The Wonderful Connection between Cooking and 3D Printing


If you are a parent who enjoys cooking with your children, we are totally convinced you will also enjoy 3D printing with them as well. After playing around with 3D modeling software for the last four years, and more recently posting videos on social media with my daughter about 3D printing with kids, I can say without a doubt that the steps to cooking any dish follow the same process as creating a 3D print. You can think of both having “recipes.” Given this, I believe 3D printing can and will be a new type of family activity!

If you are still unconvinced, check this out.

1. Cooking ingredients as 3D modeling tools. Every dish you cook needs ingredients; every 3D model needs tools. You can’t make an omelet without eggs and you can’t make a 3D print without tools that can create or shape the model. In our “recipe” to make a simple table in Tinkercad, for example, you can examine the list of tools needed next to the table.

2. Cooking method as design steps. As any cookbook with show you, after you identify the ingredients, you need to follow the recipe steps in order to create your dish. Here are the steps to our Table.


There is a certain step-by-step order that you should follow to reach the final goal. When frying an egg, for example, you should add oil before adding the egg, not after. For our Tinkercad Table, you want to create the legs first because you need to see the squares in the Workplace to make sure all the legs line up, before creating the tabletop. Both cooking and 3D modeling should run in a quick and logical order. Check out this video, which shows you how we created the Tinkercad Table.

3. Your stovetop/oven as the 3D printer. Many parents and students I come across who are new to 3D printing expect 3D printers to produce a model as fast as a 2D paper printer. One day, the technology will get there. But for now, in order for a 3D printer to create a relatively thin 15 cubic centimeters (6 cubic inches) design, it would take almost an hour, which is about the time it takes to bake a cake. So both in cooking and 3D printing, you need some patience.

4. You can personalize! Ultimately, recipes are general guidelines and everyone can have their own version of a dish. Just think of many types of burgers or dumplings that are out there! So you can have a version of your own table, or any 3D model. The 3D modeling software, many of which are free, gives you that total freedom. For me, I love personalizing designs with my daughter because I can connect with her at logical and emotional levels as I have explained in a past blog. We personalize every model that we work on to our own tastes and preferences, like this video shows.

So, if you like cooking, give 3D printing a try! Your children will thank you for it!



How to protect your and your child’s product design ideas


OK! After reading my recent posts where I laid out the idea that you and your family can use your children’s creativity to prototype product designs, you now need to know how you can protect your ideas so that you can potentially gain royalties for your children’s college funds. Here are five key ways.

Doing some homework

  1. Pick the right manufacturing company. My last post discussed industries that practice the concept of Open Innovation, where firms are willing to share profits with you provided you can help them design a better product. Are there companies that will try to steal from you? Of course! But that doesn’t mean you can’t find reputable ones either. Tap into a social media network, such as LinkedIn, that can shed light on how the company does business. At the least, find out if they’ve been sued. As there are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of companies for each industry, there is no reason to tie yourself to any one of them unless you can trust them. Remember, it should be a win-win scenario for both sides.
  2. Understand how manufacturing works. The more you know how manufacturers in a particular industry produce and make money, the easier it will be to talk with them. Although you are not officially part of their R&D team, thinking and speaking as they do, especially in their own jargon, will give you a great advantage over other product designers who didn’t take the trouble to learn this. Remember that all manufacturers need to know how much your idea is going to cost them. If your idea doesn’t improve their bottom line, they have less of a reason to sign you up no matter how good your relationship is. Knowledge really is power and here, and knowing how manufacturing works will allow you to understand how your idea fits into the company’s overall strategy, thereby offering you a solid ground to stand on and hence a real form of protection.

  1. Create a paper trail. From the day you and your child come up with your product idea, take written notes on all improvements or modifications, all meetings with all relevant parties, and store them in a safe place. If a dispute or even a misunderstanding arrives, especially related to idea ownership, your written notes can provide an additional layer of protection. Consider it your “creativity diary” which you can write with your children, which I’m sure they will enjoy creating.
  2. Share your idea on a need-to-know basis. Until you apply for a provisional patent (see below), your idea is up for grabs. However, unless your idea is absolutely ground breaking in every field imaginable, I think most people are unlikely to take your specific idea to market given how this is not a sprint but a marathon. Nonetheless, you can protect yourself by just sharing your idea with those who can help you take it to the next stage.

  1. Apply for a Provisional Patent. This is a big topic that can fill a book because it also extends to full patents, not just a provisional one. For now, just be aware that anyone can file a Provisional Patent on-line in the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for a very cost effective USD65 to protect yourself for 12 months. This means if your product is made and sold, it can have “Patent Pending” stamped on it. This also means you could be getting a royalty fee for you and your child’s design work. I’ll discuss more on this topic in the future but you can start with this USPTO link targeted to families!


What is Open Innovation and how does it work?


If our children can prototype a product idea or innovation to manufacturing companies, how would these corporate Open Innovation programs work? As I mentioned in my earlier blogs, we can work with our children to license an idea to a company who would pay us a royalty to help with the children’s college fund. But critical to this process is to understand what Open Innovation is and how it works.

Defining Open Innovation

First, you should know that the person who popularized the term was Dr. Henry Chesbrough, who currently teaches at the Haas Business School, UC Berkeley, in his 2003 book, “Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology.” In a more recent Forbes magazine article, he provided a (rather academic) definition: Open innovation is “the use of purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation, and expand the markets for external use of innovation, respectively.”

The catalyst


Personally, I prefer Wikipedia’s explanation: The central idea behind open innovation is that, in a world of widely distributed knowledge, companies cannot afford to rely entirely on their own research, but should instead buy or license processes or inventions (i.e. patents) from other companies.


Pluses and minuses

Of course, there are advantages as well as disadvantages for companies that engage in Open Innovation. Here is a partial list, also from the Wiki article:


  • Reduced cost of conducting research and development
  • Potential for improvement in development productivity
  • Incorporation of customers early in the development process


  • Possibility of revealing information not intended for sharing
  • Potential for the hosting organization to lose their competitive advantage as a consequence of revealing intellectual property
  • Increased complexity of controlling innovation and regulating how contributors affect a project


A key corporate trend


How it works

So how does Open Innovation work? While there are different methods, such as those sponsored by governments or competition based, the one we are most interested in is the “Collaborative product design and development” model. Here, a company still controls and maintains the production of the final product, but it is sharing the sales revenue with external co-designers (that’s you!) because you have found a way to make the product more usable and thereby more acceptable in the market. By using an outside co-designer, but maintaining production control, companies can get their new products to the market faster than just relying on their internal R&D departments. You will need to find ways to protect your own ideas, which I will discuss in the next blog.


Who’s practicing Open Innovation?

We want to look for inventor friendly companies or companies that are in industries that are constantly looking for new ideas to stay ahead. Here is a list of “15 Examples of Open Innovation between Big Companies & Startups.” And here is a very long list of “Inventor Friendly Companies.”

Looking at these two lists, which include even massive companies like GE, it should be very clear that Open Innovation is a key trend for many industries. This is because corporations understand that that we are living in information and technological boom times and they need to be part of that or risk falling behind.

For us parents with kids, with the cost of prototyping MUCH lower than just 5-10 years go, thanks to 3D printing technology, I think our children’s creativity need not be restricted to homework assignments, when they can be applied in the real world! The children provide the creative spark and we provide the discipline to make a very natural alliance that will hopefully and eventually help the children in their future education pursuits. What do you think?!

Key steps to working with your children to prototype products, earn money for college!


Following my earlier blog, where I listed “Five ways to find quality time with your children” where the central focus was time management, we now turn to prototyping products, yes to help your children build their college fund! If you think this idea is far fetched, please have a look at my reasoning in my other blog here. My main point is we can create a triple win scenario where 1) children can apply their creativity in the real world through new product design or improvement, thereby attracting the attention of any college, 2) companies can tap into a new source of creativity, and 3) parents have an alternative funding source for their children’s college fund.

Here are the key steps:

  1. Read One Simple Idea. Stephen Key’s book is based on his 35-year’s experience as a product designer who struck over 20 licensing deals with manufacturers in different industries to earn substantial amounts in royalties. He also has a YouTube channel where he  explains his 10-step plan in further detail. While the process does take time, I think it’s quite achievable for anyone who puts his or her mind to it. Even Key admits, he has neither engineering nor any specialized background to improving products. But he does have a passion for creating new things to make everyone’s lives just a little better. Big helpful hint: you don’t need a full patent to get a licensing deal; just a preliminary patent via the US Patent Office will suffice. (Please note, I currently have no connection with Stephen Key beyond reading his book and watching his YouTube channel.)

  1. Find an industry that interests you and your children that practices Open Innovation. As product cycles become shorter and shorter, companies just don’t have the resources to creating new products on a regular basis. Some industries, like kitchen appliances and pet products, are willing to share their profits with outside designers. These Open Innovation companies even have a link on their website that explains where outside designers can submit their ideas.
  2. Learn about the buyers and sellers in the market. Once you find the industry that interests you and your children, try to learn about it as much as possible. This is one of Key’s most important steps. It’s the only way to speak to the manufacturers at their level and keep you in the licensing game.

Start of a licensing deal?

  1. Prototype with 3D printing. Key says in his book that even a 2D drawing is enough to result in a licensing deal. But he nevertheless supports using 3D printing in his YouTube channel. I think creating your own 3D printed prototype is a good way to establish and protect yourself, as it will add to your documentation that the idea is your own.
  2. Have fun! Key says licensing is a numbers game; you might not get a deal until you’ve submitted many designs to many companies. But I think this is part of the fun! How many famous inventors, entrepreneurs and leaders have not seen failure in their life before they began to succeed? We all want to know what DOESN’T work as early as possible because it will help us get to the things that DO work sooner. This in itself is a great life lesson for our children.

More to come on this topic!

Are children really more creative than their parents? Sure! But now what?


If you search the first question on-line, you will see hundreds of sites concluding with a resounding, “Yes!” There will also be countless sites telling you how to encourage creativity in your children. (Here, one answer seems to be less schooling!) My questions then become: Why aren’t we taking more advantage of this creativity? Why aren’t there more child inventors? If a key characteristic in certain creative industries, like product design and IT, is to maintain a child-like imagination, then why can’t we just ask actual children?

Chester Greenwood (Age 15) – Earmuffs

Before you hit back with child labor laws, etc., here’s a story showing “10 Great Inventions Dreamt Up by Children.” Here’s another story with the title, “Crazy Kids’ Inventions Turned Into Real Products” with the video version here.

Cassidy Goldstein (Age 12) – Crayon Holders

WHY children are more creative

Out of all the research explaining WHY children are more creative than adults, the one I found the most compelling was by Alison Gopnik, psychology professor at Berkeley in this TED talk. She refers to the work of evolutionary biologists. Humans have an exceptionally long childhood to resolve the “intrinsic tension” between the need to finding the simplest, quickest solutions (adults) versus the need to explore to find alternative solutions (kids). (Any parent trying to get socks on their children will know what Gopnik means.) In short, evolution has designed humans to give them a chance to explore as children before maturing into efficient, problem solving machines as adults.

The next step

But getting back to my earlier questions, why aren’t we working more with children in the creative industries? (Wikipedia notes these nine but there are more.) In my view, one answer is likely the cost of innovation. R&D budgets can be a real drag on profitability for companies. They fund research staff as well the proto-typing. But I think you know what I will say next: 3D printing technology is lowering proto-typing costs. Now, anyone, including children, can also explore new design ideas.

Parents! It’s time to bond with our kids to see where their creativity can take us in the creative industries! Your child might be on a list of inventors in the near future.

More to come in upcoming blogs.