Designing a 3D Printer Farm, Meeting Che, and Embracing Argentina

Thanks to the Cultural Vistas Internship Program in Argentina, I spent this past summer traveling to Buenos Aires, Argentina to work at Che3D, a business focused on designing and manufacturing plastic products using 3D printing.

An initial design concept for the CheCluster with Prusa MK3 printers (top), a final concept design (bottom left), and a picture of a testing setup (bottom right).

My assignment was to design a printer farm for the company to improve production efficiency and workflow. Throughout my STEM workplace internship, I expanded my skills in market research, project management, and coding as I deepened my technical knowledge of additive manufacturing.

But that’s not all I did in Argentina.

Have you tried acroyoga? By comparison, managing projects in additive manufacturing is easy!

On STEM and 3D Printer Farms

I began my journey into building a 3D printing farm by bench-marking printers, printer management software, and existing print farms in order to develop and refine the project’s scope and limitations.

Two of the furniture layout concepts I designed for the 3D printer farm at the Che3D office.

To develop a proof of concept, I used 3D printing software to help me get to know Linux-based tools at a deeper level.

More specifically, I used an OrangePi open-source single-board computer to configure multiple instances of the OctoPrint 3D print controller application to connect two printers and a webcam. Because OctoPrint was developed and tailored for Raspberry Pi, working with OrangePi was initially difficult. This gave me an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the OctoPrint image that later helped me troubleshoot minor bugs in future configurations with Raspberry Pi.

A test piece from a 3D printer while working on improving print quality.

Based on the workspace at Che3D and the business objectives, I researched 20 printers based on the market today. Using the Pugh decision matrix method, I used this data to select a printer well-suited to Che3D based on criteria such as price, build volume, and product features.

Meeting Che

Che3D gets its name from the common slang word che. Commonly used by porteños (i.e. people who are from or live near a port city), the word che can mean either “hey,” “buddy,” “man,” or “fellow.” The slang term has been popularized internationally thanks to the fame of the Argentinian revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara.

True to its name, the work environment at Che3D was amiable, upbeat, and generally enjoyable. As a tight-knit team in a fairly small office, it was common to share lunch together, and discuss company objectives and progress. It was also a positive environment to share successes and personal victories.

Celebrating a birthday at the office.

Most of my coworkers at Che3D also knew or were learning English. Because of this, the workplace was a bilingual environment where I was able to switch to English if I struggled to express an idea in Spanish. I appreciated this flexibility in communication, particularly in a technical environment where translation for many words and concepts is not as straightforward as simply using Google Translate.

One of the biggest challenges I faced at Che3D was adapting to organizational communication challenges as well as the language barrier.

In my prior work experiences, I worked on larger teams and could find someone to offer technical help when I found myself stumped. At Che3D, where the small workplace only included about 10 employees and three interns, this wasn’t possible. Each member of the team had a specific role and none had the technical experience with Raspberry Pi to help me if needed. This challenged me to reach out to resources outside of the organization and hone my skills in scouring forums and Google-fu to unprecedented levels.

Though I enjoyed the independence that my project allowed me, I also felt a disconnect between the leads and my project. There were moments when I was assigned tasks that I had already completed. Because of this disconnect, I began to send a weekly status update email which helped address the miscommunication.

Bidding adieu to the team on my last day at Che3D.

Abrazos in Argentina and Beyond

Throughout my time in Buenos Aires, I regularly took classes in yoga, tango, acroyoga, and guitar.

I also had the opportunity to travel to an Encuentro Tanguero de Interior (ETI) event in Bell Ville with two tango friends. The ETI is a regularly-held event that brings together tango lovers throughout Argentina to meet friends, exchange experiences, and share their love of tango. The event I attended was a weekend festival with approximately 600 dancers from all over Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay.

Thanks to my hobbies, I also met a che or two outside of work. Above, I dance with a local Argentinian friend and fellow tango enthusiast.

I also took the opportunity to travel to Uruguay with a friend for a weekend, where we explored the cities of Colonia and Montevideo and met up with more friends.

All of the classes and activities that I took part in during my spare time enriched my stay and experience both socially and culturally. Thanks to my guitar lessons, I learned a bit about Argentine folklore music such as zamba, chacarera, and huayno. By practicing acroyoga, I got out of my comfort zone and pushed my mental and physical limits.

Where I See Myself in Five Years

My STEM internship program in Argentina turned out to be a great fit. My role in Che3D aligned closely with my prior research experience and my personal interests and hobbies aligned well with the activities available in Buenos Aires. Once I graduate this coming May, I expect to continue pursuing a career in the field of additive manufacturing and would like to work in the Americas again.

The port of Montevideo near the famous Ancla de Graf Spee.

One lesson in particular that I learned during this experience is the importance of understanding the customer or audience for whom a design or solution is created. Many of the go-to solutions that I would have used based on my prior experience in the United States were not the best fit for Che3D due to a variety of factors such as supply, pricing, and lead-time. I found it necessary to keep an open dialogue regarding the possibilities at the company, as well as what criteria should be considered in decision-making.

My experience also taught me how critical this same sort of effective communication was in my day to day life. This lesson will certainly stick with me in my future life and career.