Print Objects Not Paper – #DigitalMaking

It all started when I blissfully entered Vishal’s office through the MakerLab a year and a half ago. I had entered to clear my queries regarding queries (query-ception) for BADM 352 and was immediately puzzled by the weird shapes and objects placed all over the lab, instantly misinterpreting it to be a collector’s pad (with Vishal obviously the collector here). After my meeting with Vishal, I stepped back into the lab and it hit me that I had been living under a cave, there were printers that printed objects, yes, created objects, and there I was, wondering only a while ago why printing on both sides of one sheet was not cheaper than printing out two sheets. I soon followed up with Vishal during the expo for the ‘Making Things’ class and signed myself up for the DMS. That was they day my Digital Making experience began.

Unlike most classes, I did not know what to expect. Exams? Readings about printers? Learn a programming language? I did know one thing though, I wanted to know how this new technology was going to impact my life, both as a professional and as a person. Being a Supply Chain major, I was already curious as to how the ability to print objects would affect global supply chains. How can 3D Printing benefit a company like Boeing if a crucial piece of mechanical equipment could only be made in a lab in Germany could be made right where they wanted it, in Seattle? My questions were answered on the very first day of class, when two Wharton MBA grads spoke to us about the scope of ‘additive manufacturing’ for supply chain management, and I went on to write an article about our classroom discussion with them.

After that, the class followed a path through which I have come to realize the multiple stages of a product/object being printed, after all, the printer doesn’t make objects out of thin air, it needs a virtual model to make a physical one, and how do we create a virtual one? Either through CAD (Computer Aided Design and Drafting) software or through a scan of an existing object. My introduction to both these channels resulted in me gaining elementary proficiency in AutoDesk Fusion and just simple awe from watching a powerful $80,000 scanner in action taking thousands of individual pictures to generate a highly detailed virtual model of this awesome racing glove. Fusion can be frustrating if you try to learn it by yourself – I can say so as it was hard for me despite being coached in-part by the makers of the software itself. Attempts at building a water gun were demolished when I realized that creating a piston along the shaft that connects the tank to the trigger needs more design experience and patience that I didn’t have (but hope to achieve someday soon). While it was hard enough to use the software, imagining what went into the making of this software just makes me dizzy.


While there was definitely a lot more to be learnt in the CAD modeling area alone, the class moved in the direction of quantity over quality, which is necessary as going in-depth into a particular area like CAD modeling alone would need total devotion for an entire semester. FabLab (the place really is ‘fab’) sessions were my favorite part of the class, as it exposed us to new realms in terms of disruptive technologies. Laser Cutting and its many applications were great to learn about, although I would recommend being careful when placing a weight over notebooks to hold them in the laser tray, as you can see below, my weight placement led to part of my message being in-scripted elsewhere! Arduinos – the boards that weird pins stick of (or boards that you can plug sensors into and help save lives), were a unique concept to get acquainted with, while I didn’t get too far in one session, a team in my class developed a pill-box that sends out an alert if a patient has not taken their pills, just by sensing the weight of the box in relation to time! For the same event that the pill-box was made for, the team I was part of made a grip support brace, called the Gripping-Bean. It is meant to add girth to objects with thin handles so as to force its user to recruit more muscle fibers when holding said object. It can be really useful for people with hand tremors, people in substance rehab going through withdrawal effects and most importantly, for people with severe arthritis. 3D Printing allowed us to create prototypes and we had our first model printed within 4 hours of completing our CAD model.
prototype 1

I am lucky in the sense that I will be working at a firm that values 3D Printing for its pending (and almost certain) impact on businesses of all kind. I did not have the time to take Deloitte University’s online course on 3D Printing, but I intend to do so over the summer and have a chat with it’s director, Mark Cotteleer, when I visit DU in the fall. I have come to view 3D Printing as more than just an interesting new technology after this class. I now see 3D Printing as a field in which I need to maximize my knowledge in order to make myself a more competent professional. When I joined Illinois, my ‘Business 101’ class section leader used to emphasize the need for graduates to be well versed with MS-Office applications as tech skills are crucial to career growth. A few years from now, I can see the DMS becoming a core requirement (like CS 105) for the College of Business and I am thankful to have been part of the first class. For me, DMS not only stoked a growing interest towards 3D Printing, it also taught me the importance of familiarizing oneself with new technology in order to be a more well rounded professional.


Missed class + Deloitte Greenhouse = Wk 14

I’ll admit to having missed class and then regretting it when my final grade popped up on Compass, but very rarely do I regret missing class for its content. One of those few times was this past week, when my roommate ran out of gas near Rantoul and my subsequent rescue mission put me well past the ‘attend class’ time zone. Thankfully, it was my turn to learn about digital fabrication at the FabLab, so attending a workshop later should rid me of my regret. Now onto the cool part – the Deloitte Greenhouse (and I’m not just calling this cool because of my impending employment at Deloitte).

The Greenhouse in Chicago is run by none other than an alum from our College of Business – Nick Murphy. He describes it as a space to break free from the typical restrictions of brainstorming and use the technology present in the lab to come up with solutions to unique business challenges. It is also a lab that studies how disruptive technologies (read AM) will affect today’s businesses. We were briefed on three new technologies at Deloitte’s lab – AM, Augmented Reality and Visual Interpretations of Data. We even had the opportunity to work in teams to solve a mini-case regarding incorporating these technologies into Ameren’s business and ow these could be used to better respond to power outages. It was well worth the seven hours of driving and you should make it there sometime if you haven’t already.

Make-a-thon and Week 13

The biggest issue of the CU Make-a-thon last weekend for our team was solved before we even met up! Jill had a product idea and a hand-drawn 3D render of the product, which, after some discussions with the team, would ultimately come to be known as the GrippingBean. It draws on the functions of ‘Fat-Gripz’, a pair of cylindrical sleeves that thicken the diameter of a barbell or a dumbbell so as to recruit more muscle fibers when using them. We like to think of the Gripping Bean as a grip-thickener that would aid people with hand-tremors or severe arthritis as their hands are bound to be shaky and are prone to dropping items with thin handles, like a spoon or a toothbrush, or even the handle of a teacup! The benefits of having an industrial design major on the team were countless, as Jill also created an initial CAD model of the bean though Fusion 360.

Displaying The Gripping Bean 2.png  Displaying The Gripping Bean 3.png

We realized that our prototype was thick enough o defeat the purpose of a comfortable grip, so the following class, we printed out a smaller version with lesser curve around the edges to make for a more compact feel, although none of us were in class to get a glimpse of the finished 2.0 prototype. Vishal was kind enough to give us some flexible filament, which we hope to use through some of the bigger printers in the FabLab and we are totally looking forward to our next session.

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Our initial model

A Dab of the Fab Lab

I was at Denison University (a small school outside Columbus, OH) this past weekend visiting a friend, when I noticed that he had a 3D Printed version of the European Cup (for soccer). A small conversation about 3D Printing ensued and I came to learn that his school, home to over two thousand students had a just one 3D Printer, a MakerBot Replicator 2. The software resources weren’t fab either. The weekend made me realize how lucky I was to have attended Illinois for the past three and a half years, but it also made me regret not having been able to make use of some of the really awesome resources, like the fab lab.

I spend a good twenty hours a week working at the ACES Library, not even a block away from the lab. I even park right outside the entrance to the fab lab, always thinking of the somewhat old exterior as something that probably housed a pesticide laboratory.

Alas, it is one of the coolest buildings on campus! I did not have the opportunity to explore every nook and corner of the space in our one session there, but I am really excited for the next two sessions. The group that I was part of was learning about laser cutting, a tool/process that can be used in a wide variety of fields, from notebook engravings (which we did) to milling pieces of wood or metal right down to the wire. A friend of mine in India decided to go the entrepreneurial route after college and now sells notebooks and other easily customizable objects with her artwork printed on it and I have since had a conversation with her discussing new possibilities for her business if she were to incorporate laser cutting (which she now certainly plans on doing).

I only got a glimpse of what Lin (from our class) was doing last week in the digital fabrication area of the lab but it was enough to get me, and keep me, excited till the next class, where I have some cool ideas for what to ‘print’ out.



Entering Beckman just made me feel so smart! Another student in our class told me that first and it is the truth. Needless to say, watching the operation of an $80,000 3D Scanner left me amazed and wishing that I was an Engineer (although that lasted only till I saw the Grainger library). I’ve always dreamt of the many cool things 3D printing will enable in the future and getting to print an object that is very useful to one of the class’ students is the first step in realizing that dream. I find it really cool that Arielle’s custom-built racing glove is being digitally printed from an edited version of the scan that was taken  by the ridiculously expensive scanner, it is the first all-encompassing 3D Printing project that I get to view first hand and I am excited to see how good the end printed model is going to be.

Nevertheless, it was interesting to learn the process of how an object is scanned, how that scan is then edited to remove the clinks associated with that scan, how the scan image then gets converted to a CAD model, which is ultimately used to print the actual object. The process is a LOT harder than what I initially imagined it to be. I was particularly surprised by the level of clarity that came with the scanners, even the 80k one. This just goes to show that 3D Printing is an area that could use people with the required skills, and so far, this class has been great as a base from which to build on in terms of knowledge regarding AM.

Fusion 360, “you da real MVP”

It rhymes, I know. One of my first conversations in the MakerLab was with a Mechanical Engineering senior who gave me the “lowdown” on the recent hype around 3D Printing. He explained that the printing technology itself has been around since the 1980s, but that the ability to create or modify complex objects digitally to for printers to create was lacking, although that is no more the case, which is why 3D Printing has a lot more potential now, leading firms to invest in both advanced printers as well as powerful modeling software. When I signed up for the DMS, my biggest expectation was to pick up object modeling skills. Enter Autodesk with Fusion 360.

Fusion 360 is a complicated yet powerful tool. My MacBook’s RAM usage increases by over 40% when I open it, and I use a fairly powerful computer, so be sure to close all open apps or restart your computer before you run Fusion 360 if you aren’t using a spec-monster. Not having instruction and guidance to work with it can frustrate anyone easily to the point of giving up in under an hour, mostly due to the infinite number of options to pick from. Quick confession, I did not know the meaning of ‘Chamfer’ until week five’s session. While having an Autodesk representative explain the basics was the highlight of the past two sessions, the other time spent ‘learning through making’ has been nothing short of awesome. I came across many examples how people went about making their initial table lamps, so I am going to skip that, but here are two ‘spin-offs’ that I came up with.

This teeny tiny object is something I stole from ‘Inception’. Anyone remember the spinning totem that DiCaprio holds on to in order to remember if he is in the real world or not?


I made this using the ‘Conic-arc’ feature in Fusion 360, after much experimentation with regular arcs, sculpts and what not. It is amazing how much you can learn by making even the smallest of objects. I still haven’t been able to figure out how to make the pointed ends a little blunt, so if anyone has advice on that, please post up! I am also in the process of making a fully function water-gun, which I hope to finish before the semester, here is a rough outer body sketch:


That’s all for now. Until next week.

Week 3 Reflection

I don’t really remember how many times I have thought of a solution to a problem I believe the world is encountering only to immediately knock it down myself, thinking that it was either absurd, unreal or that someone else had probably thought of that idea before only for it to prove unfeasible. After Week Three’s session, I don’t think I will ever knock down an idea again. The IDEO design consulting company video was enlightening and taught me why sometimes even the most unrealistic ideas can be the best ones. With a little more thought, I realized that seventy years ago, the concept of the internet would have been thought of as crazy, only for it to be as commonplace as a glass of water right now. Hell, in a lot of European restaurants, WiFi is free, water is not!

Our group working on finding solutions to the problem of texting and driving came up with a fairly common (two other groups came up with the same idea) solution – project all the info you need to find from your phone (while driving) onto your car’s windshield without obstructing the view of the road and make all commands through speech. One common thought that kept popping up in my head was that this idea is probably light years away from coming into mainstream commercial cars. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Google glass uses the same technology on a much smaller surface and Siri is amazing at taking voice commands, combine the two and our idea is already feasible!

Design for America’s brightest aspect is the structure it brings to coming up with a solution, a structure that I believe is crucial to unlocking the potential of Additive Manufacturing on a personal basis. Soon we may have steering wheels that aren’t even remotely circular and mobile phones that are, prosthetics that fit and look better than the real bio versions they’re replacing and pens that can draw objects instead of images. I’m excited for the future, and thankful to Design for America to opening up my mind.



Week 2 reflection

The highlight of this class, for me, was finally learning how a set of gears worked, and how important of a role they play in today’s world. This only came to being as our team was assigned to research a hyperbolic planetary gear-set from thingiverse. It is a unique gear-set and while I am not sure where it can be used (thanks to my lack of engineering knowledge), I’m sure it’s spatial structure (or other iterations of its structure) will have uses in many areas. Learning about the gear-set also fell in place with the theme of the session – learning through making. Although the only object we made in class was our group logo, we still managed to learn how a gear-set works by almost making.

Dr. Peppler‘s talk on how new technologies are enabling completely new and fun forms of education, albeit very informational,made me wish that I was born post 2000 and also left me feeling old.  Another interesting aspect of the session was my group’s name and logo. My teammates are Jill and Lin. My first thought was Jill-Lin aka Chillin, but upon realizing that my name wouldn’t be a part of it, we just decided to go with JKL, they’re placed conveniently in order on QWERTY keyboards and also in the universal English alphabetical sequence!

For my four interesting objects, here you go:

  1. Combatit – A cool fusion between a Counter-Strike video game weapon and a comb!
  2. Pulp Fiction coasters – Being a Quentin Tarantino fan, these just have to be printed by me soon.
  3. The 10 Cent Flashlight – Just an example of how AM will be a game changer in the basic consumer goods industry.
  4. Glasses Holder – Just how cool would it be to place your glasses on this before you go to bed everyday.


3D Printing and Supply Chains

Having taken up Supply Chain Management and Information Technology as my courses of study, I never expected to want to learn about 3D printing – I had only come to learn that objects could be ‘printed’ about a year ago, when I had walked in to the MakerLab at the Business Instructional Facility at the University of Illinois. Imagine my delight when I came to learn of a course that facilitated education about 3D printing through making, learning and sharing – the . Now make note that I used the word ‘facilitated’, because the DMS experience isn’t your regular Illinois classroom experience, where you wake up at 7am and grudgingly head to the Foellinger Auditorium, learn through the professor’s instruction, textbook readings, homework and exams (ugh!). The DMS is an unstructured course with students from all over campus, ranging from Finance and Accountancy majors to Aeronautical engineers and Lawyers! No exams, fun homework assignments, and an instructor who learns with you. What’s more, there’s barely any theory, you learn through what you ‘make’ and through what the others around you make and learn. Grading itself is based on the three philosophies of the class – making, learning and sharing, each worth a third of your grade. Each session usually includes a guest speaker who is an expert in Additive Manufacturing (the correct term for 3D Printing, something you’ll learn if you take the course.

With my major, I was naturally interested in how additive manufacturing would impact Supply Chains. I was sure that they would indeed have a big impact, but wasn’t sure how. Enter our guest speakers for the first session of the DMS – the founders of Senvol. Senvol is an additive manufacturing solutions provider to many Fortune 500 companies. It was founded by Zach Simkin and Annie Wang, both of whom are Wharton MBA graduates. Their first teaching – just because additive manufacturing can be used in a product’s supply chain does not mean it has to be used. Through Skype, they explained the seven scenarios that they had come up with to identify areas of a supply chain where there is potential for cost and time savings through the use of additive manufacturing. The scenarios are explained to firms as follows:

  • Expensive to Manufacture: Do you have parts that are high cost because they have complex geometries, high fixed costs (e.g. tooling), or are produced in low volumes? AM may be more cost-efficient.
  • Long Lead-Times: Does it take too long to obtain certain parts? Are your downtime costs extremely high? Through additive manufacturing, you can often get parts more quickly.
  • High Inventory Costs: Do you overstock or understock? Do you struggle with long-tail or obsolete parts? AM can allow for on-demand production, thus reducing the need for inventory.
  • Sole-Sourced from Suppliers: Are any of your critical parts sole-sourced? This poses a supply chain risk. By qualifying a part for AM, you will no longer be completely reliant on your current supplier.
  • Remote Locations: Do you operate in remote locations where it is difficult, time consuming, or expensive to ship parts to? AM may allow you to manufacture certain parts on-site.
  • High Import / Export Costs: Do you pay substantial import/export costs on parts simply because of the location of your business unit and/or your supplier? On-site production through AM can eliminate these costs.
  • Improved Functionality: AM can enable a part to be redesigned such that its performance is improved beyond what was previously possible, resulting in increased profit margin or market share.

Mr. Simkin and Ms. Wang also described their newly created AM database which has information regarding the current range of materials that are capable of being used in AM and the machines that are capable of using them

Mr. Simkin also briefly stated that additive manufacturing could be used as a means of reactive capacity. Reactive capacity is a firm’s production capacity after the initial sellout of products produced through their speculative capacity. Speculative capacity is often dictated by demand forecasts, which are not the most accurate means of creating orders that completely satisfy the firm’s demand for the current period. This can be better explained through an example. Let us assume that BRZ is a company that manufactures New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks licensed football helmets through their plant in China. Given the Patriots’ emphatic Super Bowl win, Patriot’s helmets are highly likely to get sold out, BRZ could miss out on huge sales for no fault of their own, and blaming Pete Carroll isn’t going to help them. But additive manufacturing can. Manufacturing another batch of helmets through China could take over a month, by which time the demand for Patriots’ helmets will have almost completely died down. AM, on the other hand, will help have those helmets shelf-ready in a week or even earlier, depending on the resources available to BRZ. The helmets may be more expensive to manufacture through AM, which could cause decreased profit margins, but hey, some profits are better than no profits at all, and then there’s the fact that BRZ will not upset the retailers that order from them, as no sales means that retailers are not able to capitalize on that trophy-winning interception by Malcolm Butler.

To sum it all up, additive manufacturing may not have a dramatic impact on supply chains in the near future due to it’s current limitations, but the future looks promising. With more and more materials coming under the AM banner, expect to see big changes in the supply chain’s of all physical products.