007 – John Westrum, Afinia 3D Printing
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In this week’s episode, we talk with John Westrum, VP of Operations at Afinia. Table Top Inventing has been working with Afinia 3D printers since the beginning and we have been happy to recommend them to other educators. We approached John because we were interested in his views both of Maker Education as well as his perspective on our core question, “What is the purpose of an education?”.
John Westrum is the Vice President of Operations at Afinia, a division of Microboards Technology, LLC. John has been instrumental in introducing the Afinia 3D printer into the US market, and has a long-term view on products and sales with his 20+ year tenure as a VP at Microboards. John knows his business inside and out including the marketing and sales, the support and engineering, as well as the purchasing side.
Over the last two years, John has seen the interest and demand for desktop 3D printers grow into education from what had predominantly been commercial and hobbyist applications. As education demands have increased, John’s interest involvement in the workshop focuses on working with individuals and organizations to develop curriculum to support STEM initiatives utilizing 3D printers. Although John does not have a background in Education/Academics, he is impassioned with a belief that STEM is a critical part to student learning.
Steve: Alright, so we are speaking today with John Westrum from ‘AFINIA’. He is well acquainted with 3D printing and we’re going to ask him some questions today about educational… we’re going to jump right in.
Steve: Can you tell us a little bit about what you do as a professional?
John: Sure, well I’ve been with ‘AFINIA’ which is a division of micro boards technology and I’ve been with the company now this is my 21st year. Primarily we were doing CD and DVD duplication, printing, and publishing equipment for commercial purposes, and also a little bit with education. We decided we needed to broad our product base so a couple of years ago, 3 years ago, we got into 3D printing. In doing so, we quickly learned that educators were purchasing this at a pretty high rate. And as we explored it a bit more, we found out that there was beyond a university wage which was primary the beginning of this that education at high school level and the middle school level really was a growing demand for 3D printing. So, we started really going after and seeing what we can do to support that area more.
Steve: So, what prompted you to look at 3D printing?
John: So, we have done some research in regards to what are some high growth areas. Of course, being in business, we want to try and go somewhere where there’s a future potential and there’s a lot of buzz, a lot of hype about 3D printing. So, where there’s smoke, there’s probably a fire. And so, that’s where we start getting into it and it’s been a real joy. It’s been a lot of fun.
Steve: I would have to agree with you on that. I have come to this party a little bit late but we’re very much enjoying what we see in the ‘Maker Movement’. Particularly education, we got in to this because my wife is an educator. So, I want to ask you a few questions related to the education side. I’m just asking your opinion; I mean you’re a businessman so we don’t expect you to be educational philosopher. From the outside, how do you see… what do you see the role of education and give us maybe a broad stroke’s view of education as you see it?
John: Sure, well… So, education is all about giving children to understand learning. How to learn skills, how to learn philosophy and strategy, and those building blocks to be able to use that in a career or just in anything that they do as adults. The nice thing about 3D printing is you can use it both sides of vocational tool which is one strand of work you can do in education. But you can also use it as just a supportive tool… in history; you can use it in lots of different areas… science… in education… But you know… So, education itself is just for the preparation of children to understand life, how they deal with life as they get older.
Steve: So, as kids are growing and learning through education system, now you and I grew up in a system that was probably significantly different than our current students are growing up to. Now, student can get on Wikipedia and they can look 20 IQ points smarter than they may really be. As a business, how do you think that affects what you look for in the education of a person?
John: Again, I think I’ve had the benefit over the past couple of years to spend a lot of time with the educators and professors in universities that are forming Pedagogy and forming curriculum. I would say is that, you know, things probably have changed from you and I were children. But I think things probably are changing for the better.
Kids regurgitating information out of Wikipedia, that’s not really true measure of intelligence. The intelligence comes from the problem solving, the things that they are… challenges that they’re faced with. And from there, with the problem solving that they can gain, then they can do anything. Then they’re able to do great on tests. When I was a kid, I did great in Geometry. And everybody always said, “Why you need to know math?” And I said, well you know, it’s not about what the actual theorems of Geometry that you’re going to apply every day. But you’re always going to say, “If this, then that”, which is the basis of Geometry. And as long as you can have that “If this, then that” strategy and philosophy, you can problem solve anything.
Steve: I think I would have to agree with that, but I’m biased. I’m a Physicist, so I like the mathematical approach to thinking. But I’d like to dive in to the heart of what we look at in this podcast which is: What is the purpose of an education? And you have a unique perspective as a businessman selling in to education, but also receiving the products of our educational system in a company. You know, hiring new faces and asking them to meet certain needs that you have at ‘AFINIA’. So, as you look at education and from your perspective, what is the purpose of an education?
John: It prepares kids to be adults, to give them the tools that they can have a career or whatever they chose to be in life. But, it really is the building blocks for children to have the skills and the abilities to have a career.
Steve: So, if the metric for education is to prepare students for adulthood, for the future, things that are near to our heart, the ‘Maker Movement’. How do you feel that that feeds into that end goal?
John: Well, ‘Maker Movement’ itself is all about problem solving and taking a look at what you have available to you and to make a solution out of it; or to make something, improve something, make something better, or make some innovation that wasn’t there before. Some of the greatest innovators that we’ve had, I would call the start of the ‘Maker Movement’ wasn’t recent. It was back many, many years ago, but one of the greatest makers that I know of is Benjamin Franklin. Benjamin Franklin, he never patented any of his designs, with bifocals, or with the lightning rod, stuff with all the work he did with the batteries and electricity. All of that stuff he thought that was necessary to have his public domain and to share those ideas with everybody so that everybody could learn and improve upon them. And I love that inventor’s mentality of taking a look at something that might already be there, making an improvement on, or something that has been never been there and inventing it all together.
Steve: So do you think that making is a part of the DNA maybe of our country, the United States?
John: Absolutely! Most of the people that made this country successful were makers, people that came up with innovation, a new idea, a new approach, a new strategy, a new philosophy. Trying to give the opportunities to children to do that and open those doors for them in their minds of how they can themselves become innovators I think is an extremely important thing.
Steve: So, you make things?
John: You know what; I have started making things, absolutely. I have started using some of the… you know, I’m not an engineer but I’m a curious person and an excited person. The last couple of years of dealing with 3D printing and in with education specifically have been the best time of my life. I would trade it for the previous 19 years of my career just to have this last 2 years. It’s been really exciting time dealing with a lot of educators. But yeah, I have started doing a little bit of stuff and trying to teach myself stuff every day. The beauty of that is, is that you can go online like YouTube. You can teach yourself in YouTube for hours and hours and hours and gain skills that you can build upon.
Steve: So, how does it feel to make something?
John: It’s awesome! It’s absolutely awesome! And I think that when you talk about making something and how it makes you feel. You feel great and the pride that you have when you do that. I think that’s really true for students that are at risk. I’ve got a story about an at risk student from a vocational high school in Mississippi. He’s really like, getting into 3D design and really engaged in school because of that. He had a model that he had ready and prepared to print, and the school had a very expensive 3D printer with very expensive filament for this 3D printer. The budget for the school didn’t allow them to have filament at the time when the kid wanted to print his object.
So here’s this kid that has been… a challenging kid… and then, now he’s really getting into this. He’s got this model wants to print because he wants to his mom; he wants to show his friends, he wants to put it to his locker. He goes to the teacher and says, “Hey, can I print this now?” and the teacher has to tell him, “No, I’m sorry. We don’t have that capability right now, maybe next time.” And so you have this kid that has went from a very low level to a very high level of excitement that he’s all of a sudden shut back down to a low level. Now he’s at risk again for other things.
Having the opportunity to have a low cost 3D printing in the classroom with a low cost of ownership gives opportunities for all sorts of kids to be able to do all sorts things to make. So, if that kid had that opportunity to take that object home and to put it on his bookshelf, or put it in his dresser, or put it in his locker, or show his friends, show his parents, how much more pride would he have and how much more drive would that create for him to make the next thing and make the next thing and make the next thing. And each of those things that he makes is a little bit better than last. The beautiful thing about 3D printing is you can do what’s called fast to fail. You want to be able to… as you are coming up with innovation, the first time you do it is probably not going to work. You want to get to that point as quickly as you can so that you can take what you’ve learned from that failure and start to make it into the solution. And so 3D printing gives you those opportunities.
Steve: So, sounds like you are really getting into… being into this movement, that it feels really good that you guys are really enjoying yourselves over ‘AFINIA’.
John: Absolutely. It’s from dealing with people like yourself and the other people, they get really pushing into this ‘Maker Movement’ that it have shown real effects with children, that we’ve been able to see and we’ve been able to be involved with. That’s made us feel really good.
Steve: Well John, I don’t want to keep for too much longer. Do you have any final thoughts on education or the ‘Maker Movement’ before we wrap this up?
John: You know, I think we’ve talked a lot about the ‘Maker Movement’ itself, but it’s not just about 3D printing. 3D printing is only a small part of the ‘Maker Movement’ which I think is… All the other things that are involved with it in regards to using the paper stock, card stock, stuff that companies like Table Vision is working on, and other pedagogy leaders like Sylvia Martinez, Eric Sheninger, and Dr. David Thornburg and his wife Norma. All the work that… (Inaudible)… how that fits together and how much it’s fun just to follow along and be a part of that. So, those are my final thoughts in it.
John: So, ‘AFINIA’, it’s easy, just go to afinia.com. They have an educator’s page on their website. We’re also on twitter and Facebook. You can follow us on those areas. We’re in the office as well. We’re always kind of surprised so that teachers can actually call and talk to us, our phone number’s 888-215-3966. We love to speak to educators. So thank you.
Steve: For our listeners, thank you for joining us on the Table Top Inventing podcast where we interview inventors, educators, and entrepreneurs, to better understand: What is the purpose of an education. You can find us on the web at www.ttinvent.com, that’s tabletopinventing.com or ttinvent.com, and thank you for joining today.