Today we are going to speak with Isaac Budmen who is an artist, designer, and an author. He is an overall businessman. He wrote a book on 3D printing which is really the core of this interview today. It is actually called The Book on 3D Printing. It is for enthusiasts and trend watchers. It is also for hobbyists and professionals who want to be better acquainted with the technology. It is really a cute little book. I found there to be a couple of interesting things that includes a section on crowd funding. It was a whole chapter on it. Crowd funding 3D printers is a really interesting choice. They go into tech and machine issues. They really touch base on a really broad range of topics.
I thought it was a good little book. It is a great little starter. We reviewed his book and we wanted to interview him. The interview took a whole turn as it goes into a some great directions. It is not just about the book. You got to listen to this great interview. It is well worth the time and really thinks about the challenges of the market. He has a broader viewpoint from what we do here on the podcast.
Listen to the podcast here:
Writing The Book on 3D Printing
Hi Isaac, thank so much for joining us to talk about writing The Book on 3D Printing.
It is my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
You literally wrote The Book on 3D Printing, and we love it.
We decided it because everyone was Google-ing books for 3D printing, we figured we’d make it easy for them.
This book was originally written in 2012 and 2013. It has changed a lot in the industry from that time. Why at that time you felt that you need to write the book?
At the time, 3D printing was starting to take it’s first steps in the public eye. There was not a good resource at the time for getting into 3D printing. You can Google it and you can find a little bit on it in different forums. I was struggling to find good resources. I complained to my co-author that I wish I could find the different sources. By the time I had found all of that, my editor suggested to me to put all of these into the book so that other people don’t have to go to the same stuff we went through.
This is like how and why we started our podcast. We would find the answers for them and point them in the right direction. That is how we did in the podcast world.
I tell everyone that it’s like a high tech sewing machine, and everyone knows that with a sewing machine, you can make really incredible stuff. If you have ever looked at the high fashion fashion shows, there is some really incredible stuff done there. There are also basic stuff like the Hanes t-shirt. Sewing machines are the backbone of fantastic stuff. Everyone knows that a sewing machine is a nightmare to use because you need to understand everything about it and all the intricacies and particularities of your machine. If you do all of that, then you can make amazing stuff. If you don’t, you end up with a ball of nasty string and a jammed machine or a fabric that is wasted.
3D printers are very similar. You have a lot of particularity for the machine to machine to machine. Unless you learn the intricacies and learn the process intimately, you end up making half way decent or terrible stuff. If you do learn those intricacies and you do get intimate with the process of polymer extrusion, you can make really incredible stuff.
I have come to a little bit reconsider that analogy of a 3D printer being like a sewing machine over time recently. Maybe you have some comment on that. Sewing machines when they were brought in were a tremendous time saver. The industries and the women who bought them were so anxious to buy them because it was saving tremendous energy and time in hand sewing. It is the same thing right now in 3D printing – manufacturing, design world. We are adapting it in a faster pace because we see the time and cost savings. But from a real world situation in terms of a consumer basis, it is exactly what happened with sewing machines is that it moved into a hobby world.
3D printing is not appealing to more than the tech enthusiastic. It is not tipping into the Etsy or Bespoke communities in a greater way right now. It maybe because of the design portion of it that is so tech focused. In a sewing machine world, it is not tech focused because it is handmade focused.
We are at an interesting point in the industry here is where the consumer love affair with 3D printing has started to wane. The hobbyists have taken over. It really is a tech hobby crowd. It is like hot rod cars. It seems like that is the crowd that is most interested in 3D printing. Going forward here, the job of expanding the use case of the 3D printer and introducing people to what can this possibly do falls on artists and designers to become intimate with the process and start designing things for additive manufacturing rather than using additive manufacturing as just a prototyping avenue.
That is what we want to see. The reality is that it is a bit of a funding and paradigm problem right now. It is a lot sexier to fund the tech. There is a lot of money there. It is an unknown. It is an intangible to fund the design side of it. Until there is flowing money into the design side of it, you will only get these project and crowd sourced stuff. Tell us more about your background that led you to writing the book on 3D printing.
There is a big application for consumer 3D printed products. One of the things that should happen between now and then, is we need to get over the sexiness of the fact that this product is 3D printed. It is the job of designers to design an object using the process that is so innately appealing that it doesn’t matter if it has been 3D printed.
I am from Syracuse University and my degree is in Policy Studies. As a kid, I grew up very creative doing and making films in my backyards= and making props. I did mechanics. I had a 12 year career at Cocksons, rigging boats for competitive rowing was a passion of mine. When I got to college, I got this silly idea in my head that I had to go and get a real job, something that you didn’t enjoy. When I was in junior year, in 2 years, I got my degree done. I spent the next two years taking different courses in things that I am interested in. I happened that I took a course on Star Trek where I heard about this thing called a Replicator. It was 2009-2010, and there was this key patent expiration that happened. The RepRap project gets into its legs.
I Googled it and I went down the rabbit hole. We were very lucky at that time. At the university, we had a library – the Fayetteville Public Library. I think it is the first Maker Space with access to a 3D printer in the US. I went there. I was mind blown that this existed. I did everything I could to have the money to buy these things. I bought a Maker Gear Mosaic which came in 10,000 pieces. During that time, the only support was an internet relay chat. I printed my first object. From there, I was down the rabbit hole. I started doing interactive installations. I poured myself and free time into exploring 3D printing.
When you read into the book, you see the angle on art and design and emphasis on really getting in and spending time on the design. The design is what makes 3D printing successful. It is not the machine.
The machine is interesting to a point. Beyond that, it is like “what else does it do bedside push plastic out of the nozzle?” It is our job to explore the application of this. I worked with the Media Lab in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. I realized that what most of what we were doing is exploring the technologies available to them and opening our eyes on the possibilities of things. When the first paints came about, you wonder if they were used to create images or used to color walls. What job did an artist play in discovering those roles? That is one of the most fascinating things. There is this huge opportunity right now to pioneer the application of this technology and not just the technology itself.
There is an absence of design in the manufacturing and retail world today. We know that from the inside. There are very few designers. I know what it is like. They exists in such small pockets with companies that have deep design roots like Apple and Herman Miller. It doesn’t exist in your general marketplace right now. Women influence 86% of the purchases at mass market retail in the US. There is a huge disconnect there. There are no designers in the process. These are not industrial designers. They are facilitators and engineers. The industrial design world is relegated to a group of agencies.
In the Herman Miller days, they were in the factory. The manufacturers were hiring the designers. We have such a disconnect now. What I love about 3D printing is that it brings lots of actual manufacturing of goods more locally again. But who is going to design all of that stuff?
It is incredibly disappointing to me to hear you guys reaffirm a lot of that. It seems like it is such a missed opportunity for so many people involved and for everyone. Instead of taking that chance on young designers or bringing a designer on to your workforce and allowing them to flex their creative muscle and explore and try something that may be isn’t guaranteed to sell right away. If you provide value and functionality in whatever it is you are designing, someone is going to buy it.
It is going to happen. They are all struggling to remain relevant as the world is changing away from a brick and mortar to something like the online retailers now. The idea of zero inventory or virtual inventory retail is turning into reality. Once these large companies realize this, they can save so much money in not having to invest in the inventory and getting into their shelves over the course of four to six months. They will be forced to think on how to be different.
One of the things that I think is most interesting about this century is, since the dawn of the internet, there has been very firm division with what we associate as our real life and digital life. Through the years, there will be a blurring line between those two. It is just one life. We differentiate because the digital world hasn’t really reflected our real world. Our real world hasn’t reflected our digital one. The Amazon.com homepage is an example. We can see a different Amazon.com homepage. When we walk into Walmart or Target, we all have to buy the same lamp, the same shirt, from the selection of 60 different shirts.
One of the real opportunities in 3D printing digital fabrication as a whole is the opportunity for customization. One of the most interesting mediums for designers to work in right now is parametric design. There is an opportunity to think of an object or a set of parameters and then allowing it to tweak and design their own version of object you crafted for them.
I see the benefits of the parametric design opportunities for making a core design of an object and then being able to change it and customize it. I like to create more free form and organic shapes and forms in my designs. I tend to not use the parametric software that is out there. There is a place for both.
There is always a risk when you give people too much choice or freedom. In parametric design, if you give too much of the design to the consumer, you risk producing a dud.
When you can make anything, a lot of times, they are paralyzed and do not want to have anything to do with it. You then default to not doing it. It is why fast food restaurants today are this way. There is a reason why they have Meal #1, Meal #2, and Meal #3. If you put all the different items in the menu, people would take forever, and the miles in the drive thru will take miles long.
Those that have lots of choices still sell the same basic set of burgers. Many of them have converted their complex menu although they still allow it. They put in more stock standard options. It is an interesting conundrum in this world where we have choice.
When I go into the fast food place, I don’t think about the decision, I just want to get the food and go. Consider if this will be a parametric design and have customizable options, or could be a one off CAD design object that does not need customization to it.
We want the fastest thing possible. It still makes a difference. This has been what is happening in consumer retail. If you have a product you are selling that does two or three different things or configurations, you can assemble it in two for different reasons. We found that 95% of the time, the consumers will use it in the one orientation configuration that it is displayed at. When you give consumers the choices for making it this way or that way, whatever their need may be, they just don’t care. Their visual mind sees it in one way.
There is some irony in that too. You have a weed wacker that just does weed wacking, and then you have a weed wacker ecosystem that has trimming attached. When someone goes to buy that, they end up with this decision of “this one over here just do weed wacking and the other ones do it another stuff which I do not do. Will I pass on the opportunity to do the other stuff?” It is a weird consumer decision that has to happen. People do fear closing the door to opportunity.
There may be is an opportunity for a 3D printer company to focus on making a 3D printer that does not try to do everything, but does a subset of things that you can do on a 3D printer really well. Sometimes we pay for things for people that never use.
There is an outstanding lack of imagination in the industry in terms of the consumer machines right now. There is an enormous opportunity in extruding the hot plastic from the nozzle. There is an enormous opportunity in the design of machines. There is a serious lack of creativity in what these consumer printers are doing. The trend today is to make these machines less serviceable. This frightens me because like sewing machines are still very serviceable machines in lots of ways. Being able to tweak the machine to the designer’s specifications would be an enormous design opportunity and an enormous business opportunity.
I agree with you, when you think about sewing machines, there are different kinds of sewing machines out there. That is what is happening with 3D printing. I don’t think we are seeing enough. This industry is still in its timeline of existence is still on its infancy. We may see more and more of it as time goes on.
My next book is 21 Terms for the 21st Century. It is hinged on the idea that words are thoughts. We spend all the day articulating our thoughts and language. We do not know that we use words to imagine. Given that language gives shape to our understanding. The whole book is based on the idea that new language gives shapes to new thoughts and allows us to think thoughts that we could not think previously. I have 21 brand new words that relates to processes and techniques you can do with 3D printing. The word striadiom refers to an object that is printed in very thick layers. I would like to see more exploration in that area, of a machine that tries to make the biggest layer possible rather than the smallest. Thinking outside of how we can make tiny the nozzles and how smooth we can make the surfaces. We have a great layering process so how do we explore those layers?
I want a machine that does both of those things at once. I know there are some that are out there.
One of the interesting things I’ve noticed is that the 3D printing pens – which I think is the worst gimmick on the planet – but they have done some interesting things, allowing for different shaped nozzles – square, star, circle, and more. They have done interesting things there. It is like topping a cake. That is something that I haven’t seen in the more professional machines. There could be some interesting applications in changing the shape of the nozzle from just a circular hole to other shapes.
I wonder if in particular, with certain applications like on the outer surface of things that could be interesting to produce different structures. What if you had a square nozzle so you can produce a very clean square edge to something or a corner application where it could make something that it came to more of a fine corner point. It is a great thought. It would be shocking if there aren’t any manufacturers talking about this or experimenting with that.
It is worth exploring. One of the other places I love to see some creative application is in the material science, most of us are printing in PLA and ABS – basic polymers. It would be nice to see some folks to expand on this. The carbon fiber filament has some interesting application, but I’d like to see if further expansion of the material selection will happen. With each material, you open yourself up to design and production techniques. It would be nice to see the expansion of these materials in 3D printing.
Recently I’ve seen that there is this 3D printing filament that is a clay-like material that can function at 60 degrees Celsius which is a very low temperature. This is great for people who are in the sculpting field or want to produce the things in doing ore work in, is that you can 3D print this stuff to achieve your base shapes in a quick and consistent ways. You can use conventional sculpting tools with a little bit of heat applied. It allows you to create sculptural forms and textures the way you can do with conventional materials. I think it would be hard to keep the material out.
I know someone who turns out new filaments all the time. He has been the guy who singlehandedly pioneered these new materials.
It must be his passion and he is able to make the living on it. It is good for all of us. The thing that people who get into 3D printing and into the whole maker experience is that they quickly want for a couple things. We are still talking about this a year and a half later after our first podcast; it is my number one desire to have multiple colors.
My hope is that this moment in time, there is a serious disconnect between the designs of the object when it finally prints. I would like to see software where there is a more hand in hand design process with the actual machine directions. If we could design objects that more directly give us feedback on the G code and the plastic that is to be extruded, there is an opportunity there to make objects specifically for additive manufacturing. Now, you can do that, but you need to understand and have the background of how does the machine move, how the plastic comes out, and how fast does it come out? I would love to see a more intimate control over the machine directions. It opens up design possibilities. At the end of the day, it is like a slot machine lever. You can tweak all of these settings on it. I wish there is that finer level of control over the actual machine language.
It is very tough. There is a control that you need to become an amateur coder and understand what is going on. You can insert little pieces of code here and there. It is also an issue of being very machine specific. This is the common problem. The real goal needs to be a much better collaboration. We see the world in which there are 3D printer companies, slicing software companies, product design companies, or 3D design companies. They have their own funding structures and financed by different parties. They are working to counter to each other rather than collaboratively to move the market on.
The kind of self sabotage in the industry that has participated in the last years did not help anyone. It made these companies look ugly.
I wonder if part of the solution is more on education and training of designers to be really cross functionally trained in the design of the machines?
What you are talking about there is that there is certain literacy in understanding beyond the specific machine that is in front of you and how the general ecosystem of 3D printing works. Not having gone through having design class, whether they would teach just the students or software that they have on hand, or whether they would go into the background on G-code and how that produces the object that you end up holding in your hand. That is a great question. I do think that producing that kind of knowledge base for designers where they understand not just the machine did this one time, but how the machine think about it and produces this over and over again can do different things would start to unify that slicer over here, printer over there, and more.
One of the big things in my education and any good education in that field was you actually did get trained for months and months or an entire semester if not the whole year. We got trained in the different manufacturing processes and machines used to build things. How are we going to design things that could be built if we did not know how they are made or manufactured?
3D printing is just one of the tool or method that has to be integrated and taught in that way. Not many of these universities are geared in having that holistic degree. It has to go back to what made sewing machines successful. This is not something that you learn in the classroom.
Universities and colleges out there who are offering these 3D printing courses are too new for them. Their faculty barely had gotten their hands on the technology and they are figuring out what to do with it and how to teach it. It has to go back to an apprenticeship model that needs to come back into play again because you have to learn by doing. You can’t make it one of the beautiful objects or art pieces until you are doing it and having a good mentor that oversees it.
This model is one that is knocked constantly. Kelly Essence School is at risk of losing their accreditation because they do not do things the way the rest of higher education does things. It would be nice to see that kind of apprenticeship model come back. Authentic learning to me is doing it. Don’t let your education get in the way of your learning. In an apprenticeship, you really are learning. You are doing. When you have put your hands on the object and you have learned the process and you made those mistakes along the way and learn for yourself, that is internalizing and understanding that the analysis and all of that adds up to learning the process in front of you.
It has been such an enjoyable conversation. I don’t think we have interviewed any other person on this podcast in what is now more than 300 episodes who was as in sync with us as much as you are. You are respected, but you are not a design professional, which is kind of exciting to me because you get it. Hopefully other people will start to get it as well.
Thank you guys. This has been an absolute pleasure. Gertrude Stein wrote in her book, Paris France, that familiarity braves content. If you spend too much time in your family and house, you end up feeling some content of it. But she argues the opposite. Familiar is exotic. If you are in your apartment or house, it is the only place in the entire planet where you know where every object is. That level of intimacy is something that is really exotic.
I got to thank you guys because the ability to have a conversation on 3D printing where you are not stopping in explaining every two seconds is really an exotic experience. I really appreciate it.
Thank you so much. That is a high compliment; likewise, a true pleasure for us. I think we have to have you back in the show especially as new things come up. We can have some more mind bending conversations. That would be awesome.
Writing the Book on 3D Printing – Final Thoughts
It is great to talk to someone like him. We are on a perch here which is an unusual place. We are one foot in the user camp, and one foot in the industry camp. We are bridging both. He has done the same thing. Our viewpoint is from the same place. I think it is an interesting thing to be. We want to be careful. There is this article that was bashing 3D printing. It was saying that 3D printing is really dead. I was annoyed by it because it really was completely a user view from this guy who bought a 3D printer. It was completely a bashing the industry for overhyping 3D printing, when the reality is he just does have a bad experience because he does not have a lot of design or CAD skills so he had a hard time finding good stuff to download.
He bashes the industry for overhyping with the reason that users don’t want it and will never want it. None of us believe that we should give up. It should be easier. It can always be made easier and better. From that particular writer’s perspective, they were approaching it from very much a novice and consumer level, and not somebody that is a maker or has an interest about learning slicing software. If general public is going to get in to 3D printer, it got to be simple as printing on an inkjet printer. It is not that today. He is bashing it from that perspective.
I think it is a matter of “you think it should be farther along” because there is so much overhyping in the industry that you think it should be better than it is. We all know that it is not. It requires deeper dive into the tool in finding alternative ways. The industry is not dead. It just needs more collaboration, cooperation, and improvement. In 5 to 10 years, designers are going to be in demand. Companies separate themselves by the content and designs that they have.
It was a fun and refreshing interview. I didn’t expect it. You never know all the details and where it is coming from and what they feel about it. If you enjoyed the discussion with Isaac on writing The Book on 3D Printing, check out his website. It is called TeamBudmen.com. He got lots of works of art on his site. He’s got drone-ography where they use a drone to scan large objects to 3D print it in miniature. There are lots of fun things there. There are lots of cool things on his website. Check it out and see the ideas of what he believes is pushing the envelope beyond and thoughts about the use of 3D printing.
About Isaac Budmen
Isaac Budmen is an artist, author and lifelong inventor. An expert in digital fabrication technologies, Budmen has logged thousands of hours using these 21st century processes to realize creative and scientific works at the intersection of industry and imagination. Budmen’s work has been featured at the London Science Museum, Carnegie Museum of Art, Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Whitewalls SF and other venues. He founded Budmen Industries to further realize his ‘industrial imagination’, a phrase he uses to describe his unique blend of fun and functionality.
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