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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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Maker Business – I Heart Robotics

Plastic

In the spirit of my “Maker Business” posts (like The Real Costs and Lessons Learned) I’d like to point you at this post from I Heart Robotics titled Business Plan: 3D manufacturing. If you haven’t read it, go read it. Then come back here. I’ll wait.

Are you back? Good! Let’s go…

This is my favorite post of the week… and it’s only Thursday! For anyone wanting to get into a maker-related business, it’s a must-read.

The funny thing is, I’d seen one of these TriK Tripod Adapters for the Kinect before, because Mike printed it at Milwaukee Makerspace one day. (You could say I have an interest in various camera related mounting technology.) Yeah, that’s right, they guys who were selling this item also gave away the design for free to anyone who wanted it. Insane you say? The world I want to live in, I say…

This is an area I see open source hardware similar to open source software. Once a problem is solved, why not share the solution with everyone else, for free? You’re welcome to sell the software (or hardware) all you like, and letting other use it for their own use is a great side effect that costs you nothing. (Some could argue it costs you in potential revenue, but I won’t argue that right now.) It’s also worth noting that I Heart Robotics licenses the item with an Attribution – Non-Commercial – Share Alike license. For those unfamiliar with Creative Commons, a simple explanation would be that as long as you don’t make money by selling it, you can go nuts and make (and give away) as many of them as your 3D Printer can make.

This breakdown of costs is also worth studying.

TriK Tripod Adapter Costs

 $0.384     8 grams Raw ABS Plastic
 $0.0182    1/4-20 Nut
 $0.222     Qty 4 Plastic thread forming screws 
 $0.124     2 x 1 1⁄4 x 3" Kraft Reverse Tuck Carton
 $0.015     2 x 2" White Laser Label
 $0.044     3 x 5" 2 Mil White Block Reclosable Poly Bag
~$3.75      NRE - Non-Reoccuring Engineering Costs
~$0.50      Labor - Push button, remove part, repeat
~$8.34      Printer operating cost

Total Cost $13.40/part

What can we learn from these numbers? Plenty! Some of these items are things you don’t really think about, like labor or equipment operating costs. For instance, I use a drill press in my basement to manufacture things. I don’t really add in the cost to run it for a few minutes per unit, but maybe I should. I also run a fan in my spray booth, and that uses electricity. The numbers might be negligible, but they do exist. (Oh, we also learn that Uline is awesome.)

Since I’ve been dealing with numbers like these in the past few months I’ve become a little more aware of people who complain about such things. I can see someone who owns their own 3D Printer saying “They want $20 for that!? It’s like 5 cents worth of plastic!” and while it may be just 5 cents worth of plastic (or less) there’s a lot of other costs involved. If you have the power to make one on your own, go for it! Either design one and make it, or in this case, download it and print it. I’ve learned that even if you carefully outline exactly how to do something and publish it on the Internet, there are still people who will (gladly) just pay you to do it all for them and then ship it to them, and for that I am grateful.

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Hot Shoe Audio Mount

Since I’ve got the RepRap I can start on some projects I’ve been meaning to tackle, one of which is printing some camera accessories.

Hot Shoe Audio Mount

Thingiverse is full of weird combos of objects smashed together, such as the Lepus Colberus (The Colberabbit), but you can also combine individual objects in other ways.

I grabbed this 1/4-20 Thumb Screw and this Nikon DIY GPS Holder and combined them into a new thing.

Hot Shoe Audio Mount

The nice thing about the “Nikon DIY GPS Holder” I printed was that I can see it being a generic part I can modify in the future. I can easily import the STL file into Google Sketchup and built on top of it. (I did find this camera mount accessory, but the assembly was a little more complex than I wanted to deal with.) It did take a little bit of work with a file to get the part to fit the hot shoe on my Nikon, but that’s probably a good thing. I got it to fit just as snug as I wanted after minimal filing and sanding.

Hot Shoe Audio Mount

I’m still calling this one a prototype. I ended up drilling out the hole for the bolt, and I cut the head off the bolt to be able to make it all fit together. It works, but I can see some improvements for next time. (I’m also expecting better quality from the RepRap as I get better at calibrating and operating it.)

Hot Shoe Audio Mount

Here’s the mount on the hot shoe of my camera. I haven’t done a ton of video shooting with the Nikon D3200 yet, but I know that most DSLR microphones are not very good, and secondary audio is pretty standard, so by mounting the Zoom H2 on the camera I can get better audio, and I can also monitor the audio, which you can’t do with the Nikon D3200. (The Nikon D800 does allow you to monitor audio from the camera, but we still haven’t received ours.)

So besides two nuts and a bold, there’s probably 10 cents worth of plastic. I think this shows the power of 3D printing in making things you need. I wouldn’t have been able to make this out of wood or metal very easily, but a 3D printer and a hardware store made this a pretty trivial project.

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Printed Chairs

Big Printer

Big Printer

Didn’t I say something last year about 3D printing being the future? Well, it is. There’s even a guy printing chairs from old scrap appliances.

Double-points for using recycled materials and a robot. (Lots more cool stuff at the Milan Furniture Fair as well!) Check the video below to see the awesome in action.

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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.)