I am a mom of 2 young kids in Los Angeles, CA. My professional background is project management for technology companies. Because my passion is emerging technologies, I am always on the lookout for new trends and ideas.
And with my children now 6 and 8, their appetite for technology (they are touchscreen-crazy) and an ongoing love affair with Legos (let’s build stuff!), has kept me on my toes to seek out new experiences for their growing minds. This led me to the amazing realm of 3D printing. How did I end up here?
In the Spring of 2012, I saw an ad for a ‘3D Printing Open House’ at a hacker collective called Crash Space in Venice, CA. Keep in mind, this was 2012 (I know, so long ago, right?), when only a handful of consumers had heard about 3D Printing, let alone ever seen a 3D printer in action.
So, eager for an opportunity to learn about a new technology that would also involve my kids, my husband and I packed up the family one weekend in March 2012, and headed over to Crash Space. A run-down storefront taken over by a group that call themselves the LABots, Crash Space looked like a True Value Hardware store that had just been through a tornado.
Upon entering, we saw five men seated around a single table working diligently on their 3D printers. My son, then age 6, bee-lined over to a MakerBot 3D printer in action, put his nose right up to the front, and was about to stick his hand inside, were it not for me following closely behind and holding his hand back.
My son immediately grasped the general idea that the design he saw on the computer screen was ‘printing’ on the machine next to it. He asked lots of questions to the men tinkering with their machines- like, could he make new Legos and army soldiers using this printer? Could he change the color? How long does it take?
My 4 year old daughter, on the other hand, was not interested in the 3D printers. She was however very interested in all of the 3D printed objects lying around on the table. She especially liked a Rubik’s cube shaped object, made of clear plastic with a yellowish hue, and rough to the touch. Clearly, one obvious and easy output of a small 3D printer are toys, trinkets, things… all customized in the highest sense of the word.
Still, we’re not there just yet. For those of you who have young children and are considering purchasing a 3D printer, keep in mind that 3D printers are extremely hot! The MakerBot 3D printer we saw at Crash Space forms objects when a spool of plastic is fed through the machine, the plastic melts, and then ‘drips’ down on to a platform to slowly build the object layer by layer. The entire machine we saw was open, without any covering to shield little fingers from touching the hot surface and hot materials.
Additionally, 3D printers are very slow. Although my kids had a great time at Crash Space for the first 15 minutes, after that they were ready to leave. I think for the MakerBot we saw at Crash Space (the CupCake model) the statistic is something like 80mm /sec. So, that means it would take a couple of days to print the Rubick’s cube toy my daughter was interested in.
When we returned home from Crash Space, my husband and I discussed whether or not we should buy a 3D printer. At that time in March 2012, we decided to wait. When I am at home with the kids, I am always moving from room to room and I felt that if I had a 3D printer set up in my office, and I was printing an object that took a couple of hours (or days) to print, I would constantly be worried about curious little fingers finding their way to the open exposed printer and the hot plastic.
Fast forward to September 2013. I have now been consulting just over a month for a start-up 3D Printing company called Zeepro. The team at Zeepro have young kids of their own, and we connected through our shared experiences and concerns regarding the lack of family friendly 3D printers currently on the market.
Their 3D printer, called Zim, which the Zeepro team has designed and built over the past year, addresses many of the concerns I had back in 2012 after our family tour at Crash Space. Zeepro offers the option to enclose the printing area, and the spools of plastic are contained inside covered cartridges, thus protecting curious little fingers from dangerous materials. Additionally, Zim is Wi-Fi enabled, equipped with an internal camera, and comes with an app. for my iPhone so I can visually monitor the progress of my print, even when I am out doing activities with my kids. And Zim is fast- printing at 110mm/sec (less time to wait for the finished object). Finally, Zim looks nice. It is well designed and will be a showpiece, rather than an eye-sore, in my house. This is one of a small, but growing group of other 3D printer manufacturers that are truly trying to address this idea of “home” use versus the complicated R&D model of old.
With the expected success of Zeepro’s Kickstarter campaign, our Zim will be delivered in early March of 2014. I am eager to start 3D printing with my kids and feel comfortable knowing that it will be a safe and reliable machine to have around our house. Although the history of 3D printing has yet to be written, I am excited that my family can take part in the early stages of this ground-breaking technology.