Diving into the makers universe
A few days ago someone asked me where they could find more informations me, and on what i do, with examples of my works. I guess that they want to know if i’m a designer.
It’s hard to answer. I’ll give it a try, in the form of a timeline
Last january, while making breakfast, i started wondering how to make a nicer eggbox. The egg being one of natures achievements, it deserved a better container before ending in my frying pan.
I did read a little about 3D printing, and things made with arduino’s, and thought it would be fun to make one, discover a bit more about this.
After looking at a few youtube videos, I optimistically decided to make my own 3D printer, by reusing an old 2D inkjet printer. It gave something like this. It works, but it’s junk.
Obviously, making a way in that direction was a bit too much towards hacking, and i was still far away from achieving anything.
Then, because all this eats lots of time and attention, thought that it would be a good idea to just SEE what a printed thing looks like. I did see a few ones in expos, but that was not enough (someone would have become mad or sad if i tried to bend it and break it).
I decided to reboot the thinking. I drawed with sketchup a very simple design of a cat, and looked for 3D printing online services to make it. Just to see what it looked like, and have one.
These guys have very nice machines, outstanding print features, and cost a lot. 45 bucks for a tiny bit of plastic.
Hum, maybe not, and the idea of building my own printer resurfaced. So i bought a kit (nothing more than rods, bearings, nut bolts, wires, motors and 2 PCB’s) of an open source 3D printer, betting that it would give some guidance on the whole bazoonga.
A friend warned me, your first print will look like a blob, same for the second print, etc. and i might spend nights and days before getting it to work. He was half right. That’s the first print the machine has spitted from its nozzle. Very artistic and absolutely useless.
The other half, is related to how much guidance you can find to DIY your 3D printer. Things have evolved – a lot – since he tried a few years ago. Now, there’s a fully fledged wiki with blueprints, detailed instructions, troubleshooting guides and a big community ready to help you 24/24, 365/365. You want to built your 3D printer after coming back home after the new year’s eve party ? somebody is there to help your half drunk brain make the printing work fine.
Anyway. The simplest solution to the blob / bad printing was hairspray … funny.
Imediately after that, came the problem of what to print next. So i queried open source objects catalogs, for something that had already been designed, was nice, and easy to print. Here’s the plane toy.
After printing a few dummy objects, came the urge to invent something. Anything that could not have been produced easily with the usual tools you have at home.
At the time, i was (and still am) passionate about “flexible joints” designs. So i printed a fish, and something inspired from dinosaurs skeletons. Then printed my cat. That was a challenge, because i had to dig deeper into understanding how to design for 3DP, and how to actually print the thing.
Oh you want to see the cat ? here it is, and no it’s not a pig, it’s a cat.
I never really abandoned the idea of making my own design of a printer. A video on a kickstarter triggered the spark. So i started trying stuff to make advanced 3D printers models, like delta robots, very much used in pick and place industrial robots.
While trying to get things done, my need for more advanced tools grew. That can become expensive quickly, so i printed my own tools to extend existing ones and save a hundreds for something else.
They all had flaws, either mechanical, or printing issues, etc, etc, etc. It slowly became obvious that i had to design differently. I had to take into account the 3DP manufacturing process, and take it into account very very early during conception.
So i started experimenting, by for example, trying to eliminate assembly steps. Examples of parts having the same functionalities, but with and without assembly steps.
After a while and a lot of plastic printed, it crossed my mind that my interest for 3DP was way too high to leave it just as a hobby. How could i find a place in that ecosystem. Maybe by trying to push the technology to the edge, and get rid of plastics / print with other materials ? By looking for disruptions ? …
Also, while creating more and more objects, my need for professionnal grade design software grew. I needed ones that allowed to go back in the design stages, have precise positionning, and make the geometry artefacts much simpler to implement. Using “pro” softwares allowed for a giant leap in the designs. This being easyier, it gave me the possibility to focus much more on how to make designs that are efficient for this particular manufacturing process. If you dont think it right, 3D printing is way too slow, can break way too fast, and can have way too many defaults.
Now i could do my delta robot prototype. BOM cost below 200$. Nice.
Did i tell you ? no. I have a nefew and a niece, and wanted them to have a great sailbot toy. The ones you can buy, made in wood, are bulky, heavy and ugly. So i’ve drawn one, and tried to make it “competitive” with the ones you find in stores. Post processing the prints took some importance. One more thing to add in the conception thinking.
Then i backed off, it was not robust enough to give it to 3 and 5 years old kids. Security comes first, never gamble on that.
That same day, i went to a restaurant for a birthday, and took the sailboat with me to show it. Funny. On the table, the restaurant had custom made salt and pepper cups, most likely 3D printed. I guess that 3DP is becoming more and more mainstream.
So i started looking up for,
* designs i could 3D print for my own use. Things scanned then printed, functional objects, objects enhancing or replacing badly thought or too expensive other objects, nature inspired shapes, etc. A few early examples :
* Designs – customisable or complex enough to justify the 3DP manufacturing choice. The approach is to ask / provoke a brainstorm each time there is an occasion for that. It can be with anyone, a shop, a restaurant, a waiter, the guy sitting next to you, etc.
* services, like leveraging 3D printing during the creation process, or helping demystifying the process
Speaking of all this, I have to warmly thank all the open source community for helping me so many times and be so patient. It’s really a rare thing to have so many smart people ready to help you and more important, to give you sound and practical advice. I try to give back – it does sometimes create conflicts of interests, but not that often. Try to open source at least one thing, otherwise you wont have a single chance of understanding the pro & con’s. When you do it, it’s a very enjoyable experience.
So, we’re coming close to the end of the post, and i still haven’t answered the question. After these monthes of printing things, what am i, a designer, an engineer, a consultant. Well, it’s unclear. I like to think that i’m a bit of all that. I’ll probably have to choose at some point which facet will give me the better chances to push this further, but it’s just a facade. What’s a sure thing, is that i like to create & invent, and i that am inciting you to do the same. Also, if you’re a designer or an artist, it might be a good idea to reopen the box of zeee engineering and maths you’ve been running away from, otherwise, in a few years, you’ll be trying to draw without having a pencil to draw with 🙂
And, what’s in my pipeline ?
I am looking for ways to
* simplify the drawing of complex shapes
* use generative algorythms
* have a better control on the machine’s toolpath, so that i can print in real 3D instead of 2.5D (slices)
* use other materials – I dont particularly like the idea of using plastics – like food (sugar paste, flour, …), concrete, etc. It kind of works, but still needs to be more controllable and predictable. More to come.
* identify disruptions and leverage advantages coming from the rise of this – not so new ! – techno.
* setup an ecosystem, leveraging 3DP and maybe robotics
* and … printing bigger (More to come in another blog post)