very much for coming on the show and sharing all of your experience and knowledge and opinions because I think they’re quite interesting and valuable.
Thank you very much, Tom. I’ve really enjoyed being your guest. Thank you for the opportunity.
A 3D Print STEM Ambassador – Final Thoughts
I’m so thankful that Grant came on the show and that we were able to really talk in depth far beyond the CEL Robox Dual 3D Printer, which I still am very excited that one is going to be coming our way that we can experience and review. Because I’ll tell you, those valves I think are a game changer in terms of fuse filament fabrication in 3D printing and not having material ooze or go where you don’t wanted to or catch on a part because it’s dripping. It just causes so many problems. I’m dying to do it and I understand now you can count on that review coming here probably in the third quarter of the year.
I really enjoyed so much getting into the conversations with Grant about STEM education, the importance of 3D printing, the opportunities. What surprised me was his feeling that if you don’t use a 3D printer to create something new and you’re just printing things you download off the internet, that you’re missing some of the opportunity with a 3D printer. I know all of you don’t agree with that and I respect different perspectives and opinions so don’t write to me and say I’m all only about design. Because no, I understand the engineering opportunities and benefits and also just educational, downloading files and printing them and learning about the machine. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with just tinkering with the machine if that’s really what you’re into, nothing wrong whatsoever. It was fun to speak with somebody so likeminded in certain ways when it comes to design and 3D printers and manufacturing. I do agree that the changes in manufacturing and in the face of retail are going to happen, the writing is on the wall. But it will take time to get there.
Lastly, I just want to emphasize and thank Grant for his opinion, which is shared by us. His opinion that designers need to be compensated for the work that they do. This is true with engineers as well, not just designing parts. I’ll tell you, if you’re new to CAD, you’re just getting into it or maybe you’re experienced, then you probably know just how much time and effort it really does take to make a good quality design or engineered part in CAD software that is going to print and produce what you want it to. It takes an exorbitant amount of time, a tremendous effort. There is an amazing effort being put in by people all around the world creating files that they’re putting up on file sharing sites. Because really, there’s not much of a market right now for those files. That, I’m excited to see change in the coming years.
Designers and engineers, there needs to be a way to compensate them, to properly monetize the value that they produce. At some point, there’ll be this supply and demand issue and it will tip and shift where companies, retailers, all sorts of different people out there need and demand unique product for whatever the purpose is. They’re going to have to come to designers and engineers to create them. I have no doubt that that will tip and the monetization of that, the economics of that will shift so that everything is not just a free file shared out there. I look forward to that.
Again, thank you, Grant. It was a pleasure. I look forward to speaking with you again in the future on some of these same subjects and new ones that come up. I really appreciate your perspective.
Hope you enjoyed this episode of WTFFF. Feel free to comment if you agree with our opinions or if you have an opposing view, let’s just keep it civil. I’m very happy to have a respectful debate. Of course, you can always reach out to us anywhere on social media to have that conversation @3DStartPoint. Thanks so much for listening, everybody. Talk to you next time. This has been Tom on the WTFFF 3D Printing podcast.
- Grant Mackenzie
- QuickFill Dual-Nozzle Technology
- Ultimaker 3
- Chris Elsworthy
- Power8 Workshop
- Stratasys BST
- Stratasys BST
- Fusion 360
- James Dyson Foundation
- Martin Moore
- STEM Learning UK
About Grant Mackenzie
Grant is the Sales Manager for CEL. He is a STEM Ambassador. He is involved in introducing 3D printing for schools and colleges to encourage young people to think differently about design and manufacture of products. He also promotes 3D printers as tools to aid product development through iterative design in a cyclic process of prototyping, testing, analysis and refinement.
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