When I knew I was to become a parent for the first time I admittedly got rather excited when I found out that it was a boy. Like so many of us blokes my immediate thoughts were about all the practical toys I could ‘legitimately’ buy for a new born baby, like a radio controlled car; obviously. Fortunately the next few thoughts were rather more rational, grounded and daunting as I assumed the normally associated sense of terror, like most when the penny drops, so I bought him something practical. A cot. It was much the same when my second son arrived two and half years later, albeit slightly less terrifying, but still no radio controlled car.
Each birthday passes and nine years on I still want them to have a radio controlled car. I mean a proper one. One that they can carefully build, using assembly instructions, tools, and their own choice of body style. Then promptly destroy it against a wall on its maiden test. I’m not trying to re-live my own childhood, as most of things I played with are still around today in one form or another. There isn’t much new. They’ve had the cheap ready-to-go radio control cars that have a range equal to their own attention span, but their interest, from the instant gratification of getting it out of the box and playing with it, was instantly lost in as much time as it took me to disconnect it from all the packaging and safety instructions in the first place.
It’s the same for most things they play with, apart from Bionicles, a reconfigurable robot figures from LEGO. I was impressed with their creativity and endurance as they would spend tens of minutes and sometimes even a whole hour making new creations. These home-made creations were actually quite good, almost as if they’d invested a lot of time and thought, and dare I say design.
It turns out that LEGO has a Bionicle website where they go to configure their own creatures and share their designs with others, and then assemble them from the bits of LEGO they have. There is a whole Bionicle community of creatives developing and sharing content. My sons even have their own online collections and online names. I might have said earlier there isn’t much new. Well, there is. They are nine and six years old, and they design their own toys in a digital environment. That’s new, and now I get it. Now I get 3D Printing. Why not go the next step Mr. LEGO and give me the data file so I can print some bits for my Bionicle? I mean their Bionicle.
My working life has largely been spent developing applications in Industry for AM machines, so I’ve been lucky enough to ‘play’ with, and have access to, many different platforms. When I’ve needed to repair things at home my instinct is to go into the shed and design a fix, and then take it to work and ‘print’ it. Simple things that would be far cheaper to make conventionally like a cap for the end of a rake I modified to hang it up, a door latch on a trailer, book ends, and a TV remote cover.
Yep, I pimped that at a time when mobile phones weren’t fashion accessories. The list is (expensively) quite long. I’ve taken for granted that I have inadvertently domesticated 3D Printing and my industrial work has actually been a virtual ‘home workshop’ for 20 years. It may seem counter intuitive, but since I worked in ‘Industrial Sheds’, I’ve never needed to create a home workshop. I’m a trained toolmaker, so I have the skills to use mills and lathes, but I’ve never brought one home.
But with my first AM machine, a DTM 2000, I did wonder if I could clear a space in the shed. So with so many new 3D printing product launches now hitting the market (just keep an eye on www.prsnlz.me! - Ed) almost every month, maybe I need to reconsider the function of a shed. I need to swap the cans of engine oil and the smell of WD40 for spools of ABS wire and the smell of melting plastic.
Since Mr. LEGO hasn’t yet cottoned onto the idea of releasing free content for the boys to print their personalised weapons for their army of Bionicals, they will have to start learning CAD, else they’ll need to make do with printing a lot of Bloodhound models. Fortunately their fate of being exploited as a model-making sweat shop has been avoided. Someone’s thought of that, and child friendly ‘CAD’ software is now emerging for the home. So the boys can have the computer in the house with a very long USB cable to the shed, my modernised shed. I’m not taking the 3D Printers into the house just yet; else my shed will become just a shed again, so for now it is repurposed as a ‘Home Studio’. A place to be creative and make stuff. My own Fab Lab. So just like the RC car, I think the boys will love it.
If you find you are going to become a parent, go and buy the little nipper a 3D Printer, put it next to the cot and print a custom made dummy, or one day even a chocolate teething ring. When they grow up they can then print their own toys, their own RC car body styling, and at the same time do the world a favour; saving on all the packaging and endless bloody safety instructions.