wandr-000

I wanted to print this diagnostic wand, and I started with what you see above, because it’s worked in the past. I also wanted it strong, so I used ABS, which I am not new to, but I haven’t done much ABS with this printer, as most of the things I’ve needed in the last year worked fine as PLA.

The idea is to print the top and bottom and then put them together with some bolts. Easy, right? If only… Besides printing in ABS it’s also the coldest time of the year, and the printer is in the basement, the cold cold basement. (And yes, the printer is in an enclosure.) So after multiple attempts at printing this, including adding brims and rafts, I tried something else.

wandr-001

I added walls around the print. The idea being, it makes the hot-end move around more and allow plastic to cool. Or something like that… it didn’t work.

wandr-002

So I tried a tighter wall, with less space between the object and the wall. And that didn’t work. Things still warped and curled. Did I mention how cold it was in the basement?

wand-8303

Happy New Year! Enjoy my failures of 2017!

I tried standing up the object. Less of it on the bed should mean less warping, right? Yes, except prints were still failing often, falling over, or breaking free from the bed. (See the video below for some great printing bloopers!)

wandr-003

Then I decided to add my own support structure, which failed, or cause me to destroy the print when cutting it free from the support structure, but I kept going.

wandr-004

I tweaked the support structure and got closer, though not quite where it needed to be…

wandr-005

Adding some little divots helped. I did all of this in OpenSCAD, so doing a difference on the support structure was easy because, you know, modules. Yeah, make everything a module.

wand-8302

Finally I got something that worked, about about 6 different models and a dozen failed prints. The standup structure with supports that could easily be cut away worked. I should mention this piece needs to be strong and needs to look good. I started with an infill of 50% then dropped to 35% (with a 25% along the way, and one print with just 10% due to what appears to be a bug in Cura.)

Rapid prototyping is often anything but… Luckily we were able to mill one out of HDPE at work while I repeatedly failed printing this at home. (I’m hoping to try this again in a warm room with a Prusa i3 MK3 in the near future.)

wand-8264

And, oh yeah, somewhere along the way one of the prints that failed managed to rip loose the wires that powered the print cooling fan, which luckily is used for PLA, but not ABS.

wand-8269

Also, just a reminder… I’m not new to 3D printing. I’ve been doing this for more than five years.

wand-8289

wand-8300

wand-8287

wand-8301

And here’s some super-fun video of many of the failures I encountered along the way, as well as the final successful print.

five-dollars

Milwaukee Makerspace dues are currently $40 per month for a “full” membership, and we allow each member to “vote” for what areas they want to support with their dollars. In our membership software a member can choose up to five areas to fund, with a total of $5.00 per month. You can put all $5 towards one area, or split it up among multiple areas.

For instance, if you tend to use the laser cutters a lot, you can put your $5 towards the laser cutters. This compounds with the funds from other members, and creates a pool of money for the laser cutters that the Area Champion then gets as a budget. The Area Champion decides how to spend the money. They can purchase spare parts, materials, software, etc. Consumables tend to be at the top of the list for many areas. For the laser cutters that may be cleaning supplies and new lenses, and they may want to have enough cash reserve on hand to purchase something more expensive, like a new laser tube, if needed.

Other areas might stock up on tape, blades, glue, small tools, etc. Besides building up a fund for each area, the “vote with your dollars” method also allows the members (and Board of Directors) to see which areas are the most popular. (Assuming people put their money towards the areas they care about and use.)

Here’s an snapshot of the funding as of the writing of this post. (The raw data is available here.) Note that a low dollar amount doesn’t necessarily mean an area is unpopular, as they may have just spent all of their cash. It’s better to look at the monthly allocation to get an idea of the popularity of an area, listed as “Current Member Funding” on the page.

Area Dollars
3D Printing Area $830.03
Anodizing Area $0.00
Forge Area $1,198.82
Casting Area $635.25
Ceramics Area $356.04
CNC Area $496.36
Craft Lab $847.76
Electronics Lab $725.66
Metal Finishing Area $163.48
Jewelry Area $575.60
Laser Lab $2,642.60
Leatherworking Area $339.50
Maker Faire Funding $677.29
Metal Shop $1,134.20
206.76 $189.01
Power Racing $163.67
Print Area $189.80
Soda Fund $129.00
Vacuum Former $164.35
Welding Area $624.22
Wood Shop $1,482.69

Besides the $5.00 per month that members can allocate, they can also choose to donate directly to these areas using our member management software (which is built on Wild Apricot.) This is a good way to support an area that you might use infrequently. For instance, I used the Paint Room quite a lot for two weeks leading up to Maker Faire, so I just did a straight donation to that area rather than change my monthly allocation.

I mentioned “full” member above, and that’s because we also have “family” members, who are add-on members that only pay $10.00 per month for their membership. We scale down their $5.00 per month to just $1.25 per month, so they can choose up to five areas to support, but at only 25 cent per area.

Obviously not all spaces can operate in this fashion, but with close to 300 members and a good financial standing we’ve got what I think is a pretty good system.

So, how does your space do it?

(Note: I was told that the Anodizing Area was rolled into the Metal Finishing Area, so that’s why the number is $0.00. It’s still in the system due to legacy reasons.)

space-work

With the recent news about TechShop closing and the more recent news of TechShop reopening, I’ve been following the discussions around what TechShop did right, what TechShop did wrong, and what it should do in the future. All of this is colored by my experience at Milwaukee Makerspace over the last 6 years, including being on the Board of Directors and helping to run the space. I should note that Milwaukee Makerspace is a community-oriented space for adults and focuses on providing a space and equipment for people to learn new skills and make things.

TechShop always came across to me as a more “commercial” space where people who wanted access to tools to create products could go to use the machines. While some spaces do cater to entrepreneurs and people making commercial products, other spaces are not equipped and not as friendly to commercial activity. At Milwaukee Makerspaces we’ve had a loose set of rules/guidelines for people producing commercial work. It’s basically follows the “Don’t be a Dick” rule: don’t hog machines, don’t blow through consumables, and make donations to help cover the cost and maintenance of machines.

There’s a common explanation of a makerspace as “It’s like a health club, except instead of treadmills and exercise bikes we have tables saws and laser cutters!” This falls apart when you think about the equipment in a health club versus the equipment in a makerspace. While someone might use an elliptical machine for 30 minutes, or maybe a treadmill for an hour, people can easily use a laser cutter for hours at a time, and can tie up a 3D printer for multiple hours very easily. While health clubs may have a dozen ellipticals and treadmills, most makerspaces may have only one or two laser cutters and 3D printers.

Besides the issue of how many machines and their availability, expectations are an issue. One of our members, in giving an orientation to new members said “Everyone is here to have fun, just remember that and you’ll have a good time”. While some do believe that to be true, there are definitely members who consider the space an extension of their business, and their “machine shop” to use as needed to create products. (This isn’t to suggest people running a business can’t also be awesome members, but there’s always a chance of some conflict due to expectations.)

So what are expectations? We’ve had members who make demands to the Board of Directors (who volunteer to help run the space) and typically we explain that “no, you are not a customer, you are a member like everyone else”. As a member of Milwaukee Makerspace you can expect being able to get into the building (if you paid your dues) and well, to some degree, not much else. There’s no guarantee the machine you want to use when you show up will be available, or working, or in some cases, still in the building! You have to be okay with that. It’s how we operate.

I’ve read a few accounts of TechShop members (customers?) making demands, and having expectations that since they are paying X amount per month, it entitles them to Y amount of Z. Some of these people do indeed run businesses, and TechShop should provide them with what is promised. Maybe? I mean, I don’t know what exactly is promised by TechShop when you are a member/customer.

I’m not going to say that one way is right and one way is wrong, because there’s room for all sorts of models. A friend of mine joined Milwaukee Makerspace and was hoping to use the CNC router for a project. When he joined the CNC router was down for repairs, and then he wasn’t able to attend the training class, and then months had passed and he didn’t get to do his project. (He told me he totally understands that everyone is a volunteer and he wasn’t upset it didn’t work out. All good.) I do hear this quite a bit. Someone joins and gets really excited, but then has to get trained on the equipment they want to use, and that takes time, and then they get frustrated with the process. To be fair, I’m sure other spaces have this figured out, and maybe we don’t… I don’t know.

Occasionally I wish we had a TechShop-type place in Milwaukee I could send people to when all they want to do is get access to a machine to make something, and maybe be able to take a class fairly quickly to learn a new skill. My friend who failed to use the CNC router said he called a few places about having the job done and it was way over his budget. This is where I see the TechShop-style place fitting in. I have no delusion that Milwaukee Makerspace (with nearly 300 members) is for everyone. There are some people who will want something different in their “makerspace experience”, and I respect that.

At this point I should mention Hammerspace in Kansas City. Dave Dalton is always quick to point out that a space can be both things, a community makerspace and a commercial entity with staff and the ability to do jobs for hire. So yes, there are many models, and some work better than others in various ways.

I’ve talked to others about how their spaces run, and there are so many variables that it may be difficult to replicate something that works in one place to other places. Cities and people and culture are so different depending on where you go, as are… expectations.

MMS

I recently heard the word “potluck” applied to a makerspace. So what exactly is a potlock and how does it work?

A potluck is a gathering where each guest contributes a different and unique dish of food, often homemade, to be shared.

(Okay, ignore that bit about food.) Many spaces are started by groups of people who come together to form a community around making. Making usually requires tools. They may be traditional tools like saws, and drills, and sewing machines, and may include laser cutters, 3D printers, and CNC machines. While you may own a few tools, chances are you don’t own all the tools. Typically there’s two reasons you don’t own all the tools. You probably don’t have space for them all, and you probably can’t afford them all. This is where makerspaces come in.

The “potluck” style makerspace encourages everyone to bring the tools they have, together, in one space, and share that space, and share the tools. No one owns everything there, but everyone owns something. Now, there are spaces where a single person or small group provides all (or a majority of) the tools, or where the space itself (as an organization) owns all the tools. It can certainly work in many different ways.

Milwaukee Makerspace operates to a great deal like a potluck. When we started, everyone brought in whatever tools they had. We tried to avoid duplicates in most cases. If we had a table saw, but someone else said they had a better table saw, we’d evaluate and discuss and see if we wanted to “upgrade” by bringing in the new tool. Now, the question comes up “What if Bob decides to take his chop saw home? Then we have no chop saw!” and yes, this is true, and it does happen. I’m pretty sure within the last year the chop saw disappeared because the owner moved away, or took it home, or some other weird reason. Typically we’re without a tool for a short time until someone else brings one in, or we find another way to replace it.

One of those “other ways” is a group buy. Sometimes a member (or more likely a number of members) want a new tool. They basically “crowdfund” the money needed to purchase the tool and the tool the stays at the space. Occasionally there is a majority stakeholder who might have paid for a large percentage of a tool. If, in this case, the member who is a majority stakeholder wants to remove the tool, they would have to buy out all the other members who pitched in for it. This is a rare occurrence, in fact, I’m not sure it’s happened more than once or twice.

Occasionally a member who owns a tool wants (or needs) to sell it, perhaps due to financial strain or needing money more than they need the tool. Often members have bought tools from other members so that they can remain at the space. And yes, we’ve also seen group buys so that tools could remain at the space. (This was the case with one of our laser cutters.)

The largest example we have is the Tormach. Larry wanted a vertical milling machine, and was looking at a Haas, or another larger used machine. Since we didn’t have luck with the previous used machine we had, many members were in favor of something a bit newer, and easier to use. The Tormach purchase was funded by over 30 members. Some contributing as little as $10, and a few contributing close to or more than $1000. Larry covered $5000, which was close to half the cost. I personally pitched in $50 and I still haven’t even used the machine! I’m okay with that, because I’ve seen other members make awesome things, and I know that if I have the need, it’s there and I can use it.

What about when things break? Well, each area has a budget for purchases and maintenance (I’ll cover that more in another post) but we also follow the “crowdfunding” method in this case. When the laser tube died pretty much everyone who ever used the laser cutter was willing to pitch in some money. Occasionally someone orders a spare lens, or new saw blades, or whatever other consumable there is because we don’t charge for machine time, but if you’ve used a machine a lot, we expect you to be awesome and contribute in some way. (And yes, there are other ways to contribute, again, that’s a future post.)

Anyway, I hope this helped explained the “potluck” method we’ve used over the last seven years or so. It’s not perfect, but it’s worked fairly well. When we orient new members, we let them know that every tool in the space belongs to someone, and that someone is another members, so respecting and taking care of the tools is just one more way to be excellent to each other.

NoiseMaker XI

This is (almost) the last noisemaker. There’s been a whole series, and they were all at Maker Faire Milwaukee. But don’t worry, if you missed them in person you can read all about them…

This one started out (somewhat) as a joke. While at Milwaukee Makerspace trying to convince other members to join me on this noisemaking quest I found this old radio on the Hack Rack and said “Look! Here’s a noisemaker! All we have to do is connect up a button for power. It’s that easy!” And while I did convince Maks and Dustin to make some noise(makers) others were not as easily swayed.

NoiseMaker XI

Not being one to not follow up on my own stupid idea, I took the radio, confirmed it worked, and then took it home to connect up a button and a power supply. I ended up just using alligator clips and didn’t even bother soldering anything in place. I did however use a generous amount of tape. (This was definitely the shortest/fastest build of all of the devices.)

NoiseMaker XI

As for the button, I already had that handy and mounted, because it was the old button for our garage door. (I replaced it with this one.) Since the old garage door button was something I hacked together very quickly one morning when the original garage door button broke, I thought it an appropriate use.

NoiseMaker XI

This one definitely has an aesthetic different than the other noisemakers, and that’s a good thing. If anything, I wish I had varied things a bit more throughout the process.

Looking back on the whole thing, creating nearly a dozen different noisemaking devices was a lot of fun. None of them were too involved so I could be sure I’d get each one done and move on to the next, and when things got a little more complex or time consuming that it should have, I offset it by working on multiple devices at a time. Some makers I know suggest this is the secret—having multiple projects at once so you can switch between them when you get stuck/bored with the one you are currently working on. Of course the issue with that is to not abandon projects completely, and come back to them in a reasonable amount of time. (Yes, I may be guilty of 4+ years of planning and/or working on a project that has seen very little progress. I ain’t proud!) If you’re interested in making your own noisemakers, let me know, and I’ll do what I can. The world needs more noise!

This is just one post in a series about noisemakers. Check out the other posts as well:

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