I’m been a bit nostalgic for my days of relative leisure as a child with building blocks, Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys and what came to me was that I’ve always been a maker in my heart. My all-time favorite toy growing up was Tinker Toys and spent hours upon hours with the stocks and couplers making everything from full size pedal cars to fantastical wings and buildings. I didn’t’ have rules on what I could build and what it was supposed to look like, but all in all, the structures went up, the cars were created and the “stuff” fueled my imagination and house with all sorts of objects.
I grew, and in a few years graduated to my first industrial arts course in junior high and the joy of drafting. Mr. Murray was a great teacher as we $learned about the details of drafting, how to show hidden features, putting down to paper an isometric view in addition to standard front, side and top and if needed back view. He explained us the need for careful notations on scale and units, as well as how to add details and views on features that needed an “exploded” inset drawing or even an additional drawing. I loved that class with all the things that we did ranging from drafting to fabricating plastics parts (I still have the acrylic candle holders and console bowl I made) as well as leatherwork, simple soldering and more.
From industrial arts we moved up to vo-tech classes in high school which at that time were a required series of courses that all students in the high school took. Ranging from welding to typing and culinary arts, those courses help many of us have part time jobs in college and after school as well as kept our education grounded into the workforce. I thank heavens every day for a well-rounded education in my small town and the dedicated teachers I met. I actually used my set of Tinker Toys to make a model for a public speaking class once. But, when my parents were cleaning out the misc. items before they moved to what would be their last home, the Tinker Toys finally were given away to another family with children. I didn’t think much about it then, but I missed those worn sticks and wooden round couplers years later when I was trying to explain a design with an interior feature to a co-worker. By then, CAD was mainstream to manufacturing and everyone had abandoned drafting and the drawing for electronic files and 3D views.
But then the reality of always using an electronic drawing came home to mass production – mistakes happen. Hidden problems were not as apparent in an electronic drawing or even a 2D hard copy drawing without having a physical model in hand. Hence the 1st article requirement was born. The 1st article was required on many projects where a physical part had to be produced first before high volume mass production could start. Hugely expensive, since the production part had to be tooled up, the 1st article became the dreaded stop to development and commercialization in many new parts because of the delays and the resulting “engineering changes” after the review. I remember the anxious days of review and holding my breath as a committee looked over, measured, evaluated and then signed off. As an engineer and application specialist, I used to hope that marketing didn’t review because they ALWAYS wanted more bells and whistles. The additional features from marketing meant an engineering change, more time, retooling and drove the tool costs to the sky.
Then prototypes using SLA, SLS, FDM, urethane castings, and more came about. Design reviews were so much easier and collaborative manufacturing became the normal mode for new projects. Reviews of what the part would look like, how to tool for features that could be a problem, agreeing on designs, compromises on details – all of these areas of communicating and review prior to high volume production were now enabled and normal. We took sturdy prototype parts beyond design reviews to functional testing for wind, handles them in focus groups for marketing, used them in trade show mock-ups, traveled with them for sales samples, and took 3D Printing with hybrid manufacturing/machining into new territory where legacy tech and new tech made money.
Enter the Maker Movement – where people wanted the power to make pieces and to indulge their imagination by making a physical part using 3D printing. A whole new group of participants got to use tech and creativity to do one off designs, creating new ways to satisfy needs and manufacturing low volume product without expensive tooling. Those opportunities have continued to grow and printers for the hobbyist continue expand. You only have to look at Kickstarter, attend a Makerfaire to see so many low cost Maker Printers. In the meantime, The President includes 3D printing as an emerging technology and the industrial arena sees prototyping and design verification via 3D printing is now being required by many industries and markets.
But to me, it all really started with that cylinder box of Tinker Toys. We created, we built, we tore it up and rebuilt and then we did all over again with Tinker Toys. That low tech that we never saw as a path forger would evolve to a 3D printer used today. Overall, the basic purpose still remains the same between the Tinker Toys box and the 3D printer – to express what we can imagine with a physical part.
And you know what – I never really did outgrow Tinker Toys. Occasionally I’ll see some at a garage sale and you can’t help but start messing with the pieces. And just like 3D printing, you can’t help but think about what you want to do with the technology.