I Tried to Learn How to 3D Print at Concordia’s Technology Sandbox

Where You Can Learn How to Use Virtual Reality Headsets, Brain-Sensor Kits, Soldering Equipment, and a Ton More.

  • Several technicians work in-house to guide students through all the resources, which include Android and graphics tablets, 3D printers, virtual reality headsets, DSLR cameras with Rode microphones, brain-sensor kits, soldering equipment, and a ton more. Photo by Elisa Barbier.

It was dangerously close to this magazine’s content deadline. I mean dangerously close–closer than Charlie Chaplin roller skating in that busted department store in Modern Times.

Over dumplings, our Current Affairs editor Miriam Lafontaine asked me if I’d like to write a first-person narrative about learning a new skill at Concordia’s Technology Sandbox. She promised me it would be an immersive and life changing experience.

Eventually, with soy sauce probably dripping down my chin, I agreed. She suggested some skills that I could choose to learn; virtual reality gaming, coding, or 3D printing. Emphatically, I decided I wanted to learn how to 3D print.

Located on the main floor of the Webster library on Concordia’s downtown campus, the Technology Sandbox has been open since February 2017. The space is the result of an initiative from Concordia’s head librarian, Guylaine Beaudry, who wanted there to be a place where tech gear could be centralized and easily accessible for all students.

Several technicians work in-house to guide students through all the resources, which include Android and graphics tablets, 3D printers, virtual reality headsets, DSLR cameras with Rode microphones, brain-sensor kits, soldering equipment, and a ton more.

The Sandbox is accessible to all Concordia students and faculty and is open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

I had to learn how to 3D print—and figure out what I wanted to print—but time was against me. I needed to act fast. I did nothing for the first six days after being assigned the story. But this is the story of someone who wanted it all, the story of someone who wouldn’t settle for anything but greatness.

Eight Days Before Deadline

Before long I was in the Technology Sandbox asking their technicians if they could teach me how to 3D print, and if I could write a story about it. They graciously agreed, probably hoping I’d make something cool and innovative.

The Technology Sandbox is brightly lit and full of tables and tech gear that I would never touch, for fear of breaking something. If I broke something, I’d probably have to reimburse them, and I only had approximately $9 in my bank account, so I walked gingerly.

I saw a bunch of people doing things that looked really complicated. Like using computers and cutting vinyl stencils. I was soon greeted by Rahul Ranjan, a part-time technician at the sandbox.

He walked me through the process and the psychological stimulation that resulted from it left just one thought in my head—that scene in Spongebob Squarepants in which Squidward is doing situps and yelling “Fuuuuture” beside his clarinet.

I was originally thinking of printing a statue of a goat or something like that, until, out of the corner of my eye, I saw it.

A 3D printed cell phone case. To you it might have been just any old phone case, but to me it was so much more. It was like seeing the face of God. A bliss ran over my body, and I could feel self-actualization running towards me.

I was ready to melt plastic filaments into the shape of an iPhone 7 case.

If you think about it, a cell phone case says a lot about a person. It’s the one thing you’re staring at while being actively ignored or avoided by the person in front of you. For that reason, it needs to make a statement.

“We have the resources to make pretty much anything you can think of,” said Sean Cooney, a full-time technician at the tech sandbox. “But yes, lots of people come in and want to make phone cases.”

Five Days Before Deadline

I walked into The Link office and started chatting with our Editor-in-Chief, Kelsey Litwin. She tells me she thinks my idea to learn how to print a phone case is great, and hints that she needs a new one herself. All of the airhorns went off in my head.

“I’ll 3D print you a phone case and write an article about it!” I exclaimed.

“To you it might have been just any old phone case, but to me it was so much more. It was like seeing the face of God. A bliss ran over my body, and I could feel self-actualization running towards me.”

Zirkind says that the school doesn’t do a good enough job at telling people about all the resources they have at their disposal. And that’s certainly true. The sandbox has been open for a year and I had no idea that there was a place at my school that I can just walk into and shoot some virtual reality zombies. Had I known, I’d have been in there everyday.

“Everyone that walks in here for the first time is that person who just wants to mess around with the gear,” said Zirkind. “But, the more you interact with the equipment and learn how they work, the more you’ll want to come around and hone those skills.”

Cooney hopes that in the coming years, a tech sandbox could open at the Loyola campus.

“Having another location at Loyola would do great things towards meeting the needs of those students and providing them the same services they’d get here. Services that could be very beneficial for people in those majors.”

The sandbox doesn’t do research the way a university professor might. They have projects, but don’t receive funding for it. People who are doing research, however, do come use the resources available at the sandbox. Staff and volunteers are also available to them as resources.

Since they opened, Cooney has been the sandbox’s primary technician and one of only two full-time employees. He sees the space as a valuable resource for students, regardless of what they’re studying.

“At first, we mostly saw Engineering and Computer Science students in the sandbox,” said Cooney. “But recently, we’ve been getting more students from fine arts faculties who use our resources for their own pleasure and for school projects, as well.”

Sure, there are idiots like me who want to use the sandbox to print phone cases, but there are some people who do serious things there.

“People may not realize this, but you can literally borrow the gear to make a professional quality film with proper sound recording and everything, and play it on a projector, all borrowed from this room,” said Mottel Zirkind, a volunteer at the sandbox.

“If someone can come in here and learn the way I did, that’s a great thing,” said Michael Naccache, another volunteer at the sandbox. “Not only do you have the materials to do plenty of things, you have a very knowledgeable staff to teach you just about anything and that was a big draw for me.”

“I came in to use a few pieces of their gear but quickly ended up learning new skills very fast,” said Charlotte Rollert, also a sandbox volunteer. “The possibilities are pretty endless.”

I really just wanted to know how I could make a phone case with emojis on it, which they were more than happy to help me out with.

One Day Before Deadline

After learning that I could design my own phone case from home using a free internet software called Tinkercad, I spent the entire weekend crafting one that would say “Hi, im kelsey from the link lol” on it. The design looked flawless.

I came back to start printing. Things were looking really cool, at first. I was staring at it while it printed, mesmerized by the phone case appearing from nothing. This is what it feels like to raise a child, isn’t it? This experience, with all the sweat and tears, was one giant piece of the puzzle that is my own self-actualization.

As I was living the moment in pure ecstasy, it all came crashing down like Stanley Ipkiss’ career after finding the mask in the 1994 film The Mask. I noticed that the case looked unusually big. Too big for Kelsey’s iPhone 7.

I tried to make a phone for Kelsey, but she was so disappointed in me. Photo by Kelsey Litwin

“It’s looking a little jenky,” said Zirkind. Well, that was because I was printing out a case for an iPhone 7+. It was back to the drawing board for me.

I decided the best way to ensure this wouldn’t happen again would be to use the same template but to shrink it to fit an iPhone 7, something that the sandbox staff was happy to help me with despite it taking forever and being a huge waste of their filament. It was getting close to their closing time, but they graciously allowed me to finish printing. It was looking amazing, I made about 30 Instagram stories about it.

I was so stoked. But then it all came crashing down again, when I found the case was now too small. How is the phone supposed to fit in the case if the case is the size of the phone?
I learned a new skill, but for what? I had failed not only myself, but The Link, again.

But in the words of Rahul Ranjan: “When you die, the people around you are sad but you don’t feel it, because you are dead. It’s the same thing when you’re stupid.”

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