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MKE3DP – 3D Printer Fans Unite!

MKE3DP

As you may know, I finished my RepRap recently. But here’s the thing, you never really finish a RepRap. It’s a beast in need of endless tweaking. So yeah, it’s a never-ending project (if you want it to be) and I’m okay with that. I mean, once you get to the point that it works, you can start using it to upgrade itself. How many tools can do that!?

Of course you can actually make useful things, functional things, or just pretty things. There’s a lot a 3D Printer can do. I’ve only been at it for less than a year and I’ve still got a lot to learn.

So anyway, yeah, I’m really enjoying this 3D Printing stuff… so I figured, why not share it with others? So join us for the first Milwaukee 3D Printing Meetup! We’ll be meeting on Sunday, July 1st, 2012 at 1:00pm. We won’t be at our space because we’ve partnered with our friends at UWM for this one! Show up at UWM’s Kenilworth Square East Building, 3rd Floor; Room 368 on 1925 E. Kenilworth Place.

If you’ve got a 3D Printer, bring it, or just show up and learn about them. If things go well and there’s interest, maybe we’ll turn it into a regularly scheduled meeting.

(More info? It’s also on the Milwaukee Makerspace site and you can RSVP on Facebook if you want to see who else will be there.)

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MakerBot Marketing

MakerBot Industries

I meant to write this post about a month ago, but writing it now just validates the points I was going to make anyway, so read on!

Back when I wrote 3D Printing is the Future, I mentioned a number of companies, including MakerGear, Ultimaker, and of course MakerBot Industries. Four months later, I’m going to update my thoughts on them, and specifically focus on what the MakerBot folks do in the area of marketing.

Wait… Marketing? If you read the piece in Fast Company you’d know that MakerBot Industries doesn’t do marketing:

… When I speak with MakerBot’s Keith Ozar, he seems offended when I refer to such undertakings as “marketing.” His background is in underground music promotion, and he joined MakerBot when the company advertised a “marketing experimenter” position in early 2011. MakerBot doesn’t really market at all, he counters; it actively participates in the community the company seeks to both cultivate and create, involving “people who are creative, people with imaginations.” That means a presence at Maker Faire-style events, where hardware hackers congregate, and more recently at comics conventions and the like.

Here’s where I haul out the disclaimer: I work at a marketing company. I also market myself, and the things I do. Almost everyone does, even if they don’t call it marketing. If MakerBot doesn’t want to call it “marketing” I’m fine with that, but let’s be honest, that’s what it is.

With that out of the way, let’s look at the marketing that MakerBot does…

MakerBot Web Site

MakerBot has a web site. Hmmm, that’s nothing special. Let me rephrase that: MakerBot has a good web site. Their web site clean, well designed, and organized. There’s a store, there’s info on the community, including links to User Groups, Twitter, Flickr, Google Groups, etc. as well as a link to Thingiverse. Their support page has a lot of links to their wiki, and then there’s the blog.

The MakerBot blog isn’t just some “look at me!” thing where they talk about themselves (though it has been a lot of that lately, due to the recently launched MakerBot Replicator.) The blog also highlights things that members of the community are doing/making. And the blog is updated very often. Very often. That’s key.

Ultimaker

When the Ultimaker came out I heard a lot of talk about how much better it was than the Thing-O-Matic, and it may be better, but take a look at the Ultimaker web site. It just looks like a blog, and as of my writing this, it’s been over a month since it’s been updated. And before that it was a month and a half. I know blogging takes time, but for a small company it can get you the most bang for your buck when trying to tell people about your product.

MakerGear

In the world of RepRap, reprap.org is packed full of information, but if you want to buy a RepRap kit, MakerGear is a pretty well known and respected seller of the Prusa Mendel kit. They also recently came out with the MakerGear Mosaic, which is their own design, and is a capable machine from all I’ve read.

Visit the MakerGear web site and let me know what gets your attention… if anything does. There is a “What’s New?” link on the home page, that links to a page with a post that was written nearly two months ago. (With a typo in the title.) I’m a MakerGear customer, and I think they’re a good company, but I wish things looked a bit more professional. For a first timer visiting their web site (or the Ultimaker site) I don’t think they’re going to be impressed.

But then, maybe these companies don’t want to impress people. Maybe they’re only targeting the alpha nerds, who know the inside scoop, and think that MakerBot is for people who don’t know better, and the real desire is for servicing a niche market. If that’s the case, then that’s fine… I honestly don’t know.

So besides the web site, what is the “MakerBot Marketing” you ask? I’ll just throw a few things out there.

MakerBot: has good photography, has good videos (including MakerBot TV), they have a curriculum for schools, are behind Thingiverse, they’ve implemented an Artist in Residence program, did the Project Shellter thing, scanned people’s heads, and on and on.

Some of those things take a bit of money, which smaller companies may not have, but there’s no shortage of clever ideas, some of which are relatively cheap, and if it gets people talking about you, isn’t that what you want?

So yeah, MakerBot Industries does marketing, and it may be marketing on their own terms, and in their own way, but in the end, if people find out about you, and keep hearing about you, that’s building your brand, and that’s worth a hell of a lot.

Here’s the thing: You can have the greatest product in the world, but if no one knows about it, you won’t have any customers, and no customers equals no business, so marketing is important… even for nerdy 3D printer companies.

(Oh, there’s one more thing that’s key to MakerBot’s marketing effort, which I’ll probably talk about in another post.)

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Printrbot

Printrbot

You’ve heard me say that 3D Printing is the Future, and I’ve talked about the MakerBot, RepRap, and other 3D printers, but fairly recently, a new project called “Printrbot” launched, and more specifically, they launched on Kickstarter, where their goal was to raise $25,000 and when the campaign ended they raised $830,827. (3,323% funded!)

You could say there’s a lot of interest in 3D printing…

And 3D printing moves fast! I received a MakerGear RepRap Prusa Mendel about a month and a half ago, and I’m still building it.

When I say “I’m still building it” I should clarify that I only get at most a few hours each week. I’ve been told you can assemble the entire thing in a weekend if you skip meals and sleep. :)

But supposedly the Printrbot can be assembled in an afternoon. And it’s smaller, and lighter, and cheaper. All good things. I’ve heard a few questions as to the speed, print quality, etc. of the Printrbot, but I’m fairly confident it’s well designed and will be comparable to the other 3D printers in it’s price class (even though it’s probably the cheapest right now.)

At Milwaukee Makerspace we’ve got a member with a MakerBot Cupcake, I’m building a Prusa Mendel, and I’ve heard that one member backed the Printrbot project and should have one of those when they’re available.

Oh, I should also mention that a goal of the Printrbot is “a printer in every home (and school)” so right there, I’m a fan… and a backer.

If you’ve ever thought 3D printing was too expensive, keep an eye on the Printrbot project, and see what they can do to change your mind.

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3D Printing a Replacement Part

One of the promises of 3D printing is being able to print replacement parts to things around the house that break. Since I’ve got access to a MakerBot Cupcake at Milwaukee Makerspace, I figured I’d give this a try, not just downloading some object from Thingiverse, but actually going through the entire process of measuring, designing and printing a part.

Light Switch v1
Light Switch Button v1

I got out the calipers and measured the light switch to determine the size of the replacement part I’d need to create, and then I used Sketchup to design the actual object at the correct width, height and depth per my measurements. Since the original part was long gone, I had to estimate how it should be designed, so I just used my best guess.

My first attempt (version 1 above) may have looked good, but even if it was a perfect match to the original, the fact that it was a very small part, and had to be printed on a older model MakerBot meant that the actual print was terrible. The part was just 10mm x 12mm x 6.7mm. That’s pretty damn small.

Light Switch v2
Light Switch Button v2

Version 1 just didn’t work. The hole that was meant to slide over the shaft of the light switch was too short, ill formed, and not even close to round in the inside. So for version 2 I changed the circular structure to a rectangle with a hole in it, as well as making it a bit thicker all around.

Version 2 was definitely better than version 1, but the hole still wasn’t looking too good, and the top (where the MakerBot finishes printing) was pretty ragged. I figured I could sand it down flat though if needed, which is why I ended up making it taller.

(Oh, I should mention that with version 1 I just printed it at the makerspace and then brought it home to test it out. It would have been awesome to have a 3D printer in the house, because I probably could have just kept tweaking it until I got it right, but as it were, I printed one, took it home, and then there was a week before I could try the next version. So yeah, this is why you need a 3D printer at home!)

Light Switch v3
Light Switch Button v3

So right after I printed up version 2, I was concerned it still might not work, so I quickly tweaked the file a bit to make it taller, and to remove the hole completely, with the idea that I could drill a nice clean hole at the appropriate size. Version 3 looked pretty good out of the Cupcake. Not great, not amazing, but pretty good… at least in comparison to the others.

Light Switch
Printed Light Switch Button

So here’s our actual printed object. Yeah, it looks pretty rough around the edges, at least from this view. I ended up using the Dremel on the top to get it a bit shorter and smoother, and then drilling a hole that would allow it to fit on the shaft. Of course, I don’t have metric drill bits, so I tried to find something close. This was my first real attempt at using the Dremel or a drill on a printed part. It wasn’t great. The Dremel doesn’t react the same way it does to metal or wood. Do I go slower or faster or what? I’m not sure… As for the drill, I tried to just hold the piece in one hand while drilling it. That was not ideal. Perhaps next time I’ll use the vice.

I know that in the photo it looks pretty sad, but it actually worked, so cosmetic beauty aside, this was mostly a success.

Light Switch
Light Switch Button in place

Here’s the light switch button in place. We can actually use the light switch without pushing the tiny shaft anymore, which is good.

So in the end, this part, even with the failed attempts, probably consists of less than 5 cents worth of plastic. This is the beauty of 3D printing at home. To get a replacement from the manufacturer would have involved me contacting them, ordering or asking for a replacement, and then having that replacement shipped to me. Even if I ended up talking to some nice person who could put one in an envelope and mail it to me at no charge, the postage stamp alone would have cost more than the raw materials needed to make the part.

Oh, you may have noticed the hole in the button. Yeah, I drilled it a bit too much. Also, the red doesn’t really match very well. I’ll probably print it again in white, or maybe glow in the dark plastic, which would make even more sense.

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Woes in Plastic

Lens Gear

Bleargh!!! Sorry, had to get that out…

I seemed to be able to do nothing right last night at Milwaukee Makerspace. I joked that the only thing I was able to make was a mess. Besides hot-gluing my own thumb (though not my ass) and having many MakerBot failures, I was able to print two things, though even those two didn’t turn out that great. I’m getting a bit frustrated with the MakerBot Cupcake, and the mysteries of Skeinforge aren’t helping.

I’m waiting for MakerGear to ship my RepRap Prusa Mendel, which of course will require assembly, and configuration, and ten other weird things, but hopefully at the end I’ll have better prints than the Cupcake. Don’t get me wrong, the Cupcake is fun, but it’s also frustrating.

So I printed the 70mm lens gear, even though I really need one that’s about 85mm, just because I’ll be using a follow focus next week, and I want to see if this works. The gear teeth look good, even if the print itself did not turn out great.

Bottle Opener

I also tried this bottle opener, and again, while it is OK, it’s definitely not great. It looks pretty sloppy. The weird bits in the centr are the Milwaukee Makerspace logo, which was way too small to even attempt to print. It also filled in some of the hole areas a bit, which I had to remove the plastic from. That may be due to me editing the STL in Sketchup and creating a new STL with my own edits. I don’t know…

I think I need to take a break from printing things for a bit, and work on some other things. Printing takes a long time, and if it’s the only thing I do at the space, I feel like I’m neglecting other projects. (I did work on my Nutellastruder a bit, of course that led to the hot-gluing of my thumb!)

KinectToStl

Oh, we did play around with KinectToStl a bit. Again, the results were not super-impressive, but it was fun to experiment with it. I didn’t bother to read the instructions, so there may be some good times on making it work better, but that will be something to try another day.

Update: The bottle opener broke while trying to open a bottle. #fail