By day, Rich is a humble mobile app developer. But when he's done working he becomes Mr. 3-D and laser cut cool designer guy who does fun things in his workshop with CAD software, a 3-D printer, a laser cutter, and (of course) traditional cutting, drilling, and shaping tools. Since he's an open source devotee, Rich posts almost all of his designs online so you can make them yourself. Or modify them. Or use them to spur an entirely new idea that you can then make, and hopefully pass on to others. While it's interesting to see that Martha Stewart is now selling 3-D printer designs, Rich and his hobby are what the maker movement is really about. If you're so inclined, you can follow Rich on YouTube, where he posts a video now and then that shows what he's made recently or follow his low-volume blog to see what he's up to.
Rich Olson: Well, so something I’ve got in the works right now is kind of – I will bring it on camera.
Robin Miller: Yes.
Rich Olson: This is a version of the cloud chamber, which you have probably previously seen and there is historically been kind of two versions of this project. There has been, the do-it-yourself version which is entirely on your own and there has also been the pay-me-a-bunch-of money-I-will-make-you-one version. And what I found is that no matter how much I charge for doing kind of one-off manufacture, it ends up being not a good investment and a lot of time. So, it’s like really hard to do build something for four hundred bucks on a kind of per person basis and have it make sense economically. And with this version is, the idea is just I may furnish, might furnish some of the key parts like this, some of the harder to manufacture parts, which I laser cut, pressed it, do some very basic manufacturing stuff, to the point where people can may be take you know, a peltier core like this and a heat sink like this and the pieces I have made and now we got a cloud chamber that’s actually pretty good looking and pretty solid as opposed to something which is entirely thrown together.
Robin Miller: Yow know, what, I like it. I want one... no I don’t, I don’t need one. Here is a question, does that involve any 3D printed parts?
Rich Olson: So, this one is more about laser cutting. I’ll show you something else I have done recently though, I don’t know you’ve seen this project?
Robin Miller: Yes.
Rich Olson: Yeah, okay, so this is, I call this now Elastostraps. And basically it’s rubberized filament, OpenSCAD script and you can see it’s got, these little kind of prongs in the top here. And basically you can use it like a bracelet or whatever and it makes a pretty sturdy connection there. So that’s a little project. As far as projects versus products... I am not really commercializing any of these, but it’s been a really fun way to be out there in the world as far as being able to do printing. I kind of suspect that, if I had the licensing, for whatever this kind of looks like, I could probably sell a bunch of these, but that’s not in the cards right now. But there is no money to pay for your projects and it’s kind of spawn of other project here and it was just a matter of I came up with this 3D printed, this speakers, the script to generate 3D printed speaker enclosures. And I posted it at an audio community website, and the first thing that came back was, well, that’s interesting but why aren’t you doing something a little more creative with it? I’m like well that’s a pretty good idea. I didn’t really know this, that spheres and other similar objects have some dispersion qualities which are really beneficial for audio. So there has been a number of people who approached, so I got to get some secrets like that and the challenge becomes 3D printing stuff is a long hard process, you scale it up and all of a sudden someone's saying I’ll pay you 100 bucks for that, it’s like well, that’s 80 hours?
Robin Miller: For $100 .
Rich Olson: Yeah, it’s not actually good use of time. So most of the projects I do are really about this kind of, it is just a creative outlet for me as far as I like doing these things, and I like it more when other people take these ideas and they do something new with them.
Robin Miller: Well, wait, but you are according to your resume – which I have a copy of, as it happens -- according to your resume you seem to be a mobile app developer by day, humble mobile app developer and at night, you are Mr. 3-D and laser cut cool designer guy, is that right?
Rich Olson: That’s fairly accurate. I mean, the thing, if you were to look at see my tax returns over the last 5 years, I think the ratio would be it’s fairly easy to find someone who wants to put, you know, 40,000 or 50,000 bucks into developing an iOS application. And I also had huge amount of money but you think about it, that you need to live off, that’s like the bare minimum, that’s for a year. So these little projects that come up it’s like I’ve got some prototype and I can spend $4000 on that whenever and then it’s get drawn out over six months—that’s not income. That’s hobby. So I mean, yeah, I have a passion, for all of the technology and I am moving on to other areas I am going to start getting into making on circuit boards at home very soon, and a new one is getting set up and but all these things are really because I am interested in them. I don’t have a huge hope of making a proper career in the future but I can figure it out that’s great, but it’s much easier to make money in software than hardware it seems like.
Robin Miller: Yeah. But it doesn’t get you on the in Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg whatever, was one of the business books, because in this case, I don’t recall any either 3D printing or laser cutting, just creativity and assembly. Where you made the alarm clock, that if you don’t get up it starts shredding your money. This is like the official Donald Trump or Shark Tank Mr. Wonderful alarm clock, right?
Rich Olson: The issue, the full story of the alarm clock is it wasn’t my idea. There was some Russian designer who came out with this about, it might have been three or four years ago at this point and I just asked the question and he designed it. It wasn’t there was no physical object. And I just asked the questions like, what would be involved in making one of these and the answer is not that much. It’s like you can basically get a USB paper shredder for like $15 and that’s all you need to know, right. It’s not by USB was doing with 5 volts. So all you need is a transistor and Arduino.
Robin Miller: Okay. Well, And there you go. And I would say many Slashdot readers have an Arduino and, well... I don’t know if they have paper shredders, 5 volt USB ones but they can get them for 15 bucks.
Rich Olson: $15.
Robin Miller: Probably most can come up with $15. You get out on the street corner with the ‘will code for food’ sign.
Just so people know how I first encountered Mr. Olson, I was shopping for friction thumb shifters for a bicycle. There are on YouTube was a thing with this guy somewhere in Washington State who had 3-D printed thumb shifters and I said, you know, after Timothy Lord went to CES, and came back looking at with the thing about MakerBot and all these people are making okay chess pieces, little designer this and that. Dear god, Martha Stewart designer trellises; 3D print designs for money. I said “Gee, this guy is making things you can use. You know, a bike shifter, I have a bike, I need one of these.” So it’s not, okay wait, we knew it’s not the bike shifters, obviously not practical because I can buy a pair of those at eBay or from Amazon for $15 and it takes you how long to print them? But it’s still cool.
Rich Olson: So it’s actually kind of, the bike shifter is not far off as it may seem, because we are dealing with maybe... there is maybe, I don’t know, $4 in material here, it’s takes about an hour and half to print. And that becomes a matter of how do you measure that time. If it’s really something that you got your printer well tuned and it goes off right the first time, you can look in the context of your cost of pocket is at worst the same, probably less. I mean ignoring the cost to print, assume you have a printer.
Robin Miller: That’s right.
Rich Olson: And then you have it in a couple of hours. So I think, this is actually not that impractical. Its performances is certainly I haven’t had any issues with it. It’s like it’s really been surprising in the sense that you assume plastic would wear and it seems PLA has pretty good self lubricating properties, but it also has a thumbscrew so you just tighten it if needed.
Robin Miller: Okay. So let’s move on to something else here. Okay we’ve established that you make cool stuff, it’s plain indoor work, but somebody has got to do it right. But here is the thing. 3D printers, they are all over we cover them you might say. We’ve had people who make guns, who make I don’t know knives, I don’t know what they make with them, but all kinds of stuff. I like your stuff because you’re making what I’d call utilitarian objects, that people need, or at least want, and it is fun at the same time. Now, what kind of 3D printers do you like, and let’s talk about materials. Because one thing that MakerBot was pushing at CES was new materials. How is that affecting, how does that change what you make and what is that likely to change?
Rich Olson: So, what I have seen over the last year or so, last couple of years, there has been a lot of novelty filaments that came out, like this is a wood based filament and it’s basically plastic with little wood particles. It produces objects that have a very nice esthetic feel to them, you don’t see the lines as much—you probably can’t tell in the video there. But the other trend I’ve seen is the elastic filaments like I showed on this guy here. Another category is stuff which is just stronger. Initially, 3D printers were mostly ABS based it seemed like and then after that there was a trend away may be as the PLA, which from a strength standpoint has been a loss. But now we have companies like Taulman producing nylon filament and there is a lot of PET based filaments also. And those filaments are actually all stronger than ABS. And often we would print that without a heated, printer which opens up to a lot of printers. So I would say you’ve got couple of other categories, you’ve got the novelty filaments, you’ve also got this elastic filaments, and then just also like stronger filaments. Another kind of interesting trend has been a lot of companies are trying to put metal in the filaments.
Rich Olson: So this is a coin, if you will, which has been printed out of this filament that’s actually is loaded with bronze, so you can’t really hear it thereI guess, but it’s a pretty heavy piece, I think it’s about 70% bronze, this is a filament it made by ColorFabb called BronzeFill, they also make WoodFill which is filament full of wood. The disclaimeris all of these materials are proneto mess with your extruder a bit, specifically your nozzle, so if you are going to start messing with them just kind of be prepared that you should be able to replace your nozzle, and just know how to do that, it’s something which isn’t that big a deal, but if you don’t feel comfortable with it, you may want to plan on it.
Robin Miller: You should also have a spare nozzle.
Rich Olson: Yeah, oh, yeah, yeah, everybody should have like five spare nozzles, so go to eBay, just order a bunch for twelve bucks. And then yeah, I mean that’s been a big thing for me is to how to make printing reliable for myself, and knowing kind of things to look out for when things stop working, and definitely if you’re having trouble extruding things or jamming unexpectedly and you check the temperature and you check to make sure you are not trying to feed too fast, I just swap off the nozzle over, it’s just five-minute operation and then in half the time it fixes the issue.
Robin Miller: But what we obviously need is the official Rich Olson guide to the selection, care and feeding of 3D printers.
Rich Olson: So the funny thing is, something doesn’t exist quite with that title, but I do have a summary document on both alternative filaments, and my tips on dealing with jammed extruders and such. So if you want to check it out, you can go to my website nothinglabs.com and there is a link. I’m talking about alternative filaments, but there is lot of information in there also about dealing with field prints.
Robin Miller: Okay. Alright and do you have any particular preferences in printer manufacturers, what do you use?
Rich Olson: You know, I use a MakerBot Replicator 2, and I’ve had a really good luck with that after some tweaks I’ve done. As far as the way I tend to operate, I tend to kind of, I tend to work with what I have. So I’ve got that thing just humming great, I don’t have a huge amount of strings with other printers, so I don’t have like necessarily good names to drop as far as saying I checked these guys out, I know there is a lot of reviews out there, and people should also look at what kind of printer they want to get as far as if they’re okay with something which is closed source or they want something which is more open source. Just think about that and have that knowledge going in.