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October 2, 2014 AT 12:00 pm

Community Spotlight: Designer/Programmer Greg Zumwalt’s Automata & Mechanical Toys #3DThursday #3DPrinting

Perseverance, Motorized, by gzumwalt

An avionics designer/programmer (EFIS, FMS) and video game designer/programmer (A number of Tandy and EA titles including Tetris, Robocop, Predator, Michael Jordan in Flight), Greg Zumwalt arrived to 3D printing as a retiree looking to extend what he was doing with CNC mills and lathes for his woodworking projects.

Greg’s automata/mechanical toys benefit from his past experience, and his passion for the craft’s history. With each new project, he has taken the 3D printed approach to the craft further. He has a careers worth of experience discovering clever ways to squeeze more performance out of constrained resources, and continues to incorporate state-of-the-technology thinking in 3D printed mechanical design (findings from Disney Research another publicly shared resources) into projects that he shares back online on Thingiverse.

If you have only caught his work before when projects like his Marblevator were picked up by 3D printing news sites, then you have a number of treats in store, several favorites shared throughout the interview below!

Matt Griffin Interviews Designer/Programmer Greg Zumwalt

Hi! Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Greg Zumwalt, born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I’m now retired, 58 years old, happily married, and currently spend most of my time designing things I’ve always wanted to design but until now never had the time or opportunity to do so. At my age, when someone asks me to design something, be it software hardware or both, I am now fortunate enough that if find it interesting I will do it. Previously to my retirement, I was honored to participate in numerous projects that various companies asked me to develop, be it hardware, software or both. These included video games (37 total, including Robocop, Predator, Michael Jordan in Flight, Tetris, Packman, Microscopic Mission, etc., for Sega of America, Tandy Corporation, Nintendo of America, Broderbund, Electronic Arts, American Small Business Computers, and others), as well as designing aircraft and training software including EFIS (Electronic Flight Instrumentation System), FMS (Flight Management System), 6 axis hydraulic motion control systems, and high speed high density I/O (input output systems). If you search the web for “Greg Zumwalt” and “Tetris”, “Robocop”, etc. more details may be derived.

Pumpkin Walking by gzumwalt

What are your go-to machines? (Desktop printers, services, hand tools, etc!)

I use both Mac and Microsoft platforms for software and hardware development, but prefer the Mac. I currently print 3D designs on a Makerbot Replicator 2 using Sketchup 8 design software on the Mac. I also use Windows and an HP Laser Jet for PC board layout, as well as “old school tools” such as table saws, scroll saws, bed sanders, mortisers, hand drills, drill presses, CNC mill, CNC lathe, etc. for “fine tuning” mechanical designs as required. And for stress relief, I also design and build furniture.

And what software do you use to get your work done? (Design packages, CAM software, slicers, host software?)

My primary development environment for 3D printing is Sketchup 8 on the Mac. However, for whatever residual CNC programming and furniture design, I use Bobcad, which I don’t recommend.

Marblevator, by gzumwalt

What is one (or what are some) of your designs that you’d like for everyone to check out?

That’s hard to determine, but I would guess my current favorite design is Perseverance, Motorized, which few people liked by the way. Disney Research was instrumental in my design and to the software I wrote to create the gearing and cams that was of great challenge and interest to me. I like designs with gearing, cams, motors, etc., but have noticed that few Thingiverse users build things that required soldering, motors, etc., much to my dismay. I’ve created and manufactured such designs using my CNC mill and lathe, but found more freedom using a 3D printer since the time between design and final product is far, far less than using a CNC mill and/or lathe. The history of automata is one of my greatest interests (see Kissing Couple for example); to see how incredibly talented people in the 1600’s and later created such intricate mechanical artwork out of wood, by hand, with the simplest of hand tools, inspires me to recreate some of their intricate work in 3D printed form. Second of course would be the Marblevator!

What is a design challenges that you have faced (and perhaps or perhaps overcome) when creating your work?

Primarily regarding 3D printing; the tolerances between everyone’s printers, the colors they choose, their settings, etc. I always attempt to print my designs using Makerware “standard” settings in order to allow more people to successfully print the things I design. 3D printing is still in its infancy, so it’s very difficult to design things for a 3D printer that will print with all printers, colors, settings, etc. Standards here would greatly assist in bringing 3D printing to the masses.

PLA Spring Motor, Rolling Chassis, by gzumwalt

What challenge do you most look forward to tackling in the future?

Patience. I believe 3D printing will come around someday to the “Star Trek Replicator” style of printing, albeit many years away. In the mean time, school curriculum would be of great assistance in teaching up and coming engineers to design in accordance with current technology, understanding current technology tolerances and limits, while also being prepared for what technology is to come. My response is I volunteer for many schools in my area to provide technical assistance in 3D printing curricula, and hope others will do the same in their districts.

Any pointers for those just starting out with design and 3D printing?

Don’t give up. Start with a simple design tool (e.g. Sketchup 8), and do not hesitate to modify and expand upon what others have created, with attribution of course, and learn from their creations. 35 years ago when I began as an electrical engineer, I had a wonderful and inspirational opportunity as an apprentice to be assigned to follow a gentleman named Jim Wood. Instead of me schooling him on the “modern mathematics and techniques” of that era, I chose to be silent and listen to him with his many prior years of electrical engineering experience. To Jim, I will always say thanks a million for your patience with me and my almost infinite questions. He always firmly stated, and to which I agree “Don’t hesitate to fail, if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning”. As a result, I always invite everyone to question, modify and yearn to expand and improve my designs, as did he, by publishing the .skp files of my designs for those who wish to improve upon my limited by age experience. As with Jim, the up and comers could learn a lot from the size of my mistakes bin.

Thanks for the insightful interview, Greg!


You can check out dozens of other designs from Greg Zumwalt on Thingiverse here!

Marblevator “Mini”, Zigzag Edition Track by gzumwalt

Animated Picture Frame, Motorized Edition by gzumwalt


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