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3D Printing at Home: Today, Challenges and Opportunities

Guest post by Noah Hornberger

The State of 3D Printing at Home

Rapid prototyping is very rewarding. Moving from an idea that you had during breakfast to an object you can hold in your hands by lunchtime feels like magic or science fiction.

Modeling tools are getting easier to use, making the actual process of designing 3D objects fairly intuitive and dare I say . . . easy. I suspect home 3D printing is empowering a silent revolution that will be more and more apparent in the coming years.

3d printed taco holder with tacos

Taco Shell Holder, a recent idea I had during breakfast was ready to test the next day.

Even so, there is a lot of quirkiness to the 3D print technology that an average consumer is probably not ready to deal with. In this post I want to give inside information I have learned by running my own home-based 3D print business. I have been there in the trenches, with a queue of orders, a few 3D printers and the drive to make it happen. And let me tell you that without the drive to push past the obstacles, it really would not be possible to run a 3D print-on-demand business this way.

3D printers have enabled me to pull off an impossible task of distributing my own artistic products to an international market. I have shipped to USA, Spain, Australia, Norway, Canada, and the UK. And this May of 2015 marks my first year of owning a 3D printer.

small 3d printed planters, 1 with a plant growing in it

Mini Dodecahedron Planters, my first attempt at designing and printing an idea from scratch. I was hooked.

So there is some magic I would say in being able to move through iterations of your ideas so fast. And magic in being able to post photos of your products that people can understand to be real and tangible things.

I have had ideas for products for many years and even tried to launch them (unsuccessfully). But now things are different. I do not have to convince people that an idea is good, I can show them a real example of finished art they can own.

I would argue that 3D modeling is the easiest part of the process. Getting a spectacular print can take some work and patience, because it can involve re-starting the printer with small changes in settings each time. As an American trained artist, I have a tendency to want things to be fast and easy. I want to press a button and it just works. 3D printers can kind of promise this ability, but most often, I am stepping in to keep the machines on track.

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Controlled Experiments for Software Solutions

by Justin Hunter

Jeff Fry linked to a great webcast in Controlled Experiments To Test For Bugs In Our Mental Models.

I firmly believe that applied statistics-based experiments are under-appreciated by businesses (and, for that matter, business schools). Few people who understand them are as articulate and concise as Kohavi. Admittedly, I could be accused of being biased as: (a) I am the son of a prominent applied statistician and (b) I am the founder of a software testing tools company that uses applied statistics-based methods and algorithms to make our tool work.

Summary of the webcast, on Practical Guide to Controlled Experiments on the Web: Listen to Your Customers not to the HiPPO – a presentation by Ron Kohavi with Microsoft Research.

1:00 Amazon: in 2000, Greg Linden wanted to add recommendations in shopping cards during the check out process. The “HiPPO” (meaning the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) was against it on the grounds that it would be a bad idea; recommendations would confuse and/or distract people. Amazon, a company with a good culture of experimentation, decided to run a small experiment anyway, “just to get the data” – It was wildly successful and is in widespread use today at Amazon and other firms.

3:00 Dr. Footcare example: Including a coupon code above the total price to be paid had a dramatic impact on abandonment rates.

4:00 “Was this answer useful?” Dramatic differences occur when Y/N is replaced with 5 Stars and whether an empty text box is initially shown with either (or whether it is triggered only after a user clicks to give their initial response)

6:00 Sewing machines: experimenting with a sales promotion strategy led to extremely counter-intuitive pricing choice

7:00 “We are really, really bad at understanding what is going to work with customers…”
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What is an Engineer?

Guest post: What is an engineer? by Chris Gammell

I’ve been having what some would call an identity crisis. How, you ask? I’ve been working on digital electronics.

*GASP*!

I found out that in the early 90s and even earlier, analog engineers routinely switched from working in the analog domain to the digital domain…because it was paying really great. Not only that, most analog engineers had the expertise to do what most early digital engineers were doing (basically stringing together a lot of digital gates in DIP packages). It wasn’t until later that digital engineers started acting more as programmers and VHDL/Verilog experts.

So why do I bring this up? Because I’ve been thinking about the versatility required from engineers in general, not just analog or digital engineers. Routinely engineers are asked to switch modes or tasks or careers in order to get a job done. It’s not that other professions are never asked this; it’s just that the chameleon-like requirement placed on engineers seems to define the profession. Allow me to explain.

What is an engineer?

An engineer puts theories into practice using available devices and elements. They create new products and pass on knowledge through design iterations and trial and error. Their work should be directly applicable to the real world (sometimes in the form of an end-product, sometimes not) and hopefully able to be reproduced successfully in the same form for multiple parties (mass manufacturing). Engineers are often rooted in math and science but require a wide range of skill-sets in order to properly construct an end product.

I think it is important to note that an engineer is different from a scientist, although the line can often be blurred (especially when looking back at the inventors of the early 20th century). In modern times a scientist is usually tasked with pushing the barrier and finding new theories and concepts. This means that the concept will not necessarily be available in product form right away (although this is not always the case), as the product form must be iterated upon and improved for production.
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