If you were to ask me a year ago about 3D Printing, I would have said something like, "Yeah, it's neat; my brother has one and made me a laptop stand." and that's about it. But, if you asked me now, you would be starting a stimulating and long conversation about the glorious technology that is 3D printing.

"Can I just borrow it for a week or two?"

To start with some backstory, in December of 2021, I asked my brother to borrow his 3D printer for a few weeks just to print some stands for Pop figures and some mounts for my Xbox controller collection. This printer was a Prusa MK3S, a highly regarded printer in the community, and is made of basic motors and 3D printed hardware. If you're interested, you can watch this video about its creation and the RepRap project.

They were pretty standard printed, and they came out great! This was the first time I had used a 3D printer on my own, and after those few simple prints, I wanted to see how much more it could do. I started to print more pieces at a time; then, I wanted to know if I could fill the whole build plate.

One thing led to another, and I wanted to start seeing the quality I would get from printing models of Pokemon. I started with a few from Filaments Folly. A popular way in the 3D printing world to get high-quality models from artists is to subscribe to their Patreon. For those who don't know, Patreon is a platform for creators where they can have followers support them with monthly subscriptions to access exclusive content and have a closer relationship with their biggest fans. After printing the first model, which was the Gengar below, that's when my curiosity was pushed even further.

I wanted to see how big I could make it. At first, I was hesitant. Was I working the machine too hard? Was there a point where a print would take longer than the printer could handle? However, I would learn over the next few days that this machine would be able to handle anything I could throw at it. That's when the ideas started to brew. At that point, I realized I wanted to take these machines and make things and turn them into a business. Fast forward to now, we officially have our first product on the market.

The Idea, the Design, and the Realization that I don't know how to use CAD Software

When we decided we wanted a printer for the office, we got a Prusa Mini+, a similar printer to the MK3S, but in a smaller package. This printer came with a test file with a nut and bolt design. I printed and played with it and was impressed that you could do something like that on a 3D printer. It was super cool and fun to play with. After a while of playing it, I decided I wanted to put my own spin on it (sorry, lol).

I figured, how hard could it be? As a person who has never touched CAD software or had a need to, I didn't realize what I was getting into. I had the basic idea of how I wanted it to appear and based it on a more traditional nut and bolt. I went and got the software to make it, in my case, Fusion360. After installing and starting it up, I immediately realized I was a little out of my depths. Luckily, my brother and friend James had more of an expertise in this world so I was able to lean on them for help.

Working with them got me to my starting point. I would then take the design and iterate over and over. Making small adjustments, little at a time until I got the exact feel that I wanted right off the printer. You can see below the milestones of prints and how the Bolty evolved over time.

This was over a period of about 4 months, just working on it over the side and trying to have a little fun with it. Along the way, I met some great people already in the Print Farm space. A Print Farm is just a small-scale manufacturing facility that produces parts/products/models at scale with 3D printers. This group had great advice for production and product development. After talking to them is when I made the final adjustments. This included bumping up the size, infill, and branding.

Once all of these things were in place, it felt like it was ready for prime time.

Making it the best Bolty it could be

I THOUGHT it was ready, but alas. I had the core design and structure but now came production. By this point, we had a few printers in the office. I am a stickler for print quality. When 3D printing, there are a lot of aspects to think about when doing the actual printing itself. When you are preparing a 3D model for printing, you use what is called slicing software. This software, in essence, takes the model, slices it into tiny layers, and then writes instructions for the printer in the form of GCODE. It's just a bunch of coordinates and movements for the printer to make and when to make them.

With this, you can specify many aspects of how a model is sliced. This is where the tiny tuning came into play. It's a game of trial and error. While doing this could be seen as tedious, there is definitely something special about making adjustments to something with software and then seeing the results in reality.

It was a labor of love, but eventually, all of the printing stars aligned, and I was happy with the consistent quality of the Boltys.

Sweet Release

We had the date, the Bolty's, and it was finally time to release them out into the world. I had already done some user testing in the wild, whether it be birthday parties, family events, and even a printing convention ERRF. I wanted to get them into the hands of the people. I did just that and got great feedback, and it was something seeing people have fun with something I made.

It was finally time to release, which is now. We launched it on the 17th of October, 2022. This is the first 3D printed product and the first product on the site to get free shipping.

I just wanted to take a moment to thank and show my appreciation to everyone who helped along the way. Without my support system and people calling me higher, I am not sure this would have seen the light of day. We could not be here without the backing of StockWise Auto and everyone in the company, the platform the Bolty will always know as its first home.

I know it's just a nut and bolt, but for me, it's the start of something bigger. This will just be the first, and we already have other products in the works that I look forward to sharing with everyone worldwide.

The future is 3DP.