When you are creating 3D print outputs, the first thing that usually comes to mind is the software. Yet the hardware component of 3D printing is as important as the software in making your workflow better. On today’s podcast, Tom Hazzard and Tracy Hazzard talk with Merrill Mathew about his work with HP on designing 3D print workstations for innovation growth. Merrill is a product designer at HP. Today, he gives an exciting look inside his work with the ZBook Studio workstation – from silent keyboards to the core processor – as well as share some things you have to take into consideration when looking at buying any type of workstation.
Watch the episode here:
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Designing 3D Print Workstations for Innovation Growth with Merrill Mathew
This special series is sponsored by HP. In our continuing episodes about workflow and some of the different tools you can use, we are finally having a discussion about hardware.
We’re talking about designing for technical and creative professionals and designing the systems that they will use. Not the software necessarily, but all of that as an ecosystem. That goes along the lines of the collaboration, cooperation, and all the things that we have been looking at in terms of a holistic process and a holistic experience that HP has been promoting and working within. What we found is that they practice what they preach in terms of how they design things and how they expect other people to be able to use them. They’re using the tools just like you and I. That’s what I think is fun about this episode is that we’re getting a little insight into how they’re creating the hardware, which is what many of you are out there doing when you’re creating 3D print. Your output is a product. It’s something hard.
Thinking about that, it’s not always digital. Let’s take a listen to that processing and what they’re going through internally. We have Merrill Mathew. He was originally from Dallas, Texas and pursued a path to Pharmacy in college, but realized that his passion was in Art and Design quickly. He pursued a career path in Industrial Design starting in Detroit. He has a background in Automotive Design and the opportunity to work on interior designs for RAM and Jeep. He has been working on the HP ZBooks along with the talented team at HP. He works in the department Z by HP and working on the Z workstations and the creative studio and the other things that they have going on there. Let’s learn from Merrill.
Thanks for joining us on the show. It’s great to have you.
Thank you for having me.
I think it’s important to have your perspective because while we’ve talked to people involved in software and hardware in terms of the 3D printers, we have not spoken to anyone involved in the hardware of the actual laptops, workstations, backpacks that HP has available for the hardware side of the component. You are on the ID team and have been directly involved in creating the design of these workstations. I think that the impression that people have about the hardware that they’re using must be very important. In some ways, it’s as important as software.
I would think it makes a lot of sense to take a look at that in terms of how is that helping you with your workflow better.
When we were working on the Z, we had to think about the product. It wasn’t about packaging some of the parts into this device. We had to think about the people that we were designing for. When we were thinking about how we’re going to build this workstation, we wanted to see how it would resonate with customers. When customers build something, they’re always passionate about their creation when developing the product. We’re going to make sure that we designed a tool that makes that process feel seamless. That was a huge emphasis on workflow. When we talk about workflow, we had to focus on some of the main aspects. Like for example in 3D CAD, the keyboard display, and performance all have to work homogeneously in our systems to deliver the best experience. Our focus when we were developing this product was to build that best tool to enhance that workflow.
It strikes me like there are many characteristics of things that we don’t think about. We don’t always do that. We buy a computer and we aren’t necessarily thinking about like, “Does this fit my workflow?” Then you find out it’s not working well for what you want it to do. We’ve just discovered here that not every computer is created equal when you now have to go on Zoom and do virtual backgrounds. I didn’t know I needed to buy that and I only bought a computer months ago. We have to think harder about these choices that we’re making, not in the software, but in the hardware that we’re using to make sure they run smoothly and do what we want.
If you’re trying to buy a device, for example our Z Studio and our Z Create, our workstation notebooks, you have to think about what kind of performance you’re trying to adhere to. For example, when you look at the processor, if you’re doing 3D printing, you have to look at the right specs and what it will do for that device, for software like SolidWorks. The core of SolidWorks is predominantly single-threaded, meaning that it can solve one task at a time. If you’re trying to build 3D part and if you want to do stress tests on the materials, you have to look at high-end processing power like Intel Xeon processing chip instead of investing in a machine with a lot of processing cores which is probably more suitable for rendering. You also have to take into consideration the memory.
I say it’s always important to give yourself some extra room for memory in the future. I’ve run into situations where I’ve run out of memory and it slows down the performance when multitasking. When you’re rendering in the background on the different applications while you’re working in 3D CAD. The sweet spots for most users are between 16 to 32 gigabytes. The third thing that we focus on performance is the GPU. There’s a huge stress on GPU in the industry. When you’re designing in 3D CAD, we spend a lot of time zooming, panning, and rotating.
These studios focus on these use cases and we outfit their GPS for these specific tasks. When you’re rendering, a high-end GPU will save you more render time, making you more productive and enhancing your workflow. In a rendering use case, the Z Create is a useful device for video editors and game developers to handle applications like Unreal Engine, Adobe Premiere or Maya. It’s important to outfit your device with a high-end GPU. Those are the three components that you have to take into consideration when you’re looking at buying any type of workstation.
You’ve been involved in several different projects with a lot of these different kinds of hardware solutions. The technology changes fast in terms of the needs and what the software demands. That’s got to be challenging. The impression that maybe a device that was intended for gaming needs to be changed to make the right impression in a corporate environment, presentation world, have you had to deal with some of those?With the #ZBookStudio and ZBook Create, we wanted to create a device that functions well across all these creative applications. @hp @zbyhp Click To Tweet
You guys sell to a lot of technical and creative professionals, not hobbyist or not just gamers.
We’re seeing a lot more of gaming notebooks enter the workstation industry. It’s becoming competitive. When we started looking at how we can differentiate ourselves, we have to focus back on the workflow and the core performance of our notebooks. When you look at the workstation device, you have to consider what makes this workstation more professional than a gaming device. We look at competitors who are starting to leverage their existing chassis by putting components from their gaming and putting it from the gaming chassis and rebranding it as a workstation. It works. You started to see Nvidia rollout with their RTX and their GPUs. It’s helping expand the workstations and giving users more opportunities for customization and a wide selection of computers to choose from.
I think it’s interesting that we are looking at hardware because people come to us all the time to design products and they think, “We’re designing the prettiest aesthetic on the outside.” It’s a lot of education on our part and I feel like that’s what we’re getting from you as well. We have to know what it’s going to be used for, how it might be used in the future, or how it might be misused. There’s a whole bunch of bigger picture things. It’s like designing a building and a room within the building. We don’t know what’s going to happen in that building.
You may intend for it to be a conference space now but it might be a training room tomorrow and the day after that, it might be a series of private offices. We don’t know what’s going to happen with it. Many people look at that and say, “I’m going to drive and make everything generic. We’re going to do it up to this standard. I’m not going to worry and think about that.” You guys have taken different approach. You said, “No, I want to get in. I want to understand the creative mindset, the workflow. I want to be ahead of that to understand where it might be going, so we can do a better job of giving them something that they’re investing in buying and it’s going to get more than just short-term use out of it.”
One of the things that we focus on during this pandemic, we’re all working remotely from our homes and we’ve noticed issues. For example, when we’re conferencing, we may have audio issues or even camera issues. We’re taking these things into higher consideration as we continue.
You’re experiencing them yourself and then incorporating into the new plan. I noticed on the list, quiet keyboards. I would like quiet keyboards on every single computer because we tend to record in the rooms where other people are and we would love that.
One of the challenges when we were building our Workstation Zis we wanted to make sure it had a very thin profile. If you are building a thin profile, you have to consider all the components underneath the chassis. We had to think about the fans for the thermals. We had to think about the keyboard and because the fans sit right below the keyboard, we had to think about the key travel. One of the complaints from users that we’ve interviewed is that they wanted a very distinct key travel. We looked at 1.3-millimeter key travel. That’s very important because we think about forced display displacement, which in mechanics is when the object moves from one point to another. It provides them tactical feedback and it makes that workflow important. If the key travel isn’t right, the experiences isn’t optimal.
If it’s too much, it’s loud.
We had to put dampeners underneath the key to provide that quiet experience. That was also an important aspect because creators are working in different spaces. We have a gig economy and a lot of people working from home. You don’t want to create a disturbance. As much as we have high key travel, it was important to apply those scissor mechanisms.
I’ve got to try one of these because I’m a loud typer.
Our Z Studio has a thin profile.
I’m a loud typer. I’ll make people want to leave the room. I would love to try one of these quiet keyboards and that might bring some peace to our office environment.
There is no typing allowed in the bedroom. That is a rule in our house. There is no computers and no typing allowed because it’s loud.
I’m a loud typer too and sometimes people may think I’m sending out an angry email, but I’m not.
That’s the thing. I think people think, “What is wrong with you?” I’m like, “I don’t know. I’m typing.”
These seem like minor things, but in the end, they all go to both the user experience of it. That’s what you guys have done to the nth degree. You’re looking at the user experience of everything. You’re always making progressive improvements to making sure that you’re ready for the next step and the next future, which is what I want to touch on next. There are lots of gaming systems entering into the professional environments but there’s also VR entering into those professional environments. Now, we have this but they’re not necessarily being used for gaming purposes. They’re being used for design and development purposes. We now have to have even more robust systems to start incorporating and being able to utilize those. How do you project, forecast and trend out to decide, “Is this worth building in now or do we wait?”We've taken advantage of #3Dprinting and been #rapidprototyping a lot of our parts during the initial phase of the development.@hp @zbyhp Click To Tweet
There’s a fine line because for example, VR is a trending topic and I still think it’s a trending topic. I think the technology still needs some improvement. We have VR in our Z Studio. We have the application available. There’re three things that we want to think about when you’re building something in CAD and VR. One aspect is you’re designing the product or building the actual product. The second part is you’re visualizing the product or rendering the product and you can see it in VR with different materials. There’s then the third aspect, which is you can do a simulation test in VR whether you’re rotating and moving the tool or you can see if there’s an inflection point for breaking the product.
With the Z Studio and Z Create, we wanted to create a device that functions well across all these creative applications, whether you’re an Adobe Suite or 3D modeling in Rhino SolidWorks or Catia or rendering in KeyShot. There isn’t a one size machine that fits for all types for all your applications. We like to understand what the customer wants before we point them to the direction of, “The Z Create or the Z Studio is better for you.”
You’re thinking about that based on how they work, how you design the machine, and how the whole system works together. You’re helping to guide them best into the solution that’s going to work the longest for them.
Before, desktops were the ideal set up for workstations and now because we have the introduction of mobile workstations, we can achieve an identical performance because of the technology we have. We want to use that technology to cater to these customers so they can enhance their work environments and their workflows.
How has the emergence of 3D printing, especially with the multi-jet fusion printers from HP, changed your approach to some of the hardware needs and the configurations of these workstations?
Or your own design process?
We’re wondering how has that informed or changed some of what you’re working on with these workstation solutions?
For 3D printing, one of the things that we are constantly looking from in the 3D industry is from a manufacturing perspective and how this will open up opportunities for the user to design things in new ways whether it’s in parametric or through surfaces. We have challenges with the limited capabilities, how we construct our chassis for our notebooks or desktops. We want to make sure it withstands our durability requirements in the commercial space. We want to see how this will develop as 3D printing introduces new ways to print or mold or assemble materials from a high-volume manufacturing perspective.
You’re thinking about maybe how you might incorporate 3D print parts and other things like that. I also want to know, has it changed the way you design hardware?
It hasn’t changed the way we design hardware yet because we haven’t started 3D printing parts yet, but what we have done is we’ve been rapid prototyping a lot of our parts during the initial phase of the development. 3D printing is something that we take advantage of a lot from that perspective because even though we see things on screen and when we’re building a product out, there’s nothing than seeing the device in your own hands. Even if it’s out of some polymer because we like to feel what the customers are experiencing. We make sure we hold it in our hands and understand, is this the right material that we’re going to implement on this device? We do a lot of rent cuts to get a sample size of our one-to-one scale of our products. It is something that we take advantage of daily when we’re constantly developing
I bet that speeds things up for you.
It has. I talked to people who have worked a lot longer in the industry as designers and they’re very envious of all the capabilities we have now that they didn’t have before.
I think about that all the time because we started designing furniture early on and it’s a large scale. Foam core and cardboard models and all of those things. Being able to even scale on a small scale has helped out tremendously before you move up to a bigger scale. We get how that has helped and has helped move it through. We’ve been going over in this series, we talked about generative design and the creative workflow process in and of itself. Are there challenges to working with those types of processes, that we should look at and say, “We need special hardware. We need something special?” For someone who says, “I have these needs of a high creative workflow or generative design process,” if I’m in the market to go buy a new system, what are the questions I should be asking myself before I go out there and buy it, especially when I’m considering my creative workflow, generative design and all of these things that I might be using it for?
I think you have to ask yourself what are the needs that you’re using this device for. When you’re using a workstation, you can outfit it to the highest GPU, but do you need the highest graphic performance or do you need the highest cores? Depending on whether you’re building a model or you’re rendering a model, they are very different applications. If you’re rendering, you’ll need more cores, but you might not need more cores when you’re building the product and CAD. I think it’s good to educate yourself on what are the requirements that you need for the type of applications. If you go to our Workstation website, you can see based on the software you use that we put together based on your needs what the type of product you’re looking for.
It makes me think about something you did say which is thinking about maybe overbuying and I think that’s true. You need to buy for the future and not for where you are now. When I go and buy a computer, sometimes my thought process is simply, “I keep running out of hard disk space. That’s the only problem I want to solve.” That’s not the solution because I keep running out of hard disk space because I’m rendering videos and I’m doing all of these other things. I need a system that does more. Asking yourself the “what” because that’s what we’re all here about on WTFFF because it stands for What The Fuse Filament Fabrication. The what is critically important as what you want to do with this in order to get out what you want in the future.It's good to educate yourself on the #ZStudioworkstation requirements that you need for the type of applications you’re using. @hp @zbyhp Click To Tweet
Something you said made a lot of sense where you could be overbuying on your processor and the number of cores, and you think you’re buying this workstation that’s going to help you be more efficient. The reality is depending on the software, you may only need one core processor. That’s the tricky part. I think it’s important to dial in what kind of work you’re going to be doing the most and how you’re going to be most efficient in doing that. We all need more RAM. We can all use 32 gigabytes of RAM but it’s not all about short-term memory. It’s about the different ways things get processed. Rendering is a lot more intensive versus creating models in CAD. I wonder how does that change with some of the VR stuff and some of these modeling and 3D and some of these VR worlds, maybe you need it all?
It depends on what you’re trying to do in VR, from a visual standpoint. If you’re trying to build something in CAD, you don’t have to build something in CAD using VR because you’re looking at the display. If you’re trying to render something in KeyShot and you want to see it in a VR perspective, it saves you that print time so you can quickly see what your product looks like before you take it to the 3D printer. I think it creates that gap where you’re not printing things unnecessarily and wasting material.
One of the other problems that I think we’ve found over our careers in designing, in general, is color accuracy. Much of our work doesn’t end up in print. A lot of it ends up in digital. How has that been challenging in hardware development?
It’s been very challenging because when we look at different panels, they all have a different set of color gamut. Our best display is our dream color display. It’s the most accurate, in terms of rendering in KeyShot.
How fast is the pace of development of these workstations? How quickly are they changing? It must be challenging for you.
It’s very challenging because every year there’s always some new device that comes out with better technology. It’s a thinner profile and we’re always competing with our markets to make sure we keep up with the trends because otherwise, there are many choices available with workstations. It’s a two-year life cycle, usually for developing the product. The first few months is concepting the idea and trying to build a story around what are we trying to build. The next year and a half are constantly grinding with engineering. It’s a fun process. It’s very challenging because our engineering department, marketing, project management has the requirements that they need to follow. At HP where everybody works very well together here, it’s been a positive experience and that’s why we were able to develop the Z Studio the way it did. It was a lot of long nights and a lot of conferencing with our partners overseas in Asia and here in California. Even those few years, it’s constant iterations and the time goes by quickly.
Merrill, thanks much for joining us. We appreciate the insights you’ve given us into the hardware development and the workflow side of things.
Thank you, guys. I thank you for having me for this show. I appreciate it.
Designing 3D Print Workstations for Innovation Growth with Merrill Mathew — Final Thoughts
Working in hardware has got to be tough. Its fast-paced. Technology changes all the time. It’s a one-or two-year cycle. You’re starting to work on a project that is not a product not going to be on the market for two more years. How do you predict all of that?
In the beginning, we mentioned that Merrill had a background in Automotive Design and I know from my early days in automotive design that the life cycle is incredibly long. It can be ten years or twelve years sometimes from the time that you begin designing parts and interior fabrics. That’s what I was working on in my early days. Working on these components that are going to be a decade out and how do you know what the world’s going to be like in a decade? We change in a matter of months. It’s a challenging job to design something that’s hardware related because you have to be careful in the design process. You have to consider everything.
You have to test everything. You have to model everything because the output is expensive in hardware. We all know that when we go to tool for things when we go to make them, we have to be sure we’re right about it. We can’t cut corners, but at the same time, we can’t take long to get to market that the market’s not there anymore by the time we get it out. These challenges go along lines and it makes me sit back and think about how many things over the years that we’ve come to we need to work workstation upgrade. We need to change our computer. We need to do these things. We did that with our middle daughter. She’s going into sixth grade and we had only gotten our computer a couple of years ago. It wasn’t even that old, but the reality is that she’s doing much video editing that it was no longer capable of it. It was taking her long and she was getting frustrated and because she was in school, it was one of these closed-off systems too. She wasn’t open enough to download the software she needed and to do the things she wanted to do. We had to go out and look for a new system.
That’s the key. You’ve got to have the right tool to accomplish your goals. I think knowing exactly what software you need, how much time are you going to spend modeling something versus rendering something? How important is it to have that color accuracy from what you’re seeing on the screen? You got to have the right monitor, as compared to, what the end product is going to be. Otherwise, you’re going to end up designing something that is not going to meet the needs of that consumer at the end of the day.
Considering that and taking into the design process, working with a company like HP, obviously they have the ability to project out. They see what’s coming in software. They see what’s coming in VR. They see what’s coming in the 3D printing. They see what’s on the forefront so they can be better at designing for that rather than responding to the market shift in that. That’s a great advantage for them. On our side, we have to do a better job of asking those questions that Merrill was talking about. We need to ask the right questions for ourselves instead of responding to like, “My heart rate is chugging along and I can’t stand it. My fan is too loud. My keyboard is not quiet enough.” These are important, like nice to have, but let’s talk about the real core of our workflow and process.
If we’re using this for technical and creative use, if that’s our purpose, if we’re a creative professional, we need to make sure we’re productive in our process. If our computers, our hardware is slowing down our creative workflow, then we’re not doing ourselves or our clients or the company we’re working for, we’re doing them a disservice. Let’s think hard about why we’re buying something new, why we need it, what it’s for and what we think it might be for months out a year out that we are working towards our futures as well. Sometimes these workstations, especially when you’re outfitting an entire office of staff and professionals, you’re making a significant investment into that hardware. You want to make some smart choices for the future and not shortcut, and circumvent your productivity a few months down to save a few bucks. We have to think about that. It’s an investment in your productivity, not an investment in a piece of hardware. It’s not a fixture.
Especially when you get to some of the applications that we’ve talked about in some of the other episodes of visualizing a very large interior architecture space. That visualization, that rendering and especially in a 3D environment, if you’re in VR or something that you’ve got much different hardware considerations, if you’re like me working in Rhino, that’s a lot less about visualization than it is constructing that model that is going to be visualized in other way in 3D printing later. It’s such different considerations.
I think about it that a company like HP has such great advantages that other companies don’t because they have many different departments and divisions. Remember we’re fairly early on in the series when we were talking about the watching the megatrends and the global trends of what’s going on, it makes them easier to shift and move and create and keep their development on flow for the changes. They’re seeing the big data come through. They’re seeing AI. They’re getting informed by what they’re seeing happening, not in the buying patterns of their existing products, but also the manufacturing process, supply chain management and sustainability issues. All those things are starting to inform a better design for the future. These things are built into the output. It’s built into the hardware when it comes out.
I think that’s fascinating because often we get caught in this quick cycle of development in many places where they’re like, “Let’s respond to it and we’ll make a marketing change and we’ll do this.” That’s not a viable long-term solution for those of us who need to invest in the system and use it for at least a certain period of time before we’re ready to upgrade. I’m getting frustrated with my computer. I bought one six months ago and our whole working environment changed. We’re working from home, I’m doing these virtual conferences ten times more than I was before, even though I was still doing them before. I’ve had to up my presentation game and do all that. I don’t have a computer that’s right for that. That’s frustrating because it’s brand new but the work environment changed around me and that’s happening to many people.
As much as you try to predict it, it can be hard sometimes to predict it. My solution is, “We’ll end up repurposing your computer for another employee.”It’s making me less productive and making me less effective and that’s not an okay solution either. This is where we have to think about our investment in our technology and our whole software, our hardware, our research. The things we’re going out there to test and learn. That’s how we got into 3D printing to begin with. Then the output and the machines and the other things that we’re using. We have to look at that in a more global way for ourselves and from an investment perspective and a productivity perspective. I think at the end of the day, that makes you make better choices in terms of how things are going to work for you from a technical and creative perspective.
To me, productivity is tough. Productivity is huge because I get frustrated just sitting there and my computer is like chugging trying to figure something out. There’re many different things to balance as a designer. I want to be able to work the way I need to and be as creative as I need to. I need rapid response and feedback to be able to stay productive because maybe my time sitting idle is worth more.
That’s a creative professional challenge or a technical professional. A technical and a creative professional, maybe they’re not the same thing. Maybe you have two different people in your organization who are each taking those on and they don’t need the same system. That’s also another thing is like when we have small businesses, we can be more flexible and we can buy different systems for different people based on their needs. When you have a big company, as you scale up, you start to say, “We want to make one buy. We’ll make it more efficient.” Then you start rolling them out, but you find departments become inefficient that way. This is also a business scaling challenge for you when you have creative professionals and technical professionals within your organization. These are some things to consider here.
I think it’s been great to focus a bit on hardware and some of those unique challenges. It does round out everything we’ve been talking about with some of the different people from HP in terms of the entire workflow. Isn’t it amazing that this company has all those resources?
We’ve talked to many different people in many different departments. It’s interesting and we’re moving into. We’re coming out of the design and workflow segment. We’re moving into more of the application side of things. We’re going to start to hear some use cases and we’re going to start to hear some different projects and other programs that are going on. It’s interesting because we’re now talking about incorporating scanning into the whole process, which is a whole other computer hardware challenge when you start to add those things together. That’s going to be an interesting segment as we move into the last part of our series here.If you want to check out the episodes you’ve missed to see exactly what’s in the HP series, you can go to 3DStartPoint.com/HP. Don’t forget, Merrill showed us the cool profile. If you’re reading this, you’ve got to go check out the video. Thanks everyone for reading.
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