After being married for 27 years (yes, to the same woman!), I accurately predicted her reaction to my foray into 3D printing. Skepticism mixed with a small dose of ridicule. That’s ok – I knew what would happen next as well.
Initially, it’s fair to say she didn’t share my vision for what 3D printing could do – and what it holds for the future. “It’s just plastic!” (…as I look around a house with pieces of useful plastic in every corner and drawer); “Nothing you’re printing is useful!” (as her iPhone charges in its iChair!). I printed some other knickknacks and left them for her without saying much – knowing that the day would come when the light bulb began to flicker.
I try to surf yeggi.com and Thingiverse.com regularly, and one day I came across a Fingernail Painting Grip Board. Now, although don’t paint my fingernails, I could see the potential in this little widget. So, I printed one and left it for my wife. She asked about it, and then seemed to dismiss it. It went unused for several weeks.
Then, it happened. She asked how much it costs to print this marvelous little token of plastic… “Oh, about 40 cents I suppose”. Then she asked how long it takes to print one (about 45 minutes). Then… the request: “Would you mind printing 20 of those for me to give to my friends?”. BAM! There we go! In between other stuff I print, I’m running them off, two at a time. Once, I caught her standing there watching them print – mesmerized – much like I was for the first few days.
So, if know any members of the Korean American Women’s Association here in Vegas, don’t tell them… but as an elf with a little insider knowledge, I’m betting each of them is going to get one of these pretty soon. She asked what it would take to make one for painting toenails… it seems not everything is on Thingiverse, so this one will have to be designed in-house. I wonder what her aptitude for learning CAD is (wait, don’t answer that – I already know).
Since I got this printer on 9-3-2013, it’s been used for over 238 hours of printing (that’s over 9 hours a day of printing!). So, what have I printed?
Successful prints: These either worked as expected the first time (about half of them) or required several iterations to get them ‘done’.
- Pen & pencil holder (downloaded from Thingiverse)
- Rifle scope zoom rings (that I designed)
- 3 versions of RCBS decap / primer catchers (Thingiverse / revisions by Lon)
- Derim cup (that I designed)
- Piston, rings and rod (downloaded from Thingiverse)
- Core swaging catch tray (that I designed)
- Bleed tray (that I designed)
- Core shaker (that I designed based on another’s work)
- Customized iPhone cases (downloaded from Thingiverse & modified)
- Ford V6 engine block (downloaded from Thingiverse)
- Clips to mount plexiglass to the printer frame (that I designed)
- Model railroad track clips (downloaded from Thingiverse)
- Proof of concept for brass sorting (that I designed)
- Reloading die holder (that I designed)
- Lego-style pieces (downloaded from Thingiverse)
- A plastic bullet (that I designed)
Works in progress: These still require some work… either I need to modify the design (the die plate holder), or the model is complex and requires a more advanced approach to printing.
- Model windmill (downloaded from Thingiverse)
- Reloading die plate holder (that I designed)
Several of these were just for fun – to see what the printer would do. Most, though, solved specific problems. Would I have spent money on equivalent commercial products? Probably not for many of them. In many situations, the equivalent products cost more than I was willing to pay (I know… so I bought a 3D printer instead). However, some are invaluable – and others are interested in purchasing them. In any event, I’m still blown away by the technology & the possibilities – I’m turning bits into useful objects right here on my desk!
Just a few days ago, I took the leap. So far, so good! I’ve had what I consider good interest, and I’m working on filling orders. Not every ‘order’, though, is for reloading / swaging accessories. Friends learn about the printer and their minds go into high gear… I just printed 52 .027 gauge train track connectors!
The good? Things are running relatively smoothly. The printer is running great – glad it doesn’t need sleep because it’s not getting any. I’ve built process around my activities. The processes include having a Google Docs spreadsheet where I’m tracking orders & milestones; part of that spreadsheet is posted publicly and linked to the site so customers know where their order stands. I’m also scheduling print jobs to maximize output (Google Calendar) – some jobs run longer than others, and I need to be here to take them off the build plate before the next job can start. I’ve stayed current on e-mail, private messages and posts on the relevant forums. I’ve had a chance to catch my breath, go back and make sure my i’s are dotted and T’s crossed – fixing a couple of typos here and there on the blog. I think I’m in a good spot at the moment.
The bad? Not enough time in the day to learn more. Lon has pointed me to many things that I still need to learn & explore – settings for the slicing software, tweaks to settings and other things to try. Things are settling down after the initial push, so I hope to have time soon to dive into those things. I don’t want selling a few things to overshadow the fun of learning & exploring this new technology.
Gotta run – Google Calendar is reminding me that it’s about time to swap out another piece! And, off to work!
After about 3 weeks with my printer, I’ve decided to take the leap and offer 3D printed objects for sale. To be sure, it’s a bit of a leap of faith – I’ve gone from “hobby & home use” to taking orders in that period of time, with no previous 3D printing experience.
One of the interesting aspects of this is demonstrating how this technology can truly revolutionize ‘speed to market’. When I got the printer, I had a couple of ideas for products that would serve a niche market… In the week between ordering the printer and receiving it, I quickly evaluated and then learned (just the basics) of a CAD program. I spent several days of that first week designing several of my ideas, turning them from thoughts to bits. Then, over the next 19 days (which included a 4 day business trip), I was able to learn the basics of printing, iterate through several design changes on each of the items I’d drawn, send them for testing and offer them for sale. In less than 3 weeks. That’s transformational technology! In that same time period, I’ve come to know (virtually) a couple of people – Lon in particular – who have provided timely advice that’s minimized my learning curve and kept things that could have derailed on track. That highlights another key aspect of the technology curve – how the internet is central to enabling this journey. I’m pointing out the obvious now, but with a reason – I remember a few short years ago when this would have been impossible. Even IF I had a 3D printer then, my ‘market’ would have been folks I could reach through classified ads in specialty magazines delivered by the postman.
WIll it be successful? Can the printer (and can I) deliver on the expectations I’ve set? Time will tell. To be sure, there are some risks. But, I’m also taking a measured approach – this isn’t an endeavor where I’ve taken out ad space on a major site and shouted from the mountaintops… I’ve identified a narrowly focused niche market (that I’m part of) and provided small solutions to every day problems.
There are a couple points of potential failure that need to be considered. Will the (relatively) unproven printer be up to the task? What if demand exceeds my capacity? Will I ever sleep?We’ll know soon. I’m writing this in the hours before openly announcing product availability on a forum. I’ve hinted at offering them for sale – and my latest post on one forum generated significant interest… and there is a line forming. Wow.
So, here we go! With the encouragement and support of several key people, I’m off!
Now that I’ve had my 3D printer for 2 1/2 weeks, I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned (in no particular order):
- I wish I’d paid more attention in geometry! I jumped into the deep end and started designing my own stuff. That requires some math & geometry (neither are particularly strong suits for me). Now, don’t let that scare you – it’s not that hard, and today Mr. Google is there to help.
- Frankly, it’s been about what I expected. The printer itself has just worked. I haven’t had any issues where I wondered whether or not the printer was doing what it’s supposed to do. On the other hand, there is lots of futzing to do – lots of little lessons to find (lots of reading on 3D / CAD forums); some obscure tips & tricks. Fortunately, I came across Lon, who I consider a mentor, who has been INCREDIBLY helpful. He has several years of this under his belt and shares things that help, when I need to know them. If you’re thinking about getting one of these printers, and all you’re going to do is print objects from Thingiverse, you may not have as many of these trials & tribulations.
- It’s fun to gauge people’s perceptions of 3D printing. As expected, most don’t think it’s in the home user’s domain yet. Others, who are kind of like me, are at the tipping point – about ready to make a decision to get one. The absolute best way to get someone’s imagination flowing is to hand them an object printed on a 3D printer. Amazement always follows.
- It’s not as expensive as you think! I was conversing with a friend who lives across the country and who follows me on FaceBook. She said something like ‘…but it’s so expensive!’ (and she was thinking like $10k kind of expensive!). No – it’s about 10% of that! Still, not cheap – but what did a good laser printer cost 10 years ago? What does a good, fast computer cost today? They’e in the realm of reality if you do your homework. But, you can also pay lots more than I did for one. Shop wisely.
- I’ve lost lots of sleep. I want to perfect the things I’m designing, and I want them to be right – right now. Between drawing the parts up in CAD and printing them, it takes time and commitment. For better or worse, I’m the type that digs in and won’t let go until I’ve got something solved… and that takes time. For the past two weeks, I’ve spent about 2 hours in the morning before work and 4 or 5 hours in the evenings on 3D printing related things. And, when printing overnight (which is about nightly), I’ll get up in the wee hours and kick off another copy or another design. I’m at the age where I need to get up a couple of times a night, so that just works out if timed right :).
- The printing itself is slow. Just now, I printed a small piece that’s a proof of concept for a larger model (one functional part that will be replicated out in a pattern). It took 9 minutes to print. But, in final form, the whole piece will take 3.5 hours to print. Some things I’ve made take over 7 hours to print. You’ll need to schedule your printing / designing time wisely.
- For the above reasons, I need to think things through before printing. “Measure twice; print once“. I’ll learn that someday. I’m not the most patient person in the world, and instead of just printing & seeing how it comes out, I need to be a little more thoughtful about whether I’ve double checked all of the small details, because they matter.
- It helps to be handy, but you don’t have to be a master craftsman either. Pretty simple stuff, really – like going to Home Depot for plexiglass & putting holes in it (used to make side covers to control the temperature); mixing up acetone & ABS to make ABS slurry; measuring with calipers.
- Organization is hugely important! This applies to physical stuff (components, pieces & parts) but maybe more importantly on the computer. I’ve generated hundreds of files between the CAD drawings and the sliced model files; many of them are different revisions of the same pieces. Having a structure & file naming scheme is important, otherwise I’d be lost trying to remember which one worked the way I intended it.
- While it’s not quite ready for every household, I think it’s far enough along for more than people realize. They just don’t know it yet… Soon. Very soon.
Are you ready for a 3D printer yet?