This week’s question relates to getting involved in 3D printing technology.
Fabbaloo reader Simon writes:
“Hi, how can I get more Involved with the 3D printing project? I ask as I am passionate about this subject and I find myself at a loose end these days after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and unable to work full-time or even part time. I feel my skillset of mechanical engineering with a sprinkle of electronics over the past 40 odd years will go to waste if I let it, maybe there is nothing I can get involved with but maybe there is and I am of a mindset that if you don’t ask you’ll never know.”
Thanks for asking Simon, and I’m sorry to hear about your diagnosis. As for involvement in 3D printing, I think there are many things you and others can do to get more involved with the technology.
The first thing to do is to determine a goal. Would you want to have a job in the industry? Or merely understand how it works? Maybe you’d like to do 3D printing as a hobby? Or perhaps use it as a means to pursue an invention of some kind?
With that said, it would be important in any option to understand several aspects of 3D printing:
The basics of commonly used 3D printing processes
The concepts of digital design and 3D CAD
Materials used in 3D printing and their properties
3D printing operations and workflow
How can you learn each of these? I have some ideas you might consider:
Online 3D Print Training
There are several options for learning 3D printing online, ranging from the usual knowledge sources, such as Lynda.com and similar outlets, to specialized 3D print training operations. One we’ve recently written about is the 3D Printing Institute, which offers a series of online courses.
For more casual use, there are several YouTube channels dedicated to the topic. Here are three I recommend:
Offline 3D Print Training
There are also plenty of offline resources for learning 3D printing, too. Two books in particular would be my recommendation:
A terrific way to use 3D printers and gain experience without a lot of cost is to get involved in a local makerspace, where such equipment could be available for use. You’ll encounter people who might know more about the equipment and easily obtain advice.
Buy Equipment and Experiment
With the low cost of 3D printers these days, a good option might be to buy a 3D printer of your own. With this equipment on site you would be able to learn operations at your own pace. I recommend acquiring a filament-based device first, as the resin machines require considerably more safety care.
Until you are able to design your own 3D models, you are stuck with using those designed by others. Typically this is done by downloading objects from online repositories like Thingiverse and YouMagine, but after a while that gets tired. You’ll soon want to design your own 3D models.
It’s far more satisfying to see that thing you imagined suddenly appear in real life.
To get started I recommend using the free personal version of Autodesk Fusion 360, which is provided for non-commercial use. This tool is quite advanced, yet is not unreasonably difficult to learn. This is especially so because Autodesk has provided a large number of online videos for training.
Use a 3D Print Service
If you can’t use your own 3D printer, one option is to use a 3D print service such as Shapeways or Sculpteo. These operations will accept a 3D model and print it in the material you require. The cost per print is much more than it would be if 3D printing on your own equipment, but then you don’t have to buy the equipment.
Build a 3D Printer
If you’re technically inclined, purchase a 3D printer kit and assemble it yourself. There is no better way to rapidly understand what’s really going on inside the device than building it. However, this sometimes requires some technical competency, tools and a lot of patience.
Once you feel you have some level of competency, you might consider applying it in some way. Here are some options:
Volunteer at a Makerspace
Perhaps you could be the 3D printing mentor at a local makerspace. Once you learn from one, you could be one!
Apply For 3D Printing / Additive Manufacturing Jobs
If you’re serious about getting into the technology, the deepest path is to get a real job in the industry. There are several online job boards where such roles are constantly posted, and there are many companies seeking skilled individuals.
However, as the technology is still a niche in manufacturing, it is only random chance that there might happen to be suitable roles in your area. It’s sometimes required to move to the job.
Join A Startup Company
There are countless startup companies developing products, and many of them require 3D designs for prototypes. If you’re sufficiently skilled you could get on with such a venture, and who knows, maybe you’ll be a millionaire soon after.
Freelance 3D Design
Competent 3D designers can offer their design skills for hire using any number of freelancing services. However, you have to be efficient at design in order to make any reasonable money.
Perhaps you have a
n idea for a new product? If so, you can start designing components and making them with your 3D printer. If the product has legs, you might suddenly find yourself in the manufacturing business.
Start A 3D Print Service Of Your Own
Finally, those with 3D printers can easily offer informal low-volume manufacturing services to others in the local area. There are quite a few people who need parts, perhaps inventors, artists or others, and they may not wish to operate the equipment.
But YOU can.
Simon, I hope this provides you with some thoughts, and good luck with 3D printing!