3D printer @ University – Kickoff
Spending 5 days on a 3D printing workshop with to-be product designers at the ALBA School / University,
After a brief intro to designs made with 3D printers, kinds of machines, toolchain and a prospective, the students have been invited to enter a product contest – products tailored for the 3D printing process -, and … to assemble by themselves, from scratch, an popular open source 3D printer (Reprap Prusa i3).
The contest ran in two phases. First each student pitched his open source product concept and collected votes. From the 12 proposals, three have been cherrypicked for the second phase. Second, product teams have been formed, one for each concept, and each student has been assigned a specific roles (per team) : CAD, Slicing & Printing, Research, and Communication. Then, the teams were asked to develop the concept, with a constraint : make use of one or more of the 10 additive manufacturing process benefits (inspired from the book Fabricated). In fine, teams pitched their products (both printed objects and presentation), to “jurys” made of various contributors, ranging from academics to professionals, the outcome being an evaluation of the designs, and understanding of the various facets of 3D printing.
Half of the initial proposals gravitated around the “usefull gadgets” theme, and the other half ventured into the fields of food/catering, medical, tools, automotive and gaming.
The other teams worked on pencils organisers and coffee cup holders/tagging. They had mitigated feedbacks from the jury. Part of the issues have been the classic ones, such as : daring to pivot / change the initial target, learn to work as a team, optimize the effort / separate problems; Maybe that having to both get a good grasp of how to design for 3DP, and, to figure out that design, was a bit too dense for the short available time. The jury has been very pragmatic (the product design – regardless of the process bias; and, the adequacy of the product to the manufacturing process). These feedbacks were very interesting, but a bit tough. For next workshops, there’s some fine tuning to do.
Regarding the “build the printer” task, it looks like it has speeded up their learning curve, and – maybe, for some – has raised interest for “engineering” topics. Globally, students said that they were both, happy to have assembled the printer, and also that it has been a hard task. For any next workshop, i’d either allocate more time to the assembly step to allow for a better understanding and get a better occasion to push them to get in touch with the open source communities; either have the printer ready to be calibrated, hence providing more time for the design thinking.
It has also been the occasion to compare how people use commercial grade printers & proprietary toolchains (cubex / 3D Systems), versus, DIY printers & an open source toolchain. Apart from minor calibration issues, the DIY printer often beats the commercial grade printer on speed, quality, and ability to control the printing process. On the other hand, the commercial grade printer is much easier to start with, hence delivering satisfaction directly from the first print (then deception due to lack of fine tuning capability). That’s mainly due to a very simplified slicing tool, and a machine that requires less attention. However, having almost no options to tinker with, makes the commercial printer quickly annoying and deceptive. Opinion: it’s a bad move to use proprietary formats and impose using simplified and not so good closed source softwares.
A few notes regarding the organization,
* There was a provision for unexpected issues, more provision is better 🙂
* Book university / school teachers, and make them attend all the time. Things will work much smoother this way.
* The jury has been quite hard on the evaluation, although very fair, and accurate with quality feedbacks. If there’s a next time i’d involve them much earlier in the process, so that they get a better grasp of the steepness of the learning curve.
* 3D printing drags a lot of attention & interest. Prepare a comm pack beforehand. Once the workshop has started, you’ll neither have the time nor the attention to build one.