3D print a 3D printer

Dennis Ayotte is a data center specialist, who just picked up a new hobby: 3D printing. He achieved more in weeks with Shapr3D than in years with other tools. He started a blog, a Youtube channel, and after he printed out his own 3D printer, he is now looking forward to building a Rubik’s Cube solving robot. He showed up in our forum a couple of weeks ago and he quickly became an active member.

He is a good example of one of our most common user types. The ones, who want to do serious modeling, but the current solutions are just overwhelmingly ineffective, need a lot of initial investment and difficult to learn.

This customer segment has been struggling to get along with 3D modeling and 3D printing. So they are on a constant look for an easy-to-use, but still a professional app. This is in fact how Dennis himself found us, Shapr3D. We grabbed the chance to speak with him about his background and his future plans.

3d model

Origins & Background

Can you tell us about your background?

My background is very diverse - you might say - as I have changed careers multiple times over the last 30 years. However, I have always been interested in design and engineering. 

It all started with remodeling and building houses including the electrical, plumbing and HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) systems. Throughout my entire career, I had to work with blueprints.

Later I moved from construction to industrial welding, where I would build things from blueprints. It could be entire buildings, railings, holding tanks and many other things made of steel. During my time as a welder, I was introduced to CNC machines and machining. 10 years in this field, those solutions still do not satisfy my needs for engineering work. Hence, I decided to follow my childhood passion for computers. 

My occupation today is a small business owner designing and managing data centers for large companies. I have worked in all areas of this industry for many large companies managing their environments and even designing some of them. 

Today, I am contracting with the State of Massachusetts. I have redesigned one of their small data centers and managed all the equipment in it. 

As of my educational background - I have only graduated from High School. I attempted college but quit after the first year because I felt like I was not studying what I wanted and it all was a waste of money for me.

I am a self-learner - I learn from books, videos, and hands-on experience. I have had some classes on specific software within the computer industry, but no real formal training of any kind.
3d model in shapr3d

How experienced are you in 3D modeling and any other CAD systems?

At this point, I can only state that I am a hobbyist in 3D modeling. I have no formal education in this at all and just getting started. I got interested in 3D modeling after buying my first 3D printer about 3 years ago, a MakerBot Replicator 2. It was mainly used to print designs from others, but sometimes I tried to modify those designs.

I gave Solidworks, Sketchup, Autodesk 123D and Autodesk Inventor a try. I liked Solidworks and Autodesk Inventor the most, as it was solid modeling that drew my interest. Solidworks, unfortunately, was far too expensive for someone like me, who is just a hobbyist. At the time, I had a college email so I managed to get a free Autodesk subscription. As time went on, I lost interest mostly because of how difficult it was to use the software without any training or experience. I decided to sell my 3D printer and give up on the idea.

A couple years went by and I decided that I would give it a go again and purchased a Makerbot Replicator+. This meant I had to look for 3D modeling software again. While exploring options, I found some models to print from Thingiverse.com to get me started with the printer side of things. Eventually, I found a model called Snappy RepRap. This was a 3D printed 3D printer. What intrigued me was that it was a large model with many moving parts as well as electronics. So I spent 300+ hours printing it.

Once the 3D printed 3D printer was assembled and running, I found out that I couldn’t keep the extruder from slipping and clogging. So I went online and downloaded the freely available files for the printer and decided that I would redesign the printer to take a different type of extruder that would fit my needs.

Once I did, I found that the parts were modeled in openSCAD, however, this is a program I am unfamiliar with. I spent 2-3 weeks attempting to figure it out and could not. I posted online asking for assistance and did not receive any reply over the course of a couple weeks or more.

3d modeling in shapr3d

How did you discover Shapr3D?

I accidentally discovered Shapr3D during my attempts to use openSCAD. I had other issues going on with that software that made things more difficult. I was a Windows user, then switched to Linux, but there aren’t that many CAD programs designed for it. This made me switch to Apple OSX and to the software available for it. 

While switching between operating systems, I thought I would go back to Autodesk 123D but turned out it was no longer available.

I then discovered Autodesk Fusion 360 and used it for about two weeks without any success. That Christmas I gave my girlfriend an iPad Pro and started searching for drawing apps with Apple Pencil.

During my research I found a Shapr3D video, I watched it and several others. This intrigued me to the point I installed the app on her iPad Pro and gave it a try. I found out that I could create simple designs within minutes after downloading the app.

I used the free version of the app for a couple of days and realized that this software was something I could actually use. I went ahead and purchased a 12.9” iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil. I downloaded Shapr3D and started working on my modified Extruder plate. 

I got about 80% of the modified design in Shapr3D but was having issues with the joining system of my part, as it had to join the originally created parts. I gave up on that idea for about a week. During that time I kept watching Shapr3D and Fusion 360 videos. I finally started to model that part in Fusion 360 and tried to figure out the joints. I was able to get them too, I believed they would function as designed. I exported the design from Fusion 360 and imported into Shapr3D. This allowed me to finish the design on the iPad Pro. I printed the design and tested the fitted parts.

It took me 14 revisions to get it where it is today. The part I designed solved the issues I was having and my 3D printed Printer now functions well.

A couple of days after posting the design on Thingiverse, I received a request to modify my model to fit another type of extruder. I searched for technical specs of the extruder online and modeled it in about 4 hours. I uploaded it to the requestor and the Shapr3D forums to share. This time I solely used Shapr3D for 3D modeling.

How does your normal work process look like with 3D modeling?

This is a tough question for me to answer because I do not really have any workflow or a process at this moment. For me, it is more like I see an issue with something such as the extruder base I modeled and I just dive in and work on it.

Shapr3D helped me understand sketching and 3D modeling much better, which is how I figured out using Fusion 360 and Shapr3D. When I just started, I was using the software all wrong. I would just start creating shapes and extruding them and trying to make something out of that. After watching Shapr3D video tutorials and I have figured out what I was doing wrong and that let my 3D modeling skills grow.

Firstly, sketching the entire design and then organizing my work in groups makes 3D modeling much easier and better organized. Once I figured this out thanks to Shapr3D, things became clear to me. Now it all starts with an idea which I doodle on paper or even iPad with the Notes App. Then I use Shapr3D to work on the sketches and eventually start modeling. I expect that the more I use Shapr3D, the more I develop a proper workflow or at least the one that works for me.

3d printed part

Becoming a 3D modeler

What is next for you using Shapr3D?

Currently, I am really new to 3D modeling and my goal at this time is to learn about design process as much as possible. Right now I am experimenting with Shapr3D by finding things that I am interested in and modifying them by recreating the designs either entirely or just partially.

This is essentially what I did with my very first part created with Shapr3D. The end goal would be to start modeling for a company or contracting my modeling services out once my skill set is where it needs to be.

My next project started last week. I set out to create a 3D model of a device that will solve a Rubik’s Cube. The idea was inspired by the Lego Mindstorms’s MindCuber and the Kitables Rubisolver. I am not completely sure which design will influence the outcome the most, but right now the goal is to model, print and test it. The end goal is to come up with my own version that will hopefully be fully automated. This is a work in progress and has no ETA yet. This project is to help model and design a device that moves and incorporates a computer.

Do you read any industry related blogs? Are you a part of any 3D modeling and printing communities?

I have been following Adafruit's website for about 3 years now. This site is where I learned about 3D printing in the beginning and influenced me to buy my first 3D printer. They have many projects where 3D modeling and 3D printing are used.

I also read Shapeways blog from time to time to see what is going on. Since discovering Shapr3D I have become a member of the forums and have been actively reading many of the posts there. I also follow news and posts by Makerbot and frequent Thingiverse almost daily.

Is there anything you cannot do in Shapr3D now but would love to in the future?

The only feature at the moment that Shapr3D lacks is rendering. Currently, after I model a part, I export it as an STL or STP and import it into Fusion 360 to render. If that feature existed within Shapr3D, I am not sure I would need Fusion 360 at all. 

The other reason I need Fusion 360 for, is if I want to work on a larger screen, I export the design as an STP file and continue on the MacBook Pro in Fusion 360. After that, I import it back into Shapr3D to finish the design. 


Advice for beginners

Which material helped you the most?

I don’t know if any specific one helped me the most. However, the first 2 videos posted on the Shapr3D YouTube channel are the ones that brought me to Shapr3D. Since then, I have watched all of the videos posted on the channel. I have also looked at some of the in-app tutorials and find them very helpful. I am enjoying the forums probably the most as I can see how things are done by others, this helps learning more and more about the app and 3D modeling in general.

Who would you recommend Shapr3D to?

In short, everyone who is looking to model in 3D. But I think it’s very good for those who are new to 3D modeling. There are many reasons for this. 

The first thing to consider is the entry price, compared to the entry price of many of the programs with the same functionality. 

Most of the free modeling software that is available is cloud-based and require a browser that supports them and an internet connection. This gives you a limited ability if you want to model while being mobile. With Shapr3D you do not need an internet connection to model, you can just use it as long as you have an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. 

Most of the paid software have hefty computing requirements as far as CPU, RAM, and Video Card. This makes the cost of modeling skyrocket in many cases. For instance, when I first tried modeling I found Solidworks and had to basically build a $5000 system to keep up with it. With Shapr3D I got started for less than $700 for both the iPad Pro 12.9 and an Apple Pencil. There are many great deals on iPad Pros on eBay. So the cost to start is much easier to take in.

Modeling with the Apple Pencil is more like drawing or drafting on paper. This seems natural to me, trying to draw with a mouse and keyboard is overly complex by comparison. Modeling is quite rewarding when you can bring an idea to life, but it can be very damaging if you have difficulties trying to complete a model.

Most software I used has caused me to walk away due to how difficult it was to use. Shapr3D just feels natural in the way it is used with the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. The in-app tutorials are extremely helpful too. 

Everything is right at your fingertips.

You can follow Dennis's development on the following links:

YouTube Channel:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtpivDrpHYuTcx1fJ0HYVtA

Shapr3D forum:  http://discourse.shapr3d.com/users/roboticshobbyist/activity/replies

Thingiverse: https://www.thingiverse.com/roboticshobbyist/designs

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