Part software, part web plug in, the Digital Forming customization tool is the app that 3D printing for consumer products has been missing. We tested it out on our 3D print angel ornament to see how the entire process works from setting up customization limits and allowances to it generating a new STL file for the custom worded design. Any 3D print business thinking about expanding their product line to include personalized varations from text to texture, or size to final shape, should check out what Digital Forming has to offer to streamline major design steps.
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Digital Formed 3D Print Gift Angel
We are going to be talking about Digital Forming and the creation of our digital formed 3D print gift angel. I don’t even know, do we call it a plugin? Do we call it a software? What do we call it? It’s actually a company, first of all, in England who we did an interview with and spoke to them last month. We decided after that, we were going to go and see about what it takes to take one of our designs using their software. I guess it is software, is what we will call it. This episode is sponsored by MakerBot.
Digital Forming has a desktop application that you can use to do it but they also have a, I guess … I don’t know, it’s not really an API. They have an engine that they run and drive, the interactive customization of the models on their server which is cloud based. It’ll interact with your website. Obviously, you want to have people come to your website to buy them. Essentially, if you have a model of something and you were to click on it to customize it, it would then be running in the Digital Forming engine for the actual customization. From that, it outputs the proper STL file. There are a lot of options.
Let’s take a little step back. Digital Forming is a company that creates this software and a platform, I would call it really, for customization of STL files. They also do integration with shopping carts and/or PayPal and other things so that if you were to sell an item on your website, you’re going to allows consumers to customize in any way, they can do that. Everything is controlled behind the scenes on their server for not only doing the customization but outputting an STL file.
That output doesn’t go to the consumer directly. It actually goes to a 3D print service bureau or if your company, our website, if we were going to print it ourselves, we could have the STL file come to us and then we print it. The great part is, it takes so much labor out of the system of us having to do anything. It actually exports a revised STL file from the original based on the consumer’s specifications.
We were introduced to Digital Forming through the Lowe’s Innovation project, which created the Bespoke 3D Design, Lowe’s Bespoke Designs I believe is what it is, which we had reviewed last month as well. That’s how we found them and we thought their interface was really nice in the store setting. We wanted to explore that further. As we talked to Victoria May at Digital Forming when we interviewed her last month, we just really decided, “Hey, this is something we really want to try out ourselves. Do we have something to try it on?”
After we interviewed her off air, we set up an appointment a week later. I got, I guess, a guided tour and a training in their desktop application, which by the way is a downloadable thing. I believe there’s no cost to it. You can download it off their website and set up some of the customization for your own STL file.
That’s only a part of the puzzle though. The whole system doesn’t work without their engine driving it and performing the back-end functions of what people would access on your website. You really can’t do it without them as I understand it. It’s free but it’s free to clients really.
The application doesn’t cost you anything, although working with them certainly does. They’re in business to make money, like anybody else. The great thing in what they’ve done is they’ve made it so you can customize, in a variety of different ways, what you want to allow consumers to customize about your STL file.
We went in to try to do the Angel. Every year we’ve done a 3D print gift angel ornament. It has a different message every year. That’s one of the things that we do. The message is new every year. Once, we tried to offer customizable messages but it got overwhelming. People would request things and then you would have to hand create, drop the letters in and create it. It was a little bit cumbersome and we said we want it to operate itself. We just only then made one message every year. Each year, it has a new message. This year’s new message, which is just being announced here is, “Inspire.”
The reality is, a couple years ago, because of doing messages, I created the entire alphabet in one particular font for use on this 3D print gift angel. Then every year, I’d add obviously a different number to it. It was 2014, 2015, now it’s 2016. That for me, it’s little labor intensive to do a different message. Certainly if I had to do one for every customer that would order one, that’s all I’d be doing all day long and it would be no fun. It certainly wouldn’t be economical. We wouldn’t make any money.
When you set this up in an automated way, the software’s really pretty cool and pretty sophisticated, I have to say, going through and experiencing it. Before talking about the 3D print gift angel for this year specifically and some of the challenges we faced with that one, I just want to talk in general.
First of all, you load an STL file into it or you can load more than one, a series of them if there are different things that take place by combining them that you allow people to do. That’s fine. You actually, as the author of the model, decide what you’re going to allow people to modify and what the limits of that modification are going to be.
The customizable features have, you can have any message as long as it’s seven letters or less or whatever space, you can limit. Obviously, you can allow people to adjust the actual scale proportion, size if you will, of your object within limits. You can add textures to it and they can have a slider that can make that texture more pronounced or less pronounced and more subtle. You can add obviously text to it.
They have a few fonts to choose from but it’s also not that hard. I learned, if you want to create another font, you can do that. You can provide them the geometry and they can load it up as a font for you, if that’s what you want. You really do have quite a bit of manipulation options. If you let the consumer do everything, they could create a major hot mess, I guess, of a 3D print. That’s why you want to place limitations on it. Use their software to set up what even that customer interface is and looks like, how many sliders are there, how many drop lists of different choices and things they’re going to be.
On most conventional STL models, it’s probably a lot easier than what we were trying to do with our Angel because you have a solid model and you’re going to add text to it. It’s going to be either raised text or it’s going to be recessed text into the model. Usually, there’s a large surface area of which you’re doing that.
Our Angel is quite a bit different. It’s a lace or a lattice structure. We don’t just add letters onto a model. We actually fill in a space that’s a void otherwise, if there’s not a letter there. Each of the voids have different dimensions in a way or angles.
The voids are pretty much the same but the orientation of the voids is entirely different because they go on the skirt of this angel, which is a conic section. It’s a big cone. There are lace structures that exist about that conic plane. Is that a plane? Conic section, I think. Anyway, geometry teachers can correct me if you like.
If you’re a long time listener of the podcast, you’ve seen our 3D print gift Angel over the years. You’ve seen versions of it because we show it on occasion and sometimes we use it to test the machines. I use it to test every 3D printer review. I don’t always show a picture of it because it’s a challenging print. We do show it very frequently.
You can find that in our Instagram feed and/or on our blog post here and in past blog post you’ll be able to see comparisons to that. I just want to let you know. This episode, this blog post that’s from this episode will be the first time you’ll see the Inspire Angel.
What we found is that Digital Forming, their software completely has the capability to add geometry where none existed and have that geometry at whatever orientation it needs to be. Think about every different letter going around the circumference of this skirt in this conic section, every different letter is at a different orientation in a vertical axis. It’s at an angle resting back. The bottom of the letter is kicked out and the top of the letter is kicked back.
It’s a very complicated situation. It’s not as easy as just saying, “Okay, on the model, add text in this area and make it raise or make it recessed.” You can’t really do that. It’s almost like, in order to make this customization work, we had to create a custom font alphabet that has the underlying background geometry on it and then you have all these spaces up to I think nine letters we were going to allow or something wrapping around this thing.
Actually, with Digital Forming, we were looking at two different rows of lettering, an upper and a lower. Depending on your message, we’d have a limitation of letters, characters, numbers and all that. You type it and it would show you where it would be, it would add the geometry and export it.
Now, they can completely do it but due to the nature of the geometry of our model, remember I said it was a challenging print, it’s also a challenging STL file in many ways. Their desktop software, I guess, as it is now, couldn’t do it alone. It was going to require some custom coding to do it, which they’re perfectly capable of.
If we were in business and if this was a part of our primary business and we knew we were going to sell 1,000 of them over the holiday season, we would do it and it would have made sense. But the time involved also with Digital Forming’s other priorities or other projects that they had committed to time-wise on. Also, a higher cost than we expected it to be. Frankly, even than they expected it to be when we talked about doing this. We ended up not following through and doing it.
They analyzed and proved it can be done but it just wasn’t going to happen in the time frame we wanted to for this holiday season and also was just a little bit cost prohibitive in our application. I don’t think, in any way, that diminishes the capabilities of their software or the benefits of their software and the, I guess I would say, the revenue and profit opportunities of using their software if you’re going to do a lot of customized products.
It certainly would be a lot less expensive than hiring people to, when somebody order something, create a custom STL file then go and print. The great part about their software is not just the user interface that the user can make a lot of these decisions and see it interactively on their screen rendered for them, what it’ll look like, but that the software automatically exports the STL file. It takes labor out of the production process and speeds it up tremendously too.
In our estimation, let’s say someone was going to change the message to … We printed one custom for somebody once that was Rejoice. Our estimate on how long that that took us to create that and lay out that STL file. Because I had all the building blocks ready, it probably took about 30 minutes to put it all together, arrange all the parts, put them where they needed to be, in the right order, bullion them all together into one solid model, mesh it, create an STL, export it, slice it to then be ready to go. It’s probably at least 30 minutes, 30 minutes is probably a fair estimate.
30 minutes. Let’s say, just a low cost CAD technician about, what, 50, 60 bucks an hour? No. Probably even less than that, depending on where you are originally. A CAD technician can probably cost you $25, $30 an hour at the low end. Let’s say $15 for a half hour worth of time to do that at the low end, but 30 minutes of lost time from the moment you got the order or someone who was entering and what they want.
Plus, they couldn’t visualize it when they were in the order process. They’re likely to just give up because they couldn’t see it so they were nervous about it. You’re asking a customer to take a leap of faith that they’re going to like how it looks. Maybe you have dissatisfaction or buyer’s remorse when they get it and it doesn’t look like they thought it would. When we were selling a 3D print gift angel at one point, we sold them for 30 bucks or something. $15 would’ve been half of the cost. We didn’t even make it yet. No, it wouldn’t be profitable. You wouldn’t make enough money.
Their software and their system really makes a lot of sense to making customized, personalized retail in 3D printing. It makes it viable. The other thing is, is it protects your file all along the way. That’s really a very cool feature that we learned from them that is great. Your file is never exposed in the customization process and it’s sent straight to your service bureau, which you contracted with or to your facility.
That’s one of the things that I really liked about it, is as a content creator, I could see and understand with talking to them that this file was entirely controlled the entire way. Although I’m allowing some manipulation and variation of the STL file, it’s never able to be downloaded by the user and printed on their own.
I guess you could allow people to do that if that’s what you wanted to do but I think most people probably wouldn’t. They create the STL file and they have integration with service bureaus like Shapeways or even Voodoo Manufacturing if you’re doing an FFF 3D print, that the file’s always controlled.
The customer is just seeing a product they want on your website. They’re making it the way they want it to be, their way, their color, their message, whatever, and they just get the product that they ordered. They don’t have to deal with any of tech.
It goes straight into the order process system if you’re streamlined in that. The order is sent and now you have a system by which it doesn’t have to wait to get scheduled and then into the CAD adjustment process. It doesn’t have to wait to get scheduled into manufacturing. From there, it’s basically ready to go. You save the time, you save the money. It’s way worth it.
For our particular purpose, wasn’t worth it and not timed right. We should’ve started sooner with Digital Forming on our 3D print gift angel. We know that. In mass market and any kind of retail, when you want to offer a product in the fourth quarter of the year, you better be doing this over the summer.
Definitely, I’m a fan of this software and I think that anybody who’s in the business of providing customized products, customized designs, should consider using Digital Forming. I think that their software, just with a little experience, a little time under your belt, is pretty easy to understand and get used to. The integration with your website would be a onetime type of expense and then you can add other products to it. The fulfillment aspects too.
I talked with Patrick Deem who’s one of the owners there at Voodoo Manufacturing. Even they have a drop ship program. If you’re going to provide them customized STLs to print for you, to ship to customers, that they have a flat fee that they can add to for the packaging and shipping in the United States anyway. You have that defined and can add it to your cost of goods. Really, for you, the creator, you don’t have to do any labor. It’s very efficient. I love it.
- Digital Forming
- Forming the Digital Supply Chain with Victoria May
- Retail 3D Print on Demand is Here!
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