How to run a 3D printing service workshop was conducted during Telecentre Europe Annual Conference (TEAC16) on October 7, 2016, by Deepak Mehta from 3Dee NV. The blog is based on my notes from the session.

Why is 3D printing still not as popular as it could be?

The problem with 3d printing not being as popular and as beneficial as it could be is that if the school decides to get such a printer they usually entitle an IT person to buy it. At school it most likely will be an IT-teacher. But the teacher of informatics not necessarily understands what could be done with the 3D printer. It is always better to have a person with design and engineering background to deal with it. Or have an ambassador, the committed individual who is interested in the topic and is responsible for the equipment.

How to ensure that service is in demand?

Very often even if the organization has the 3D printer, it is not used. How to solve it

1) You need to have an ambassador in your organization to be driven to maintain the printer, to work out the programme to train personnel and users. The ambassadors are easy to find. E.g. you organize a launch event to raise awareness, and there you will notice who is interested in the topic. Without an ambassador, who is a committed individual, the whole undertaking turns out to be complicated, and ends with the 3D printer being locked in the closet, as nobody knows how to use it properly.

2)  Focus on the skills. Again, there is no reason to have the top of the shelf best model of a 3D printer; buy a working horse. Basic training can be given to all, but have one or two persons who would take a more advanced training and be more savvy to use it.

You can compare it with a copying machine in the office. If everybody uses it, then nobody is responsible, it is often out of paper, needs services, or the paper is jammed and nobody takes it out, etc. When only a secretary and /or office manager uses the copier, then it is always nice and working.

What kind of a 3D printer to buy?

Telecenters do not need expensive printers, small ‘working horses’ for 800-900 EUR is enough to fulfill most of the needs. Initial investment costs shouldn’t be big. You can buy materials around 30 EU per kilogramme. We recommend PLA (bioplastic), which is biodegradable. You want to be the entry point = easier to serve. Use one material of one color.

The initial investment for a typical 3D service is 2000 EUR maximum, but the biggest cost is the time the person has to invest to learn and be dedicated.

We have a 3D printer. What would people want it for?

Mostly the people want to 3D print spare parts to fix something in their households, which they cannot buy (e.g. no longer produced or not possible to buy the very part). The question for users is either to pay the designer 50 EUR an hour or learn to model it yourself. This is the skill, which will be useful soon to a broader audience, and that is what telecentre can offer.

You can fix things yourself, no need to wait for others to invent. You may solve the problem for one only to discover it is needed for many.

Do we have to know CAD?

There are many much simpler applications for a wide audience. E.g., Tinkercad is a free web-based tool, which can help novices do the 3D printing. It has various templates that users can modify and adjust to their needs and/or wishes.

Within 2.5 hours anybody over 6 years old can be taught how to use it (younger kids do not understand 3-dimensional pictures).

It is extremely easy to use. You can find something online, e.g. nice smartphone cover picture, you can add your own name to it or a logo of your favourite team and then it is ready to 3D print.

What to bear in mind before creating the model?

All kids (and consequently adults) can be roughly divided into 2 groups:

1) Those who love lego, i.e. they like to assemble models, which are geometrically defined, and

2) Those who prefer sculpting clay – to create smth from scratch, not perfect geometrically

Before you start it is important to understand what you want to achieve. You cannot create a rabbit with 3 tentacles from lego cubes, and equally it is impossible to make an even sphere from clay. The same is with 3D printing applications or templates.

Is it possible to print something good after 2.5 hours of basic training?

No :), whatever you teach in 2.5 hours – the results won’t be good, do not bother printing it because it won’t turn out well. Ask the users to come back after a week, then you will print it out. 20-25% of general population do come back. It gives them a superpower – everything from the screen becomes real.

At the same time, if they still want to print something and you see that it is not good, let people make mistakes. Let them see that it doesn’t work and then they can correct that mistake – that will also give them the superpower.

How to engage users?

- Send ambassadors to events, e.g. to CoderDojo events;

- Retraining of unemployed can be a very positive experience. Nobody wants to learn CAD on its own, but if you disguise it as a 3D printing, they are more excited and happily build their skillset that make them more employable.

- Advertise your services.

How to advertise services? is the platform where people offer their services. There you can find different types of organizations with 3D printers, which will print for you for a fee.

If you have a 3D printer, this could bring users to your organization for other services. Thus, if a person comes to the library to 3D print something, they will see the range of other services the library offers – IT courses, workshops, etc.

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