I have to start this post by making a confession. About a year ago, I really wanted to buy a 3D printer, but after looking at a myriad of options on the web, I decided not to spend my entire Christmas bonus on one… maybe you’ll understand me. I didn’t even know how to use a 3D printer, so why would I have spent that kind of money on a new toy? But after a few months of hesitating, I came up with an interesting idea: Why not buy one for the office and share it with everyone? Little did I know this would be the beginning of a makers community.
In just a few hours, the idea was approved: Let’s buy one! After looking at some options, we decided on the FlashForge Creator Pro, a sort of “old” printer (~2016), but with a decent price ($899), a closed case, dual-extrusion, and — at least from our perspective back then — enough specs to get us going. Other printers like the Makerbot Replicator or Ultimaker 2+ were about $2.5k and looked really expensive in comparison.
Part of the story is that, from day one, other Gorillas were eager to help. After sending out the first Slack message about buying a printer, Pablo Arias, a guy I hadn’t met before, helped me look for the tools we might need. We bought some extra PLA and ABS filaments, removal tools, blue tape, a print coating kit, and a glass bed. To be honest, we didn’t even know if these tools were going to be useful; we just followed other people’s advice!
The Creator Pro was easy to assemble. We kept the purchase secret to showcase it as a surprise in the upcoming Town Hall quarterly meeting (back in May 2018), so I only had a weekend to learn to use it. IT WAS FUN.
I didn’t know anything about 3D modeling, but learning to use FlashPrint, the slicing software from FlashForge, was easy. I was able to load images into the slicer software, so I put in one of our Gorilla images, gave it some height, and I had a 3D printed Gorilla logo in no time. Then, I added a hole to the image using a photo editing software, and voilà, I had a Gorilla keychain! It was perfect to showcase in the meeting.
How a Makers Community Started
Instead of just leaving the printer there in the hall for the most curious ones to use it, we thought that if we just gave everyone a little push and helped them make their first 3D print, they’d realize how easy it was and all the cool stuff they could do with it (thanks, Thingiverse!).
We made a “3D Printing Essentials” workshop, a 1-hour ride through the very basics: A brief history of 3D printing (I encourage you to make some popcorn and watch Print the Legend), the basics of extrusion (a.k.a Fused Deposition Modeling, or FDM), and then a hands-on demonstration of how to make the Gorilla keychain.
The results were amazing. EVERYONE wanted to take the workshop.
This was the beginning of the makers community. During this first year, we’ve trained more than 100 gorillas and counting. As a result, the printer is booked all the time, and we’re getting a second one, the FlashForge Adventurer 3 (check it out — it’s an amazing printer for a great price).
The gorillas started to print all kinds of stuff: keychains, action figures, phone holders, charger holders, drawers, holders for Arduino ultrasonic sensors, and much more (there’s a photo gallery at the end of this post).
But what was most AMAZING is that we had to help each other. 3D printing has many tricks and, hey, it’s sort of addictive! Also, gorillas can be intense about geeky stuff. The makers community quickly grew into one of our most popular, active, and collaborative Slack channels.
I was really surprised by the proactiveness of my colleagues. Once they leveled up, they were there to help and I never really had to ask. The Essentials Workshop is now given by other gorillas (thanks so much to Pablo, Edwin, Hector, and Alonso!). As a group we also needed to learn how to 3D model, so we recently launched a 3D modeling workshop where gorillas can learn the basics of Parametric Modeling and 3D sculpting using Fusion 360. This workshop was entirely designed by Juan Carlos Vega and Jose Castillo, who are self-taught on the subject and now share what they’ve learned.
We also have a small group of “admin makers” composed of the most experienced gorillas in 3D printing. They are there to help others when they need it and work on the new initiatives of the community. Natasha Arteaga, Luis Chacón, and Edder Rojas are great examples.
One of the lessons learned here is that, no matter how much you know about a topic, it is always better if you develop your knowledge alongside smart people. That is the core concept of the makers community.
We also learn by doing, and that’s why we try to make our workshops 100% hands-on.
The 3D printer effect was amazing. I would recommend it for your company without any hesitation. If you have any questions about our experience, or are looking for advice on some 3D printing topic, feel free to leave us a comment below, and we’ll be glad to help. That’s what we do.