Now that we’re three weeks into In-Depth 2015, my 3D printing study has kicked into full swing. By spending my last few weekends building my printer and meeting my mentor for the first time, I am beginning to pick up speed as more opportunities are springing up, and as more of my questions are being answered. Looking to Edward de Bono’s book, How to Have a Beautiful Mind, to put some of my mentor interactions into context, I will be concentrating on the first three chapters: How to Agree, How to Disagree, and How to Differ. But before I delve deeper into those matters, I’ll explain a bit about how a came to be the mentee of Mr. Ashley Webster.

As I mentioned in my first post, I looked to Vancouver Hack Space for a possible mentorship. After sending them an email, I got in contact with Ashley, who runs an open workshop every Saturday that is specifically geared towards 3D printing; it was the perfect fit for what I was looking for. So, I travelled to Vancouver to chat with him at the VHS studio, and also discussed 3D printing with some other members of the organization, all of whom offered some useful insight into my area of study. At this point in my project, Ashley and the other members were especially helpful in offering information on how to get started in 3D printing, in terms of materials, techniques, and resources.

Gathering around the studio 3D printer that sits on a worktable in the VHS space, our discussion first became mainly centred around various 3D modelling programs that will become useful to me throughout my project. Ashley pointed out an important distinction between many of the free modelling programs that are available for public use, and ultimately, it is a matter of intention. What I mean to say by this is that the programs are usually geared towards a specific outcome, either focussed on surface manipulation (useful for sculpting or more artistic modelling) or parametric building principles (useful for precise, mechanical objects). Programs like Google Sketch-up and TinkerCAD fall into the ‘surface manipulation’ category, where the user has the ability to create basic shapes easily and construct them into more complex models, while programs like FreeCAD, Solidworks, and Blender can scale these shapes so that their size is relative to their counterparts. In turn, the relative scaling tools are quite useful for engineering, where, for example, the notches in a gear must be of a precise measurement. However, Ashley made a worthwhile suggestion to me: try them all out, and see which one I like best. He encouraged me to become familiar with a variety of programs so that I could hone skills in different areas, and then decide which one best fit my interests. This very much lines up with the ‘learn everything about something’ principle of the In-Depth study, so this became our first point of genuine agreement. Ashley and I had similar values when it came to our approach to skill-building, which was to use a variety of resources to help narrow one’s focus. This agreement helped us continue on with our conversation with a common understanding. Additionally, this agreement was also supported by the fact both of us are interested in the experimentation aspect of modelling, as opposed to the desire to simply reach an end product.

In terms of disagreement, I found that there weren’t many instances that I was strongly opposed to what Ashley was saying. Because it is so early on in this project, I am trying to act as sponge more than anything, but I predict that once I gain more knowledge on my area of study, I’ll be able to form more well-rounded opinions and personal ideas. However, at this point, I found that our interactions were more informative than of a debating nature, resulting in a lower opportunity to openly disagree with or dispute Ashley’s insight.  I would say that this is fairly natural at this stage of a mentorship, but de Bono’s advice on effective ‘disagreement’ may be more useful later on in the project. Nonetheless, I kept in mind  the disagreement principles during our meeting, and will continue to do so in our later meetings.

As our conversations jumped around from printer software to various printer features, I noticed a difference in some of our practices. While I had expected to most work in PLA plastic (biodegradable, precise, and widely used), Ashley works quite a bit in ABS plastic, which I had originally thought undesirable for its bad smell when heated, and tendency to warp. This difference was mostly based off the fact that ABS is suitable for most of Ashley’s projects, which required the high heat resistance and strength, but will most likely not be suitable for my own creations at this point in my study. Although Ashley and I will be using different materials in our respective projects, I don’t believe it will at all interfere with our ability to work in an effective mentorship relationships, as his work is simply modified for his own intentions and uses.

After saying goodbye to Ashley after our first meeting, I had a lot to think about for my future project. For now, my main focus is building my 3D printer from the kit that I have purchased, but I would like to start dabbling in some modelling programs as well. Ashley mentioned that YouTube tutorials are a great place to start when learning how to use a modelling programs, so I will probably find myself browsing quite a videos after I download the programs.

As I mentioned, I am currently assembling my printer during the weekends, and so far have spent about 8 hours on it already. It is a big project; with a kit of more than 700 pieces, I expected no less, but it will take some more time before it is completed. However, it is a very helpful and important part of understanding the 3D printing process, so I don’t mind spending a large chunk of my time working on it. To date, I have built the main base frame and moveable plate complete with a motor and pulley system, and my next task is to assemble the extruder arm which will dispense the heated plastic. For now, I am looking forward to continuing in the assembly process and to get started with some modelling programs; many more hours building are ahead of me, both physical and digital!

Note: I will be posting a series of photos of the assembly stages in the next couple of days, so stay tuned!