Hammers and Nails

I’ve been drawing a lot less lately, preferring to go directly to digital for some product designs. It might sound like it would be a little slower, but the results are more conclusive.

That’s not to devalue a drawing, but when you want to manufacture a shape and not just make an accurate drawing, sometimes the digital approach is faster.

Here’s the thing I think some people, who are still romantic about drawing, don’t realize – it has some cognitive and physiological costs.

Say you draw something, you go through a dozen sketches, maybe spend an hour doodling and then hit the CAD program and realize “Hey this wouldn’t work in the real world.”

Going back to drawing can sometimes makes sense, but if you saw something that didn’t work in CAD, why leave your CAD program? It used to make sense when CAD programs were run on giant workstations, heating the very rooms they occupied.

You used to need to highly skilled and rare operators for those workstations, spending time translating your doodles into recognizable and annotated diagrams for someone else to interpret.

Now you can download apps, use in browser CAD programs, or highly accurate off the shelf vfx apps to do your CAD. If you have the skill level, there is no speed benefit to switching cognitively between the two processes. Unless you have highly internalized skills in sketching as well as computer aided design, then you have the trifecta when added to 3d printing knowldge. I’ve been developing those matched skills my whole life and having spent 3 years in additive manufacturing things are really coming together.

I’m just nagging and bragging now. After all, if you love your process, if you think it works for you, fine. But not questioning your process now and then is surefire stagnation fuel.

A line I read in a book pairs well with another popular aphorism. First, “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Add that to “When you believe in the problem more than the solution, which do you think will ultimately prevail?”

Altered just slightly, sometimes we can believe in a process more than the product, and you can tell when that happens. It’s when you get emotionally attached to the work done BEFORE the product than the product itself. Were you sad that the final product didn’t capture your sketches? You missed the point.

Were you disappointed that the spontaneity in your drawings didn’t translate to the printed or manufactured part? You missed something for sure.

That last quote comes from Ryan Holiday’s book “The Obstacle is the Way,” which became popular for sports teams, business leaders etc. in the last few years. It’s quickly become one of my favorite books.

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You break it, you print it

I have had one case for my glasses which I liked – but it also had a property I disliked.

I liked that it opened from one end instead of lengthwise – it helped with unintentionally dropping my glasses or the fact that they would pop out of the lengthwise case too easily.

The thing I didn’t like was that the cap was rounded, the base was flat and it was chrome plated – in other words, it looked like a dildo. There were a number of odd glances my way when I would produce the case in public.

But I have had a 3d printer for several years now, and last week, having installed a new extruder I was looking for new projects.

I started designing the next case for my glasses years ago, but it evolved into the Pencase project which you can purchase here.

Although the current design for the case only shows the basic exterior it is no way going to be a business as usual case. I want this thing to be as desperately impractical as possible – more of a toy than something meant for the avid glasses switcher. Whatever that is. Whoever that is.

I am in other words breaking one of those tenets of good design (again) – that something be designed for its purpose as closely as possible. Braun designer Dieter Rams would be furious, but I feel that 3d printers are precisely and particularly fit for this sort of task.

The real purpose I find is in the way design itself is accessible, not it’s final products. There is a fantastic saying floating around the conversation of any technology but especially mobile technologies and I would add 3d printers to it – that what we design, ends up designer us in return.

The feedback from the objects and apps in our lives changes us in return and to be aware of that, act within it and take it as the true process is more important to me lately.

Mostly because I have to find a way to justify spending so much money on 3d printing! Hubris! Have fun out there if you live is LA – triple digits everywhere make for easy melting.

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Going for a CAD upgrade

If you’re an experienced 3d modeler in any profession, you rely on certain tools. Being such an open source nerd, as well as just cheap, I depend on plenty of free tools.

Professional 3d modelers spend their careers keeping up with the tools that are in demand at movie or television studios which makes most of them scoff at free tools because of their simplicity or feature set.

But a key component lacking in entertainment work is dimensional and engineering accuracy. You can animate the universe in Maya and make it pretty, but good luck getting an accurate engineering visualization out of it.

And that’s something I looked for in other 3D CAD tools lately – sure the Hollywood boys an girls get all the glory on screen. But I’ve said this before since getting into 3d printing – NONE of the models usually made for the screen translate seamlessly to the printer. The demands on either are are very different.

There’s is some shared space between them in the concepts of creating profiles, polygons, extrusions and the like. But the meat an potatoes of creating something that actually works when manufactured? New ball of wax.

Dimensional accuracy, tolerances, the Shore scale of material usage, material density to weight ratios, etc. There’s so much more to worry about when turning a 3d design meant for actual use in the real world than there ever was in merely making something pretty onscreen. I take it back, but only a little – we’ve all worked for THAT director at some point. The one that things the weight of the world depends on THAT ONE PIXEL.

If only they knew.

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Gearing, working parts and 3d printing

I have only ever done a tiny bit of CAD. I had an old copy of TurboCAD for Windows which I barely used, but definitely should have kept using considering the project I have started this month.

I have as much experience calculating differentials as I do hang gliding, but it became absolutely necessary to at least configure the gearing mechanism required for the latest 3d printing project.

gearing

The first version of the mechanism showed me that I was thinking much to linearly and I eventually switched to something more complicated but definitely more elegant.

Essentially, the gearing mechanism rotates two planes away from each other – it operates a bit like a scissors.

gearing01
This is the first operational mechanism I have designed specifically for a 3d printing project and I am considering going to one or more of the open source CAD applications that are available. At least one of them however, is listed by Chrome as a piece of Malware – FreeCAD.

That’s sad – it looked pretty impressive. But I am sure I will settle on a CAD solution, but since I have learned well how to model at scale with fairly high precision, I might not need CAD immediately.

I think the more important issue is how CAD just isn’t as important in consumer level 3d printing – that it’s practically a non issue to many users who are remixing other models, projects etc. Why learn CAD, there are so many free 3d models of reasonably high quality you should be able to kitbash anything you want, right?

You could probably never run out of free things to print online. But just like I remember people using the first dot matrix printers to print out ascii versions of pictures, I think were still very much in that stage of 3d printing. There are definitely the differences between those times and now – some people are truly pushing the envelope but that entry level FFM user is still trying to wrap their head around making these things work reliably at all.

But like I said before, just being a decent 3d modeler is a huge advantage to 3d printing users. It’s pretty much the skeleton key to synthesizing any shape and therefore anything you want to print.

I’ll post more as this project develops.
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Printing your own useful stuff

People constantly talk about the future where you will print the things you need or want.

Before I bought my first 3d printer, I watched a video of a young man who printed replacement parts for various things in his kitchen and bathroom.

While I thought these were interesting uses, the economies of scale in time and convenience are still WAY off of being compelling to consumers.

For instance, the inkwell I made – the larger one took six hours to print. That’s nowhere near as economical as shopping for one at a local art store.

One could say that the hours taken to design it, to print it and clean it so that it is usable costs a consumer far more than it would to simply buy one at retail.

But does it?

Pencil_Holder

My new pencil holder for the desk – designed, modeled and printed in less than 10 hours total time.

Consider some of the most basic aspects of manufacturing an object as simple as the inkwell I designed.

For a manufacturer to produce a similar inkwell for retail, commonly they would have to:

  • Acquire design services
  • Solicit retail
  • Secure credit and financing
  • Purchase manufacturing capacity
  • Arrange shipping and customs agreements if made abroad
  • Marketing and advertising budgets including package design

For myself I needed:

  • A weekend to design the object
  • Design software
  • 3d printer and filament to cover prototypes and the final
  • a few days to print prototypes and the final versions

Obviously I am leaving out a LOT of detail. But at a glance what do you think really means more to users of the things 3d printing is actually capable of making right now?

I have some obvious advantages over everyday users. Even with the emergence of 3d ecosystems with thousands and even millions of objects available for printing, I can design and prototype my own objects without ever incurring anything but the time to design anything.

I also have some experience in computer aided design, drafting and product and packaging design – not to mention nearly 2 decades of computer modeling experience.

It’s really easy for me to fire up a modeling program and synthesize nearly anything I want.

The learning curve behind really making new things is still pretty steep. And I remember when people used to talk about how long it would take for 3d modeling software would take before it became commonplace – a household thing. It’s been almost 20 years since I remember people talking about that and there are only recently some useful 3d programs on mobile devices. That took an awfully long time.

Even I am still looking for that 3d printing “killer app” – that thing that will make 3d printing a real game changer for other people because I have to be honest.

I hate the thought of not having one in my house and being able to make nearly any object I want – especially after making a living for years making monsters.

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