Last week I visited the iheartengineering headquarters in Brooklyn and was surprised to find that they have managed to build a rapidly expanding business around the print-on-demand model and unique product designs. Besides their abundant creativity, the heart of their business is a first generation MakerBot 3D printer that manufactures parts as orders come in the door (or over the internet).
It's not unusual for them to keep the printer running for hours, and sometimes days, at a time when orders peak. They've developed some special techniques for producing large parts with some unique fill patterns that I will post more about later.
Most important, the work, and the business model, that iheartengineering is pioneering convinced me that all the buzz about 3D printing generating a rebirth of manufacturing and creativity in the U.S. is much more than just hype. It is a practical and achievable goal, one that may soon be a reality for a growing number of start-ups.
’Affordable 3d Printers Hit The Market…? (Video)’ continues
One of America's outstanding strengths, and the thing that makes it unique in the world, is its pioneering spirit of self-sufficiency and belief that the nation, and its individual citizens can overcome any obstacle or hazard that nature or mankind throws in its way. That spirit may not be so obvious in its more well known left and right coast megalopolises like New York and L.A., but it survives and thrives in heartland cities like Kansas City.
Kansas City, like so many midwestern areas, was given birth by early pioneers and farmers that knew if they didn't take control of their daily lives they would quickly perish. If a piece of farm equipment broke, they figured out how to fix it. There was no Amazon, no FedEx, nor UPS.
I remember visiting a friend's rural home near Kingsville, just outside of Kansas City, and being amazed as he explained how he built a small tractor. He couldn't afford to buy a commercially built tractor, but he had an old junker car in the backyard that was way beyond being road worthy.
First, he pulled the engine and completely rebuilt it. Once the engine was running reliably, he rigged some pulleys so the engine would drive a generator he had scrounged, and set it up as a welding rig. Using the welding rig, he set about transforming the car frame, cutting most of the body off down to the frame members, then modified the basic frame design. Eventually, and it took months of hard work, he had the tractor he needed, and a tremendous amount of personal satisfaction.
But he didn't have 'pride' - he wasn't egotistical at all about what he had been able to accomplish. He, like many midwesterners of that generation, didn't see anything particularly special or unusual about what he had done. It was just normal, every day, life from his perspective. If I had asked him about it he probably would have responded, "You just do what you gotta do."
That spirit, that creativeness, that self sufficiency is still very much alive and well in America's heartland. And, it's seeing a new groundswell of energy and enthusiasm. A great example is the way the Maker Faire initiative has taken root in Kansas City.
There's a totally different, perhaps stronger, perhaps more grounded, feeling about the Kansas City Maker Faire compared to other similar events. You can feel the difference just from watching the video below featuring the 2011 event.
And, the KC Maker Faire isn't just about 'seeing' and 'experiencing' what makers are doing. It's very much about diving in head first, getting involved, sharing what you are making - or want to make, learning from others, and teaching them what you know. Now's the time to get involved, to become part of this great movement, and to get the same wonderful sense of personal accomplishment. Sign up to be a maker now - the entry deadline is rapidly approaching. You'll be glad you did.
I'm so incredibly jealous. Lady Ada over at AdaFruit Industries has all these great toys to play and experiment with, and she's figured out how to do it while enriching all of our hacker lives and making a little money to find more great stuff.
The 'toy' that triggered this post for me is some conductive rubber stretch cord that acts as a sensor. It's like being able to pull on the end of a resistor and have it's characteristics change linearly as it gets longer and shorter. Way cool! And it is incredibly cheap. She's priced it at less than ten dollars for a full meter and even includes a pair of alligator clips and a 10k resistor. Science teachers, for example, could dice it up and have enough for each student to have a piece for experiments.
The only drawback that I can see is that the sensor takes a little while to recover after being stretched, though I guess that could be compensated for in some applications by using two sensors in opposition.
As usual, the AdaFruit website has a great related tutorial page so you can learn while having fun.
Lady Ada and Phillip Torrone stopped by Tokyo Hackerspace and were kind enough to explain the history, dynamic growth, and drive behind the Open Source Hardware movement. They are also the founders of AdaFruit Industries, a fantastic source for innovative and inspirational electronics and arduino kits that are actually useful.