What did you learn from trying to fix a broken tape dispenser?

Ever since I was young, building and taking things apart has filled my life. Some of my earliest memories are of me playing around in the machine shop, running around race cars, as well as dodging and jumping over strewn about engine parts or even helping to assemble engines. Later on I would go on to building my own race engines, but in the last few weeks it’s been fixing tape dispensers. I’ve been working on a solution to fix broken tape dispenser, a simple yet prevalent problem in the FIS community. The solution that we finally came up with was to 3D print the replacement parts. Throughout the project I learned a few new skills in the design process, such as designing with empathy (challenging!) and honed a few others like taking an idea from concept to a working 3D solution.

My problem with designing with empathy is that it was something I never really thought about or incorporated in my previous design endeavors, as it has always been easier for me to identify the problem and solve it than to interview, empathize, and talk to the customer about the solution. I still feel like I stick to my previous ways more than the current, because fundamentally the product is still going to be shipped. If I or the end user has an issue with the design, it opens conversation for the second iteration, which is something I find much more valuable than trying to figure out their life story in the very beginning.

Working in iterations is amazingly helpful because it transforms the idea of a failure into a learning experience without you really thinking about it. What I mean by that is the first iteration will never be as polished as the final, but there is no such thing as a failed iteration. Working in Iterations removes the idea of failure from the whole equation. It’s similar to working in drafts for an English essay; the first draft allows you to review your ideas and subsequent drafts let you refine them before you submit it for feedback and grading. And while I can’t pull connections from the class yet, I can see from my work on my 3D printer how useful iteration work is and how finished products never show the long road of work they leave behind them. Learning from our mistakes in our iterations in the tape dispenser project, it is obvious to us now that our tape dispenser encasement requires some tolerance work: as some areas are way too loose, while others are too tight. I feel that some people get too hung up on their failures on assignments, or get burnt out too soon into a project, when really they should take those failures as blessings in disguise. Most failures you will encounter in your life you will have no influence over, and will only see once you’ve prototyped an idea out. So, if that is the one piece of honest advice I can give you, there it is.

The positives whilst working on this project were that I got to use the skills that I had been building over the past year or so, as well as building new skills. Being able to use 3D printing – I’m a super fan – in the classroom changed the learning possibilities in a way that I hadn’t expected because of the endless ideas we could rapidly prototype. The feeling of turning a computer file you created into a real world object in a matter of hours is simply unexplainable. Not only did I get the opportunity to make an additive manufacture solution, I also was able to make a subtractive manufacturing solution. The way I did this was using the lathe to turn down a 10mm bar of aluminum into a cross pin, which was then press fit into a broken tape dispenser flywheel.

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