Digital Wanderings

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3D printer @ University – One year later

About a year ago, a 3D Printer has been added to the palette of workshop tools of a university, in the product design department, and incentive for using it has been given in the form of training sessions: one for the 3rd year students, another for their teachers, and the last one for the workshop manager.

Following to that kickoff, the 3D printer has been made available as a supervised self service facility. And, … it hasn’t worked as planned: during the past year it has been used only a few times.

This brings some doubts about the 3DP potential. It’s supposed to be a hype topic, and having one available should have triggered desire to use it. Maybe that the desire is there, but nobody is using it.

To understand the situation, and try to fix this, we took the opportunity to collaborate with another workshop, lobbying for and easing the use of the 3D printing tool. The theme was Aviation 2.0, and was run by a high profile industrial designer.

So, with some hindsight, here’s an updated set of requirement for 3DP to pickup at university :

  • Supervision is required – knowledge of the risks and mitigation, duration of supervision
  • Maintenance and Tuning – ability to do it,
  • Training – ability, availability,
  • Support – on the each step of the cycle: CAD, Slice, Operate printer
  • Persistance of the knowhow
  • Knowing in which contexts 3DP will be a must have,
  • Mitigating the risks of relying on 3DP (slow & printing issues may arise)
  • Communication – it’s there !
  • First contact – guidance, on the facility (booking), and the use
  • Availability – the location must be accessible for long periods of time (not a classroom)
  • Integration – legitimate the use of the technology, by allowing the course to have a stronger and broader impact on students
  • Commitment/Reactivity


And leads to what can be done to improve the situation:

  • Have a 3DP expert available
  • Replace the printers with either more reliable or more versatile 3D printers (cost/feasability?). A word on that at the end of the post.
  • Consider it as a mini factory. Produce real products, ones that will be used (instead of prototypes).
  • Team Building, by clarifying the intent: foster DIY, learn new tech, invent.


Anyway, so far, the road to fulfilling these requirements seems to have been a long and painful one.

To assess the usefulness of these leads, we ran a pilot by adding 3DP expert manpower to an existing 5 days workshop session, hence giving a chance to lobby for the use of the technology, with no overload / constraints for the students. Objectives of the pilot :

  • Inform of the availability & reality of the 3DP feature
  • Showcase the practicality & usefullness of the 3D printing facility.
  • Test the response to a 3D printing service (instead of self service)
  • Coach the groups to excel (best practices, knowhow, animation, etc)
  • Provide insight and advice on technology & materials


And, that’s how the service has been run,

Fist, a talk, announcing existence of the 3DP facility, hints on the why it’s there, what might well be expected by the new generation of product designers, and trigger motivation to experiment, persist, hack, imagine, invent.

Second, project review with each group, providing an external view on their work, infusing some tech advice, and preparing for the use of the 3DP facility. Here’s a glimpse of the roadmap of the 5 interviews:

  1. Listen: Pitch me your product. I’m the buyer.
  2. Steering: Cherrypick features that can be recognized as an innovation or differentiator.
  3. Warn: Help identifying and dealing with issues (eg: mitigation plan, or future works)
  4. Efficiency: remind what’s expected from them (design, vs engineering, for ex)
  5. Challenge to look farther: hint on complementary topics and knowledge ressources
  6. Motivate & Animate: Tell me about your commitment to succeed / Tell me how you will present & what are the keypoints you will insist on / Promise something they want to see, 3DP object for example (so it’s not imposed, and they can still do the mockup by hand)
  7. Management: At what time do you think you will finish ? 8pm – Iterate the reviews every 2 hours

Third, receive the prototype 3D models, and print it for them. The students will almost all handover the 3D models at the last minute, and will rely on you for a result.  And, of course, nothing ever happens as planned, so you have to deal with the high load and short delay. Hence, “Commitment/Reactivity” in the list of prerequisites.


Outcomes of the workshop:

  • The students have accepted to work hard – an order of magnitude higher than usual
  • They have managed to work as teams, and deliver something they will be able to reuse later on
  • Students were excited to have their object printed, and managed to draw it or get it drawn in 3D
  • Technology advice was well accepted, had a positive impact on the results, and created a trust bond between the students and us. Though format of doing that might be optimized (so that more than 50% of the message is remembered …), maybe by organizing group targeted 15 min crash courses.
  • Nearly all groups have actively used their 3DP mockups during their presentations.


It has been a nice day. In the near future, we will produce a 3DP object mixing all the students works, an hence leave an anchor to remember and advertise the success of the event.


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ramkam • September 5, 2015

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