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  July 5, 2013
Playing with Legos...



One Saturday morning, a long time ago, my mom and I were heading home in the family car when we saw a sign for a garage sale and decided to stop in.

There were a lot of items typically found at garage sales... dishes... clothing... tools... books...

Off in the corner of the garage there was a large trunk. When I opened the trunk I found thousands upon thousands of Lego pieces... in all assorted shapes, sizes and colors. I asked the garage sale proprietor what she was asking for the entire trunk and she told me she was asking $20 for the entire chest.

I pleaded with my mom to purchase the Legos for me... but she turned a deaf ear to my entreaties.

I then asked the seller if she was willing to let me work in her yard to earn the money to pay for the Legos over the next few weeks. She agreed.

As it so happened, I enlisted the help of my brother to help me with the yard work with the promise that I’d split the loot with him. We ended up spending an entire weekend over her house doing yard work (and since there was two of us... she let us off the hook after only one weekend of weed pulling, raking, and lawn mowing).

My brother and I took our "earnings" back to our house and split the proceeds between us.

Over the course of the next several years, we designed and created hundreds of structures, planes, cars, and cities from our vast array of building blocks. Over time, we purchased (or received as gifts) additional pieces and our collection grew and grew.

With more building blocks that we could ever practically use, the only real extents of our designs solely laid in the limits of our imagination.

If we could imagine it... we had the capacity to build it.

As my brother and I grew older, our interests moved to other things (such as cars and girls), so our collection found its way to the garage and then later to the attic where it sat for years.

About 15 years ago, I rediscovered the collection when I was helping my father move. After consulting with my brother, we decided to pass the collection to my son (who was 5 years old at the time)... and then subsequently to my 6-year old nephew this past year.

So it is in this context that I describe my recent introduction to 3-D printing.

I was driving to Los Angeles, listening to the radio, a few days ago when the host described how a man was able to manufacture a gun made of plastic resin using a process called 3-D printing.

Although I find myself surrounded by manufacturing nearly every day, I really didn’t know exactly how 3-D printing works.

At first, I thought that 3-D printing was a method to make 3 dimensional shapes via flat printed surfaces something like the pop-ups in a children’s book or like a flat gift box that I folded to make a cube-like solid.

Upon further investigation, I discovered that 3-D printing wasn’t really the construction of a 3-D objects using 2-D surfaces at all, but rather the process of adding very small 3-D building blocks together to create a larger 3-D structure. This process was originally patented in 1984 by 3D Systems Corp but in essence it’s been around since the ancient days of the pyramids and adobe bricks.

3-D printing is nothing more than creating a 3-dimensional computer model (using any one of several commercially available programs... such as Solid Works, Pro-E, or AutoCAD) and then having a robot (3-D printer) assemble VERY small Legos type blocks, called grains, made of various materials, to create a larger image.

The smaller the "Legos"... the better resolution of the final product...

The base material can be plastic, metal, ceramic, or even human tissue (on a cellular level).

A 3-D printer is used to deposit a single level of "Legos" (grains) on a surface, the "Legos" are then permanently bonded together using heat from highly focused lasers or electron beams.

Subsequent layers are then sequentially laid upon the previous layer. This process is repeated again and again until an entire 3-D structure is built from the ground up.

Prior to the idea of 3-D printing, solid modeling was achieved by a machining method, whereas a block of material, such as metal or plastic was carefully carved using precise three dimensional lathes commonly called C&C machines, programmed by computers.

In reality, this is the same way that great sculptors, such as Michelangelo and Donatello, created their great masterpieces throughout
the ages... starting from a large block of stone, such as marble, and taking away small bits until the statue beneath the surface is revealed.

In summary, one method of creating a new design is to start with something and take away everything that doesn’t fit (sculpting / machining)... while the other method starts with nothing and continues to add parts until it is complete (3-D printing).

I often find that the latter method tends to represent the way that most of us tend to live their lives.

We start in this world really with nothing... but yet each moment we’re alive, we continually add to that nothing to become the whole complete person we are today.

The additive effect in life also typically occurs in small granules... rather than in big chunks (although it seems I’ve had some great big chunks of life lessons from time to time as well).

In addition, every once in a while the "machinery" adding small elements into our lives appears to move a little faster... so much so... that we wonder if the machine is putting all of the parts in the right place... but every part has a reason for being there... good and bad...

Life is additive... not subtractive... and every piece has its proper place...

The only constraint of the final design is that of our own imagination as to what the finished product might look like...

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse, where we sincerely hope that you never run out of "Legos" before your project is finished...  


Jim Kalb

Email - jimk@optifuse.com
Website - www.optifuse.com

Blog - www.optifuse.blogspot.com
Twitter - @OptiFuse

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