Not long ago the 3D Print-on-Demand provider Shapeways asked if I would be interested in voluntarily representing them at the 2012 Dallas AnimeFest on September 1, presenting possibilities in 3D printing. Always up to share this exciting advent with the public, I happily accepted.
I’ve never been to this type of convention but having two sons and a nephew who have long been highly interested in anime and manga, I at least had a decent background. That made it easy to edit an existing 3D design presentation for this audience, which I expected might not be aware of Shapeways and their services.
I decided to keep it simple, focus on an entry-level approach and show how 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) could be relevant to attendees. I expected that the most interesting part of the talk might actually revolve around the sample items that Shapeway provided, along with questions from the audience, so I didn’t want to spend too much time lecturing and in fact planned for a mostly audience-guided sort of affair.
I blocked off the Friday evening before the event to add last-minute touches to my Prezi, and that turned out to be a problem. I succumbed to food poisoning that afternoon and was completely out of commission until the next morning. In fact I was beginning to think I might have to cancel. But once I started feeling better I decided to give it a shot. I updated my Prezi with some refinements, fighting some buggy behavior that made me wonder if I might have been better off using PowerPoint.
With almost two hours to get to the downtown Dallas location from my house 30+ miles away, I figured I would arrive with a somewhat decent amount of time to scope the place out and get established. I should have known better: in typical Dallas fashion, a wreck near downtown had cars backed up solid for several miles. To top it off, traffic near the event was also snarled and parking was spotty.
Long story short, I made it to panel room 6, sweating and panting, with just five minutes before showtime. :O
It didn’t get much better from there. I lost another twenty minutes due to logistics shortcomings. There was no free WiFi available to presenters, the projector was not warmed up, and there was no electrical power near the podium. The latter might not have been an issue, except that I had to use a cell phone tethered to my laptop to present, since the bulk of the material was web-based. That took three tries; my phone was acting up and the next one didn’t work either. Attendee John Gray saved the day with his, which worked! Of course that required a charger to keep the phone’s connection alive; one of the AnimeFest staff finally hunted down an extension cord. We were good to go!
Once (slowly) connected to the Internet, I began by running through my online presentation, first describing the various types of 3D design and then showing a Youtube video demonstrating some of Shapeways capabilities. This really got the interest of the audience, the majority of whom confirmed before I began that they were not familiar at all with 3D printing.
Following the video I jumped into a demo of Tinkercad, the cool online 3D design tool. The slow Internet connection speed and reliance on my laptop’s trackpad (I had forgotten my mouse) made this a bit difficult, but Tinkercad is very intuitive and I believe its ease of use and capabilities came across. As I had hoped, audience members asked many questions and I let them pretty much direct the flow that way.
Since I had a bit of time still, I fired up SolidWorks 2001 and demonstrated some examples of parametric design. By this point the audience was really engaged and asking even more questions. What sort of materials were available? How complex could parts get? What costs could be expected? To answer, I logged into my Shapeways account and showed my models and the costs associated with various materials. I’ve uploaded a decent array of parts representing various degrees of complexity, so the audience got a good idea of what to expect.
I stopped with about fifteen minutes left to present samples that Shapeways had provided. The colored figurines and metallic objects (deer head ring and a really neat Klein Bottle Opener) received the most interest, but “fabric” comprised of plastic links (think chain mail) was also popular. Audience members were amazed that they could have such items manufactured with no middle man! There was some surprise at the cost of metallic items but I explained that their rendering via 3D printing was still typically cheaper than by traditional methods, at least for one-off production.
Assessment and Thoughts
All impediments and personal crises aside, the show itself went well. There were about thirty or so people in attendance, and most exhibited a high degree of interest in the subject, especially the samples. They saw how 3D printing could support their passion, enabling the easy creation of props, accessories, jewelry, costume parts and relevant figurines with no need for custom tooling.
It was quite clear that 3D printing was a good fit for this sort of event. I would recommend that Shapeways continue involvement, and even ramp it up:
- Add a booth showcasing even more samples, and bring along a printer or two for live parts rendering.
- Conduct giveaways for some lucky attendee(s) to receive custom items. Maybe even let winners participate in the design!
- Add more presentations. Maybe one introduction, followed by a more in-depth tutorial to creating with Shapeways.
I have some advice for the AnimeFest organizers too:
- Do whatever you can to get free WiFi for presenters. It’s a must nowadays. Failing that, a LAN connection.
- Make sure projectors are warmed up just before a presentation!
- Make sure there’s a power outlet near each podium!
For my part, I should have also tested Tinkercad’s import feature before trying to demonstrate it. I didn’t get any samples to successfully import (including one submitted by the same guy who had lent his phone), something I’ll work on with their team.
No matter what, though, this gig was well worth the trouble and I look forward to seeing what Shapeways does with future events. Many thanks to Natalia Krasnodebska of Shapeways, Suzie Vega and Robert Jenks of AnimeFest, Shino Tanaka of Tinkercad and of course John Gray for the use of his cell phone!