Who said necessity is the mother of invention?
I needed to hang artwork on some glass display shelves. These shelves are perfect for placing objects on, but not great for displaying student art work on various types of paper. The question I wanted to solve was, "How can I create hanging clippy things for student art work?"
In this step I took a look at the shelves, measured the shelf thickness, and thought about some of the qualities in a clip that I would like. It needed to be reusable and it needed to have enough tension in the clip part to hold a single piece of paper. One other design feature that it needed to possess is that it wouldn't distract from the purpose of the clip: displaying artwork.
I checked out Thingiverse and found several paper clip designs, and took note of a couple that used a curved shape to the clip to keep tension.
This is where the pen hit the paper. I took my measurements of the shelf thickness, and in a few minutes, came up with a few sketches of what I thought would make a decent clip.
My go to design software is Sketchup. Its free and is amazingly robust for 3D modelling. I created a simple rectangle, and then used the pencil tool and the arc tool to create a 2D outline. I decided a thickness of 20mm would be about right. The colour I chose for the clip was 'white' to help the clip blend in with most paper we use in art class.
Prototyping and more Protoyping
From Sketchup I exported my model to and .STL file. Having an .STL file plugin is essential to making this process work, and its dead simple. Find out how to here. I warmed up the Makerbot, fed in some white filament, and waiting 26 minutes for a single clip to be printed.
The tension on the paper wasn't up to snuff with the first design, so I had to beef up the curved part of the design. 20 minutes later the new design was tested and worked awesome!
I setup the Makerbot to print as many of these clips as possible on the platform. Turns out 28 of these bad boys can fit on the bed at once. I know more could have fit if I had positioned them differently. 9 hours and a few minutes later, the clips where done!
Students came in the next morning to see that my clips were all done and asked about the time it took to print. Comments like," wow, that took forever," and, "why didn't you just buy them" came up. All valid points. I responded by telling them that I might have found something at Staples or another store, but the clip would not have been a perfect fit for the shelf. I could have also ordered them online, but that would take days or weeks. I have perfectly custom clips in 9 hours. No manufacturing costs, no molds to have made. The manufacturing chain that would normally take weeks for a product like this is now extremely short!
Connecting Students to Design Problems
While 3D printing is amazing, and can be a solution to many design problems, let me be very clear that 3D printing is not, and should not, be the be all, end all, of your program. 3D printing takes a lot of time! Teachers will find themselves with hours of backlogged printing to do (believe me, I've been there!) The focus of my program is for students to take on design challenges, to solve problems and do it with access to many different tools. DO NOT GET BURNED by sinking your entire class into a 3D printing project. My students will not be told they have to 3D print a solution to their design challenge. They can use hand tools, cardboard, exacto knives, the machines in the shop, our laser cutter, etc. to prototype and make their designs a reality.
The design challenge I am now posing to my students is:
"How can we design something that solves a household problem for someone in our life?"
The challenge is huge and overwhelming and yet simple all at the same time. I have purposely setup the challenge so students create something for another person on purpose (check out my post on the Wikiseat Project). I can't wait to see what things my students come up with!
Sharing Designs and Knowledge
Openness is very important when designing. Great designs that are shared can be improved upon again and again through community. I have created a CLHS Design account on Thingiverse, and will be posting student projects and files on the site to contribute to the maker community. Stop by in a few weeks after our first projects are online!
If you want to check out the clip design on Thingiverse, I published it for others to see, download, modify and print.