Tuesday, October 15, 2013

5S + Lego: A Poor Man's 3D Printer

Lego - The Original 3D "Printer"

What is 3D Printing?

 There seems to be more and more in the news about 3D printing. Recently, while on vacation in Chicago, at the Museum of Science and Industry they had a Makerbot Replicator 2 onhand that was printout out small replicas of Chicago landmarks.

A 3D printer is a device that adds different layers of material on top of each other to create an object. In the past, these printers were large, and very expensive. Now, with recent advances there are many desktop sized printers, similar in size and cost to a laser printer from the 90's. Some produce items by extruding a resin to make different layers, others user a laser which fires on pool of resin, which hardens only where the laser fired.

The promise these things have for artists, designers and engineers is incredible. The greatest advantage of 3D printers for designers, is they can do rapid prototyping. Once a designer has a design they can quickly create a real model of it, and see how it performs. This prototype allows for testing, which lets you refine the design and then future iterations of prototyping and testing before creating a finished product.

What is 5S?

5S, comes from the world manufacturing, and is a useful acronym for ways of organizing a work space.

The 5S's are:
  1. Sorting
  2. Straightening
  3. Shine
  4. Standardize
  5. Sustain
In practice, when you see that 5S has been implemented somewhere, it typically means that things which aren't needed somewhere, are removed from that area, and "everything has a home". In office desks, or warehouse floors, it usually means drawing boxes around where things are supposed to go, and labelling the boxes. An easy example of this, is a common grocery store parking lot. Rather than let cars park wherever, and however they want, lines are drawn for each individual parking spot. Some spots are specially marked for handicap cars or expectant mothers. There may also be a "cart corral" where customers are supposed to return shopping carts to rather than just leaving them wherever in the parking spot.

Wikipedia shows an example of a 5S toolbox here:

In the toolbox, foam is cut out in exactly the shape required for each tool. This means all tools must be put back exactly in the right place because they won't fit in the wrong place.

By always putting things back in the same spot, without unnecessary items around, it makes it quicker to find what you're looking for, and less likely for things to be lost.

So Why Is There Lego In The First Picture?

While 3D printing technology is improving every single day, I like to think of Lego as a poor man's 3D printer. By combining standard 2x8 Lego blocks, 4x4 and 2x1 pieces, as well as flat pieces where necessary, you can quickly create a variety of objects. Few households have 3D printers, which can range in price from several hundred to thousands of dollars, while many households already have Lego. Lego holds together resonably well, and if you decide your design isn't worth keeping, Lego is 100% reusable!

So, Lego is a great, readily available, rapid protoyping tool, depending on what you're trying to make.

So Why Mention 5S

For some time now I've wanted to organize my dresser. Originally, I had a stainless steel tray, which limited the number of things, and put an outer limit on the footprint of things on the dresser. Unfortunately, the tray was becoming a dumping ground. This is what my dresser top originally looked like:
Dresser - Version 1.0
Below are the contents of the steel tray:

This includes:
  1. Unneeded business card
  2. Watch
  3. Sunglasses case
  4. Headphones
  5. Full pack of gum (green)
  6. Pack of gum with one stick in it (blue)
  7. Handkerchef (from a recent trip to Japan)
  8. 5 sets of keys
  9. Blue plastic public transit token holder
  10. Curtain pin
  11. USB key
  12. Leatherman Multi-tool
  13. Three small plastic bags with buttons in them
  14. Paperclip
  15. Keychain a wind-up flashlight (broken)
  16. Rubber band
  17. Small carabiner, which was for holding rings when I have to remove them at work, but doesn't work
  18. Wedding ring
  19. Iron ring 
These objects were left out of the equation:
  1. Ducks
  2. Bowl of change
As part of Sorting, I put some items in the garbage, and put others away in my toolbox, or in storage. I want the items on the dresser to be day-to-day items, or at least things that are used on a weekly basis. After pairing the items down, I was left with the following:

If you wonder why I've blurred the keys, it's because with a digital photo of my keys, you can make a copy!

My initial effort was something like the toolbox approach, but still using a vertical approach for keys:


This was going to use up a lot more space on the dresser, and I didn't actually have enough green, "ground" base lego pieces to use this approach. Instead, I wound up using the finalized, vertical, key hanging design you see below:

While this setup doesn't make each spot as "obvious" as the toolbox foam approach, there are specific slots for my wallet, sunglasses case, and blue plastic public transit holder. There are two ring holders which work well, and the watch fits snugly in place. The handkerchief is also the only item that will fit in its spot.


Lego does make an excellent rapid prototyping resource for a desk or dresser organizer and it was definitely a good idea to SORT away things that didn't need to be on my dresser, while probably store those that do.

Playing with Lego, is also still fun.

If this design proves successful over time (does my wallet expand and contract during monthly cycles? Do I have some things in the way of others? Should some other object have a space here? etc.) then I can seek to duplicate some or all of this design with something that looks a little nicer, is more robust (sometimes the keys pillars get knocked over) and my wife is more likely to agree with.