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It’s Tuesday Tech Tuesday, and today is hyper tech Tuesday. Covering the topics and questions that were asked at our event with MatterHackers, but we have grouped them in a way that makes it more logical. Today’s group is for new users, and tomorrows group will be for more advanced users.
Listen to the podcast here:
Ask Us Anything – MatterHackers Event Part 1
The cheapest way to get started with 3D printing?
A couple weeks ago on a Thursday evening, MatterHackers hosted this event at their headquarters in Lake Forest, CA. They had a decent amout of space and put our MeetUp notices and people from the community who have an interest in 3D printing in the community, whether they were customers or not, came in and there were plenty of chairs and refreshments. There was a panel of myself, Tracy, Lars Brubaker, and Taylor Landry.
Lars is the CEO who is a software coder who is one of the ones at MatterHackers who writes, updates, and advances the coding for MatterControl. Taylor is their most highly technical user and tester within the company. Lots of great resources there to answer questions.
At first we answered some questions from a fish bowl, it seemed like the attendees were nervous to ask live questions. Towards the end though, we did take some live questions from the audience. They ended up being follow-up questions to some of the fish bowl questions.
It’s always a great idea, especially if you are new to 3D printing to go out there to some of these meet ups in your area. Good way to feel the energy around 3D printing, but also a good way to meet some of the people who can help you along the way.
There were people asking all sorts of questions, from technical ones, to business ones, to even ones about, “How do I get started,” to CAD questions.
Lars: There are clearly many different ways to get started with 3D printing, and I think of course, we all do our due diligence with researching on the internet, finding resources, watching youtube videos, getting their foot in the water to see what’s 3D printing is and what it’s capabilities are. After that a lot of people use print services or other things if they have a model. So depending on what you are trying to accomplish with 3D printing, if you are actually prototyping, or if you are developing your own models or devices that you’d like to see manufactured, then it can be very useful to get a 3D printing bureau to create those for you, and a very cheap way to find out if it’s going to give you some results to help you along the road.
Then after that, there are many printers that are not too expensive. You can come in here and have dozens of printers we can show you, and we can get a feel for what your needs are and what would work for you.
Taylor: The answer to that question depends on what you want to do.
Tracy: The WHAT!
Taylor: So if you are a small business looking to prototype something, your cheapest that’s going to meet your needs is very different than somebody who is just a hobbyist looking to make some toys and baubles and things at home. The needs for your part or your project come into play with what cheap actually means.
Tom: I would think one thing to consider as a cheap way to get started, is that the cheapest printer available might be your friends printer. So many people are getting them now, or they are available at some libraries or some makerspaces.
Tracy: some of those makerspaces are about $75 a month. That’s pretty cheap
Tom: I’ve even heard of some even less than that to be a member, you buy your own material and use their printer. I actually started 3D printing before the desktop 3D printing industry, I’ve been designing products for a long time and used services like Lars was suggesting. When desktop 3D printing came around, I was nudging my business partner and wife here saying, “Hey, we should get one!” It took me a long time to convince her, but finally I wore her down and convinced her we should spend some money on it and I think it was a good move. But today there are so many more cheaper printers than when we started, so the barrier to entry is a lot lower.
If I were like a high school student, which is actually when I started to learn CAD – back in the early days of Auto CAD – if I had access to a 3D printer I would have been all over it. I would definitely find a friend or get friendly with someone who has one.
Taylor: There are even services where if you own one, you can list your printers. You don’t even have to be “friends” with them, but they will do it much cheaper than a large firm or business. It’s quick and a good way to meet people locally that have resources that you may not.
Tracy: I think the cheapest way to get started 3D printing, is to get started with the design part of 3D printing. That’s the thing that I find most often from people who contact us, is that they typically have not gotten the design part under their belt yet. You should really start there and so much of it is free now a days.
Tom: Well just the modeling part, even if you aren’t a designer and you just want to make something. And I know we are designers, yes, but not everyone is. You wanna make something, how are you going to make that model you want to print? Are you only going to download models, is that going to meet your needs? Maybe it will, but if you are going to make any of your own models the first place has got to be CAD.
Tracy: Yeah, you gotta get CAD under your belt. And then, I think that also helps because then you have something to test at a service bureau. I know I really urge it, and you guys at MatterHackers have done that for us before. They are happy to print for you to test out the printer, you know they have all these models out on display for you. So if you have your model, say “Hey I’m going to buy this for my business and I want to put one on every desk for my engineers, but I want to make sure I get the right printer that’s going to print the right thing.” They are going to advise you, but also they can print it for you so you can see what it looks like. Your WHAT is the most critical part of the decision making process.
Tom: You know, actually, that’s a really good point. And something I think is a big advantage of MatterHackers. I have talked with certain 3D print manufacturers, some even that we have interviewed on our podcast and asked, “If people want to know if your printer is a good fit for them, will you print a part on your printer?” I’ve actually had some say, “No, we don’t have time to do that. I’m spending all my time trying to make sure these printers work, manufacture them, and ship them off the floor.” There to me is a big value add of a service business in addition to a reseller business.
What will it take for 3D printing to cross into our homes – into our consumer homes?
Tracy: So I’m going to start with that one. I think, to be honest with you, that it has. I think that it’s not quite as plug-n-play easy as people expect it to be. But if you already understand the difficulties with your CAD and making your WHAT, you already have a certain level of tolerance for the flexibility that’s required to 3D print. But there are a lot of great plug-n-play printers out there that really do make it consumer viable right now. I mean, I think we have really recommended a few to some children of friends and they have all been really happy with that type of printer that already has everything you need: filament, the slicing, everything happens all in one. That’s a good consumer place to start for a lot of people.
Tom: Some people say, “Someday there is going to be a 3D printer in everybody’s home.” I don’t know if I really believe that, I think it will be in a lot more homes than it is today. And Tracy’s made the analogy several times, and I agree with her, is that I see a 3D printer more like a sewing machine was. Where not everyone has a sewing machine in their home, but a lot of people do and it’s even taught in Home Ec. And 3D printing is not starting to be taught in schools.
Tracy: So you touch it at various points in your education system.
Tom: Yes, like how some people only learn how to hem a pair of pants, or make a simple stitch to repair something. While other people are going to get into it and do it to the point where they learn how to make a dress for an evening gown or something. So there are many levels. But sewing machines, when you think about modern ones, they have all these pre-programmed stitches, or they will do embroidery and some really advanced stuff. And I think 3D printing has some similar comparisons, but where I see 3D printing for consumers, is not necessarily in the home, but when consumers realize they don’t just have to accept the vanilla products that are on every shelf in every Wal-Mart and it can be a little more unique to them. Whether that’s color, or the function of something, or it’s an accessory to a product they bought that a manufacturer can’t justify tooling for and putting in every store.
Tracy: I mean, that’s why we started 3D printing. We have been mass designing products for 20 years, and I’m sick of designing everything in black. So it’s about time we get to try something new, and that’s really what tipped me over when Tom kept bugging me saying we should get a 3D printer. I was saying, “Well, our clients don’t need that.” But the reality is that it is the future and it’s what consumers do want, but they just don’t necessarily know they can get it yet. So they haven’t demanded it.
Tom: Or maybe they don’t know they need it yet.
Taylor: Well I would say there’s probably a couple different things holding it back. The number one question I get from people that haven’t even heard of 3D printing, or maybe have heard of it but haven’t really seen it, is “What would I do with it?” And once there is a compelling answer to that, it doesn’t matter where you’re coming from. If you’re a stay at home mom or an engineer, if you have an answer to that question, then 3D printing will get to you. You’ll see the need, and if there isn’t a compelling answer, then it’s not going to get into your house. So you can come at that from a whole bunch of different ways. Whether it’s companies that are putting out designs specifically for 3D printers, or products that can be customized after the fact like, buy this one thing and then you can print all these custom add ons or whatever it is.
Once there is an answer to, “What can I do with it?” which is the biggest barrier to 3D printing right now. Hardware is crazy how much it has improved over the past two and half to three years. Same with materials. When I bought my first printer, they were literally three options: PLA, ABS and woodfill. That was it. I think we have over 50 that we sell now, in less than 3 years. Same with printers, there were maybe two or three that were viable options. We’ve got over 60 now that we sell. There are new ones every week, new materials every month. And with those materials and hardware, there’s new options for applications and so there are more answer to the question, “What can I do with it?”
And once that become answered for 80% of the people, then you’ll see it in 80% of the homes, or whatever the number is. If you can’t answer that question, then you’re not going to buy a printer.
Lars: I think one of the thing, and there’s an analogy I can draw to it, is if you’ve ever been to a Makerfaire, it’s this really incredible experience to feel all these people and see all these people that are engaged and enabling themselves. Whether it’s through sewing, or electrical engineering, or even 3D printing. And to watch how 3D printing has evolved through these shows. 3D printing was originally this very niche little piece of the show, and it’s sequestered very interesting, very hobbyist, very hacker-y. And now when we go to a show, like in New York this last year, there is a 3D printing area, it’s quiet professional, but the thing that is really telling about what 3D printer are, is that every single part of that show, everywhere has 3D printed objects in them – 3D printed fictures, 3D printed stuff is the whole show. It’s become ubiquitous, it’s become just this instrument that everybody would use at that place to satisfy the thing that they are creating or the things that they need. I really think it will enter the home through hobbyist and through small business and other things in a compelling way.
But when it really gets there is when it just becomes a utility. None of us really think about if we have a dishwasher or a washing machine or anything else. But if you had a 3D printer in the way that a sewing machine can be in your house and you’re just saying this is a utility that I use sometimes. Or it’s something that is fundamental to my childrens sixth grade education. I think that is a big avenue. And I think that second part is the killer app for 3D printing will just continue to evolve. When you think about what you do with a computer, what you really do is just brose the internet and play video games and watch movies. And that doesn’t seem like that utility would have ever justified getting a computer to everybody and have a lot of other fundamental utility, but it’s main function is to kind of do this passive entertainment. I think 3D printing will ultimately find those same sorts of niches in people’s lives where it becomes an important part of something you don’t think much about.
How is 3D printing being used in K-12 schools?
Lars: My kids are in K-12 right now, so it’s very useful. I think that we are seeing it being brought into school to teach them design concepts and to explore lots of science concepts in a concrete way. So it’s both as the device that they are learning on – in the way that you would take a CAD class and this becomes a concrete way to output those results. But the other place that we are seeing it happen a lot, is for the teachers in the class to be more engaged in any particular subject, whether that’s geometry, physics, or astronomy. And we are printing out models that are demonstrating these concepts.
We recently had a STEM program come in here and pitch us the curriculum that they are building, and we have some education packages that we have put together, and we are really looking for these kinds of collaborations where this curriculum can be partnered with printers and devices to give the complete package. These packages are amazing, they really bring students in to touching and understanding and observing and being engaged that is really fundamental. I don’t know how many of these things we can actually talk about, but I recently saw just an example of gravity wells. They had a model that showed how deep these gravity wells are and where the planet sits in the depth of that gravity well and it was incredibly illuminating to me. I have a background in physics and engineering and I had never really thought about, “How can the moon be so much smaller and have a sixth of the gravity of the earth?” And that model showed it in an intuitive way. I think that those sort of intuitions that can be handed to a student, with a model to deliver to every school would cost $50 or $100 at some of these models, but you can 3D print them for 50 cents, and the teacher can have an unlimited supply connected to a digital repository – that’s where you start to change the capabilities of that teacher and that educational environment.
Taylor: And I’ve even heard of things, I don’t know where it was from, might not have been K-12, but it still applies, where new chemicals have been “discovered” because they had 3D printed molecules that somebody was playing around with, configuring and assembling in ways that hadn’t been done before just because it was tactile in front of them. Now there is a new material, a new molecule, new polymeyer – whatever it was that wasn’t in existence, just because they had something printed out that they could manipulate in a tactile way that wasn’t just theoretical on paper.
Tom: We get a lot of questions from schools and school teachers on WTFFF?! From teachers who have just been thrown into 3D printing and have been told, “You will teach 3D printing,” and they will write to us and say, “HELP! I don’t know where to start, do you have any suggestions for projects?” Some of them are just learning. One school, I think it was in Indiana called us up – they had gotten a grant of a couple thousand dollars and wanted suggestions on what printer they should buy. Those are tough things for us to answer without a whole lot of context. But recently we have seen some projects that I think are really good examples, like this project to create a digital sundial, and what that can teach students about so many different things is great. Like one, obviously about 3D printing cause that’s what they are going to do, they are going to print it out and make it. It’s a kit that you 3D print part of it and use some found objects to combine with it. But you learn about the angle of the sun relative to the earth at your particular latitude on the globe, and how the design of the sundial has been done so you can adjust the pitch of it so you can relate it to the right angle of the sun. So many different things about science it’s teaching students is so wonder, but in a practical, easily printable object that they can experience.
Lars: It’s just so amazing, because you can imagine that you could buy that kit, but how much does that kit cost? It costs $20 minimum, and if you lose a part of it, it doesn’t work anymore. But also, like you are saying, there’s so much investigation for all the different elements of that in math, and geometry, and the physics of it that come along as part of that lesson, and also if you need to adjust any of those parts – it is possible. They could actually be printed out for you, at your longitude, at your latitude, at your whatever, and that is incredible to be able to say this is specific to what you are doing and where you are doing it.
Tom: I couldn’t agree more. And you know I also like the opportunity because yes, I’m a designer and I went to art school, yes I do CAD and am somewhat technical, but I went to art school and I don’t like it when we hear about STEM because I want it to be STEAM and add the A in there. Projects like this are wonderful for the traditional STEM curriculum and disciplines, but each student can then make that project/object their own by altering or adding to it by adding a little bit of their personality to it.
Tracy: I think that is the most exciting thing, is that we have a 6 almost 7 year old daughter, and she’s taking this STEM after school class. She comes home and she’s hot glued together bottle caps and all sorts of stuff into robots and all kinds of unusual things. And what she says to me is, ” I had fun, but the feet don’t really look like feet and I wish I could have used something different for eyes.” The idea that she could just 3D print it is in her wheel house because she sees it run every day in our house. She knows that she can do this, she’s used enough of the CAD programs we’ve introduced her to to know that it is possible. It’s almost dissatisfying to them at a certain level when they get through these STEM programs to realize that, gosh I could be doing so much more than that.
Thinking about what they are going to develop is what is most exciting about the K-12 programs. Like what Taylor mentioned about the new molecules. We’ve been hearing about people who have developed new air flow and water flow dynamics because they can do something that cannot be manufactured in any other method. Their minds are going to be so much more opened, just having been able to actually grasp the concept of 3 dimensions. It’s one thing to learn CAD – and we’ve experienced this a lot and is one of the reasons why we have been more successful as designers, is that we actually go there, prototype things, make them. We don’t just hand them off after they are just a computer model. We know what they are going to look like, we’ve felt them, we’ve touched them, we’ve sat at them. So when kids can do that, it starts to have this successful failure and generational learning that goes on that doesn’t always happen in any other method. So I think it is essential.
Lars: It is so true, my kids have such a different sense on what is possible and what they are capable of. They sit down at the table – and I just can’t even imagine – they get sewing needles and aluminum foil, and they literally TinkerCAD up something, print it out and they make something. I mean when I was ten I did not think I could make stuff like they are. I tried to make and R2D2 and I sanded a block of wood for two weeks and it was mostly just a block of wood.
Tracy: I think it is essential, and as a parent its essential that we are making sure that our schools are putting this in. Competitively world wide, this is where the jobs are going to be, in engineering and in design. When that happens there will be such a demand for it. You want your kids to have futures, that get to use these types of skills and to have an aptitude for it. There has to be some type of coursework for them, there’s gotta be structure in the schools to support that. It can’t just be from you as the parent, even though that’s where it starts.
What are you going to make?
Tom: That’s the big question. So we have this CEO of a company that’s a client of ours, that’s for conventional designing of product for mass retail. They were at a conference and they had these marketing people come in and tell them about the future of business – and these are companies that are in the business of producing and selling physical products at retail that are made by traditional manufacturing – and what these marketing people said to these companies is that you all better watch out and change your business, because in 15 years you all will be dinosaurs and there’s not going to be as much demand for the physical things you are making because people are going to be able to 3D print so much more locally. The big opportunity and need for jobs is going to be for designers and engineers to create those things that everybody is going to need and want to 3D print.
What’s your favorite thing you’ve printed?
Tom: Wow, I want to hear from the MatterHackers folks, cause you’ve printed a lot more than we have.
Taylor: I’d guess I’d have to break it out into different categories. The thing I printed the most, was what got me
into 3D printing. I had an electric skateboard company, and I had a part that was sitting on my desk for 2 years. It didn’t make any financial sense to tool it for injection molding, and it wasn’t viable to have it milled out of aluminum, and so it just sat. I had a 3D printed object of it as a sample to see what it’d look like, but I had no way to manufacture it.
And so I literally was skateboarding by Lars and the guys at MatterHackers, saw their sign, walked in and said, “Let me go get a part and see if you guys can make it,” and I brought them back the part that was printed at the commercial design service. An hour and a half later they brought over the part and said, “Here you go.” I put it on my skateboard and it worked – and that was it. They said they could make them for me, but I asked if I could just buy a printer and make it myself and so I did. I spent the next 6-9 months just printing that. I printed that part all day, every day until I got it dialed in to the point where it became a consumer product. I didn’t have to manufacture it, I could make it on a large scale, I could make it to order. It was actually sellable, useable, and functional. It was a product that didn’t exist, and couldn’t exist because of traditional manufacturing.
My favorite types of prints are prints that you can use in a functional purpose like fishing lures, one of which has a record for catching a large mouth bass. We’ve printed custom dog splints for huskies. Blown up models of the cochlea, the inner ear part. Models for court cases, like car accident investigation. Somebody scanned the crashed model of the car, so we printed it and they could hold it in court and say, “This is what the car looked like, here’s how it rolled.” And they could hold it, the scaled down version of the car and see how it crashed.
Lars: My favorite things that I’ve printed have brought just very marginal utility to my family, like I’ve printed presents for my family. Like I printed guitar picks where I wrote my nephews name on it or put an emblem from some video game that he loved. I printed out some poetry for one of my sisters on a plaque.
I’ve printed a bunch of functional things for my wife. We had garland and the hooks on the wall didn’t hold it correctly, so I printed hooks that fit and held it perfectly. I fixed a shelving rack in our garage. And to me that’s just the coolest thing ever when I’m at this impasse where Home Depot doesn’t carry the replacement part any longer and I could take back the whole thing, or I could go to my computer and literally five minutes, some of these things are so simple, I can design that part and 15 minutes later I have that part. Doing that over and over is amazing.
My hands down favorite thing is when the kids actually design something and want to print it. My youngest daughter when she was 10, made doll furniture for a doll house that we made out of wood. She modeled up in TinkerCAD a whole set of doll furniture and we printed it all out. She had shopped Thingiverse and she was like, “None of this is right. I need it my way.” It was just awesome cause she got it.
Tracy: I think that’s kind of my favorite thing too. We print every day, we print tie and angels at the holidays, and I like them. But I think the ones that are my favorite is the ones that are completely personal. Early on we did these garden stakes which were gifts for my dad, and he has this great garden and it was a Father’s Day gift, and it had his name, it said ‘Papa’s Garden’ on it and it had the name of each type of seed. So you would just put the stake in the ground and they were color matched to be like green for peas and red for tomatoes, and the girls picked out the colors. To me the thought that went into it, it wasn’t even that difficult to change the text on it and re do it and print it. You’re gonna print them one by one, why not make each one different. To me that’s the beauty of 3D printing, that’s what’s so great about it. And here they get a gift that cost all of like 20 cents in plastic, but it’s so personal.
We’ve done the same kind of thing with our angel where we did a memorial angel gift for all the donors who donated a gift for a woman that had just passed away. I loved being able to do that to where everyone was able to take home something that was magnet to stick on their fridge or it was something to put on their Christmas tree. Where it gets that personal, that’s what I love to print.
Tom: For me, I get most excited designing and printing things that cannot be made any other way but by 3D printing. 3D printers have a unique ability. There’s also absolutely nothing wrong with using it to prototype things that are going to be injection molded and making end use products for a short run to prove a market before you would tool for something. But for me, I don’t want to 3D print something that can be injection molded – at least it couldn’t be done without creating it into multiple parts and multiple molds at a great expense.
This tie for instance, was the result of about 200 hours of design and testing time. It’s all interlocked and you could not make this through any other conventional manufacturing process without it being made into a lot of pieces that get glued or snapped together. I’m working on designing a purse for Tracy, and a watch band – and all these I’m trying to exploit and highlight the new and unique possibilities that 3D printing can bring.
When do you buy a 3D printer vs using a printing service? Or what is the cut over point (size, cost, material, complexity) to go from the personal to the service provider?
Taylor: So I made that decision immediately when I first approached Lars for that part for the skateboard because my first question was, “How much would it cost for you to make this part for me?” And the response was about $20. My follow up was, “How much cost was there in the material?” And the answer was like $2. So you can do the math real quick – how many of these would I have to make for it to make sense for me to just buy the printer and print them myself as opposed to hiring them, or hiring somebody else to do it. That’s a really simple analysis, but if you don’t have a project like that, then it is less clear.
Lars: Another way to look at that question is, when you have that tool that is in your house or your office, it changes your capability on what you’re thinking about and how you are developing that in such a fundamental way. So I did game development for a long time, and when it’s hard for your designers to put something into the game, it will appear in the game very rarely. And you might think, “well there’s only five of these in the whole game, so there’s no reason for us to build the tool that makes it easy for them to put into the game.” But if you build that tool, there’s 15,000 of them throughout the game because it’s so easy to put them in, and that can become this ubiquitous thing that changes your capability.
So when you are imagining that you don’t need a 3D printer cause you are only going to print 30 of these things and it’s not worth it cause you can just source them out to a bureau. I would argue that you might want a 3D printer anyway because if you are making something that you are going to sell 30 of, having the printer might mean that you make 50 things that you can print 30 of.
Tracy: But it also goes a little bit farther than that, and that’s what we’ve discovered as product designers and developers, is that it actually allows you to go through a refinement process that you wouldn’t take the time to do, or spend the money on, otherwise. You wouldn’t fix something, you would just let it go and say, “Oh it’ll be fine, no one will notice.” But it is noticeable, those things add up.
And the features that you can do – we had someone that was creating robotic drones and doing all sorts of things with them. The ability that they had to run through and test out and actually fly them and figure out what was going wrong, and to make something lighter or different. If they had tooled for that, or gone that far through the service bureau, there’s no way that they would have gone through that many iterations and gotten to the perfect point where it was flying just exactly as it should and doing what they wanted it do it. So that’s what we’ve found, is that 3D printing crunches down that product development. Even though we make, for the most part, a lot of really big products – chairs and furniture, we still make 3D print pieces of our products because you just can’t see something and see how it’s working and go through those iterations otherwise. Yet a $30,000 tool rides on my decision to say, “Yeah, that detail is good enough,” and a lot of times it’s not.
Tom: It also depends on the context of WHAT you are going to print, and what the need and or market for that product is. So my mother has a horse farm, and the product that they buy is sort of a rubbery boot for a horse’s hoof to protect it in certain situations. So she asked me, “Could you 3D print that?” She sent me some pictures of it and it’s actually an object that is ideal and pretty easy to 3D print. She thought 3D printed objects are only hard plastics, so I told her that there are actually flexible materials that can be used since the horse boots are rubbery. So when she realized that – wow I can 3D print these and make them for myself – since they wear out easily and are pretty expensive in the limited horse market, and they wear out fairly quickly. She was pretty excited to be able to get them more custom sized for each individual horses’ hooves, and that they could do it right there on the farm and not have to order it and wait.
Tracy: And they don’t have to know a lot about CAD, all they have to know is how to resize something and print it out again. So once the model is created for them, they didn’t really have to learn anything but how to run the machine, which is pretty easy.
Tom: So it’s a great example of using 3D printing as an end use product, and not just as a tool to prototype. Maybe you never need to tool for it – maybe it’s just a 3D printed product.
Tracy: But the case for still using a service bureau, cause we still do, is the materials. So we are not going to have a metal 3D printer, it’s just not going to be viable. But there are metal, ceramics, glass, there’s a whole bunch of great materials to print in. A lot of the time, we will create a design and get it the way we want it and then we go and have it printed at a service bureau in a special material. We wait until we know it is right though. I can’t imagine trying to start 3D printing that way though, it would have been costly and time consuming. It would be frustrating to spend $50 for an item to be printed and to not have it come out like you wanted. So we really dial in the design and then decide to print it out at a bureau.
What can you expect your first 3D printing experiences to be like as a new user? What you would interface with the software and how that can be tough or optimized in some way?
Tracy: That’s a really good question because when we first got into 3D printing, we did not have a plan or any sort of expectations. We were sort of just like, Oh it’s a printer – we didn’t really think it all the way through.
Tom: I remember the first time I tried to print something, it had this massive overhang, and I didn’t really understand what support was for. I just punched it all in, sliced it with no supports, printed it and had a heck of a stringy mess. You learn quick.
Tracy: So this is my plan for you: If you have a spouse at home, or a significant other at home that is going to be completely annoyed with the fact that you have not printed anything successful off it, and you’ve spent $3,000 on it and it’s weekends and nights and you’re in the garage all the time – get yourself on Thingiverse, Pinshape, or one of those sites and have a plan to once a week print that person out something pretty. And when you do that, you keep them happy! You want to have a game plan because it takes a lot of time.
Tom: That’s not user experience… that’s collateral user experience.
Tracy: Okay, maybe the plan should be to spend more time on the design part of it before your printer comes in. Trying to go through that process of really figuring out what you want to make before you even buy the printer – which that has shocked me so often is that someone buys a printer and they have no clue what they are going to do with it. To think through that process will help make it more successful to you.
In my mind the right order is to first think about the WHAT. And the WHAT can change – and it’s changed for us, which is why we’ve gone through a couple different printers. What would be the most fun, why are you so excited about 3D printing, what got you into it, what got you intrigued by it, what did you see? When you think that through it leads you to the right type of printer, the right type of software, solid versus parametric, etc.
Lars: I think it is super valid to have an understanding what you are going to print, because that influences everything about that process. But I didn’t think, just to describe that first time user experience, is we did an hour class for teachers in elementary school about our software and how to use it and what they are going to do. This class is going on and on and on about the details, and they are looking at how to get their students up and using the 3D printer, to get them excited about it. They were just going to use the text creator, which is built into MatterControl and allows you to type in your name, hit save and hit print. We go through all these details about setting up the printer, and they walk over to the printer to actually do and they say, “So what do I do now?” So I had them click the text creator, type in their name, and click print. They wanted to know, “What was all that stuff about that we did for the last hour?” I was like, oh well that’s all edgecase – to make this printer work all you do is click the print button. So it was way different than their expectation.
Tracy: It was intimidating!
Taylor: The nice thing, though when you are just starting, is if you don’t have frame of reference, as far as quality and all that kind of stuff, so you end up pleasantly surprising yourself. I found a drawer full of some kinds of rejects and things from when I first started 9 months down the road, and I was laughing at how bad they were, but I thought they were great at the time. It is something that it’s not just the first time you hit print is what you are going to get, cause you are going to get better every single time – hopefully at least. So tempering the expectations a little bit, cause you are not going to get this insanely complex and intricate, meshing and gear structure, but know that it is possible without having an engineering degree. It doesn’t have to be intimidating, it’s just a matter of learning the process, finding that WHAT, and learning from you experiences – make it as scientific as you can be.
Tom: I think ideally, for a lot of consumers who are yet to get into 3D printing, the best user experience would be to have success without having to become a technician. I think realistically, in the past and even today, the more you get into it to be more successful you do have to become somewhat of a technician to achieve results. If you enjoy that and you learn from that, that’s great. But I think there’s a whole class of potential users who will reject 3D printing if they have to become technicians. That’s the challenge for software and machines to become better and allow them to do it so they can concentrate on what they are printing instead of how they are printing it. But we are where we are, and it can be quite the balancing act.
- Brett Barney Laboratory Site – 3D Printed Molecules
- 3D Printed Digital Sundial for STEAM lesson plans
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