In case it doesn’t come across in other contexts, I’m ultimately a maker at heart. Nothing pleases me more than to be designing, writing or building. Something. Anything. I’m even happy with repairing stuff– assuming the designers put reasonable thought into that aspect of their product. I’m convinced though that pointy-haired bosses excel at ensuring all products leaving their domain are as repair-unfriendly as possible.
For most of my adult life, I’ve made things at the direction of others. At Texas Instruments, as a (now-reformed) defense worker, I contributed to radar and guidance system design. At Stanley, I worked on ways of improving existing mechanics’ tools as well as inventing great new things that Marketing feared to approve. At Medtronic, I mainly supported development and testing of surgical tools designed to cut into your skull and spine. At Nokia, I designed quality-monitoring software solutions and supply chain processes.
All of that was wonderful.
But after Nokia, the opportunities for me to make things at the behest of corporate overlords have all but dried up. Most of the work has been shipped off from our shores, never to return in its former glory.
And maybe it shouldn’t.
I got involved in 3D printing in its infancy. At TI we landed one of the first stereolithography systems, a large standup contraption that rendered plastic parts out of liquid gold. The minute I watched the thing attempt (and sadly fail) to layer-by-layer craft a test jig for me, I was hooked.
And I saw the future.
Making massed produced parts for common purpose is deep in America’s past, good bad or indifferent. Ah, but custom-crafting unique things with cutting-edge fabrication tools– THAT is the future!
At Shapeways, you can find numerous designers turning audio wave profiles into metal jewelry. You’ll see made-to-order thriving at Ponoko as well. While enthusiasts are doing amazing fun things with their low-end personal 3D printers, serious artists are taking advantage of these new 3D print on demand services to craft polished, custom works without having to invest in more expensive equipment. Based on the continuing braying of naysayers, I don’t think what’s developing here has quite sunk into the mainstream, where many believe affordable, production-quality 3D printing is still in our distant future.
They’re utterly wrong.
As a longtime solid modeler (Inventor, Solidworks, Pro/ENGINEER, etc) I see things coming together quite well for me personally. I don’t have to look for gainful design employment in corporate walls any more– with what’s now available, I should be able to chart my own course.
So even as I keep my options open for conventional employment, I’m getting close to a point where I can finally transition to doing my own thing. If you’re interested, I’ll keep sharing the journey here but you may also want to check out http://tribalmethod.com, where you’ll find the grittier details.
Thanks for reading!