3D Printing Essay

I learned many of the foundational skills I would need for 3D printing at a very early age. My father had his own computer building/repair business at a time before computers were as prevalent as they are today. As a result of his teaching and just being around those materials and procedures, I picked up a lot of knowledge and skills early on. I could read a wiring diagram before I learned algebra. I learned how to solder small electrical parts and computer components before I learned to drive. Years later, I assisted a friend with a computer repair shop of his own, often donating my time to help out when he got backed up with projects. This gave me further background in computers, electronics, and hand tools, as well as experience teaching, as I would deal with customers to explain what was wrong and how to fix it themselves or avoid the problem in the future.

While it is theoretically possible to participate in 3D printing without this kind of background, you are only going to get so far before needing to figure this kind of thing out, unless you want to spend valuable resources getting someone to do it for you. High end printers that “just work” right out of the box can be expensive. DIY kits exist where you get all the parts and components for the printer, but have to assemble it all yourself. If done properly you can get the same high quality results at a fraction of the cost. I estimate that I’ve assembled over 100 of these kits over the years for myself and others. Each one is its own unique challenge that requires creativity, problem solving skills, and critical thinking. These skills lead seamlessly into the artistic design side of 3D printing, as they are required in multiple aspects of a build, depending on the exact project.

As with any of my passions, I have read a wide range of books on the subject matter in order to learn and grow continuously as new techniques and technologies arise. Some of the more influential texts I’ve read and kept on my shelves are:

  • Getting Started with 3D Printing: A Hands-on Guide to the Hardware, Software, and Services Behind the New Manufacturing Revolution by Liza Wallach Kloski & Nick Kloski
  • The 3D Printing Handbook: Technologies, design and applications by Ben Redwood
  • 3D CAD with Autodesk 123D: Designing for 3D Printing, Laser Cutting, and Personal Fabrication 1st Edition by Jesse Harrington Au
  • Mastering 3D Printing (Technology in Action) 1st ed. Edition by Joan Horvath
  • 3D Printing and CNC Fabrication with SketchUp 1st Edition by Lydia Cline
  • 3D Printing: Second Edition by Christopher Barnatt
  • Make: 3D Printing: The Essential Guide to 3D Printers 1st Edition by Anna Kaziunas France
  • Blender 3D Printing Essentials by Gordon Fisher

In addition to these books, I’ve attended a great many workshops over the years. Workshops given by Airwolf 3D, Toys In Box, the Digital Harbour Foundation, and Sculpture Space NYC amongst others. Each workshop revolves around a specific project, but teaches skills that translate across all elements of 3D printing, such as the computer programs used for design, the different technology used in the different printers, and the choice of materials. The Sculpture Space NYC workshop in particular spoke to my artistic side as it used a 3D printer to print clay sculpture. On a larger scale, I have spent time visiting and participating various 3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing shows and symposiums. 3D Printing 2019 at Dartmouth College, the Multifunctional 3D Printing Symposium in Rochester, and the 2019 Midwest and East Coast RepRap Festivals (MRRF & ERRF) are some of the more recent shows I’ve attended. Each one was an opportunity to network with industry leaders like Josef Prusa, and Larry Lukis, as well as talented users like Joel Telling. One of the most useful discussion panels I attended was geared towards understanding how to choose the right material for your project both from an artistic perspective (design requirements like knowing a softer material wouldn’t work for a certain structure), as well as a business perspective (understanding the cost of the material that goes into a project and whether that cost is fiscally responsible). This was particularly important to me as I incorporate 3D printing into accessory design by printing unique hardware (clasps, hooks, chains, etc) for my fiber arts projects.

Overall, the years of experience in computers and design made 3D Printing a natural next step for me. Through my continued interest and dedication to learning I have managed to cultivate and grow my skills on both an artistic level as well as a functional level. As technologies evolve, so to will my skills and I will be able to add to the following list of skills and knowledge already possessed:

  • Soldering
  • Small electronics
  • Wiring
  • Hand tool proficiency
  • Device building
  • Material recognition and usage – design, cost, durability
  • 3D Design & Modelling programs
    • Solidworks, AutoCAD, Rhinoceros
    • Sketchup, Blender
    • OpenScad, Solvespace
  • Device recognition and usage (the different kinds of printers)
    • SLA
    • DLP
    • FDM
    • SLM
    • SLS
  • 3D Scanning/Photography
  • Structural mechanics and design
  • Identifying how and when 3D printing creates value in product lifecycle

Artistic philosophies and how they relate to the printing process

These skills have allowed me to teach others in the field and share my knowledge. I have taught a 3D printing class/workshop as a science/technology block to the home school group my daughter belongs to. I have also acted as technical support for several people in online groups. Those opportunities saw me talking people through various problems like equipment replacement, settings troubleshooting, and filament education (proper choices for certain projects, technical specifications of certain filaments like bed temperature, print speed, etc, and so on). I am able to work one on one, or within a group setting to ensure everyone comes away with a deeper knowledge and appreciation of 3D printing as technology and art form. I truly enjoy doing so as I have the philosophy that every opportunity is an opportunity for me to learn and be inspired. It might be a technique I hadn’t heard of before, or a different brand or type of printer, or maybe just a new way of looking at something I’ve done dozens of times before; each individual I interact with is an opportunity to learn and improve myself,and so I try to help as many people as I can.

3D printing is largely a learn by doing type of field. You can read and learn and have a firm grasp of fundamentals, but until you put that knowledge into practice and use the technology available, you won’t really understand the kinds of things that can happen (good and bad) during the process. As an artform and an industry we have only scratched the surface as to what can be done. As such, I am committed to learning and doing as much of it as I am able in order to continue using and growing my knowledge base and skillset. To do that, I intend to continue doing precisely what I have been doing, reading, networking, attending symposiums and demonstrations, and using new technologies as they come available.