3D Printing - "It's all about design and quality output. Not how fast the printer can run."
A Time Waster?
I spend a lot of my time working on 3D printing. I may be spending too much time. The actual printing is a hands off do nothing period. The printer just runs and does its thing. The waster is watching it do its thing.
With three printers, I switch between them. I often have all three running at the same time. That’s melting a lot of filament per hour. Each print normally takes hours to run. That means there is a lot of down time not doing anything with the active printing.
I use that time working on the CAD or drawing portion of the creative process. I have often said the printing process itself is not a profession. Operating the printer is a low to medium skill job, that has to be done, but I don’t suggest it as a career.
I believe a career is in the CAD and creative engineering that develops the application of 3D printing, then creates the usable, properly engineered and designed drawing that is the input to the printing process. The printing process is simply an output, a machine operation.
In this perspective 3D Printing engineering is a subset of a higher professional engineering career.
The printing allows the engineer to produce prototypes than can be eventually manufactured in durable materials if the printed item is not the final product. Seldom in the real world are complex parts designs produced off the first drawing or manufactured part. Prototypes are a part of the development process. 3D printing non-durable prototypes reduces costs.
The simple things I design, often work well on the first drawing. But not always. I have discarded printed items I discover are not exactly what I intended. Many times it is because a need a certain dimension tolerance. I can make the first part then measure for the fit I require.
I see a lot of publicity in the media over certain items that have been produced by the process of 3D printing. Unfortunately, the printed item gets all the attention and very little credit is given to the engineering that created the item.
The prosthetic hand is a good example. The story is presented as, “WOW! This hand was created with 3D printing!” “Look what 3D printing can do for the handicapped!”
The real story is, “WOW! Look what that prosthetic engineer designed and created!” He has given that person a device that can make his life with a missing limb a bit easier!” The way the hand was made is unique and less costly, but it was the engineer and not the printer, that designed the device.
To me it is like proclaiming how that great my new house is because a plutonium powered hammer was used to build it.
Yeah, I know the reporter is simply hyping the new technology of 3D printing, but I feel the story that is presented is mostly about what was created, the hand. The story tells very little about the printer itself and limited information about the engineering work to developed it. OK, so I get it. People make the story. The story IS about the device that was made, and 3D printing at least gets a bit of credit.
My distress is the message that a process (3D Printing) somehow just makes it happen. That’s true in the very broad sense of 3D printing as an engineering process. But it requires far more than running a 3D printer. The opportunity for career building is learning to design things that can be produced by the process of 3D printing.
My advice is don’t wast time watching the printer run. Yeah, it is hypnotic. Instead, spend time discovering and engineering mechanical or creative (artistic) uses for the process. The career is in the design of items made using, not the operation of, 3D printing. The prosthetic hand as example.