While the phrase "dumpster fire" has taken on all new meaning due to the years 2020 and 2021, one positive side-effect has been the surge in do-it-yourself efforts.
When the pandemic originally hit, many people scrambled to set up whatever ad-hoc work-from-home environment they could to get the job done. But as weeks have become months, and months have become years, some folks have decided to stay working at home, some businesses have become more virtual than in-person, and society's style of working has become more individual and custom than it's been since we were a mostly agrarian society.
Practically, these changes have meant that many of us have had to hack, DIY, make custom fixes, and take personalized approaches to problem-solving and creating systems based on our own unique working environments. Most of these new working environments are now very different from the ones we had when there was a person in the next cube over (who is now also probably working from home with their own unique workspace requirements).
Revenues from home improvement-related activities shot up in 2021. Many people are investing in making their now blended living and working situations better, less ad hoc, more efficient, more comfortable, and more tolerable.
The focus of our DIY-IT column here on ZDNet has always reflected the blended nature of living and working. Our ongoing discussion of small servers, smart home technology, VPNs, development, and software marketing all serve our small business, freelance, and startup readers. That's where our different types of fabrication and 3D printing content fits, as well.
Practical 3D printing
When we began the 3D Printing Discovery Series, it was all about discovery. I had never used a 3D printer, and the goal was for us all to learn about this interesting technology together. At the time, we expected 3D printing to be used mostly for product prototyping and product development, so that was the original focus.
But as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it became more and more clear that finding practical solutions for constantly changing new normals would be the focus. How could we use 3D printing to make a special bracket to make a replacement part that had become unavailable? How could we use 3D printing to organize cables to make a home office more manageable? How could we use 3D printing to increase storage to free up an area to fill an unanticipated workspace need? How could we use 3D printing to hold components on a sound cart? You get the idea.
It also became apparent that one fabrication technique wasn't enough to solve all problems. Last year, we supplemented our classic filament-based printers by starting an exploration of resin-based 3D printers. We also added a laser cutter.
But that's not enough. To solve custom problems with practical solutions, it's important to share information about how to integrate a wider range of technologies and techniques. That's going to be our focus in 2022.
Expanding the Fab Lab
We have an amazing year coming up for you across a wide range of DIY and maker technologies.
We're planning to kick off the year with the first prototype of our ultimate charging station. This will be implemented in stages. We'll take the observations and learnings that we discover along the way and incorporate them into additional builds that can grow along with us. Unlike most charging stations that might have to power five or ten USB devices, we're handling well over fifty, plus a whole bunch of other powered gear ranging from camera battery chargers to iPads, and even a battery-powered mini chainsaw.
The Fab Lab is expanding. We put all the 3D printers into one relatively small room when we started. They were all filament printers at the time, and the smaller Fab Lab worked. But even after donating a dozen 3D printers to local makerspaces, we still have seventeen printers in the lab, and we have some exciting new ones on the way to our test bench. Stay tuned for a bunch of in-depth, hands-on reviews and comparisons.
This year, we're reworking the power distribution and layout of the filament lab, and we're also working on expanding our resin lab in the workshop so we can open the garage door for ventilation. We just got in a giant Elegoo Jupiter resin printer that arrived in a wooden shipping crate roughly the size of the Lost Ark in Raiders. We'll be setting that beast up and putting it through its paces in 2022.
Speaking of the workshop, we have some big projects coming there as well. We will be building and testing two CNCs. One is a tiny, very inexpensive starter CNC, and one is the latest edition of the Inventables X-Carve machine, a 40-inch square subtractive manufacturing device that should enable a ton of great projects. You'll love what we have planned.
This year, we donated the Dremel laser cutter to a local small town makerspace and have brought in a new Glowforge Plus. So you'll get to go hands-on with what's probably the most popular name in the laser cutter business. We even have a Cricut machine to cut vinyl for signage and for working on all kinds of other design projects.
Speaking of cutting, it turns out that you can't just build projects with a CNC or a laser cutter. You need other power tools as well. You need saws to prepare the materials for the machines; you need trimming machines to cut the hold-fast sprues from the items created by the laser and CNCs; you need a router table to clean up the edges of the finished workpieces, and so on. All of these tools will be explored in the context of desktop fabrication as well.
We're also installing a camera robot to get better views of all the elements of these projects. It consists of a series of programmable sliders, jigs, panning surfaces, and camera heads, all of which can be sequenced for precise and repeatable shots. We'll walk you through these devices and their use, as well.
In 2021, we showed you how we set up a broadcast level video studio to meet client requirements while working at home. In 2022, we'll give you more behind the scenes looks at the gear and techniques we use for video production.
Get ready for 2022
Nobody wanted to be where we are in this COVID-centric world. But at least we're finding one silver lining, which is our exploration of cool tools, technologies, and techniques that make living and working in the new normal more comfortable and productive.
Now, all we have to do is figure out how to make all that stuff fit into our available space. Stay tuned to watch us face challenges, solve problems, and make it awesome. It'll be a great ride.
You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.