AMS Spring 2023

Dear Stratasys: We Need Thingiverse Not Face Shields


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Dear Stratasys,

I’ve known you now for over 12 years. It was love at first sight when I saw my first 3D printer, a Stratasys Dimension 1200. I’ve admired the reliability, repeatability, and quality of your machines. Your founder Scott Crump is a personal hero of mine and meeting him a few times was a highlight of my life. As an organization, you’ve solidly been producing good machines for a long time now and I’ve always enjoyed working with Stratasys people in many different capacities over the years. We’ve now known each other since Wall-E and In Bruges came out, since we both saw the Beijing Summer Olympics and both danced to I Kissed a Girl and Just Dance. So I feel I can address you like an old friend. Know that this comes from love.

I’m super happy that you are making 11,000 face shields a week. I think that this can really help people by delivering a safe extra precaution for many. But, as notable and nice as this move is you could have a far more important role to play in battling COVID. You see, I’ll let you in on a secret, you own a website called Thingiverse. Thingiverse? Yes, you bought it years ago. Thingiverse is a website where people can download files to 3D print. Theoretically. I’m kidding, it works again, congrats! Of all the key 3D printing infrastructure in the world, Thingiverse is along with slicing software and Magics a core bit of functionality for the 3D printing community. Thingiverse is the one central tool that all of the makers and desktop 3D printing users use. We used to use it every day. It is still the largest 3D printing website in the world. Cool, right?

The really rad thing about Thingiverse is that it lets us all work together. So Mary the mechanical engineering genius could make a file, Petra could refine it and then everyone could use it. Thingiverse has the potential to make all of the world’s problems shallow. All of the things could be designed and shared on that site. This, in turn, would make 3D printing more valuable. If a problem has a thing as its solution, then potentially, this solution could be created, developed and shared on Thingiverse.

Now I totally understand that a lot of the stuff on Thingiverse is silly and perhaps not very well made. Most stuff on the internet is silly and not very well made. Generally, however, we consider the internet to be useful on the whole. Thingiverse is just such a utility. I use the word utility in a purposeful way. Thingiverse is infrastructure like electricity and water. And yet you have neglected Thingiverse. Treated it a bit like a parent who went out for a pack of cigarettes and never came back.

Thingiverse now has ads which is great. It also looks a lot slicker and works much better than before. So maybe compared to before you’re kind of a Christmas and summer holidays dad.

We’ve got hundreds of thousands of people at home now. They’re bored and want to help out. Hundreds of 3D printing firms worldwide are working on COVID related products and solutions. I know many of these are doubtful and risky. But, we can harness the power of the 3D printing community to share findings, solutions and make progress together. The core Thingiverse functionality is what people need right now to download and print files. By curating specific selections you could guide people to NIH and individual health and hospital authority approved files. Through challenges and laying out problems, you could channel our collective energy towards specific solutions.

Companies and makers are ready and willing to expend the effort. Most efforts are now focused on shields which is at least safer than some of the more dubious efforts out there. What is not happening, however, is a guided effort towards sterilization, safer products, real product development and real solving. You see everyone is just parroting things at the moment. “People need masks, let’s make those”. What is not happening is that the request by an individual doctor is getting solved. There is no clearinghouse for problems where people on the frontlines can ask for help. Instead healthcare people have to spend time on conference calls with helpful businesses. This is inefficient.

The most useful thing in the world right now is not a mask or a shield. The most useful thing in the world right now is place where problems are specified which can then be solved. Unique problems brought on by our current crisis could in some cases be solved by things. We as an industry are the shortest path to new things. We could collectively work on how to print safely, how to test parts, how to improve parts and how to really solve new problems. People on the frontlines could simply specify what part they need or what problem they have and our community could solve it. They could then do this in one central place where our collective experience could bring about better parts.

Unique solutions to unique problems is the thing which our technology excels at. Yet, where are the requests from the car side testing people to make an extender for their swabs so they don’t have to reach so far into the car? Where are the files for all of those press releases and articles? Where are the thousands of foot and hand door opener designs for every door? Why hasn’t someone come up with a DIY automatic door opener? Where are the hundreds of no-touch faucet designs? We’ve got thousands of engineers sitting at home in a race to finish Netflix, they can be deployed to solve specific problems affecting us all. Our energies are being wasted, channel them.

I know that I’ve previously spoken about first not doing harm. In this case, we need one central place where we know that the best and right files are to be found. We need one place where all of the possible files are submitted for review and scrutiny. We need a central source of truth for all of our decentralized efforts.

As an industry, we’ve gone from mass-producing press releases to mass-producing face shields. This is laudable. I’d rather have a shield to protect myself than a piece of content marketing, but still, this is not optimal. We have the potential to bring real change and make this world a better place. The clearest way for us as an industry actually solve COVID related problems is for one central place to act as a clearinghouse for ideas, problems, best practices, refinements, and solutions. The most likely place for this, indeed one that has almost all of the functionality already, is Thingiverse. I’m not saying that you have to stop making the face shields but maybe lavish some attention on your least favorite stepchild and have Thingiverse lead the charge on COVID?

11,000 face shields are nice but 11,000 solutions would be better.

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