After the failure of EasyMaker on KS, I got myself to thinking about a raft of problems in various spaces. I also had some fantasies. My biggest fantasy was around ginger-bread shaped men with a “dogbone outline” shape. Imagine the outline of a gingerbread man, then imagine it made from dogbone shaped extruded HDPE. Imagine it all being 0.01mm in all tolerances. Imagine it having a bearing quality surface finish. Imagine being able to embed electronic structures into it.
Then get mad. It can’t be made at home. Heck, I’m not sure it can be made at all. You might be able to get it made at a ridiculous cost. It can’t be 3d printed ( HDPE does in fact print, but is very dimensionally unstable, and loses its key surface properties when run through an extruder. ) The dogbone shape can be milled in 2D, but not in 3D. You could make a dogbone ribbon or sheet and bend it, maybe, with HDPE. When you exit thermoplastics and into things like fiberglass — hoo!
Get madder. It can’t even be drawn in OpenSCAD. The ginerbread shape is easy enough. So is the dogbone. Put them together — hoo!
And it’s beautiful. It would open up a whole new world of design. Phones with integrated bumpers that look natural. Abstract bookshelves with integrated lips. All this from being able to manipulate and manufacture, with ease, a slightly complex shape.( and as shape complexity goes up, this problem explodes. Adding 1 small hole in 1 extra face of a cube goes from a simple problem to a maybe impossible one. )
When I did my analysis of LumenLab and why they failed as a business — it’s precisely this reason. They had shape, material, and tolerance requirements beyond what can routinely be achieved by a “broken machinist”. Yes, some machinists could do it — but those machinist are rare and expensive. The “25%” best machinists. All the rest of us, myself included, couldn’t achieve it. I am a “broken machinist” — I have design dreams that I can’t make. That almost no home user can. Heck, we can’t even afford the machines needed to try. No MakerBot can make it. No ShapeOko or Zen mill. I’m not sure a Roland MDX-450( a 20,000 dollar machine ) could do it. No Stratasys device. EOS and laser sintering *might* be able to make the shape out of nylon( the wrong material ) — maybe, but not with .01mm tolerances and definitely not a bearing grade finish on all surfaces.
Get even madder. There’s no CAM solutions that can make it, either. The 3d printer CAM packages all think in 2.5D, and couldn’t generate toolpaths needed for the tolerance requirements, even on a perfect machine. The Milling packages at the home level can’t generate toolpaths to all the interior surfaces. Professional CAM tools can do this — if you’ve got one of the mythical 8-axis machines and 20-30K for software, you might be able to generate the toolpaths needed to do it.
So, even if you’re a brilliant machinist, unless you have an amazing mill and amazing CAM software, this very simple shape, is impossible.
That’s what I set out to solve. I don’t want to restrict my designs to what the technology of today can do. I’ve already begun thinking in design of what the technology of tomorrow can do. Surprisingly, this is more natural. When I started out, I started with thinking like the technology of tomorrow. Then I ran into all the limits of the technology of today. I modified my thinking to what we can do today — but why?
So, to solve these problem, I’ve been running experiments. Experiments in motion control. Experiments in bearing loading. Experiments in error detection. None of these experiments have worked so far. But the failures have been fascinating. Each time, those failures have brought out new ideas. Those new ideas are changing my thinking and guiding me down a very different path than I had originally envisioned. They’re also challenging my business models. I spend so much time with other nerdy people — I’ve come to realize that few of them get one idea ahead of me, and none of them 2. There’s something about 3d printing that “freezes” you in the wrong spot. I think it’s the intersection of, “Hey, I can make that better!”; “Wow, that’s cool!”; and “OMG, this F*ng sucks!”. These three thoughts seem to lock us all in place… It’s hard to learn how to emotionally detach from them and realize, “Wait. Wait. Wait. If this did work that way, then people could make X. X could make Y more affordable.”