A collection of colorful Post-it Notes decorate the walls at 804RVA, a shared working space on Broad Street. Some of them are obviously written by entrepreneurs. Others by graphic designers. And some are penned by people just looking to build a robot that serves beer.
The Post-it Note wall at 804RVA has always served as a place for people to dream about what the co-working space should add to its community next. Have a wild idea; just stick it to the wall. Maybe it will happen.
It was a surprise, however, when Larkin Garbee, chief imagination officer and founder of 804RVA, recently found a Post-It note that had fallen to the floor and was swept into a corner. Inside were two simple words: “3D Printer.”
Ironically, 804RVA had just received a Makerbot Replicator 2X from Greater Richmond Grid magazine as part of its effort to collaborate with anyone interested in making things in RVA. The Post-It note wish had come to fruition.
About the size of a microwave, at first glance the 3D printer appeared to be nothing more than an open metal frame, a build platform, and a nozzle mechanism that moves along the x, y, and z-axes. Though it didn’t look like much upon arrival, the shared piece of technology from Grid represented one of the most amazing pieces of consumer-level technology to hit the market in the last decade.
For the uninitiated, a 3D printer builds three-dimensional objects according to a computer-drafted model. The nozzle acts like a hot glue gun that moves along a grid, melting and extruding layer after layer of a spool-fed plastic material until the object is constructed.
“It makes stuff out of thin air, basically,” says Jeff MacDonald, a creative technologist at The Margin Agency who was recently named to Forbes magazine’s 30 under 30 list. MacDonald has since joined Grid magazine in a collaborative effort to share not only 3D printing technology but also his unique brand of training with RVA.
The community printer, which serves as a social experiment by Grid, was placed inside 804RVA as an exercise in sharing—a mash-up with other Richmonders. To make this collaboration work, MacDonald now offers monthly training sessions with Grid—called “We Are Makers”—for anyone else interested in blazing new paths with 3D printing.
MacDonald, who moonlights as a professor at the VCU Brandcenter, has already hosted a handful of “We Are Makers” classes aimed at the next crop of creative technologists and others interested in the marvels of 3D printing. MacDonald, Grid, and the members of 804RVA feel that until now there have not been enough options available to those interested in this new technology.
Jonathan Kuhn, founder of Richmond Analytics and 804RVA member, was one of the first to jump in. Since that time, he has built battery adapters to use AA batteries as C batteries, battery holders to organize rechargeable AA and AAA batteries, various robot parts (wheel, chassis, and connectors), and a collection of snowmen toys.
“I read a little about it. But in the end I had to just try to build some things,” explains Kuhn. “My first builds went well and I tried changing things up and seeing what worked well and what didn’t.”
Kuhn says that 3D technology has let him experience what he sees in other endeavors that mix technology, creativity and science. “It is like glassblowing except that you don’t have to go through a long apprenticeship. Of course the result is not as visually pleasing. It is however very satisfying.”
His advice to others considering 3Dprinting; “I think that many people who have not had time will find time to add this to their life experiences. Jump in fast though. In a few years, these devices will be precise and consistent and it will no longer be such a broad and fulfilling experience.”
While exciting, everyone at 804RVA agrees—this technology is just in it is infancy. “This is the first technology since clock making where people use the tool to make the tool itself more precise. I think that in ten years 3D printing devices or their descendants will be as common as computers,” says Kuhn.
Scott Dixon, who joined the second Grid-804RVA class by MacDonald, also amerced himself quickly into the world of 3D printing. Within three days of taking the 3D printing class Dixon created a case for a heart rate monitor as a proof of concept that he plans to integrate into another project that he is creating. “Enter 3D printing; true rapid prototyping,” says Dixon.
Grid, 804RVA, and Jeff MacDonald plan to continue to offer additional 3D printing classes in the coming months to anyone interested in making things. For more information about the “We Are Makers” classes, visit 804RVA.com or RichmondGrid.com.