So how DO you build an object with software and then 3D print it? We tackled this demo with some help from the founders of 3DOrchard at another family-friendly event at the High Museum. Read on for an indepth look at how this start-up company is “trying to start a movement.”
3D Printing and 3DOrchard at the High Museum
By Paulette Richards
The first day of Spring found the Decatur Makers back at the High Museum for the Atlanta Science Festival. Since Iris van Herpen’s collection of 3D printed fashions will be on display through May 15th, the High asked for another 3D printing demonstration. This time the Makers invited 3DOrchard to present the beta version of their crowdsource design platform so that patrons could learn more about the Computer Aided Design phase of the 3D printing process.
Preston Ladds and Chris Goode set up the Lulzbot to print flop-eared bunnies and Chris Monaco supervised the giant 3D printed spirograph.
Meanwhile I had the opportunity to talk with Dan Meisner and Eric Sherouse, two of 3DOrchard’s three founders.
They shared their exciting vision of a future in which anyone with an internet connection will be empowered to design and build anything using 3D printing technology.
The 3DOrchard software is a fully functioning CAD tool that offers features similar to Solidworks or Autodesk products only it is an open source platform that runs in Google Chrome where anyone with an internet connection can access it for free. The designers have intentionally created a clean screen with point and click functionality so that users can readily master the essential tools without getting lost in a sea of pull-down menus.
Each project created in 3DOrchard falls under Creative Commons and the save points for each project are readily accessible so that anyone can view and modify any version of a design. At the end of a design session, users can download the file and send it to their own 3D printer or they can scroll through a list of local 3D printing hubs that are part of 3DOrchard’s network to have the product fabricated with their desired materials and price point.
After completing a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering with a specialization in automation and robotics, Dan spent three months traveling around Europe. On his return to the States he spent six months working on a science fiction novel as a way of envisioning answers to some of his long-standing questions. With nanotechnology evolving towards the ability to split off carbon molecules and use them to build atom by atom, however, he saw that the idea of 3D printers that will one day manufacture things out of thin air is not farfetched fiction but an opportunity for people all over the world to build a positive future together.
Around the same time Dan’s friend, Patrick, also developed the conviction that CAD should be for everyone so the three friends began doing market discovery for a software platform that could “plug the mind of the internet into social inventing.”
Eric is a software engineer who first met Dan at New Mexico Tech before he transferred to Georgia Tech. “I’ve always been very curious,” he says, “if I could boil down my single algorithm it would be to figure out the meaning of the universe.” After graduation he worked in cyber security for a few years but ultimately quit his job to devote himself to 3D Orchard full time. When I asked the co-founders why they had given up the comfortable lifestyles their engineering skills could have earned them, Eric replied, “When you are obsessed with something, the sacrifice is immaterial.”
The partners are clear that their start-up is a for-profit business but they are determined to do business in a different way. Beta testing at the High was an opportunity for them to see how people would respond to the software and to learn what they could do to make it more user-friendly. They are committed to giving the software away because they believe that instead of engineers developing designs in siloed groups for governments and corporations to then impose on people, design should be a democratic process in which trained engineers help people realize the solutions they define for themselves. In their model, 3DOrchard will sustain itself by taking a small commission for the use of the platform they are building but their ultimate goal is for that platform to help people solve significant world problems like the grand challenges XPrize (http://www.xprize.org/) has outlined in the areas of Exploration, Global Development, Energy & the Environment, Learning, and Life Sciences.
Where parents once advised children to prepare for careers in STEM fields as a means of securing stable, well-paid employment, Dan and Eric look up to projects like WikiHouse (http://www.wikihouse.cc/) and OpenSourceEcology (http://opensourceecology.org/) as examples of how competency in STEM disciplines can “enable everyone to build a better tomorrow.” Fortunately today’s youth seem better prepared to grasp the technology and design concepts embodied in 3DOrchard. “Kids these days think differently from adults,” Dan observed and indeed, as Eric walked me through the process of drafting an object in the 3DOrchard platform, crowds of children began to gather around the computers. My effort to draw a classically proportioned human figure quickly morphed into a caped crusader as the Minecraft generation added their input to the design.
Next Chris Goode obligingly loaded the file in the Lulzbot’s print queue and in less than five minutes, we witnessed digital technology turning information into a physical object.
Although superheroes are typically lone wolves who use superhuman powers to save hapless humans, feel free to modify the design and print your own caped crusader for the visionary young designers at 3DOrchard are working to unleash the superhuman power of crowdsourced design. “We’re trying to start a movement,” they say.