On my learning how to make things, one skill I always missed was on how to build my own objects. My skills with wood are pretty precarious, and I never got into creating with cardboard, for example. So I had been on mercy of finding stuff I could drill and hack into shape, or buying parts.
No more. I finally got myself a 3d printer.
Not that I didn’t want one before. In fact, I got into a failed kickstarter years ago, and lost my money. So as one never learns, I got into ANOTHER kickstarter, this one backed by the great maker Naomi Wu. So I bit the bait and helped funding the project. It worked perfectly, and my printer is right here, chugging along. But I digress.
What I want to talk about is how it this changes things.
Sure, I printed a cat, and a vase.
But I don’t need more plastic trinkets in my life.
What I mean for change is the ability to develop, iterate, or even download ready tools and things which might be difficult to find, or too niche, or impractical.
I wanted a different cover for a raspberry pi, one which would accommodate a small screen. So I designed it.
Then I realized I needed longer screws.
And then something clicked on me.
I can download screws. I can print screws at home! I can even print a wrench to tighten such screws!
Granted, they suck. But they work. I can download a tool. This is revolutionary.
Then I wanted to fix something somewhere. I realized that the ideal tool to do so would be something called “t hammer nuts”, which look like this:
I could buy those things on Aliexpress and wait weeks for couple hundreds of those, or pay an absurd amount for the same on Amazon, but I just needed 4 of them. Why should I buy 200?
So, I just printed them. And as they are made of soft plastic, they are actually better than the metal ones.
The madness continued. I had the handle of my roomba vacuuming robot broken. A new one costs as much as a dinner for two. Solution? Download one for free and print it!
Most of these designs were downloaded from the internet, except for the very simple flat Raspberry Pi cover, which I designed from scratch. But then I realized I can also simply modify existing designs, iterate over them, and even print fractions of them for testing.
And here I come to what is, in my opinion, the most revolutionary part of this weird enterprise so far:
3D printing is in its infancy. Things are finicky, prone to error, and terribly slow.
The design I’m iterating over takes more than 2 days to print. But I needed to see if a change in the design would work with some magnets. So I separated that part of the design from everything else and printed that, in about 6 minutes.
And it works. After two iterations, I have it fitting perfectly down to the tenth of the millimeter. And I can be sure that this part of the design will work as expected, without the need to print the whole thing again.
This is very close to the design principles of Object-oriented programming (OOP). You are able to design one object in isolation, change its internals without fear of affecting other parts of your code, and keep its interaction with other objects in a controlled way.
All of this is incredible when applied to the design of physical objects, and having just dipped into the possibilities of it, I’m still trying to understand how this will change design.