The Thing-o-matic (TOM) is pretty impressive. Specifically, after I put it together it worked pretty much exactly like it was supposed to, and then it gradually stopped working like it was supposed to.
I was impressed because I spent a couple of months waiting for it to arrive, and I filled those months with keeping track of what other operators were doing. Most of what I read about was one problem or another, or another … or another. It seemed 3d printers only worked after one spent a considerable amount of time babying them. So, I was expecting to get the TOM put together, watch it not work, and then slowly tease various functions out of it. Instead I was treated to the spectacle of it not only working, but the default settings producing adequate prints on the first try.
That was then. Now that I’ve been printing for a week or two things are starting to go wrong. BUT I’m not complaining! As an early adopter I fully expected things to require fixing, and I’m actually quite excited about the chance to figure out a solution that can benefit everyone else having the same problem.
What I’m looking forward to breaks down into several basic categories:
- Bringing 3d printers up to minimum standards
- Maintaining those minimum standards
- Augmenting beyond those standards
There are certain basic things any 3d printer needs to be able to do just to be called a 3d printer, let alone make anyone happy. “Things” like not failing unexpectedly. At a minimum it should be able to build a physical structure out of a raw material in a controlled way. There are a lot of things that can go wrong with that process, but the level of technology required to merely meet that standard is modest by modern standards, so purging it of bugs shouldn’t last forever. Once a design meets that minimum standard the focus becomes more about optimization than construction.
At some point in the life-cycle of any design it will work properly for longer than it’s ever worked properly before. This phenomenon increases the chances that a new 3d printer will run into a failure state that is so unusual it simply hadn’t had a chance to occur, in addition to predictable accumulated wear. Solving these issues as they arise allows the design to become something people can build future plans around.
Of course, the world wouldn’t be what it is if people left good enough alone. When we can rely on something to do what it’s supposed to do over a certain period of time we immediately ask “Well, why can’t it do more?” 3d printers, specifically hobby 3d printers, are at that point where we really don’t know what their ultimate limitations will turn out to be.
I got a Makerbot Thing-o-matic because 1) I like their style and 2) Electricity is black magic (software might as well be demon summoning), so it’s nice to buy the right to pester a support team with questions, and 3) because it’s a vaguely standardized product. A RepRap is next on my list (I can print it!) but learning on a TOM means that there are hundreds or thousands of other people looking at the same parts behaving in the same way. The presence of this large group manipulating the same machine means that problems can be diagnosed reliably and solutions are meaningful. If something goes wrong with a RepRap the odds are better that yours is a little bit different from everyone else’s, so they might not have experienced the same problem and they might not be able to reproduce it. Additionally, if you solve the aforementioned problem it might not actually help all that many other people.
Also, it’s cold outside … and there’s nothing on TV.