We had a listener communicate with us over Facebook recently and leave what was the longest comment we’ve ever had to a post. It wasn’t just the longest, it was the most detailed and informational I’ve ever read on Facebook. This was in response to our recent episode sometime last month about 3D printed surface textures. Her name is Jen Davis-Wilson, who we actually realized we have a lot in common with once we talked to her. Our paths have crossed maybe in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, somewhere in there. She used to work for IDEO.
We did this episode on 3D printed surface textures. She is a mechanical engineer who is a big SOLIDWORKS user. While we’ve certainly reviewed SOLIDWORKS CAD software among many others, we don’t have the in-depth experience that a real user does who uses it day in and day out and has way more than 10,000 hours on it. She’s been using it since mid 2000s. For the benefit of our audience, you may not have seen it yet because it’s only in this Facebook thread, but we’re actually putting her comment also in the bottom of the blog post for that WTFFF episode on 3D printed surface textures.
First of all, if you’re a SOLIDWORKS user, if you want to know how to make detailed surface textures in SOLIDWORKS, she has this really what amounts to a great little written tutorial of how to do it. When we saw that and had this little conversation back and forth over Facebook, I realized, here’s a woman mechanical engineer, who you don’t get that very often these days. She works with industrial designers, engineers, product development people of all types. She has a tremendous background and experience in all types of broad products. She mentioned, because we have experience with IDEO from way back in late 1990s and she was interning there at that time. Basically her intern job was to glue Palm V cases together so that they could study the form factor and do what they needed to do. We ended up in a dispute with Palm Computing at that time over Palm related accessory products that was made by IDEO.
Anyway, not that she had anything to do with that, but our paths really crossed. That’s the kind of training and the broad client base that they have at IDEO that is just an incredible crash experience in all kinds of categories and product types. We decided to see if Jen was available for us to interview because she has a very interesting perspective that we haven’t really broadcasted on WTFFF before; from an engineer’s eye or viewpoint of product design and development involving 3D printing and all sorts of different aspects, and CAD of course.
The interview, you’re really going to enjoy it I because there is a part of it where she talks about the early stages of rapid prototyping before desktop came out. You really get an insider’s view of it and then she uses desktop 3D printing now in her independent practice. You really get a good perspective and picture on this.
Let’s hear from Jen Davis-Wilson of Davis Wilson Consulting.
Listen to the podcast here:
Power Advice from a SolidWorks Expert with Jen Davis-Wilson
Jen, thank you so much for joining us today on WTFFF.
Glad to be here.
I was really excited to receive your comment on Facebook probably a couple of weeks ago now regarding our episode about 3D printed surface textures. It’s rare that we get someone that really replies with the depth and obvious perspective of experience that you did.
I think I started in SOLIDWORKS in 2005. My background is I worked at IDEO for about twelve years, that’s a product design firm. I was a mechanical engineer there. A lot of what I had to do was translate industrial designs to actual things that can be manufactured. SOLIDWORKS is just really easy to pick up at the time. I’ve been just working with that since, and so one of the things that I have to do a lot is tried to take the wonderful, beautiful, curvature continuous swoopy surfaces that the ID people make and put that into SOLIDWORKS, which is not the best tool for that. It’s parametric, which means it’s much easier to work with than a Rhino file that an industrial designer would make.
That’s true. I’m one of those industrial designers that make Rhino files. I’ve had a lot of engineers complain to me, “This is just a dumb solid. What the heck am I doing with this thing?” The reality is, for me to create the forms I want, that’s an easier tool for me. The constraints are mind numbing for me.
When I had industrial designers sit with me, they’d be like, “Can you make that two millimeters shorter?” Then they see the whole thing just updates, they’re always just so jealous.
The benefits of parametric modeling, I completely respect and understand as a seasoned CAD user. But at the end of the day, the form opportunities of other programs seem to just make it easier for me to do it. Different structures, different folks. There are a lot of valid reasons why people use different programs. What I think is so interesting, Jen, is that there’s both directions that people come in from a 3D print perspective. There’s a lot of iteration that happens in the 3D print process. You get it and you need to update it and you need to make changes. That makes a lot of sense that you would be using parametric modeling. There’s also the creative forming side. You want to build the creativity and you want to let your creativity fly, and sometimes the structure of parametrics might make it more difficult. How do you approach it?
Way back when Shapeways was first coming on the scene, we had a meeting with them. I was just so inspired by that whole business model. I came home and I’m like, “I’m going to make some little object to put up on Shapeways.” I tried to make a little twenty-sided die. I realized very quickly that you’re either given something and you have constraints, everything you do you have to put in a dimension for it. SOLIDWORKS is not an artistic medium. It really isn’t. It’s very hard to create in it, especially if you’re trying to create nice organic forms. I made it, put it up and then gave up on that endeavor. I realized I’m going to leave that to the industrial designers.
Most of the time when I’m doing SOLIDWORKS, I start off with very simple forms. If I’m trying to make parts that work, then I start with simple geometry. If I’m given a file from an industrial designer, then I’ll start with their surfaces and try to break it down into something that’s as simple as possible. Take some cross sections and see how they built it, because a lot of times the geometry is the same between programs. It’s just how the software interprets that geometry. That’s the way that I approach that. Definitely different tools for different things. I would really like to know how to learn Rhino or even some of the stuff that I see people make jewelry with from 3D printing; Blender, things like that. I watched some tutorials but it’s so hard for me to get out of the mindset of putting a dimension in for everything that you do.
That’s very interesting, because for me, I see what I want to create in three dimensions in my mind’s eye. I just intuitively know how to go and create it in Rhino because I just used it for so long. I don’t have to think what commands I have to do. If I get stopped at every turn in a program to enter in a dimension, not that I’m not thinking about dimension and understand the realities of making something. I do. But if I have to enter in a constraint every single time, my head will get taken out of that creative mode and that flow of what I want to create. To me, it would be a big hindrance. Like I said, I understand it. Things have to be reduced down to numbers and ones and zeros and be able to produced. We have to work together on this reality.
Also, when you’re familiar with the program or you’re familiar with the tool, anything that you do, if you tend to sketch with a fat colored pencil or if you tend to sketch with a thin pen, people are used to working with the tools they’re working with. When I have a young engineer that I’m trying to coach, and they’re just struggling and they’re just getting into the weeds in SOLIDWORKS when really they need to be doing the design of the part. They need to be doing how this works. I will tell them, “Don’t CAD anything you can’t draw.” They’ll have to sit down and sketch it out. Once they know what they’re trying to do, then they can go and CAD it. I’ve been so familiar with SOLIDWORKS that I don’t get lost in that anymore and I can now design in SOLIDWORKS. But that’s, I would say, an advance skill. Start with what you know, figure out what you’re going to do, then put in the software if you’re not really experienced.
I would agree with that. It’s fantastic advice. I learned to draft on an actual board when they were still doing that and AutoCAD just came to be. But I adopted it and I jumped into it, I thought it was great. Still, I very often start with sketching before I go into the computer. There are times, like you, where I can see what it is in my mind and I have no issues going straight to CAD. It does take a level though of experience. I think you have to have thousands of hours under your belt of working in the computer and working offline before you can really make that leap, otherwise I would think people would have a lot of false starts or have to redo a lot of things potentially.
One of the things that is the best way to learn CAD is you have a project that you’re trying to do, and then while you are trying to solve that problem you’re going to learn a lot of stuff. Then just read every item in the dropdown menus. Complex programs like Photoshop or SOLIDWORKS, there are going to be hundreds of those, but if you’ll just get familiar with them then you’ll know what you can do. There, how are you going to do what you’re trying to do? Then there’s, what could you do if you needed to use it? I think once you get all of those learned together, then you can just use it as a tool, as a natural extension of your process.
That’s fantastic. Let’s talk a little bit about how you got started 3D printing. Obviously, the Shapeways thing, but were you using 3D print prototype machines or anything like that?
Yes. In fact, I think the whole desktop 3D printing thing is so exciting. I love all the 3D printing stuff that’s coming. I think it’s really going to revolutionize the way that we design products and make products. Some people say desktop printers are never going to be in every house, but they also said that about inkjet printers. I’m also terrible at forecasting the future, so I’m just going to put that caveat out there. I said no one would ever want to take pictures on their phones back when we had the iModules.
This was one of the earliest machines that Stratasys was selling. We got one of those because IDEO had a big machine shop with a lot of very experienced and expensive machinists that can make anything that you want. But if you had something that you wanted to just get in your hands, having that be a few hundred dollars and a week of lead time, you wouldn’t make something until you were sure this is the actual thing you wanted to show to the client and you had budget for it. We got one of these printers early on. At the time, we didn’t call them the 3D printer. We called it the FDM, the fused deposition modeling.
It was so great because even though we had all the engineers trying to share it, and we had to run it too because there was nobody with experience, it was still better than today’s desktop printers, as far as the simplicity of how it goes. They cost as much as a luxury car. All the filament are in these cartridges, and then the shop guys were trained how to load and unload the cartridges. The whole thing had a screen on it and the heated chamber. You put in this foam base, close it up, and it would tell you how much material you have left, what the run time was. It would do all the slicing for you and everything.
When desktop stuff started to come up, it was so exciting to see all the software coming out that would do all that slicing and you could do all sorts of custom stuff. Because the Stratasys stuff was, you can print sparse or solid. That was your choices. None of this 10%, 20%, 50% infill. You had very, very few choices. You could orient your parts, but that was about it. We were using those. That would have been mid 2000s, I’m guessing. I’m not sure when those came out. It feels like I’ve been using them forever. That’s always just been part of my design process.
As time went on, my IDEO shop upgraded and got higher resolution, faster ones. They got a Zcorp printer, which is the plaster gypsum one, which was very popular with the industrial designers because it was very fast and it had pretty good surface finish and color too. Then there’s always the external surfaces. We would use on printing surfaces to get really high resolution stuff, like a PolyJet for small details. I learned about all sorts of different 3D printing stuff. You need to design something, show it to the client and it needs to be as close to the thing as possible. Of all those technologies, what’s going to fit best? Is it more important for it to look good or function or it would be strong? All that kinds of stuff.
I’m curious, because we have this issue all the time in managing your client expectations or managing your designer’s expectations in your case. In order to create a prototype on the 3D printer that is something that we will make into an injection moldable product later, we actually have to create a completely different design on occasion. Because you can’t always achieve the look that you want or the function that you want by the same method that you would do if you were induction molding it. And/or you can go really wrong and make an amazing 3D print item that you cannot make in a manufacturing method today. Or you can go the opposite way and end up with something that looks amazing coming out of the 3D printer, but then can’t be physically made in typical manufacturing techniques.
A lot of clients these days, especially here in Silicon Valley, they’re very savvy about 3D printing. Typically the ones I work with are people that have been doing product design, so they’ve been doing this process. People have seen 3D prints now, so they’re familiar with it. It used to be, you either show a client something very rough or very finished. You don’t want to show them something in between because they might take that too literally and be like, “I don’t like it because it doesn’t look polished enough,” thinking that what you’re presenting as the final thing. That’s always the challenge in terms of managing your client’s expectations.
For the most part, I tend to work with either startups and people who have come from product design backgrounds, or people who were referred to me from product design backgrounds. This is all part of what people just do. They understand, here’s the prototype level and then they can see how that goes into what it might look like in manufacturing.
You don’t have those that think it’s magic?
There are a lot of people that still think 3D printing is gee whiz, the future kind of stuff. Maybe I’m just jaded about it. I own a Printrbot Simple Metal, which I just upgraded with an ABS heated bed because I don’t really need that. It’s just another fun little extra put on there. What I think is funny is when I hear people talking about their 3D printing business, that they are selling their prints. I give mine away for free, because my hourly cost for design is far more than I could charge for the print, so it’s part of my design process. I’ll be designing the part, and especially when you have a latch or a little button or something that needs to flex or snap, I will design those with 3D printing in mind because I know about what kind of thicknesses they should be. If you’re designing something really thin, then you want to make that a multiple of your nozzle size. That happens a lot with all sorts of tiny little plastic walls. You don’t want to make something that is 1.8 times your nozzle size because it’s going to be way too thin when you eventually print it.
Then, I will print that while working on something else, and then bring that off and test it out. Then at the end of the day, I may have some things that I can show to the client, which they didn’t asked for but it’s part of my process. It also is nice for them to just have something to hold and be like, “I can see how this works.” Or they can give me feedback, which not every client is CAD-savvy. They’re not going to open up your file and rotate it around and take a look. They just want screenshots or they want a physical model.
I agree with that 100%. In fact, we have a very similar process with our product development, product design clients. Meaning, we’re doing product design for a client who needs help with the product. We’re either making a completely new product or a modification to an existing one. We’ll 3D print parts often and even send them to them so they can test them. In some cases, we can actually use them as physical working parts. In some cases, we can’t. We recently just had to make a metal 3D print at Shapeways, actually, in stainless steel of something we tested in PLA but then needed to have something in a different material to test.
We actually aren’t charging the client when we 3D print things here and send it to them as well. It’s a part of a bigger project. If we do like what we did in Shapeways, where it’s contracted out, we do charge them for that. But we don’t up-charge it either. That’s our thing. We didn’t have the capability here, so just pay for the fee of it. I think it’s great for people to see something, feel something. If it’s part of the process, it’s easy. You’re going to do it anyway for yourself to make sure it’s right. You might as well just send it on to the client or share it with them.
One of the things that I do pretty frequently is I’ll be working with an industrial designer and they will look at what I have, suggest some changes. I’ll come home, make the changes. Print it over night and then the next day bring the model and they can look at it. I will just end up with boxes and boxes of daily models that are obsolete pretty much as soon as they’re printed. But it really helps the conversation because things look different on your hand than they do on the screen. Especially if you have something complex with a lot of moving parts and you can set up your SOLIDWORKS file in a way that you can update it and then print it with all the moving stuff to just parametrically update, that is super helpful.
If you are an independent person, your contracts and expenses are just another level of hassle. If I can do something myself and not have to expense it out, everybody’s much happier. There have been plenty of times when my little PLA printer can’t do everything. Some things are going to have be sent out. For the most part, if we can avoid it or if the client can take care of that, everybody is like, “Less paperwork, that’s good.”
I think that’s so important. Independents in general, consultants, freelancers, whatever you want to call yourself, there are so many of us today in those worlds, we get caught up in getting ourselves into a contractual situation in which it’s actually much more cumbersome for us to manage than it is to figure out the flat rate or to figure out a different system, or like you do it, give away the prints for free. Actually, we do very frequently, we do flat rate projects where we have basically a standard fee plus royalty on the sales of the product of course, but that’s our upside. We have come to the place at which our time involved in something is so hard to gauge for various projects. But when they’re in a specific category, we’ve just come to know, “These tend to take around this many hours. This flat rate is perfect for that.”
Sometimes it takes a little more and sometimes it takes a little less. But overall, trying to re-quote and spend hours trying to figure out how much time is going to take, it’s not worth it to us. So we’ve come to this flat rate policy in how we do it. There are a couple of exceptions to that and then we moved into a retainer model. We have clients where we’ll say, “We’re going to work with you for six months and it’s X dollars per month retainer plus royalty again.” That’s how we work because it just is a lot less cumbersome and much more manageable on our end from an accounting situation.
The long-term project is the thing to go for. The amount of work it takes to land a two-week project versus a six months project, you don’t want to land a two-week project all year long. You’re not going to make money doing that. The long-term relationships are really the way to go.
I agree. I think the reality of what 3D printing has done for us as product development service providers is made so that we can actually deliver a project sooner because of this, like you were saying, daily overnight iteration process that otherwise you’d either be making educated guesses and only doing maybe one prototype hoping it’s right and then having to go all the way back taking a lot more time. There are so many things that weren’t ideal about the way we used to do it. This just makes, I think, us look better and more productive for them as service providers.
There are a lot of startups out there who need something to put into the hands of potential users. Either they’re doing it for marketing, they’re doing it for fundraising, they need some videos for their Kickstarter, they just want to get some information to make their design better. Ten years ago, that was a whole other phase of work, designing the test models that you’d then have to send out to get machined. Whereas now, that’s almost trivial. It’s part of, “Of course, we’re going to give you this design and you can print out a bunch of them and put them in the hands of people who are going to use them for whatever you need them for, really fast.” It really accelerate that design process.
We’re actually taking that one step further at this with one of our clients right now. We’re taking it all the way through to actually putting what is a 3D printed item on Amazon, but not selling it like it’s on demand or anything. We’re just going to inventory them and put them in a test run on Amazon to see which of the styles are worth injection molding. Which one is worth going in and making the investment on? Which style plays best with their consumer base?
I love to see how that works out.
We’re really excited about it. Right now, it’s still proprietary. But once it’s on the market, probably in the summer or sometime this year, we were actually going to showcase that so you’ll be able to see it. I do think that as 3D printing gets more capable and the cost continues to come down, and a lot of it the cost is already low enough, it just depends on the process and material. There really is a lot more opportunity to do 3D printed end use product, whether that’s a temporary situation or it actually is a product that is going to live its entire life in that material, having been made in that process. I think there are lots of opportunities, we’re going to see more and more of it. What is it that you’re working on next? Where are you going with your 3D print and mechanical engineer world?
What a mechanical designer does is the same, whether there’s 3D printing or not. You have to understand whatever the parts you’re making, how are they going to be made, what materials are they going to be made out of and gear your design towards that. 3D printing is just adding another wrinkle to that. There are a lot of times where it may be that for the big beta test project, you would just assume that there’s going to be 3D printing stuff. What I like about 3D printing a lot, as compared to the traditional prototype methods, is you can cheat so much. You don’t have to design in draft, you can design in overhangs and voids and stuff like that.
One of the big projects I’m working on right now is in medical robotics. This is a whole other interesting side of the interdisciplinary issues. ID people tend to think in a certain way and electrical engineers tend to think in a certain way. I discovered the robotics people think in an entirely different way compared to product design, mechanical engineers. They want to put a fastener everywhere. One of the things that I’m doing with 3D printing for them is the robotics people are making all of the motors and structures and moving parts and they’re all, as you can imagine, hideous. I’m working with an industrial designer, we are making 3D printed shrouds for it so that they can show this to their investors and be like, “This is what it’s going to eventually look like, the size and scale of it.”
At the same time, I’m covering up all of the ugly technical stuff that the robotics people designed in. Down the line, we will come together. I’ve been working as a translator between the ID and the robotics people to get something that works and looks good, hide a few of those fasteners please.
The robotics people are all about the function it seems.
Yes. They’re aerospace and robotics and these are things that typically live in factories and labs and satellites and things like that. They aren’t usually touched by people or seen by people. Most of the experience that I’ve had is with consumer products; stuff where design and look is everything. They do not speak each other’s languages. That’s something that I do a lot in my role, which is translating between the ID and the function. I have to speak both sides.
The classic thing is between design and engineering bumping heads. If you could actually bridge that gap, understand and speak the common language, you can rule the world in product development. With robotics, I can imagine that just threw another whole monkey wrench in the works. That bodes really well for your success, Jen, because that’s the very first lesson I’ve learned in my career from Herman Miller when I worked there. I had to play a role between the celebrity industrial designers, because that’s who they had at the time. They had very well-known and hyped in all the magazines designers working at that time. They would pop in about once a month or once every six weeks and send all the engineers into a tizzy with all their changes and their comments. “That looks terrible.” Then egos would be bruised. I learned very early on that my role in between there was to both translate what’s important and ease the egos at the same time.
There was a thing going around recently, which is describe your career badly. Mine was, “I frequently disappoint designers with pointing out the laws of physics.”
This has just been such a joy talking to you. We really do appreciate your comment. What you were pointing out there, textures are so important in some ways disguising some of the sins of 3D printing or the things that are not good quality with your 3D printer, especially the at-home ones. It also is critically important in the function of our product. I don’t think as many people are aware of that. The texture portion is personally my area of expertise. Texture can prevent fingerprints and can prevent all sorts of functional problems and manufacturing issues, marks from the molds and other things. Textures are extremely important to master. How have you gone about mastering those textures and learning about them?
A lot of it is typically dealt with on the mold side. When you’re designing for injection molding, which is a lot of what I do, the people who make the molds will then send them out to be textured. There are a lot of different ways that you can do the texture. Typically, I find the industrial designers tend to pick two textures. They want glossy, as perfect as possible. Or they want a very fine satin finish, which I believe is mold type 1011, something like that. I find it just hilarious that they will offer all these textures you can get certain patterns laser printed on them, but they always seem to want those two.
As far as other processes, I think the texture is usually something that is done at the end. You’ll have an idea of how it’s supposed to look. Rarely am I expected to model in a texture. When that is requested, that’s not something SOLIDWORKS does well. For every little entity you create in SOLIDWORKS, you’re putting a little bit of tax on your processors. When you’re trying to put tiny little faces all over your product, SOLIDWORKS is not going to handle that very elegantly. I rarely have to model in textures myself. Usually that’s a recommendation, or you will get a very good model maker to put that on for you. We have locally here in Palo Alto, there’s a model maker and all they do is they make perfect looking parts. They know how to do all those textures and paint. They can give you samples and pick that stuff out. That’s typically where I come in on the texture. It’s just working with whoever is making the thing to say, “This is what’s expected and this is what we want to look for.”
That’s a little bit of déjà vu for me. It’s also a little bit of twilight zone mixed in there. I agree 100% with what you’re saying. I will actually, speaking as an industrial designer, say that I think less experienced industrial designers will avoid those issues of texture and color especially, save them for the very end, because they don’t really understand it as well as they should. I don’t think it’s taught well enough in design schools. I don’t think it’s practiced enough early in careers. I think it takes a long time of trial and error working on a lot of projects before you realize that texture and color is something that should be considered upfront in the design process and not be an afterthought. You’ll see the best designs out there have considered it early on.
You see a lot of failure. They want glossy because they think the look is cool. But at the end of the day, the manufacturing processing of it is going to create all sorts of issues and problems. When you start with this cool looking model and you get all excited about it, then over time it gets morphed by the manufacturers. Usually that’s where they come in and then they say, “We can’t do that without a texture. Sorry, you have to add a texture.” Because that’s where the advisers had typically come in before because the designers do not have that expertise. Or they’re going to say, “You’re going to have a higher defect rate if you’re going to insist on that quality of finish,” because it’s just not easily achievable on a consistent basis, or at that price or whatever.
Especially when you’re working as a consultant and in product design consultancy, typically you’re dealing with people higher up on the food chain who don’t know the nitty-gritty of this. They all want Apple products on Dell budget. You have to tell them, “Do you realize that Apple, they literally buy milling machines to make their products?” They will have just rows and rows and rows, and they’re machining the backs of their computers. You can’t do that if you’re trying to sell 10,000 or something. That’s always a challenge. I find that industrial designers want perfect. They want party lines with no gap. They want no fasteners visible. They want no one to ever touch it unless they’re wearing white cotton gloves. That is typical to do. At the same time, it’s very easy to make a rendering that looks really nice and really glossy without having to figure out how this thing is handled and how it goes together.
I was just in a clinic where they had an x-ray machine. I had to spout the text so that I could look at, they had this big flat plate that you stand on if you’re taking x-rays of your feet or something. I was just looking at all the wear around the corners of it where it was handled, where someone had taped it and the tape had rubbed off. I wish I could have taken a picture of it because it’s such a great example of how something that somebody clearly had an image of is how this nice, clean, precise medical instrument should look and how it’s actually used. That’s the thing in design school that they don’t necessarily think about, “What’s this thing going to look like after a year of wear?”
Jen, we have just had such a pleasure talking with you today. What I really love about our conversation so far is that you’ve had the same career path we have in an obviously different area, but there are those that get very jaded over time. Instead, there are those like you and like us who feel that leaves so much more possibility of all the things we could fix and we could do.
I’m doing this because I like it. The reason why I left IDEO was because I had kids. I found myself doing things like buying 3D printers and experimenting with all sorts of CAD programs that you could get for a low cost. I was like, “I clearly need to get back to doing what I was doing before because it was just so much fun.”
I completely understand that. I always tell people it is compulsive for me. It’s something that I can’t shut my brain off to. We have young kids too and I’ve spent weeks at a time not working when they’re very, very young, participating as much as I could. But my brain would never shut off to this stuff. I just can’t help but continue to do it. That seems to be similar for you. I’m happy to see that you’re practicing successfully independently. I think it’s a wonderful thing.
I fell into it and I’m very lucky that I happen to work in an environment that have a lot of brilliant creative people that like to go off and do their own things so they have a very large alumni network. One of your recent podcasts, you interviewed someone who’s doing something independent and had to hustle a lot to be successful. I feel very guilty in that I do zero hustle because I get all of my clients through contacts. My former workplace is one of my biggest clients because they’ll bring me in when they need some extra work. I had more of the long con. Just work for a long time at some place that finds you indispensable and then quit and have them hire you back.
That is so true and so important. I think a lot of young designers, young engineers who come out in the world and think that it’s going to be easy to be out on your own. It’s hard because you have not built up that network yet. Referral business is a much stronger business than these websites who give you jobs.
I have not had a single job that was a cold contact. Everyone has been through somebody that I have personally worked with or personally know. That’s how trust is formed. That’s how relationships are built. That’s how the world works. I would say for someone starting out, realize that network and experience, those are probably just as important as a lot of hustle. If you want to be successful, you’ve got to do all those things.
Jen, thank you so much. We really appreciate it. We really appreciate your input into our podcast and giving comments back and feedback. We appreciate that so much.
I’m really grateful to your podcast. They really make my bike rides less painful.
We’re happy to help. Thank you so much.
Power Advice from a SolidWorks Expert – Final Thoughts
I really enjoyed that interview. But there’s something that was floating in my mind as we’re talking with her, that she has such a unique perspective. I hope our audience really appreciates it. To me, I wrote down, she is really at the intersection of CAD 3D printing and of function and form. She is really at the intersection of this. You heard her talk about her perspective of working with industrial designers and working with factories and working with high level executives who maybe don’t understand the finite details of product design development. She really has gotten a good cross section of experience. I think it’s a very interesting perspective as a result.
When you’re new or young in an industry, and 3D printing for many, many users, especially a lot of our audience out there, it’s a new experience for you. When you’re in that place of this newness to it, what you don’t have is the perspective of all the things that you wish you knew and had time to learn in other areas. It happens so often that we hear people who are trying to accomplish something on a 3D printer and they’re just not able to do it. Mainly it’s because they maybe just don’t have the CAD skills or they don’t have the engineering skills. We find that happens, even to us and we’ve been doing this a really long time, less often, but it happens on occasion where it tests your engineering skills of being able to duplicate it. It just happened to us recently when we were trying to make a very small part for a client, you couldn’t duplicate it based on just drawing it in your CAD software in Rhino. It just wouldn’t work. You need to establish parametric to it. You need to establish a number of constraints to it.
To me, it wasn’t so much about parametric. I couldn’t figure out how to build the geometry, and I built some crazy organic geometry with some of the stuff that I do. But trying to copy a very interesting piece of geometry, it’s not that it’s organic but this certainly was hardly a straight line on the object. I ended up using a scanner. I ended up scanning the object for the outside form because what I needed to do it was edit the inside of the form, to make a fit with another part. That was easy for me to do. But to duplicate the exact part, I needed to scan it, so I went through that process. That’s actually a future episode. I do have a review coming up of a desktop 3D scanner that I used in that. That will be fun when that happens.
It’s just interesting that everyone runs up against something at which you don’t quite have the skill set for, whether that’s in an engineering mode, a CAD mode, a design mode, maybe you don’t have enough design skills for the look that you want or you just can’t achieve it. We don’t often enough reach out and expand our team. That’s really where the clients that are reaching out to Jen are super smart, because they’re expanding their services to their clients. They are doing a better job of making sure that they don’t make mistakes, which is so critically important in mechanical design issues. She’s at that intersection, and that is a really unique place.
I think that the real benefit of working with someone like Jen is the amount of hours she’s put in and the different types of products that she’s worked on over the years. It gives her such a broad experience to not make mistakes and learn on your project. That’s what you’re really paying for, is that experience is tremendous. It’s so worth it having that experience, unless you want to learn on the fly hiring somebody less expensive and be willing to make mistakes and have to course correct. You would hire her because you really can’t afford the time.
I really also enjoyed hearing about her perspective about being able to use desktop 3D printing in a rapid sense to iterate different structures, functional things that she’s working on for clients, and not having to worry about the constraints of actual manufacturing. That’s a different perspective than I’ve thought about myself or heard from others. Not having to worry about draft angles, not having to worry about overhangs or undercuts. Things that, as a good designer or an engineer, we absolutely avoid making those mistakes as we’re developing products because it just causes problems later on. What she’s really advocating is 3D printing is a really good process where you can make functional parts, prove out more complex structures of many parts working together, and not having to take all the time to make sure, “Do I have enough draft angle on this part? Is this going to mold properly? Where is the parting line going to be?” All these different things.
As long as, and this is really the caveat, someone like Jen and someone like Tom who have years and years of design for manufacturing experience, you have the sense of, “I cannot make that in a normal manufacturing process.” Or it is going to so dramatically change the function and/or look of this product when we go to fix those draft angles. That’s the experience that you have to rely on. Because we do find that too often, that someone will design something in 3D printing and you’d be like, “You can’t make that.” It’s never going to be made in anything but a 3D print output, which is fine if that’s what you’re going for. But if you really want to injection mold, that’s not going to happen. It’s going to look different, function different, be different. That is really an experience level that you do need to consult with if you do not have that experience yourself.
3D printing will allow you to, if you want to call it this, make mistakes and being able to make something now that really can’t be manufactured in another process later, that’s true. If you’re going to do what Jen suggested to us; be able to make parts very quickly, test them out and not have to worry about some of those traditional manufacturing constraints at that time, you need to have the confidence that you know what you’re doing. That it can be made, it just has to be adjusted. You just need more time. It’s not the function of the part that needs to be adjusted. It’s just the specific geometry of the part, the wall thicknesses. Think of it like a rough draft. But if you’re going to go and say this is the output, you’re in trouble.
I think she was very refreshing in just talking about Apple products on a Dell budget. We hear that stuff so much. Don’t CAD what you can’t sketch, I love that mentality of how you start. She has just got a great perspective there. This is just something really serious to take a look at her approach to this. As you’re building your consultancy or as you’re consulting with other people to work on projects with you, this is just a refreshing way to look at it, and a type of person you may need on your team.
I was just so interested to interview her because she’s very articulate on what she wrote. She was providing a lot of value to our audience, just commenting on that past episode. Then as we get to know her better, it’s very interesting. She is an independent consultant. I know that’s what maybe many of you aspire to be, or maybe you need to work with an independent consultant, or you have a project you’re doing and you need to find someone like her. I find it very interesting that she does not have a website for her business because she doesn’t need it. She has spent eleven years working in the field at a big design firm and just has all these associations and gets referral business, so she doesn’t need a website. She just uses her LinkedIn.
I had so much fun and I was pleased to hear how she approaches things. There are a lot of similarities in the way we approach things. I’m an industrial designer and she’s an engineer, but we work with people that are like each other all the time.
We invite you to check out the Facebook page and see the comments there as well as make your own @3dStartPoint on Facebook. We would love to hear from you as well. If you have got an interesting viewpoint or some great experience working in a various aspect of 3D printing or of CAD, we’d love to hear from you as well. We’re always looking for new perspectives like Jen’s. I hope this episode, although maybe a surprise to some of you, is a good example that we really do listen to your comments. We see them and we’d like to hear more from you. Depending on what you have to say or your perspective, you could be a guest on a future episode of WTFFF.
Just like Jen, I hope you’re getting your exercise while you’re listening to the podcast. I think that’s awesome. Thank you again, Jen, for being on our show. Thanks to all of you. This has been Tracy and Tom on the WTFFF 3D Printing podcast.
About Jen Davis-Wilson
Senior Mechanical Design Consultant in Product Design.
Over 15 years experience in mechanical design for a variety of industries, especially: Consumer products, Office furniture, Medical devices, Consumer electronics.
Specialties: Expert in Solidworks: parametric design, advanced industrial design surfacing, complex assemblies and file management. Proficient in design for injection molding, as well as casting, extrusion, and a variety of manufacturing methods. Detailed mechanism design and tolerance analysis experience. Project management.
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