With 18 years of 3D printing expertise here at Design Reality, our skills have been refined and polished, additive manufacturing and 3D printing has become second nature. But it’s easy to forget that product design and 3D printing are complex processes that benefit from experience. Our Design Director, Graham Wilson, rewinds to the start of his career as a placement student, to his first 3D printing job…..
I never thought that one day I would manage a hugely successful 3D printing department that supplies cutting-edge 3D printed parts for household and industrial products that improve people’s lives. These parts are sent to clients all over the world, but for me, my experience with 3D printing started more locally in my placement year at Unilever Port Sunlight in 1999. And back then, in my sandwich year on my BSc Product Design & Engineering degree, I had a lot to learn.
My industrial placement was at the Global Development Centre for packaging R&D in Unilever Port Sunlight and one of my main responsibilities was to support the running of the 3D printing lab. I was involved in preparing files and finishing them for the design team, as well as producing high quality prototypes. This was a big responsibility and one I didn’t take lightly and as it turned out the 3D print didn’t turn out light either.
Having worked hard on a complex project to produce 2 litre fabric conditioner bottles all week, I left for the weekend leaving the 3D printers to do their job.
It was Sunday morning when a voice from within made me shoot out of bed. Instantly immersed in a feeling of dread, I realised I had made a big and potentially costly mistake. After numerous frantic emails and phone calls (to anyone other than my boss) I secured access to the printing lab via the security team, muttering claims of a machine fault. I made it in only to confirm my fears- instead of applying a special parameter to the SLA build to hollow out the parts, I had set them to build completely solid.
This error increased the build time from 14 hours to at least 90 hours (a £2000 error). I was left with a conundrum, should I cancel the build, re-setting it and disposing of the evidence from the machine or should I let it run in the hope that no-one would see my error before I removed the parts from the build on Monday? I realised that I had no choice but to let it run and hope for the best, as stopping the machine would mean more dealings with security who were already suspicious of me!
After very little sleep on the Sunday night I went to work the following morning and did my best to make sure no one had any reason to come down to the 3D lab. I removed the parts from the build and I was just wiping them down when a senior colleague of mine dropped in for a chat. He immediately spotted the exceedingly heavy, and solid, 3D printed SLA 2 litre fabric conditioner bottles and started laughing! After wiping away his tears the laughter stopped and he took one straight to my boss. My heart sank.
After what felt like a lifetime (about 15 minutes), I plucked up the courage to go upstairs and face the music, I knew I had to come clean. I walked into his office to face a steely stare but after a short attempt to look disappointed he burst out laughing too, fortunately he saw the funny side and apparently, I was not the first person to make this mistake.
Needless to say, I double and triple checked the parameters on all the prototypes after that and upon the completion of a very enjoyable placement I was awarded an incredibly expensive leaving gift- the solid prototype.
Now time has passed, and the dread and fear of that day has subsided, I can look back on the experience and laugh – I still have that prototype on my desk today. It serves as a reminder to me that what we do here at Design Reality is special, to be able to transform people’s ideas into working products for businesses across the world.
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