Monthly Archives: October 2013

Doing Big Things

Doing Big Things by Paul Schmitt

When comes to creating large projects or solving large problems it is easy to get lost in complexity. Often times it begins with profound awe or terror with regard to the sheer amount of work that needs to be done. Most times it’s difficult to figure out exactly where to start and how exactly you will solve the problem or complete the project.  While problems or projects can seem too large to be solved or accomplished their complexity is usually superficial. There is a time tested, nature proven, money making principle that makes all big problems or projects manageable.

All seemingly big things are nothing more than a bunch of small things put together in some fashion.

Evidence for this principle is found everywhere. Look around! Matter in all of its complexity from enormous stars to tiny insects to limitless galaxies and nebulas to plastic and slice bread, can be broken into simpler structures. Look at basic atomic theory. All of matter is nothing more than the organization of three particles (i.e. the proton, neutron, the electron).These three particles can only exist in about hundred basic elemental composition (i.e. a periodic table of elements). Living organisms are composed of systems (like the circulatory system) which in turn are composed of organs (like the heart) which in turn are composed of tissues which are nothing more than a group of cells. Cells and can be reduced even further down to proteins and then amino acids.

The reason why this principle is so powerful when comes to solving big problems is that people are fantastic when comes to solving small problems! People can only handle a few simple concepts at a time. Things like 1+1 = 2, turning on a light switch, writing a sentence, or fastening two boards together with a screw are simple and straight forward. They are bite size and manageable which contrasts more sophisticated things like finding a pattern to prime numbers, wiring a microprocessor, drafting a doctoral thesis, or building a house. As the principle above states all of these sophisticated tasks can be broken down into smaller simpler bite size pieces.

Here’s a fun example to illustrate this principle. Suppose for whatever reason a giant pizza the size of Texas has materialized in the Midwest of the United States. It has now become the utmost goal of the world to consume this giant pizza. Could any individual in the history of humanity consume this pizza in its entirety in one day? No (neglecting Chuck Norris and Jesus). But if small bite size pieces of the pizza were eaten a little bit every day. Eventually the pizza would be consumed and the goal would be accomplished.

Likewise with any complex project or problem, start by breaking the problem down into small bite size manageable components. Eventually the problem will be solved and the goal accomplished.


Patent Expirations Expected to Lead to 3D Printer Popularity

Patent Expirations Expected to Lead to 3D Printer Popularity – by Tara Ortner

                3D laser printing is a process that is gaining a lot of popularity in the industrial world due to its ability to produce virtually any shape from digital modeling.  This printing utilizes an additive process in which successive layers of material are laid down in many different shapes, differing 3D laser printers from other types of machining that use cutting or drilling methods.  Used for both prototyping, and distributed manufacturing, the applications of these printers are becoming very prevalent in the engineering field, and there is even several 3D printers found in the DLC shop.

Because of their advanced use of digital technology, many assume these printers are very expensive and therefore uncommonly found in most shops.  However, as demonstrated by Christopher Mims in “3D Printing Will Explode in 2014, Thanks to the Expiration of Key Patents,” the price of 3D printers is expected to decrease dramatically in the coming year.  Mims reveals that various patents are currently preventing competition in the market for the most advanced and functional 3D printers, as they cover the laser sintering technology (1).  The evidence to this prediction lies in past experience with expired laser patents.  When the keys patents expired on fused deposition modeling, there was an explosion of open-source FDM printers, paving way for multiple printer manufactures to come forward.  These expired patents immediately allowed printer prices to drop from the thousands to only $300.

However, these dropping prices may not be entirely beneficial to the manufacturing world and multiple factors need to be considered when assessing printer prices.  Primarily, people need to that not all 3D printing technologies are consistent with one another.  Mims mentions that home 3D printers most likely are not currently available because the resolution of home printers would not provide the same quality as high-powered manufacturing printers, making the printer incapable of producing reliable prototypes.  This is a fundamental purpose of 3D printers and deterring from it is an aspect many need to consider when looking to the future of 3D laser printing and its value in the manufacturing world.

For more



What is a prototype?

Wikipedia says

A prototype is an early sample or model built to test a concept or process or to act as a thing to be replicated or learned from. It is a term used in a variety of contexts, including semantics, design, electronics, and software programming. A prototype is designed to test and trial a new design to enhance precision by system analysts and users. Prototyping serves to provide specifications for a real, working system rather than a theoretical one.

Nowhere in this description does it say that a prototype has to look good. No where does it say that a prototype is the finished product. It does say that a prototype is a tool for learning…

Many students come to DLC Labs to make a prototype and then paint their parts to look good. I understand the thought that if the object looks good it is good. However, as an engineer, I have to say that I am more interested in how well something works than how good it looks.

It pains me to waste resources and time making a “pretty” prototype that is to be used for display and thrown away. This is not an effective use of the shop, the college, or a student’s time, and resources. It says to me that you might be  sacrificing good work and substituting in its place false appearances.

A prototype is for learning what works and what doesn’t. It is for challenging preconceived notions and changing unexpected outcomes into revolutionary ideas. It is a tool for making connections between thoughts that no one has ever made before. A prototype can be a piece of paper. It can be an entire car. But most importantly, it is an idea that is made real.

But , I have to say that rarely do the thoughts and ideas that have been laboriously worked over and mashed together look pretty. Sometimes, a prototype shown to a customer elicits disappointment that changes the whole dynamic process of discovery. Remember that prototypes are for team learning and not really meant for your customer unless the customer has been in close intimate contact with the entire design process.  This closeness allows them to see and quantify the learning that has occurred.


What is a prototype?

It is a tool for learning and discovery.

My 2 cents. – An Engineer