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Taking a look back at the major way Canadian retailers are creating massive 3D print awareness to the general consumer public through an innovative marketing technique. 3D print advocate, former Pinshape adviser, and author, John Biehler gives the inside scoop on the unique way Canadian 3D print designers and artists are reaching the masses at a level that has not quite been reached here in the United States.
Our guest today is John Biehler of Cactus Studios, in Canada, north of the border. We’ve got a lot of Canadians we’ve been interviewing on our show. Actually, we had a great conversation with John Biehler, I think that this is a real perfect example of why Canada has quite the leading edge on 3D printing right now and why there are so many companies popping up and why there are so many services. It’s just the environment there is very interested and eager to learn about 3D printing. I think in some ways, Canada is an even earlier adaptor in many ways of certain aspects of 3D printing.
We don’t want to go offending our US listeners or worldwide listeners. So, anyway, let’s go to it because it was jam packed with all sorts of great information. Let’s hear from John.
Listen to the podcast here:
Retail 3D Printing with 3DCanada Project – REPLAY
John, thanks for joining us today to talk about retail 3D printing and the 3DCanada Project. Why don’t you tell our audience a little bit about what you’ve been up to lately and how you got interested in 3D printing?
I’m working on a project for the last, actually probably about a year off and on, but we just actually got ramped up this summer. It’s called The 3DCanada Project. What it is, is there’s a department store chain in eastern Canada called Simons. They’ve commissioned the author and artist, Douglas Coupland, to create a piece of art for a new store that is opening in West Vancouver later this year. After some back and forth discussions and lots of brainstorming, we ended up taking that art project to a whole new level in the sense that Douglas wants to actually create a 3D printed portrait of Canadians.
What we’re doing with that is we’re going to each of the stores in the Simons chain as they open up across Canada. There’s part of an expansion program where they’re expanding beyond the province of Quebec. Basically, we’re going to scan, using a 3D scanner in the store, a number of customers. The number keeps changing but so far we’ve roughly scanned about 150 people per store.
What we’re doing the following day is then we’re taking that scan and we’re actually printing a little 3D printed bust in the store that we’re giving to the customers. Then we’re taking that scanned data and then in about eighteen months or so, we’re going to take all of that scanned information and we’re going to print those busts much larger, almost full size. Basically, they’re going to be part of a large installation that will be the center piece for the Toronto store, which will be unveiled in 2019.
Wow. There’s a video on your website, JohnBiehler.com. WYou can see the process. I think that it’s really interesting that you guys are doing this retail 3D printing because it also really helps bring awareness to 3D scanning, 3D printing to the larger Canadian audience.
That’s what’s been so much fun with this project, is because we’ve been doing everything literally in a store. This is a store that you wouldn’t expect to do 3D printing. This isn’t a Best Buy, this isn’t a traditional electronics type store.
It’s a department store, right?
It’s a clothing store. Basically, we’re set up in a fairly central place within the store. I was just in Edmonton, at the West Edmonton Mall, which is arguably one of the biggest malls in North America. We were right at Grand Central for the mall and for the store. You couldn’t help but walk by and see the window display where we had six 3D printers in the window printing. We also had the scanning booth. When we weren’t scanning, we were actually printing in that space. We have twelve 3D printers on display for the public, all working, all weekend.
The greatest thing I kept hearing over and over again is like, “Wow, I’ve never seen this in person.” That’s what’s been so much fun, is showing the public that this technology is here now. They’ve been blown away watching their scans happen, because we have a big monitor so people could actually see what we’re doing on the computer with the 3D scanning process. The following day, we’re printing all of the busts. They can see the whole workflow and the whole process that I’ve had to figure out how to do this in a retail environment. Basically, it’s all on display for the public to see.
That’d be great that it drives people back into the store the next day to see themselves being printed.
Exactly. It’s funny because we tell them, “You can go back on Monday just so we have some time.” Just in case we had technical issues or whatever. Sometimes we need to print them again because we want these scans to look good. I’ve got a workflow down where we try not to do too much post processing. Sometimes we have to fix hair or chins or whatever. Sometimes we don’t really know how it’s going to turn out until we try printing it.
There’s a little bit of trial and error still, but it’s been really fun. Actually, the Edmonton location was the first time we actually did the printing in the store. Previously, we didn’t quite have room in some of the other stores we were in so we did all the printing in a backroom. You came in on Monday and got your envelope. We actually had a number of people that literally just milled around waiting for their print to come off the machine. They were taking pictures of the machine actually making them, which is kind of fun too.
That’s good press. Is this a big marketing effort that Simons is using it for their stores? Who’s really funding this retail 3D printing? Who’s behind it and why is it being done? Other than just the great effort of spreading the word about 3D printing, that’s great. But is this sustainable?
That’s a great question. Typically, with the Simons stores, they have a big arts background. They tend to really foster the arts in each community that their stores are in. They commission local artists to make art for the store decorations. That’s really where this all started.
This project gave us the opportunity to really take customers and put them in the store. The final art piece that’ll be in Toronto will actually be made up of all these Canadians. Simons is paying for it, yes. To a degree, it is a bit of a marketing thing. It’s really more of an exploration of what we can do with 3D printing.
I’ve spent a fair bit of time talking into Peter Simons, the CEO. He seems really keen on finding other uses for 3D printing in this type of environment. Whether it be at a holiday, you come into the store, you get some personalized stuff done. For Valentine’s Day, you get a 3D printed heart with your loved one’s name on it, that type of thing.
We’re still batting around some ideas to do outside of this project. He just seems to be really interested in finding a way to utilize this technology despite the fact that his store isn’t a technology store. The end game for the whole project is to have this massive piece of art which, as it stands right now, is roughly going to be about 1,000 people from across Canada and a few Americans too that happen to be in the stores at the right time and got scanned.
There’ll be 1,000 people on display permanently in the Toronto location. There’s also some talk about this final piece actually possibly being shipped around to the different stores for a limited time before it actually gets its permanent installation.
Interesting. That would be, gosh, 1,000 busts. That’ll be really interesting to see and create quite an impression. What is the final material going to be?
That still up for debate. One of the challenges that I had in figuring out how to do this project is, how do we take in to account things like technology change over a multiyear project like this? As you guys are probably well aware, 3D printing is constantly at warp speed as far as the materials that we have access to, the machines, the quality and all that kind of stuff.
As it stands right now, we’re using PLA to print the busts that we’re giving to the customers. The current plan is to use the same printers that we’ve been using in store, which are actually Tinkerine Ditto Pros. They’re a very nice, clean designed printer. It was made in Vancouver by some friends of mine. It seemed like a good fit with the Canadian company of Simons, the Canadian 3D printer company. One of the few companies that are actually making 3D printers in Canada.
The current plan is to use the same machines to print the finished busts. There’s some limitations as to how big those final busts can be. What I can share publicly about the final project, because part of it is that Douglas, he doesn’t have the final vision in mind yet. It’s still evolving as we meet people and as we scan people and get new ideas and things like that. It’s been a very interesting and collaborative process. His rough idea is that we will take the printed bust that we’ll print in white PLA. They’re going to be probably gold leafed and varnished.
We’ve been encouraging people, when they come in for their scan, you’re going to be a statue when this is all over. Be statuesque. We leave it open to them because this really is a portrait of Canadians. We have a couple people that’s stuck their tongue out and we scanned them. You can do whatever you want, you just have to hold it for about a minute, the time it takes me to scan you. We’ve had some pretty interesting people do some pretty creative and fun things that are going to be very memorable in the finished piece.
That really takes quite some vision from Peter Simons to really just dive into this, not knowing exactly, other than the initial art work of these busts of 1,000 Canadians. Having the vision that there’s something here to 3D printing and we’re going to put some money behind it. Like you were saying, having some ideas either at holiday time or other seasonal events like Valentine’s Day, to do some customizable products for their customers. To put money behind it and go into it not really knowing the end result, that’s admirable.
He said that it’s one of the benefits of being a family company that’s privately held. They don’t have to report to shareholders, they can make decisions like that. Honestly, from working with lots of different types of companies in the past, it’s so refreshing to have someone that I can just contact and it’s like, “What do you think about this?” He’ll have an opinion, he’ll know about it.
The whole project has been a really interesting, how it all spawned. Last summer, Douglas Coupland had an exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery where he had quite a large exhibition of pieces throughout the Art Gallery. Outside, he had something called Gum Head, which was basically a 3D scanned, made in bronze, version of his head. Very large, probably about ten feet tall, that was sitting on a pedestal in front of the Art Gallery. He encouraged passersby to stick gum to his head. It became this massive gum sculpture.
I had just gotten my first good 3D scanner, I’ll say. It’s a Structure scanner from Occipital. I had backed their Kickstarter and it literally just come in. I asked him on Twitter what he thought about me as a 3D scanning person and him as an artist, from an intellectual property standpoint. What would he think if I 3D scanned his art and then made that model available on the internet or something like that?
Good for you for asking though.
Part of it was, I could’ve just done it but I was also intrigued because he’d also been one of my literally heroes growing up. Because he wrote Generation X and a bunch of other very important books that are engrained in our culture now. One thing led to another and I ended up getting invited to his studio where he was working on the rest of the exhibition. We literally spent I think five or six hours just talking about 3D printing and stuff.
I had a foresight to bring my 3D scanner and he let me 3D scan him. I showed the whole process. He invited me back again. I brought a 3D printer and I printed that bust and I showed him all the stuff. Because he had been doing some 3D printing through a service that was somewhere in the southern US.
Many artists are using them a CAD process in their 3D printing in that process.
Yeah. Also, to just to get proofs done for the client so they can approve it before they go and spend the big money to get it made big. He had a specific character he had to 3D print. He got a quote and he was just horrified at the quote. This was just for literally like a twelve inch replica of it. I was basically explaining to him, you can buy a 3D printer for probably a third of the price of that quote. That can get you pretty close to where you need to be. He got really excited.
He ended up buying the 3D printer and the 3d scanner that I had just so he’d have his own to experiment with and play with. I came back in it and I showed him more how to use it and stuff like that. This sort of evolved.
When Peter Simons and his team was in Vancouver, scoping out artists for the forthcoming store that opens later this year, Doug said, “Can I scan you?” I think that’s where it all, the genesis of this project all started, where Doug was just really excited about having a 3D scanning. He actually has, on his kitchen table, he has a little salad bowl full of scanned heads that he’s made of people that have come by the house. It becomes a really interesting thing for him to do.
I think Peter really saw that this was something really cool. I got invited to lunch and we were brainstorming how we could all pull this off. That’s how it all happened. It’s just been such an interesting process. Like I said, this whole process started last summer. It’s been a long time coming, but it’s been worth the wait as far as I’m concerned. It’s been a lot of fun.
Very exciting. Tracy and I went and had ourselves scanned with that same scanner that you have. The busts really worked out a lot better than the full body scanner in terms of having a file that was ready to do something with right away. I’m sure that works well for what you’re trying to do. Less repair needed.
Although I will say, when I started playing with it last summer, there’s been a number of significant software improvements that have made it a lot better. There’s even a third party software now that can make it do some really good high color resolution, everything, texture. I couldn’t be happier with that Kickstarter purchase, is all I can say. I know a lot of my friends in the 3D space have also bought the same scanner after seeing my results.
It’s a combination of the hardware, but is also this Kinect software, which really works well together with it and makes it really good. For our purposes, the busts are the easiest. We actually spent a fair bit of time talking about how we would do the scanning in the store. Because we could have easily built a camera ray and just press one button and then, boom, everyone’s captured. But it’s not quite as interactive as we’d like.
We specifically chose this route because it gives Doug the ability pose the people as they come in and sit down. Again, thinking about this particular person and how they might fit in to the bigger sculpture, is there a specific way that this person would look better or worse? We have them looking of in certain directions, maybe adjust their hair, adjust their clothes, that type of thing. It’s a lot more personal and it seems also to really fit with the aesthetic of the Simons store too. It’s not as cold as going into a booth and just pressing a button.
I couldn’t agree more. It’s got be quite an experience for these people. That was really the fun of it. In a sense, our scans didn’t turn out well but the process was so much fun, it didn’t matter.
The process is really what we find is quite magical for people because it’s like going to a photo shoot and for people that never have photo shoots. There’s a lot of people around, a lot of people watching you, you’re the center of attention. You’ve got an artist that’s actually primping you for your close up, if you will. When we do the scans, we try really hard to get a really good scan. There’s been a few times when we’ve had issues with either the software, the hardware or even the people. Kids, kids are hard to sit still.
I bet. Kids and pets.
I’ve had one request for a dog but we’d already finish scanning for the day and everything was all packed up and depleted the batteries. One of the K-9 security people at the mall wanted us to scan their dog. She was a dog trainer so she could’ve had the dog sit really still. We actually had a baby in Montreal sleeping on her mother and it turned out beautiful.
I bet that’s great. Can you give our audience a few tips on taking good scans? That would be really helpful.
Yeah. The big trick that I’ve learned after scanning probably thousands of people now, I guess collectively, is basically the longer you take, the better the quality of the scan. You need a lot of room to walk around somebody, so make sure you don’t have any cords or chairs and that kind of stuff. Get the person to find a point in space and stare at it.
What I found that I’ve had to do is I’ve had to talk to people before I start scanning. I tell them what would seem obvious but when you’re foreign to this setting, it can be a little disconcerting when you see this guy walking around you with an iPad and really intently staring at you. Meanwhile, there’s 50 or 100 other people watching the whole thing happen too. We tell them to pick a point in space and just stare at that.
The last setup we had in Edmonton, we actually had the computer screen for the scan results to go. It was actually really perfectly located. We just told them, “Watch your scan happen and don’t follow me as I walk around even with your eyes,” because then sometimes it ends them leading their whole head as I walk around them.
Doug actually makes fun of the fact that I have a perfectly circular gait around the scanning subjects because I’ve done this so much. I just basically, heel toe, heel toe, all the way around. That gives me a little bit more flexibilities so that if I do lose tracking or there’s some detail like say, a pony tail or a hoodie, some other piece of hair or fabric that needs a little bit extra attention where I dip the scanner towards it a little bit more. I can easily go backwards or forwards or up and down. I try to stay almost on rails in my head as I walk around the person and be consistent about it.
I start in the face, walk all the way around to the back and then keep going back to the face and then I do above the head and below the chin just to fill in all the possible places that will be trouble when we’re trying to print them later on.
That’s great. Great tips. Thank you. So then we understand that you’re also an advisor to Pinshape. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Pinshape is actually a great little website where they’re basically trying to be the iTunes for 3D models. One of the things that I have been frustrated by with other sites like Thingiverse and YouMagine is those sites are owned by printer companies. There’s a little bit of a favoritism thing happening there. Some of their designs tend to be more featured than others. There’s also a lot of stuff there because people just push everything there. It’s quite a mess of files, of printable designs.
Lucas Mattheson, the CEO of Pinshape, he approached me after they moved back to Vancouver, after being in Silicon Valley for a while. Basically, he gave me a pitch that I really liked because one of the challenges that I have, as someone that’s an advocate for 3D printing, is giving people good reasons to get a 3D printer. Where do we get the models if you’re not going to be designing 24/7 that are useful, printable, that kind of thing?
Pinshape has been working really hard to create an environment that is really good for people of any type of printer background to go in and find models that have A, been printed really well on their specific machine. They have filtering and search functionality and we can see all the stuff printed on the specific printer. They really encourage designers. They actually started off as more of a higher end store for designers to sell their models and prints. They’ve started to open up a lot more to the every man. It still feels a bit more curated than some of the other sites that are out there.
Pinshape has ended up on one of our top lists. We do a curated list ourselves every time there’s some gift giving holiday or something like that. I’ll go out and find the best Mother’s Day gift or whatever. They’ve ended up at the top of our list many, many times. We’ve had Lucas Mattheson on the podcast before. I actually just finished a guest blog post for them, some advice for designers who are out there.
It is an interesting conundrum, these other sites that are all propping up. The problem of content, you hit on it because in this case, Simons had to commission on artists to get going. I think that’s part of the problem right now, is that we need more commissioning of design to really get it going.
The thing that really sets Pinshape apart from somewhere like Thingiverse, Thingiverse is great if you’re just learning and you want to play. Every day, I’ll look through the new stuff on Thingiverse. There’s fifteen copies of the same thing because someone doesn’t know how to upload stuff properly or they’re using one of the customizer tools. It’s like, “Well, that’s really nice that you made something for Sally, but that’s useless to anybody else.” It’s flooded with all the stuff. Thingiverse has over a million models now, how do you find anything? That’s one of the challenges.
That’s what we have a challenge too. It’s very hard. The other part of that, of what you’re saying, there’s so much stuff out there, it’s actually is a detriment. That’s what I think these 3D printer companies don’t realize, is here you’re sponsoring this and you think, “I want to say, I have a million models.”
But when people go in there and then they’re frustrated and can’t find one good model out of the million, then you actually do your product a disservice. It makes it sound like you lied and you had a bad message. There’s problematic there. It makes you dissatisfied with your printer, when really you’re not dissatisfied with the printer, you’re just dissatisfied with the file download.
That’s really the key. I spent a lot of time talking to people that are really keen on 3D printing, that aren’t 3D designers. I read a book about the entry point. I know nothing about 3D printing, where do I start was the question I was trying to answer with my book. I didn’t know any of this when I started 3D printing either but I had the passion and the interest to teach myself how to do all the stuff. “I just bought a new 3D printer,” someone will say to me. I’m like, “What did you buy it for? What do you want to print with it? What’s the compelling reason why you would need a 3D printer in the first place?”
Everybody has their own little reasons for getting one. I also say, it’s just the same thing as having a table saw or a drill press. You might have bought that specific tool in your workshop for a very specific project. Also, it’s a multi-functional tool that can work with lots of other things. 3D printing takes that to a whole new level where you’re going to start looking at the world very differently once you realize you can make anything you need in your house or design anything custom that doesn’t exist.
My little origin story is that I’m a photographer. That was one of the things that attracted me to 3D printing, is being able to 3D print camera mounts and all kinds of little gadgets and things like that. The crazy thing is some of the stuff that I use in my examples are things like a little attachment that allows me to slide a GoPro onto the hotshoe mount of my SLR so I can shoot videos and stills at the same time. I could do that with about four different adapters that different companies make. It will probably cost $100, or I could 3D print the very specific part I need for ten cents.
Please don’t tell Jonathan (our camera guy). I think we’re going to have to use that idea when we go to some of these upcoming tradeshows. I actually had that thought, how are we going to shoot stills and video at the same time? Of course, our videographer’s going to cringe because he wants to do a lot higher quality than what a GoPro can do.
I actually have done the same thing that you suggest. We 3D print a lot of other content that we create here, but I do use it to make functional things that I need. I needed to mount my GoPro to my normal camera tripod for doing a time lapse video of something we’re printing and it didn’t exist. I just measured it up and printed it.
I think that that’s why it’s so great that you guys are doing this in a mall intercept because you’re really getting an exposure out there at a basic level of people who randomly might not really see the dynamic for them. All of a sudden, it opens up an a-ha moment. We have that all the time. We have a six year old daughter who will always be like, “Oh, well dad can 3D print that.” It would be like, “Yeah, I guess dad can.” It’s one of those things.
Kids get it so much better than adults do. Adults are always trying to find the ROI on it. The kids just like, “You can make Legos so you don’t have to buy me anymore Lego ever.”
See, I was the kid in this scenario. I was like, “Well, let’s just get a 3D printer and start jumping in and see what it is.” Tracy, I was like, “I want to hear the ROI. Where is the ROI?” It took me months to convince her, it was worth it.
I should tell you guys how I got into 3D printing. I was actually at South by Southwest in 2009 when Bre Pettis and the MakerBot crew brought their prototype and unveiled it to the world. They were 3D printing shot glasses. I thought, wow, this is amazing. I don’t think I could ever do that or could afford it.
I saw him on Steven Colbert a little while later and he actually had the Thing-O-Matic, the next MakerBot machine. He had 3D scanned, with a $5,000 scanner, Steven Colbert’s head and was printing him live on the show. I’m like, okay, this is just too cool. I have to jump in now. This is my chance to get in on the ground floor something really cool. I literally bought my kit that night.
I didn’t know how to do anything. I didn’t know CAD. I didn’t know how to solder. Back then, when you bought a 3D printer, you had to put it together yourself. It’s like buying a car and they give it to you in boxes.
No, I know. That was my concern when Tom even wanted to buy that. I was like, “I’m not letting you buy one that we have to put together.”
I built it. The funny thing is, is I got it on Monday, it was when it was delivered. I literally took days off work to finish building it. Friday night, I got my first print off of it. The Saturday morning was the inaugural Vancouver Maker Fair and I couldn’t have been more excited. The timing and everything. I’d never seen a 3D printer in person other than the Bre Pettis one. Not that could actually print proper stuff. The MakerBot prototype was pretty crude at the time that I had seen it.
I had my whistle, the whistle with a pea inside and a few other little bits that were, by comparison, horribly printed now. I was super excited to have it all done. That was my a-ha moment. It’s like, I made this, or a robot made this for me. It was really exciting that way.
One thing I learned early on is that the more I documented my experiences in 3D printing, the more interest I got. Going back to what you were saying earlier about showing this to the public, one thing I really learned early on is I’m preaching to the converted if I show this at Maker Faire. There’s definitely some that new people come to Maker Faire that see 3D printers for the first time. The majority of people there are in that maker space already. They certainly heard of it or probably watched at least YouTube videos, that kind of thing.
To actually get to some place like a mall and show this to people is pretty awesome and pretty fun. I felt like Santa the whole time because you’re showing them this really cool technology that they had no idea was actually real and also affordable. The big thing people keep asking, because we had all these machines, “How much is that machine?” They’re thinking, “It’s got to be like $10,000.” I’m like, “No, the machines we’re using are about $2,000 Canadian.”
I’ve also got an M3D, which I bought for $350. The prices are getting down to the point where instead of buying your kids a play station, you might buy them a 3D printer. That could lead into a better career than playing Grand Theft Auto.
Much better. That’s our goal, that’s our plan. Educational toy. We’ve already got our daughter playing with Tinkercad.
There you go. I love Tinkercad. People consider me to be an expert CAD designer person but I actually still love Tinkercad because it’s simple. It’s got all the stuff hidden away that you don’t need if you were to launch Solidworks or something else. Certainly depending on what you’re trying to design, but for getting in and out quickly, Tinkercad is such an amazing tool and it’s free. You run it in your browser. You can run it on just about any machine.
I’ve taught at some summer camps this past summer. They’re usually literally using it on a Chromebook. A $200 computer and you’ve got a CAD workstation. That’s pretty awesome compared to when I started five years ago.
Definitely. It’s really progressed. Or compared to when I started CAD like, oh my gosh, 20 years ago plus. It was a six figure Alias Unix Workstation situation.
I dabbled with things like Bryce 3D and Maya and those types of things. They were, you need to take a college level course on how to use the interfaces, let alone be a designer in some of these things. I always dabbled in that stuff but I was never really serious about it until I had a reason, which is like I want to make my own stuff that my 3D printer can print for me.
That is one of the things that we talked with Pinshape about actually, is that the lexicon, the words that you choose to use doesn’t really helps sometimes with 3D printing. The phrases we use in 3D printing and the phrases that are used in CAD modeling don’t translate to a general population who may want to try this out and do things with it.
We always talk about it. When any Etsy shop can use 3D printing and 3D CAD, then you have something that’s gone mainstream. In order to do that, you have to change the language to be, and in Pinshape’s case, we talked about the language of shopping, the language of gift giving.
Photoshop’s actually done a very good job of making it a very simple language that we understand. Here’s color, here’s shape, here’s this, a paint brush, a paint tool. There’s like vectors and meshes and all these phrases that your average person now has to learn on top of everything else. It creates an incredibly long learning curve.
I was at CES in January, specifically for the 3D printing stuff. One of the first takeaways I had after seeing so much 3D printing in one place is that I could do a pretty good business just being a marketing consultant to these companies that are trying to market to the everyday person. They’re still using all of these engineering terms, like you said, the language that is meaningless to people. All these concepts are so foreign to them. There’s nothing similar in the real world to some of the terms that we use, at least with FDM printing and other types of printing as well.
It shocked me how many companies just need a copywriter just to properly present what their product is to the soccer mom that wants to get one for her kid. That’s such a missed opportunity. So few companies are doing a good job at it at all.
We say it’s a missed opportunity for those designers posting up, you’re talking about them posting up files and they don’t know what they’re doing when they’re posting up files. Also, they don’t know how to tag things so you could find them.
That’s the biggest problem. I think that the company that really wins this battle or helps leading all the other companies to the right path to reach mainstream America, is the one that figures out how to make shopping for CAD models a real shopping experience and not just a search engine, true online retail 3D printing. Tell me what you’re looking for and I’ll give it to you. You need to be making an environment that is, as you said earlier, curated or an environment in which people can go and have a shopping experience, and inspired.
Right now, I think it’s not really inspired. I don’t look at that and say, I can’t create that myself. Everything I see, I go, do I really want to download this and risk it? I could probably do it in an hour. It’s not exciting enough for the majority of what’s there.
I guess on the other side too, if you look at the sheer volume of models out there, you could spend the rest of your life trying to print everything and you’d never get half way through it.
That’s so true.
There definitely is some people in the space that are really hitting it out of the park, but there’s so few and far between. Like you said, the findability of the stuff is so hard. One of the first things I designed for a friend, a co-worker had come across something in a Japanese magazine. One of those wacky Japanese design things where the school creates all these crazy things that would never be made. There’s a few things in there that bubbled up. Maybe those should be actual products.
She showed this thing to me and I figured out how to take a 2D drawing of it and extrude it into 3D manipulate it enough to make it so that it would work. I had no idea what it was called. When I put it on Thingiverse back in the day, I was just like, I don’t know what to call this. Literally a minute after I posted it, someone comment saying, they told me what it was called so that I tagged it properly.
Basically, it was little thing that you stick your thumb into and then it holds your book open while you’re reading a paper book. There’s a million different ways to describe it to somebody. It’s a bookmark, it’s a thumb mark. I don’t know, there’s all these different things. Until you actually know what these things are called.
Especially in the 3D printing space, where companies have done such a wonderful job of marketing 3D printers as, if you break something in your house you can just download it and print it. It’s like, I don’t know what that part’s called. That eleven tooth gear that’s inside my ancient mechanical appliance thing, I don’t know what that’s called. I don’t know how to find it.
I think that that’s the problem with, like that book holder, whatever you want to call it, the book page opener, whatever you want to call it. Is that people don’t think about that. That’s really the difference here, is that the mindset should be you should tag that “gifts for book lovers”. That will encompass. Whenever anybody searches for something related to book, it’s going to show up. That’s really the mindset that Etsy, for instance, has dialed in, Amazon has dialed in. These general print libraries still don’t. Part of it is amount of stuff that they have that are related to a category or related to that tag is limited.
I don’t know if the proper response by companies like Pinshape would be to force you to put X amount of tags on something. When I was doing stock photography, I was really frustrated because whenever you’d upload something to iStockPhoto or those kind of places, they always require a minimum of ten tags to describe the photo. It makes perfect sense now because, how else are you going to find this thing at some point when you’re dealing with a sea of a million or a billion photos or 3D models? That makes perfect sense now. I don’t know if it’s the right answer but it’s probably going to happen.
It’s a step in the right direction. That’s exactly what I was going to say. Actually, I know from firsthand experience that Etsy requires thirteen tags. You have thirteen tags and they tell you everywhere, use them all.
For me when I was doing the stock photography stuff, it’s like, why don’t I just upload 50 photos? If I have to do ten tags for each photo, it’s going to take me two hours of work. It’s going to take me a lifetime to make that money back by selling those photos that I’m not going to have because I had to spend that time tagging everything. It was a frustrating experience.
That’s why maybe a site like Pinshape or some of these companies that are new and investing in these and building their libraries and everything, that they need to go through and geo tag them themselves.
That’s one thing I would love to see Pinshape do, is to go through and just have an auditor, if you will, go through and flag things. Maybe it doesn’t get posted immediately, maybe it gets posted after it gets flagged by one of these auditors and properly categorize and those types of things.
I can’t believe that there isn’t some opportunity for an algorithm that even if you start putting one or two tags or just a general category of what you’re adding in, that it can’t suggest for you a bunch of tags to populate all that. That could be a way to help that wouldn’t take waiting for a back log of a person or people going through it.
Also another way that we think really to boost the content is that when you really see something that’s inspired or whatever, that you really have to give it a boost up. Somehow give it a higher ranking. If you see something that it already has a print file so it’s already been printed, these kinds of things. You have to give them almost like a Google plus one.
Absolutely. The thing with likes and those type of things is there’s no context. Why did you like it? Did you like it because it looks cool but you’re never going to print it? Or does it look cool and you’re printing it now? There’s so much great content out there. I want as much metadata as possible about this stuff to find out why people think this is great or why it’s not great.
The other thing that I really like is findabillity of stuff. With a site like Pinshape, they don’t have a million models yet. They have a lot of models. I want to be able to go in and see, I’m up to date, what’s new today? What haven’t I seen yet that’s going to inspire me to fire up my 3D printer today? Those kinds of things. That’s the stuff I’ve been talking to Lucas about. Like I said, my advisory role is the kinds of things that me as a 3D printing enthusiast wants from a site like that.
Also at the same time, is how does this fit into the everyday person when they’re trying to make a decision about buying a 3D printer? What’s the compelling reasons? There’s lots of people that have compelling reasons because it’s their job, whether they’re a designer, a video game designer or special effects or a CAD engineer, whatever you want to call it.
The other people that everyone seems to be targeting all the time now is, why would those people come to your site? Give them a reason to print something cool. If they don’t have a printer, they can either use a service or they’ll get a printer. Those are the kinds of things that I talked to Lucas about all the time. We keep brainstorming new ways to compel people to buy 3D printer basically.
It’s going to take a critical mass of people wanting it and looking for it, which is I think what you’re doing with your book , your advisory role and then of course this retail 3D printing Simons project, is to make more and more people aware of 3D printing and getting them to be hungry for these things.
It’s no secret that we are big proponents of incentivizing good designers, artists just like Douglas Coupland. You have to go out there and you have to incentivize them, give them a project, let them do some things because there’s no other way. Because we’re busy, we have day jobs. We’re busy and while we may want to help support 3D printing, we’re not going to be sitting around, posting up designs for free and inspiring the group that way. We’re going to be doing things that are related to projects that we’re working on.
You’ve got to give us projects. That’s what we keep saying to all of these companies out there. Whether it’s you’re selling a printer, you’re building a library, it doesn’t matter. The reality is you’re focused on your software, you’re focused on your printer features, you’re focused on those things and you need someone to help focus on the possibilities of what you can do with this.
Absolutely. That’s the question I have to help answer every time I talk to somebody about 3D printing, is where do I get this stuff, where’s the good stuff?
What am I going to make? That’s what we always joke with, what the FFF am I going to print now that I have this printer?
It is. I think you’re starting to help answer that for people in many, many ways. Certainly, that’s what the industry needs. Creating awareness and a feasibility, that is so important. Hopefully, we can do some more of that here in the United States as well as in Canada, so that we can get some of that going. We need some visionaries here to bring 3D printing in as well.
The big thing where my pivot, if you will, is I stop trying to focus on the 3D printing community itself because those people already buy into it. What I’ve been surprised is how open and receptive other industries have been to learn more about it.
I keynoted a conference in Florida earlier this year of 2D printing people. These are people that do document management, they run photocopiers, photo printers and those types of things. They were fascinated by how traditional publishing and printing is going to be affected by 3D printing. There’s so many mistakes that we’re not learning from, that happened in that space, in the 2D space, that we’re starting to see happen in the 3D space.
We’re seeing the non-refillable ink jet cartridge problem happening with filament cartridges.
All these kinds of things are happening. Ownership of the files and DRM and all these kinds of stuff, is so many parallels. So I had some of the most interesting conversations with people that had no idea what the 3D space was about but they knew all about the 2D space because they’ve been in that for 30 years.
There’s all these meeting of the minds that’s been happening and it’s really interesting. For me, as a public speaker and a consultant, I found that getting a way for the 3D printing people to spread the word is the first step. Certainly, I got my hand deeply in that pie just so I’m relevant. Also, just doing things like the Simons project has just been so fascinating.
To see people’s reaction when they understand that this technology has been around for 30 years and it’s just now getting to the point where you can actually go to a store and buy these stuff and use it. It’s very exciting.
It feels a lot like the Wild West or the early days of the computer. Like the Apple one, Apple two era in the 3D printing space. We’re just at the precipice of some really big stuff coming. The mainstream is starting to, “Okay, 3D printing whatever. Has it jumped a shark yet?” That kind of thing. We’re just at the precipice of this massive mainstream rush of people getting interested in it.
Do you guys think that we’re going to have 3D printers in every house, like a coffee maker at some point in the near future? I’m not so convinced about it yet because I still think we still have a ways to go before everybody can use it the way they think they can use it.
I think there needs to be a few changes on the CAD side of things. I do think the printers are coming along because we just tested a Polar3D, and it’s low cost and it’s really easy and it’s safe and it’s great. It looks like a coffee maker, I have to say.
We’ve tested that out and the results are really clear. At this point, it’s an $800 printer. It’s going to probably be even cheaper for students and other things. I think it’s really there from that standpoint. I think speed and other things are going to happen. That’s just going to happen over the next five to ten years, no matter what. I’m not worried about that, it never concerns me when we design something. But the CAD side of it, it has to get more user friendly. We’ve seen some things and I’m excited.
That’s the thing, we’ve seen some things and we actually can’t talk about all of the things that we’ve seen because we have NDAs from people that have talked to us. I don’t like to predict or put any kind of timeframe on it anymore, because I think technology is moving so fast and it’s moving in the right directions for the most part, that I have high hopes I guess is what I would say. That it’ll be a lot more mainstream than it is today. Does that mean in every house? Not necessarily. But much, much more mainstream, yes. It will happen.
The exposure to it is happening. We’re in product design and development for consumer retail products. We talked to companies that are going to be making stuff and making things in the future. We still a lot of hybrid products coming up and things like that. What we really see going on there is going to push it into that mainstream consciousness of, what can I do with this? Once that’s answered in your own head, there’s no reason for you not to jump in, as soon as the CAD part is not at stumbling point.
I would agree. I think the CAD part, the challenge is, how to get from my brain to a physical object without being a designer? That’s still really hard, but we’re getting there. Also, having content repositories like Pinshape and Thingiverse and those types of places, fill some of that gap. I really think that once we get passed the plastics and we get into a multiple materials in an affordable use case, it’s going to change things.
I was lucky to be at Ford’s R&D center about a month ago in Silicon Valley and Carbon 3D is their partner. They’re printing pretty amazing stuff that I think hits a lot of those things that you just listed Tracy, about the speed factor’s definitely there. I don’t know about the cost, the cost is the big enigma I guess, with the Carbon 3D stuff. Certainly, in the materials, they have some pretty exotic materials that you can print on this machine and you can print it fast.
Those are a couple of the biggest bullet points that people ask me about. It’s like, “Well, how long would it take to print this thing for my house?” It’s like, “Well, how long would it take you to order it from Amazon?”
Some of the things that I’ve spent my time doing is basically setting expectation levels for people. Constantly, those are being challenged by companies like Carbon 3D and sounds like this Polar printer. All these other things are constantly conspiring to make me adjust my spiel when I give it to people because they keep improving things and it’s happening so fast. I literally have to update my slide deck once a week just because some of my stuff gets out of date.
I bet you do. We do too. That’s why we do it in a podcast and we try not to do it in writing because it’s just so much easier. You mentioned earlier about having a drill press in your home or a table saw, things like that. Not everybody has those in their homes.
People that are more makers do, but your average person really does not. I guess the way I see 3D printing going in the future is that it will become more widely adapted in residential environments than the table saw and the drill press are today. I like to call it as sewing machine. More like sewing machine. I like to say it’s sewing machine.
Here in the US, I don’t know about in Canada, but in the US we have Home Ec classes in almost all of our junior high school level. You at least have been exposed to a sewing machine like you’re exposed to an oven. You have that skill. At least you can hem a pair of pants or do something minimal with it.
There are going to be a varying degree of people who can just have a sewing machine, it’s successful, it’s cheap, it’s priced right and I can do this or I can just use a service company if I don’t want to do it. There are those that are inspired and really can create something and add something special to it and they take off and they start their own little shop, they start their store. They do whatever they’re going to do with it. That’s where we sit. It’s like that type of tool.
It’s interesting because you mentioned schools and Home Ec and things like that. I actually spend a lot of time teaching teachers about curriculum for the school. There’s almost a fear, I’ve heard from school districts and administrators and principals, about being left behind.
Unlike Home Ec, which I think there probably are notions about the different gender roles, where not many guys learn sewing and the girls, not many did shop class, at least when I was going to school. With 3D printing, I see all genders do this stuff. It’s really interesting that even elementary school level schools are talking to me about getting some curriculum or at least getting advice on which printer they should buy for their school because they don’t want their kids to be left behind.
Absolutely, we hear this a lot. We hear that all the time. This is like a huge topic we’ve talked multiple times on our podcast. We talked with some administrators about it. The fear of being left behind, and this is what we’re pushing right now, is that the fear of being left behind ought to be a business concern as well, especially at retail.
That’s where we’re talking about it at the most right now, is that you have to take a leap in and just test it out. It may not be right for you. But if you don’t explore it and you don’t get a handle on it, because you must try it to understand its benefit.
You’ve got at least consider it. I think that the sewing machine analogy is a really a great point. Not only in a residential setting, but think about it in business setting. What happens when you go shop at your department stores, like Nordstrom’s or something, and you buy a pair of pants and they have that service to hem it for you to make it fit you, to customize it for you.
How is 3D printing any different? I think that many, many stores, whether it’s offering products that are completely 3D printed or offering products that are augmented or customized with the addition of a 3D printed component , that’s the future. I agree.
Absolutely. Getting back to your point Tom, about the color printing as well. A lot of people, they’ll see the 3D scanning stuff. It scans in full color but the printing part is such a disappointment. As soon as someone figures out how to do that well. There certainly is a lot of people trying with FDM, and the results are so, so.
That’s going to be I think the big jump from black and white television to color television. It’s going to be a game changer for everybody involved when we can literally have a photo copier that prints the same thing that you’ve scanned.
John, if you or any of our listeners out there are working on color, call us because I have 20 plus years of color experience in every kind of material imaginable. The big mistake that I see happening with the projects out there that are doing color, is that they may achieve a color but in the end it’s not desirable. Either you’re pasteling your colors, which is the only way I know to describe it, you’re making them look faded. It’s not of interest. At the end of the day, it’s not going to make it more saleable.
Or you have this idea that you’re just going to mix filament colors that exist today and actually you’ll just end up with mud. If you don’t pick the right colors to be able to do this and you don’t understand the chemistry of that in addition to what people want to buy in color, especially women, then you have a problem. Call us because this is the biggest thing that we want to make sure that that happens, because it will be a tipping point.
Absolutely. You know how many times I get asked if filament comes in pantone colors?
Yes. Do you know how many rolls you have to buy just to match a pantone color? It’s incredibly ridiculous. It’s a very complex process. It’d be nice if it wasn’t that difficult, but we’re not there. Even your normal ink jet paper printers don’t match pantone colors either. You’d get a range of colors you can print but you’ll still print it to something that looks like what you want it to, design wise. But it’s not technically accurate.
Pantone is really still used mostly in high volume manufacturing or whether it’s a product or a printed thing. It’s not even there in the 2D world. I think people should remember that. It’s a lot closer though. Perception wise, it’s closer.
Anyway, John, this has been so fabulous. We had really enjoyed talking with you. Keep us updated on how the project is going. We’ll boost that through to our listeners, through show notes and blog posts and things like that. As well as when the installation goes up, let’s have another podcast.
We want to hear about more of the details, what the feedback was and the reaction, the reality of what happened. Absolutely, that’s obviously a ways in the future.
It is a bit.
We’ll still be here.
Thanks again, John.
You too. You’re welcome.
We’ll talk to you soon.
Thanks a lot.
Retail 3D Printing with 3DPrint Canada Project – Final Thoughts
That’s a really ambitious project, this 3DPrint Canada project, but it’s also really exciting. I’ve got to applaud, not only John and the artist involved, Douglas Coupland. I mean, Douglas Coupland. I was like, “It can’t be.” When they first sent me the email saying that he was interested in discussing this retail 3D printing project on our podcast. I thought, “No, it can’t be.” You’re talking about the guy who coined the phrase GenX. Early adaptors here, really early adaptors. Massively visionary thinking on the part of Simons.
That’s the thing, Peter Simons. This thing really impressed me, that he has vision and fortunately, he’s a private owner of a department store chain so he can do whatever he wants to. He doesn’t have a committee that he’s got to get things approved by. He just goes out and says, “Yeah okay, let’s buy a dozen or so of 3D printers and let’s see what we can do with it our stores that would be meaningful to our consumers.”
Personally, I just feel like if you’re going to be a patron of the arts, and many companies are. They have their charitable programs or projects. They support the symphony or the ballet or whatever it is. That’s great, but you’re still typically supporting it for those who go to art museums and those who go to music halls. You’re supporting it for a specific segment of the community.
Here, you’re supporting the arts by bringing public awareness to it. You’re bringing public awareness to more than just art here. You’re bringing awareness to the art, the technology, the combination of all of it. You’re creating an event.
I guess what I would say is, they’re bringing the art to the people really. Bringing it out to where the people are shopping and spending time on other things, which is so smart. What’s really exciting is they’re bringing the art to the people, out to where people are spending time and shopping instead of putting it out there and hoping people are going to come to it.
It is a very viable case for why 3D printing has a future at retail, has a future in the public. Those that are critical of that and say, “No, it’s just never going to be. It’s just tchotchkes, gizmos and it’s too techy for your average person.” I don’t think it’s too hard for the average person to grasp.
Here’s why I don’t think so, I think we spend our entire day surrounded by plastic things. It’s the way we live. We’re absolutely surrounded by plastic things. We have a basis of comparison for plastic things. To say that 3D printing’s not good enough because it only makes plastic things, which isn’t true. If you’ve listened to enough of our podcasts, you know it’s not true and we don’t believe that. No, it makes metal things and makes other materials.
If that’s your criticism, then what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with making plastic things? Injection molding machines pumps out hundreds of thousands of plastic things by the hour. That’s not the reason that it’s not taking off and tipping into retail and consumer products.
It’s not tipping because it’s not fast enough. Because the design’s not good enough. Because there’s not enough awareness of it, but it’s coming. It’s coming. There’s not enough content yet and there’s not enough ways for average people, who are not 3D converted, to actually experience it and use it. That hasn’t changed. It will change. It is. It’s going to change.
I applaud John and Douglas Coupland and Peter Simons for all that they’re doing in Canada to raise awareness of it and to build a community and build interest in technology. It’s great. I’m very excited to see that project continue and come to its final fruition.
I really think we somehow have to make it. We have to get up to Toronto. This is our honeymoon location. We honeymooned in Toronto. We haven’t been back recently. We need to get back there. It’s an awesome city. We definitely have to be there. I think we’ll have to put that in the plan.
It’s not going to be until 2019. It’s not going to be for a couple of years, but there’s no reason for us not to be there. Maybe we’ll make it our 25th wedding anniversary. Who knows? We could do that. I sort of had a more exotic, warmer destination in mind. Who says we can’t do both?
A Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada based 3D Print Canada advocate, consultant & instructor, technologist, blogger, traveler, photographer, speaker, maker & all around curious person. John founded Cactus Studios in January 2015 and co-founded 3D604.org, a club of 3d printing enthusiasts who meet monthly and help share our knowledge of 3d printing at many events. He is also an advisor at Pinshape.com.
- Douglas Coupland – 3D Print Canada
- Skanect/Structure Sensor
- 3D Printing with Autodesk
- Polar 3D
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