About Brian Xu

Freshman in Electrical Engineering passionate about 3D printing.

Semester Reflection

It seems like so long ago when I first stepped into the MakerLab that January evening. I remember that the first time, I had trouble finding the room in BIF, but it soon became a course that I always looked forward to on Monday afternoons. Sad to see it all go, but I’ve learned and experienced so much in my time here that it was well worth the time spent. After signing up for the course, I initially believed it would be exclusively about 3D printing, and a good way to keep up with my hobby. And while the course was indeed mainly centered on additive manufacturing, we explored many other related aspects. I got to experience other non-conventional uses of 3D printing, other making processes such as laser cutting, and get more intuitive with the art of the creative process in general. It’s been a fantastic semester, and I’m happy to recap it all here.

Intro to 3D Printing:

I’ve already a lot of experience with 3D printers ever since high school, which is the main reason that I took up this course. It had been a while since I had used one, but when we began to go over the basics of 3D printing everything started to flow back in. I was really excited to work with the Ultimakers as they were the highest quality printers that I have ever worked with aside from maybe Makerbots. For my first print in the lab, I printed a simple whistle.

Design Thinking:

I used multiple CAD programs for a variety of projects ever since I got into 3D printing. And before I took the Digital Making course I believed that all their was to it was creating a model in CAD and printing it. If it didn’t work, just try again. On the very surface, it really is that simple; but if you dig deeper there is much more behind it. Every idea; every design; every creation is born out of necessity. They each have their own purpose decided by the user. I used to believe that everything I did in my creative process just came out of thin air, but in reality I was following a similar pattern. Design thinking is the basis of all problem-solving.

The Design Thinking Process

Fusion 360:

Fusion was the most complex software I had ever dealt with, and I am very glad I was introduced to it in the course. For the most part, all my designs were created with simpler softwares such as TinkerCAD and 123D design. Fusion 360 was quite the step up. It’s a complex yet vivid software the contains a plethora of tools and allows the user to operate and edit their model with much greater freedom than most other CAD programs. While difficult to get used to, in the proper hands it can create anything.

Breakdown of a mechanical pencil

The Fab Lab:

Our adventures at the CU community Fab Lab might just be my favorite part of the course. I was amazed that such a wonderful and innovative place was practically hidden on campus. Unless you had prior knowledge you’d probably never realize it was here. It was satisfying to know that there was a place on campus where makers could go to explore and innovate. It’s a place where ides flourish and become reality. Those 3 weeks we spent there, learning the different making processes (Programming, Electronics, and Laser Cutting) and being able to create our own special projects was incredibly fun and very memorable. I’m sure to remember the Fab Lab for the rest of my time here at UIUC and if I ever need anything for a special endeavor, I know where to look.


Laser Cutting

Arduino IDE

The result of all three

Art Annex 2

1301 South Goodwin Avenue

Urbana, IL 61801

3D Scanning:

Being able to scan a 3D model of one’s own bust for printing is about as old as 3D printing itself. While I didn’t actually partake in it, it was a good experience to actually see it first hand. It’s a shame we couldn’t incorporate something like it into our project, or that the desktop 3D scanner didn’t seem to work well. But they are both still quite fascinating and amusing.



Taking this course was really a delight for me. I became very passionate about 3D printing a few years ago, and was overjoyed when I found out there was a class available involving it. I got to explore my hobby again, and discuss it with other individuals who were also interested. I was able to improve upon my existing skills, as well as gain some new ones. To wrap it all up, I got the opportunity to use what I’ve gained and know to create one big final project to share with the rest of the class. Being able to see what everyone else had created and sharing our ideas was a pleasure. It’s been a fun semester, and I’m glad I was able to experience this my freshman year, which means I’ll have plenty of time to be in the MakerLab. I’d like to extend my thanks to Vishal for teaching the class, the MakerLab gurus for being so helpful, all the guest speakers, the folks at the Fab Lab, and my fellow makers who ventured this course with me. It’s been a blast!

Week 12: Auditing

This week, we continued our work with our final projects. However, we added  something a little different this time, in that each group was assigned to audit another group’s design. This was different from our usual group sharing in that we actually had the chance to sit down and really delve deeper into another group’s work and vice-versa. This allowed each group to properly and efficiently critique another design, as well as receive feedback of their own.

Our group was first paired with JJJ Inc., who are currently developing the smart lightswitch; a smartphone-operated device that uses an application to control a motor to operate a lightswitch from a distance. While it may seem relatively simple, the amount of effort and creativity they have put into it is astounding. They designed their own laser-cut casing and have incorporated an Arduino into their project, making full use of the skills they gathered during our time at the Fab Lab. Their project is based off efficiency and aesthetics. Being able to turn the lights on or off from a distance with only a smart-device is something many people would adore, and adamantly use. And the enclosure they’ve created for their device looks neat, as well. It appears to operate  perfectly and serves its purpose. Quite a unique and expertly done take on a classic dilemma. One “issue”, so to speak, that we did foresee however is that it is somewhat bulky and maybe arduous to install and/or remove. Also, their design, as it stands, only works for traditional light switches. Dimmer/rotary switches can’t really be turned by the motor. However, that could definitely be something they could create/improve if they ever choose to take the product to market. Perhaps by making two different designs or adding some features to their existing one.

We also received some much-appreciated feedback for our design. JJJ Inc. recommended that we add some physical grooves to the tie helper not only to make it more flexible, but as a method to make it easier for the user to determine where each end of the tie may go. They also recommended that we perhaps look into resizing the design and maybe changing the thickness. All good suggestions, but we recently just printed an edited version of our prototype in semi-flex filament, which should mitigate most if not all of our issues. After testing this prototype, we should only need to make a few more adjustments to the design to ease use, but the overall structure and plan of the project is complete. It’s been an exciting semester; we have all gained some very enhanced skills that allowed us to create these projects. I’m looking forward to seeing what we all have produced.

Version of our design printing in black semi-flex filament

3D Scanning and Project Update

This week, we headed back to the MakerLab to continue working on our final projects. Beforehand, though, we given a demonstration of another technique for creating 3D objects and also could maybe be incorporated into our final projects: 3D scanning. By utilizing a digital scanner, one can scan any object or even their own bust for modeling and printing. I can see how this method could be used in some of the class projects, but my group will most likely not need it. So after the demonstration and some toying around with it, we got back to work.

3D scanning is based on using specially designed scanners to scan every inch of an object, which computer software then pieces together to create a 3D model. The two types of scanners we were introduced to were desktop and mobile scanners. The desktop scanner was composed of a special laser device with a rotating plate that would allow for a 360 degree view of an object. The mobile version was a smaller and more compact device that attached to an iPad camera. The iPad version seemed to be more reliable as a person could freely move around the object or person they were scanning to get an accurate impression. The desktop scanner does work, but can be pretty ineffective at times. It is easily skewed by darker objects, or those with “hidden” features that can’t easily be detected, such as if one portion of the object blocks another. Shadows are also an issue as well, so its recommended that the objects scanned be completely white is possible. After the objects are scanned, they are imported as a model into software where a user can edit the model for errors or just make adjustments if desired. When done under good circumstances, the results can be quite astounding. They may not be perfect, but the 3D printed busts created by these scans are very recognizable. 3D scanning for consumer use still needs some development, but the current state of it certainly shows its potential.

Scanning demonstration

Example of a bust during printing

The process on everyone’s final projects seems to be going well, everyone is either in the process of prototyping or are making adjustments based on their last development. We created our first model and attempted to churn out a print for testing, but the extruder unfortunately malfunctioned about half way through. Not all was lost, however, as the basic shape and size of the print are we really wanted to test. Some adjustments definitely need to be made, but that was to be expected. Things may not be necessarily going as smoothly as hoped for, but the direction and goal of the project is definitely clear. We’ve got plenty of work to do in terms of processing and testing, but the final result will surely be worth it.

1st edition prototype model of our “Tie Helper” in TinkerCAD

What the printed managed to create before failing

How to get “Perfect” Prints

One of the best features of consumer 3D printers is their ease of use. All the user needs is to slice their model with their desired settings and upload it to the printer via a USB cable, flash drive, etc. While this is straightforward, there are quite a few intricacies to the process. Slicing a 3D model with “perfect” settings does not necessarily lead to a perfect print. There are a plethora of discerning factors and principles of additive manufacturing that can skew the results. These problems are usually grouped into 3 categories: material  issues, software, and hardware. User error can sometimes come into play, but that also usually falls into one of these three mentioned. 3D printing as it is now is not a perfect science, there are many issues prevalent within the technology that prevent it from being greater than what it already is. The slightest mishap during or even before a print begins can cause it to fail or lower in quality. Sometimes, prints even fail for seemingly no reason, and the failed print is simply a one-time occurrence. We can, however, take measures to ensure that we can get the best quality out of our machines as possible. As 3D printing is still rapidly evolving, there really is no “perfect” print. We can get very high quality parts created, but as it stands now there is always something that can be improved in a print. This post is meant to serve as a universal guideline/checklist for getting the best quality prints out of your 3D printer as possible.

1. Filament:

There are a variety of printing materials out there, with the 2 most popular being ABS and  PLA. Other types are special exceptions but they usually have the same conditions for printing as one of these two. You should choose what type of filament to use based on what your part requires. Each has its trade-offs.

ABS- Relatively strong with a little bit of flex. Good for parts that will be used a lot, or pieces that you don’t necessarily care how they look. However, it is NOT food-safe, and somewhat difficult to print. It requires a heated printed, and sometimes a little bit of glue on the surface to help with adhesion. It also has a very strong odor so you need a well-ventilated area.

PLA- Probably the most common material used today. It is vegetable-based and is easier to print than ABS. It also tends to look nicer and the prints are more clean coming out. However, it is much more fragile and sensitive to temperature. Therefore, this is good for models that won’t be used heavily and are more for display.

More in-depth info on filaments here: https://pinshape.com/blog/popular-3d-printing-filaments-3d-printer-filament-types/

2. Software

When slicing your file in your slicer, you have a variety of options. Different combinations produces different results, however, these can vary widely depending on the software and the printer, as well as the filament. An important consideration before printing is what kind of software you are using and if it works properly with your printer. Some companies produce their own proprietary software that can only be used with their printers and vie-verse. This makes it easier for users, but in most situations this actually limits the options. They are many other non-locked slicing softwares that can be used with any printer, but not all printers can use any software. Sometimes you will simply have to test these for yourself and see what is compatible with your printer. These are the more common options adjusted by users.

Layer Height- How tall the layers of the filament are in the z-axis(upwards direction). Usually ranges from .1 mm to .4 mm. The finer the layers, the higher quality the print will be.

Comparison of 4 different layer heights (finest to roughest from left to right)

Infill- How dense the object printed will be, ranging from completely hollow(0 %) to completely solid (100%). Note that as you get higher and higher in percentages, the difference starts to become less noticeable. The shape of the infill is usually also adjustable, these include hexagonal, rectilinear, or even custom settings.

Examples of different infill percentages

Different infill types

Shells/Perimeter- The number of outer lines the printer will produce on the perimeter of the print. The standard is two. This affects the strength of the print.

Speed- How fast the print nozzle will move during the printing process. Higher speeds give faster prints, but lower quality, while the reverse is for lower speeds.

Supports- If your print has overhangs, depending on the angle, the printer may attempt to build the layers over nothing, causing a drooping effect. To compensate, supports (layers thinner than usual), are created by the printer which can be broken off or in some cases dissolved later. The density of the supports can usually be adjusted as well. Flimsy supports break away easily, but may also be torn away accidentally by the extruder during printing, while more rigid supports are can hold more reliably but are harder to remove.

A model with support material

Raft/Skirt/Brim- The more surface contact that your print has, the better it will adhere to the printed during printing. If it has little surface area, there is a possibility that it will actually peel off the printer. In these cases you may want to use a raft, skirt, or brim. There are all similar but each has a specific use. The raft is the most generic and is like support structure but is only composed of a few layers that the model is printed on top of. It is used to provide a larger “footprint” for the model and is removed like support material. Take note however, that the bottom of the print is usually affected by this, as it will tend to be more rough having been printed on top of more material rather than the print bed. A skirt is like and outline of the print made around it. This is to ensure that the filament is flowing properly before the actual print begins. A brim is like a raft, except the bottom layer is printed with the brim instead of on top of it. It provides stability to prints with small contact points, and can be removed or kept on after printing. More info on all of these here https://www.simplify3d.com/support/articles/rafts-skirts-and-brims/

Temperature- Both the temperature of the extruder and the buildplate of the printer can be adjusted in most slicers. The temperature of the extruder and bed should be adjusted depending on the type of filament that you are using. Most filaments come with a suggested nozzle and build plate temperature. Sometimes, the bed may not even need to be heated. Printers also come with fans for the purpose of cooling the components and/or the filament itself. Slowing down or speeding up the fans will affect the flow rate of the filament as well as the quality of the print. This usually doesn’t need to be adjusted but feel free to experiment.

Warped bottom and split layers due to poor adhesion and/or temperature settings

If you need a heated bed make sure it stays on

Retraction Rate- Since the filament in the extruder is under constant heat, it will always want to flow out of the extruder. As the nozzle moves about, small bits of filament may be extruded unintentionally. The retraction setting allows the filament to be withdrawn back to prevent this from happening. Too little a retraction rate will cause strings, while too great may actually wind the filament out of the extruder. Once again, a setting that may some testing to find what works best, it also depends on the filament used as well as the temperature.

An example of too low a retraction rate

There are more settings than those listed, but these are usually the ones that affect print quality the most. Another factor that can affect prints is random bugs in software or issues in the actual model that affect slicing. This is why you should always review your model after it has been sliced in your slicer software before uploading it to the printer. Some slicers have their own file repair settings, but online repair services can be good as well. https://makeprintable.com  https://tools3d.azurewebsites.net

File loaded into software before slicing

Sliced file output, note the large block in the center of the model that was not present in the original

3. Hardware

3D printers, like all machines, can and will eventually fail and usually require maintenance. You don’t necessarily have to take your printer apart bit by bit, but you definitely need to check on your printer and its components every now and then to ensure every things is fully functional. If desired, you can also upgrade your printer parts with purchasable upgrades, or even print add-ons that will improve print quality.

Extruder- The integral part of the printer responsible for the actual printing. A user needs to make certain that this piece is fully functional and taken care of, otherwise no printing can occur. Taking care of your extruder is relatively simple. Just make sure that it is not overworked and kept clean. Prints that run for hours are fine, but you definitely you should not have your printer running 24/7. After a long print maybe give it a break for a few hours or so. Make sure to exercise proper fan usage. It is wise to have at least one, if not even 2 fans running on the extruder during prints. This improves print quality and extends the lifetime of the component. Also, whenever possible make sure to allow your fan to cool off your extruder instead of just turning the printer off. By allowing the fans to run after a print, the extruder can cool properly and gradually unit the next print. Overheating can cause filament to stop flowing entirely and damage the extruder, so be wary of this. It is also a good idea to maybe open up your extruder whenever you see an issue in printing or just feel like it’s time to clean it. When attempting cleaning, a wire brush is usually the go-to tool as most if not all extruder nozzles are made of metals like brass.

Bits of filament stuck in the drive gears of the extruder can really cause printing problems

Signs of extruder problems. The left filament strand is fine, while the center is too thin and the rightmost is too “globby”

A 3D-printed fan mount made by the printer for itself to improve quality

Build plate- Maintaining the integrity of the build platform is key to ensuring good prints. While they can be fixed/replaced like extruders, they are usually much more difficult to do so. One of the most important aspects to look out for is leveling, as in keeping a proper distance between the extruder nozzle and the build surface. Too far and the filament will not stick; too close and the filament will have no room to exit the nozzle and the bed may be damaged. Most printers come with instructions on how to properly level the bed, and some even have auto-leveling settings. Manual offsets can also be input if desired. Like the extruder, it is important to keep the bed clean, as residue from prints and glue for adhesion if used, can buildup overtime and harm the surface as well as your prints. One method of preventing this is using painter’s tape. By applying it over the build plate, you can provide a surface that in some cases is actually better for adhesion than the actual platform, as well as easily peel off the prints afterwards. It also assists in protecting the bed. Many printers also come with beds made from glass, which must be taken care of with caution, as overheating or mishandling of the printer can damage the bed severely and become a safety hazard.

Sign that the bed is adjusted too close to the extruder

A print with an offset shift due to a loose build plate

Chipped and cracked glass bed, most likely occurred when trying to remove a print

Motors- In order to drive the axes of the printer’s nozzle and bed, stepper motors are used. One motor is used for each axis(X, Y, and Z), and the extruder and bed can either share all three, or one may posses all of them (in which case that respective part would be the only one moving). These motors are what allow 3D printing to be 3D. Most use tension belts or rods to move the extruder and/or bed. This motors don’t require as much maintenance and checking as the nozzle or bed, but it is certainly a good idea to check on them and perhaps regrease them every now and then. You may also want to check the wiring on the motors, as the repeated motion of moving back and forth can actually break them and sometimes even get caught in the gears, effectively ruining the printer. Unless you’re experienced in electronics, this can be difficult to fix. Taking good care of your motors can not only save you from buying new ones later, but also improve print quality. Everyone can agree that the smoother a print is, the better it looks and the higher quality it is. The accuracy of the prints depend on the stability of the motors. If they are too tight or too loose, your prints will suffer.

A stepper motor with a loosened belt

A print with ridging along the z-axis, a sign of wobbling motors

Final Projects in the Making

For this week, we delved into the last stretch of the course: our Final Project. Each group some sort of solution to a problem of their choosing; big or small. The issue or solution does not necessarily have to be 3D printing-related, but simply portray the aspects of design and making that we have learned over the course of the semester. Although, most of the final projects do include 3D printed models to some degree. This week, we began the first stage(s) of our projects.

My team and I, the MakerLAX, decided aimed to resolve an issue that was felt by many college students and other young adults: tying ties. As one gets older, they will have to attend more and more formal events and gatherings, and as such will require more formal dress. The tie is an integral part of formal attire, but is notoriously difficult to prepare for the first time, as well as long after. It may seem like relatively simple task, but getting accustomed to tying a tie as well as all the different knots that once can choose from takes time. This combined with the fact that most young adults only really have to wear ties from time-to-time and not on a daily basis, makes learning the ins and outs of tying one somewhat difficult. I personally require assistance from someone who already has gone through the whole process of learning how to tie a tie, or watching an online tutorial whenever I find myself needing a tie. While this may not be an inherently big problem, it can certainly be helped.

The premise behind our solution is to create a sort of “tie-helper”, as in, an object about the size of a small paperweight that can act as a guide for a person to use to tie their tie. We have found remnants of what appear to be previous attempts at creating such a product, but they were either flawed or never really reached production. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3tkWcp3wK4 Our group is aiming to create a design that can be mass-produced or even printed at home. The idea as it stands so far is to print a model that is inscribed with numbers and/or pictures of instructions on how to tie a specific knot that has yet to be chosen. After finishing the knot, the object can be easily separated from the tie and the tie will already be tied around the neck. In class, we presented our idea to the rest of the groups and were given feedback. We also created some crude models of possible designs, which could be considered our initial prototypes. From here, we will be creating and testing new models to perfect for our final iteration. We’ve all learned a lot these past few months in Digital Making; I am really looking forward to putting it to good use, as well as seeing what everyone else comes up with.

Paper Prototypes

Week 8: Last week at the Fab Lab

This week’s session marked our final week at the Fab Lab. Our time spent here was memorable and it’s sad to say that this is our last class time here, but the skills and know-how gathered here were quite memorable and are sure to last us quite a while. To conclude our 3 week journey, everyone participated in their last workshop to finish our light boxes. For me, it was finally time to code.

Having finished all the hardware aspects of the project, the last remaining task was the most integral to the box’s function: its programming. The Arduino itself is a powerful tool, but it cannot be used to its full potential without working with coding. The capabilities of a programmed Arduino are only limited by its user. Being an electrical engineering major, I’m required to have expertise in programming. Most of the programming that I currently do is in C programming, which is what the Arduino IDE (Integrated Development Environment) is based off of. I don’t really deal with the actual custom Arduino software much, however, so it was good to get some practice with this.

Arduino Software Application

We began with the basics, making a simple LED blink. Then we gradually moved on through the Arduino language to where we would be able to design a program that would make the light box behave as we wanted it to: as a light sensor with LEDs that activate accordingly to the level of light. The Arduino IDE is custom built for the various modules that Arduino produces, and as such their certain commands and implications available only to it and not in conventional C programming. We began creating slightly more complex circuits on a test breadboard preparation for the final step of the project.  We were allowed to play around and “hack” the programs provided to us so we could get a better feel of the software. This also allowed us to customize each of our light boxes to our preferences. We could select which LEDs would light up and in what order, the amount of light exposed to the sensor which would cause it to send signals to the LED, and so on. Relatively small adjustments, but those little differences were what allowed us to differentiate our final projects from each other. We finished compiling our code and assembled our boxes that we got to take home as a trophy for our weeks of work.

Test circuit for the final project

The long awaited finished product

It may have taken place over a few weeks, but our time spent at the Fab Lab seemed relatively short. I cherish the skills I’ve gained here and the memories of the fun I’ve had these past few weeks will last my lifetime as a maker(i.e. the rest of my life). We’ve come quite a way from our first session here, and our final class projects as well as our abilities as makers have certainly benefited from it all. The Fab Lab was such an amazing experience: I loved being surrounded not only by all the amazing technological tools and processes, but by other inspired and talented people as well.

Week 7: 2nd Week at the Fab Lab (Laser Cutting)


For our second visit to the Fab Lab, each group switched stations to work on a different portion of our final project. This week, I attended the Laser Cutting session. Though the workshop is somewhat secluded towards the back of the Fab Lab, it certainly shines through as one of the more unique creative processes the Fab Lab has to offer (no pun intended).

In my last workshop, we focused on designing the physical circuit for our light-sensitive boxes. This week, we continued with moe hands-on work dedicated to making the appearance of the project aesthetic and to our liking. By using specifically designed software, we were able to create layouts for our boxes that we could customize. We first gained the template after entering our desired dimensions into an online resource, and then imported that file onto the lab computer software Inkscape to customize them. We were able to select images online to use as stencils for the panels. The images had to be completely black & white, as well as properly pixelated. The laser cutters are incredibly precise, and are able to stencil out wood portions with cuts of down to .001 m in width, resulting in flawlessly fitting pieces and stellar quality of silhouettes. One of the most amazing bits of all this, is that each person’s cuts only took approximately 20 minutes maximum, way faster than a conventional 3D printer. While it is certainly a sight to see something create out of nothing, some don’t realize that you can also achieve great designs by taking away from what you already have.

Smaller scale sample box pieces

For my custom designs, I chose each side to represent a field of engineering/design as I am an engineering major. Four sides included images reminiscent of electrical, mechanical, and computer engineering, as well as architecture. The underside of the box features a 3D printer silhouette as well as that of a laser cutter, the two main methods of design that my group will probably use in our final project. The remaining side just has my name with a special measurement system composed of a ruler image and different sized stars to represent the brightness of the LEDs.

My pieces

Sneak peek of the completed project

Now that I’ve completed both the physical portions of the workshop, I’m excited to take part in the coding session next week, where we will program the Arduino with the desired code to allow it to respond as we want it to. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed these Fab Lab sessions not only because we get to create a custom project for ourselves to keep in the end, but we also get to see multiple types of engineering and designing intertwined (specifically electronics, mechanics, and programming) into a single project. It’s been a fantastic experience to work with all these different processes, and I’m hoping that we can incorporate every one of them into our final project.

Week 6: First Visit to the Fab Lab

This week, we paid a visit to the surprisingly out-in-the-open Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab; a free community center-like makerspace open for anyone. The Fab Lab is aptly named as the inner workings of the building are almost like a laboratory filled with fabulous creations by the volunteers and others who happen to stop by. Unlike our Digital Making Lab, it contains not only 3D printers, but other varieties of technology designed for the specific purpose of creation. These include sewing machines, paper cutters, laser engravers, and soldering stations. The lab contains a plethora of methods for people to express their creativity; it’s a shame that it is not very well known.  < Outside view of the Fab Lab

For the first week here in our 3 part saga in this lab, one person from each of our groups was assigned to a station in the lab where we would participate in a different workshop to make something out of nothing. For my personal station, we worked in electronics. I chose this because as an electrical engineering major it was definitely in my all you expertise and I knew that I would be able to learn something to improve upon. Our project was creating a type of light-sensing electronic circuit using LEDs, a photocell resistor, and an Arduino. Depending on the amount of light sensed by the resistor, a different color LED would light up. If no light was sensed, then all the LEDs would turn on. The project involved looking at some schematics and quite a bit of soldering, and the end result as it currently stands (an Arduino board with a bunch of wires and LEDs branching everywhere) did not look so appealing, but the functionality was the true beauty of it. Plus, we should be able to improve upon and make the design “prettier” in our next workshop. The other two groups were split into those working with laser cutters and coding in the computer lab portion of the Fab Lab. Laser cutting is another type of 3D printing in a sense, but in a way opposite to the norm. Instead of starting with nothing, your starting material is already there. You just need to decide upon a design and what portions you wish to cut out rather than add on. The results are stunningly precise. And while coding might not seem as glamorous as the other two activities, it is the basis of modern day electronics. Virtually every device for use by citizens requires some programming: phones, computers, televisions, and the 3D printers we use in our lab. It may not inherently make some visually stunning object, but without it we wouldn’t be able to use the machines that make those objects in the first place. All in all, these activities were extremely enjoyable to spectate and participate in, and in doing so we’ve gained knowledge of more methods for our use in not just our final project, but Making as a whole.

 Arduino Circuit

Laser Cut Tiger Puzzle


Week 5: The problem with solving problems

This week, we met in our MakerLab for the first time in a little while. But we weren’t there to print anything just yet, at least not for the class. This session, we began the process of creating ideas for our class project. This isn’t always as easy as it sounds, however, as the first steps of design thinking can actually be the most difficult.

A major difficulty of problem-solving is deciding what problem to solve. If one already has an idea in mind, this can be easier, but for someone who simply has a broad scope of issues, it can be hard to narrow it down. Even with the three of us in my group, it took us quite sometime to find a problem that we thought would be worth fixing. Not all “problems” have solutions; some can just be improved. But just because they can, doesn’t mean they have to. It is perfectly fine to make small adjustments to existing designs or solutions, but we decided to create a whole other approach entirely for “more serious matters”. Being college students, we focused on problems that most young adults seem to have. We ended uncreating 3 relatively straightforward designs: a tie helper, pocket stopper, and earbud holder that could also be used as a speaker.

An important aspect in improving and finalizing a solution is getting feedback from others.   Communicating one’s ideas to others allows them to get another perspective and prevent creator bias, it also is an opportunity to maybe receive criticism and suggestions for improvements. Something to be wary of in creating solutions is being to close-minded or focused on your own opinions of the issue rather than those of people who desire a solution to said problem. Even if the creator of such a solution is plagued by the same issue, people have different levels of impact from it. As Duncan Brennan’s blog “The Art of Engineering” states “[creating solutions] requires more lateral thinking and gathering information from a far wider variety of sources”. Problem-solvers sometimes get so absorbed in trying to find/create a fix that they forget the very purpose for doing so: to help others. We work to resolve these issues because they have personal meaning, or because we simply wish to make the world a better place for all.

Being a problem-solver can be an extraordinarily beneficial experience. One can grasp and gain the tools to assist those in need with solutions: no matter how simple or complex they may be. One can discover more about themselves; how they wish to benefit the world, what skills they possess or would like to improve. According to the Harvard Gazette, “One of the most exhilarating aspects of [an engineering/design curriculum]… is the opportunity to make stuff”. That “stuff” is both their solutions to problems and the benefits to the world that come of it.

Week 4: Fusion 360 and the basics of not-so-basic CAD

In the prior week, we we participated in a workshop that outlined the basics of the design process. This week, we given a visit by Jeff Smith, an industrial designer working for Autodesk, who explained the basics of Fusion 360 and demonstrated the capabilities of the software. Jeff was trained in the “analog” method of design, in which all the blueprints and 2D models of a products were handmade with paper and pencil, a stunning but arduous process. In this digital age, one can do the same and more with CAD software like Fusion 360.

The base of CAD software is relatively straight forward: by using computerized tools, one can create a model of their choosing in real-time without the crutches of actual drawing such as drawing utensils or having to start from scratch every time. Jeff demonstrated that Fusion 360 can be utilized to create models in a variety of formats using a variety of methods. These range from organic to inorganic shapes, sketches, revolutions, scaling, etc. Fusion 360 possesses an extensive amount of tools and edits at the user’s disposal, giving the user a plethora of options. This also, however, makes using the software quite difficult, especially if one has never used CAD before. Fusion 360 is a intermediate-to-expert level software, unlike TinkerCAD (https://www.tinkercad.com ), which is a beginner software. The interface is rather unconventional, and there are many “hidden” tools throughout Fusion that make it uncomfortable for even experienced CAD users. Even with the plethora of tutorials out there (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLTuzDPYYeEeJ9E-xBX2n-dUo6p8fQeA_b&jct=Ae3fFWiQBw0JsXyUzPflRHCUzfNjKQ), adjusting to Fusion can be cumbersome. However, once one gets used to these quirks, the software can be more easily used to its full potential.

In Jeff’s workshop, he portrayed how many of the characteristics of 3D modeling, while used in a different manner, were very similar to real life drawing and design. You can use a pencil-like tool to sketch shapes, if you made mistakes you didn’t necessarily have to start all over, but would have to do something similar to erasing. It really depends on the person on whether designing on paper or in CAD is more difficult. The main core similarity  of the two is that they are both an art form. One can translate their creativity and design thinking onto a platform that allows them to portray it to others. The reason why CAD such as Fusion 360 is arguably better is that others can both observe AND edit your designs easily, all of which is saved through the cloud. This makes prototyping and customizations significantly easier, all through a single abstract. It allowed me to design a mockup of a mechanical pencil and it’s components. I can also use this to explain to someone how it functions without actually needing a physical one. CAD is wonderful tool for both expression and creation. Many believe it to be exclusively for engineering purposes, which maybe true, but in reality it is for portraying your technical expertise and creative process.