My BIG Plan for 2019

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OK I’ve been involved in 3D printing for four years now and so it’s time to take things up a notch with my BIG PLAN for 2019: pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam. What is the FE Exam and why am I taking it? In the USA, the FE exam is typically used by college engineering students as a prerequisite before taking the Professional Engineering (PE) exam in order to be a fully licensed, nationally recognized engineer. But I’m taking the FE exam because it’s a prerequisite for me before I sit for the US Patent Agent exam. What’s the connection to 3D printing? Let me explain!

Since the 1980’s, product designers have been using 3D printing technology to prototype products for their companies. Today, anyone, even kids, can design a product using freely available 3D modeling software, which they can then prototype using extremely affordable 3D printers. But beyond this, kids can also apply to patent their product design! The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) shows how China and the USA lead the world in terms of patent grants with around 400,000 and 300,000 issued respectively in each of the last three years, so I will start with the US Patent Office exam.

If I can pass the FE exam, it will be a great first step to getting a US Patent Agent license. As a Patent Agent, I will be looking forward to helping anyone with a product idea apply for a US patent (including myself of course!). For the young students I have been working with, this will help them in three seriously important ways:

1. Learning from failure. American inventor Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” During his lifetime, Edison accumulated 2,332 patents worldwide (1,093 in the USA) for his inventions. Obviously, not only did he embrace failing, but he also very likely learned from his failures in order to proceed to the next step. I think learning to cope with failure is a great lesson for young students, a skill they can use throughout their lives. Prototyping their ideas via 3D printing can provide this invaluable training as they work through different design iterations.

An eternal optimist

2. Help on college applications. Obviously, securing a patent will look great on a college application. (In fact, the US Patent Office confirmed to me via email that they have issued patents to minors in the past.) But we also know that securing patents takes a lot of dedication and hard work for the inventor; patents are only granted to truly original ideas and designs. But I would argue that a college application with a series of unsuccessful patent applications could also be just as competitive as a successful application. Why? Because failures are just part of any success story. As Edison also said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Show the college admissions board your failures and your ideas to improve on your designs. They will be impressed by your sheer tenacity.

Edison’s most famous patent

3. College financial assistance. In the start-up world, securing a patent is one of the key ways to locking in investor interest and capital investments. Patents also play a key role securing a licensing deal to earn royalties. In either scenario, there are definitely ways to monetizing your patent. With college tuition costs skyrocketing in the last decades, families need ways to counteract these inflationary forces. Proto-typing and securing a patent could be a seriously viable method to doing so.

Can kids really get a patent? With ever-affordable and accessible 3D printing technology, we certainly have the tools necessary to rapid prototype almost any product idea. Just like how computers were once owned only by huge companies with deep pockets, but can now reside in our own personal smart phones, trends in 3D printing are quickly making it possible for the general public to design for themselves. With kids being more creative than adults, I think it will only be natural to see more patent applications from youngsters and patent grants will follow. Passing the FE Exam this year will help me be part of this massive trend. Wish me luck!

Lessons Learned after Teaching almost 200 Kids 3D Modeling for 3D Printing

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One of the biggest perks of teaching is learning from the students. Every time a student gets stuck on an issue from one of his or her own design, it gives me a chance to reinforce my own 3D modeling skills because I am usually looking at a design I’ve never seen before. Some issues are simple to solve, so the solution confirms what I know about the 3D model building process that works. Other issues require using the Undo key multiple times to get back to a position that makes sense to both of us in order for us to move forward again. In both cases, it’s a learning opportunity for me as well as the student.

But more specifically, here are three lessons that I’ve learned teaching almost 200 children, age 8-15, over the last three years 3D modeling for 3D printing.

There’s always another way

Find a balance between “free rein” and “do this”

While it’s true that 3D printing can turn your ideas into reality, you obviously need an idea first. In every first class, I tell the students to come up with three or four of their own ideas, which they can model and 3D print at a future date, while I teach them the tools. But sure enough, some will be scratching their heads when the time comes, unsure about what they can do. Here, depending on the season, for example, Halloween, I will lead them to a dozen or so new modeling ideas. Given the range of ideas, it’s always interesting to see which design they choose based on the complexity level. You can spot the star students here.

Repeating instructions is a necessity, so be patient

These kids are learning to draw in 3D, “graduating” from the 2D world of pencil and paper. I’ve seen adults struggle with it in my other classes, so it’s not exactly a surprise to see children needing more time to move up the 3D learning curve. If you think they understood how to merge a solid with a hole in Tinkercad, think again. And what about that Revolve tool in Fusion? How does that work again? But when they all fully understand the tool, don’t worry; they will let you know, loudly!

The Wonderful Connection between Cooking and 3D Printing

Use cooking as a reference point

I have blogged in the past about “The Wonderful Connection between Cooking and 3D Printing” where I point out that you can build a 3D printable model much like you can cook a dish by following a recipe. But more than this, using cooking as a reference point is very applicable when the children invariably ask to 3D print something they just download off the Internet. “Sorry, no!” I’d say. “I’m teaching you to cook, not to order fast food!” They get it and return to their own designs.

How to Design Star-shaped Earrings with Links – 3D Printing with Kids using Fusion 360!

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Following from our earlier vlog about designing a heart-shared earring with links, here’s how you can quickly change the heart into a star to create a star-shaped earring with the same links. (Ok I should have softened the points on the star to make it more comfortable to wear!)