Printing Violations?

Pac-Man Cookies

You may have seen that I recently printed some Pac-Man cookie cutters using the MakerBot at Milwaukee Makerspace.

This seems like a harmless enough activity, right? I wanted some cookie cutters that my daughter could use to make cookies, so I made them. Typically when I make things, I don’t think to myself “Gosh, what laws am I breaking?” because typically I think of making as a creative endeavor that isn’t harmful to anyone.

But here’s where it gets murky…

If I really wanted Pac-Man cookie cutters, I could have bought them, from more than one place even, and those all come with something mine don’t. This little bit of text that says “Officially licensed Pac-Man cookie cutters.

Oh crap.

My cookie cutters are not “officially licensed” in any way. I certainly didn’t plan on selling them, as they were just for my own use. (That said, I have mentioned printing a few extras to give to people, free of charge, but would that cause issues as well?) Is the fact that I printed my own versus buying “officially licensed” cookie cutters the wrong thing to do? Did the company that licenses the official cutters lose a sale, or multiple sales if I give some away?

In my defense, I’ll say that I would not have bought Pac-Man cookie cutters. Partly because I’m not that fanatic, partly because I can’t see paying $15.99 for less than a dollar worth of plastic, and partly because I’m a maker. I mean, I could have bent up some metal to make them, or used some other creative methods.

So what does the future hold when we can easily (and cheaply!) print out things like this? Well, if you doubted 3D printing was disruptive, doubt it no more…

Let’s look at the Glif. Last November the guys behind the Glif launched a Kickstarter project to fund their idea. Here’s what they said:

So why do we need YOUR help? Simply put, manufacturing is expensive. We want to use a process called ‘injection molding’ to create the Glif at a level of quality we deem acceptable, but unfortunately this requires a hefty set up cost. By pledging at least twenty dollars, you will be essentially pre-ordering a Glif, and helping turn our little project into a reality.

See that bit that says “manufacturing is expensive“? Well, it is! But guess what? Making things can be cheap. I don’t want to discount the amount of work that went into designing the Glif. I love design. Design is important. Designers should be rewarded for their work. So the Glif guys wanted to raise $10,000 to bring their product to market, and they ended up raising $137,417. Wowzers!

But if you really want an iPhone holder like The Glif, you can always make your own, out of whatever materials you have handy, like wood, or maybe… plastic!

Hey, check this out, it’s the iPhone 4 Combo Tripod and Stand. See the comments on that page about “cloning” as well. Interesting stuff.

So what does the future hold for this type of thing? When we all have 3D printers, and it’s cheaper and easier to print something at home than it is to drive to the store (takes time, wastes gas) to buy one, or order one online to have shipped to your home (takes time, wastes gas.)

Maybe things should go the way the music industry went. Pirating music was a much larger problem years ago, until Apple (and then Amazon, and others) made it easier (and cheaper?) to get the real thing legitimately. What if the guys behind the Glif had a business model where you could buy their product in the traditional ways (in a store, order online) but you could also download the files needed to print one, for say, a nominal fee between $0.99 and $5.00?

Would people support this model? I think some people definitely would. And who is the winner here? The company still makes money, and the consumer saves money. Somewhere in there we also hope that less energy (money) is expended in using this method. Sure, there would still be clones and copies, but you’d assume (like we do for music, movies, etc.) that most people are honest, and want to support the work of others.

So is this idea crazy, or is it the future?


3D Printing is the Future

3D Printers

As you may know, I’ve been playing around with a MakerBot recently, and at first I wasn’t sure if it was just me, or if 3D printing was really starting to catch on… but now, I think it’s safe to say it’s catching on, and I’m pretty confident in saying 3D Printing is the Future.

I really don’t give out these predictions very often… Sure, I was an early adopter of things like blogging and podcasting, but this whole 3D printing thing is a “disruptive technology” that stands to change the world.

So with that, I’ll give a brief primer on some of the technology.

3D printing has been around for quite some time, but it’s always been very expensive, and a 3D printer was never a thing you’d have in your home. Of course, in the olden days you’d never imagine you’d have a printer in your home. Printing was something you paid a printer to do. It was complicated, and messy, and expensive. I bought my first ink-jet printer around 1999 and it was probably over $200. In 2007 I got a new one, and it was $110, and it even has a built-in scanner. Nowadays no one thinks that printing on paper with ink in their own home is anything special, so how long will it be before we think the same thing about 3D printing.

It’s fair to say that Adrian Bowyer, creator of the RepRap project, is one smart dude, not just for coming up with a 3D printer that can print itself, but for his ideas of how this technology could change the world. It’s also been said that the RepRap is “the invention that will bring down global capitalism, start a second industrial revolution and save the environment…” You know, in a good way.

Now, the 3D printing revolution is happening in a different manner than the “cheap desktop printer” revolution happened. For one thing, you can assemble all the parts for a 3D printer right now, thanks to the RepRap project and it’ll be cheaper (and some say “better”) than the affordable 3D printers you can buy today.

Yes, there are affordable 3D printers you can buy today!

The folks at MakerBot are sort of the granddaddies of the 3D printer arena. Their “Cupcake” came out a few years ago, and their newer model, the “Thing-O-Matic” is their current offering. They’ve got the most well known brand right now, and if you doubt 3D printing will be big, they just took a $10 million investment.

I hear nothing but good things about MakerGear and the quality of their products and support. Well, I do hear one negative… products are always out of stock! Besides that, I think MakerGear has some good offerings. Besides their own model, the “Mosaic” you can get full-kit for a Prusa Mendel RepRap. (You know, if it’s in stock.)

New to the game is the Ultimaker, which looks impressive! Watching the videos, it looks like it trumps the MakerBot in many areas. If MakerBot is the established brand, I’m glad to see some competition coming in and forcing them to up their game. :)

There’s also BotMill, which seems to offer two models, both based on the RepRap Mendel. (I don’t know much more about BotMill.)

The Others
There’s also the Buildatron and the Solidoodle, of which I know little about, and just today I came across the Origo (not available yet) which aims to be the first “reliable easy to use 3D printer for ten year olds.” That “reliable easy to use” part is the nut that everyone is still trying to crack.

Besides those commercial offerings is the real granddaddy of this whole thing, the RepRap. If you think of the MakerBot as Windows, and maybe the Ultimaker as Mac OS X, then RepRap is Linux. It’s DIY. You can build it yourself. You’ll spend a lot of time tweaking it. It’ll be cheaper, but you’ll have to figure out your own support. Sort of… Nearly all of the commercial units are based (somewhat) on the technology from the RepRap project, so if you want a name brand, and support, and a company behind it, buy a commercial unit. If you’re a hacker, or a maker, or cheap, build a RepRap.

I’ve got a lot more posts about 3D printing, and the RepRap specifically, so stay tuned!


Pac-Man Cookies

Cookie Cutters

Since I’ve been playing with the MakerBot at the Milwaukee Makerspace, I figured that I should print something useful, and what’s more useful than cookie cutters!

I got the idea from the GuruBlog CookieCutter-Editor. I ended up making the Pac-Man shape, which is the exact opposite of complicated. (Yeah, I’m saying it’s really simple.) I really just did the Pac-Man shape as a test, and after I posted it, Alex asked about the ghosts, so at that point I figured I had a bit more work to do…

Since I’m still dabbling in 3D modeling, and haven’t really nailed down a workflow yet, I decided to try something besides the CookieCutter-Editor. I ended up drawing the ghost in Photoshop, and then bringing it into Inkscape to trace it. I then followed this Inkscape to OpenSCAD dxf tutorial to convert the SVG into a DXF file, which I then exported and brought into OpenSCAD to extrude into a 3D model.

Printed Cookie Cutters

The Pac-Man shape from the CookieCutter-Editor had a wider edge on one end, which is what a cookie cutter should have. (You can see this in the 3D wireframe in the top image.) The ghost shape does not have this wider edge, because I don’t know how to create one yet! I solved this issue by printing the shape with a raft, which you can see in the photo of the printed cutter. It’s not the prettiest cookie cutter, but it certainly did work.

Pac-Man Cookies

And here’s our final product, the Pac-Man (and ghosts) cookies! My oldest daughter Emma did the hard work here. She made the cookie dough, used the cutters, baked the cookies, and frosted them. I was basically the “Technical Advisor” and showed her what colors to use, etc. She wasn’t 100% pleased with the outcome, mainly because she had to tweak the coloring and improvise a bit (Pac-Man is actually lemon-flavored) but she’s a bit of a perfectionist in the kitchen. :)

We’ll probably make more of these for BarCampMilwaukee6, and may throw a few more shapes into the mix if I get a bit time with the MakerBot before then.


MakerBot Hands-on

Wisconsin in Sketchup
Wisconsin in Sketchup

After seeing the blog post about the United States Electoral Vote Map, I decided I needed to print out a 3D version of Wisconsin. So I grabbed one of the Sketchup files from Thingiverse and deleted every state except the one I live in. (Which, you know, happens to be Wisconsin.)

Wisconsin in ReplicatorG
Wisconsin in ReplicatorG

Once I had our dear state all on its own, I used this “Sketchup to DXF or STL” plugin (download skp_to_dxf.rb) to export it as an STL file so that I could load it into ReplicatorG.

Yeah, I know it’s tiny. But since everything up until now was the easy part, and the actual controlling of the MakerBot and the print process was the (supposedly) difficult part, I decided to start small. Here’s where it gets hard.

See, last week when I had my first MakerBot Adventure, Drew (the owner/operator and fellow Milwaukee Makerspace member) did all the hard work, while I just handed him a file. This time, he wasn’t around, nor was the laptop that normally connects to the MakerBot, so I was on my own.

I wish I could say skimming this wiki page titled How To Print revealed the secrets to the MakerBot universe, but it took a whole bunch of wiki pages, and some Google Groups messages, and some random searching based on error codes, and at some point, I got it mostly figured out. Mostly. (I also had to remember that I was using a Cupcake and not a Thing-O-Matic, as they have a few differences.)

ReplicatorG Control Panel
ReplicatorG Control Panel

Ah, the Control Panel… where the magic happens! Or should happen. Or something. All that digging around on wiki pages provided me with just enough info to be dangerous here, and put in some values I thought would work. The one thing Drew said was “As long as you don’t drive the extruder head into the platform, you should be good.” That was enough to scare me into being overly cautious, and my first attempts obviously had the head too high. The other issue was, the feed rate of the filament was zero. I tried really hard not to force things, but eventually applying more pressure got the filament moving. (Thanks Royce!)

One thing I noticed about the Control Panel is that the settings did not seem to stick, and I had to enter them over and over again. (Which is why I’m posting it here.) Besides that, ReplicatorG was fairly easy to use. I’m still not sure how to determine the size of the thing being printed, but I’ll work on that.

So at this point, I had the extruder head down low enough, plastic was flowing, and the platform was moving. That’s right folks… I was 3D printing!!!

And how did it turn out, you may be asking? Well, here’s some amazing images of my first “all on my own” 3D print.

Wisconsin [3D]
Wisconsin (with quarter, for scale)

Yeah, like I said… it’s tiny. No matter. I’ve made it this far… Now on to bigger and better things.

View the super large photo, or the alternate, at Flickr.)


A MakerBot Adventure

Drew's MakerBot
Drew’s MakerBot

We had a great demo at the Milwaukee Makerspace last week when Drew demoed his MakerBot Cupcake, and if you don’t know by now, the MakerBot is an affordable 3D printer that squirts out hot plastic based on 3D design files you feed it. If you’re not much of a 3D designer, you can browse Thingiverse for some good stuff.

Holder in 3DTin

Our old pal Pehr was also there, and he brought his MakerBot too, and when we were talking about 3D design software he said “Just go to” and then we did…

The interface was a bit confusing at first, though admittedly I’ve never been able to get very far with 3D software. I did manage to design this thing I’ve called a holder.

Exporting Holder from 3DTin

Once I was done with the design, I was able to export it as an .stl file to my desktop. (There are other export options as well.)

3DTin itself is a simple to use 3D design application that runs completely in a browser. You can use it for free, or for $4.99 you can pay for the “premium” version, which gives you a few more features and hides the ads. I can see playing with this a bit more, or even having the kids give it a try. Meanwhile, I still need to dig into tools like Sketchup, or maybe Blender.

Holder in ReplicatorG

After exporting an .stl file, I loaded it into ReplicatorG to take a look at it. Once in ReplicatorG you can scale, rotate, and move the object as desired. Once I had it centered and scaled properly, I saved the file to an SD card and handed it to Drew to stick into the MakerBot. (As I understand it, you can also just print directly to the MakerBot via USB cable.)

Holder (raw)
Holder (fresh from the MakerBot)

Once the holder was complete, it looked like this. You can see the strands still in place left from the printing process. These are from the print head moving between the two sides.

Holder (clean)
Holder (cleaned up)

Here’s what the holder looked like after I trimmed off the strands with an X-ACTO knife. This is obviously a simple object, but so far the process of designing it and printing it was well under an hour.

Holder (close-up)
Holder (close-up)

Here’s a close up showing the strands from printing. Commercial 3D printer have much higher resolution, so you don’t really see these lines in the objects they create. Supposedly the MakerBot can be tweaked to run slower for better resolution, but for many purposes, this is still good, and pretty darn impressive.

I’ve got some idea for other things I’d like to design, but for now, you can grab this Holder from 3DTin, and while I had no clue what it would be good for when I designed it, it does seem to work to hold an iPhone in landscape mode, or even as a business card holder.

Big thanks to Drew for the demo and the help in getting started on the MakerBot. I can’t wait to get some serious time with it at the Makerspace.

Oh, it sounds like we’ll also have some good 3D printer action at BarCampMilwaukee6 if you want to come and check it out.