Becoming a 3D modeler from scratch and creating a hexabot

Engineering & Product designFront Page Display

May 13

Dennis Ayotte is a data center specialist, who just picked up a new hobby: 3D printing. He achieved more in weeks with Shapr3D than in years with other tools. Read his story on how he plans to become a 3D modeler and how Shapr3D helps him on this journey.

Dennis Ayotte is a data center specialist, who recently picked up a new hobby, 3D printing. He started a blog, a Youtube channel, and after he printed out his own 3D printer, he is now looking forward to building a Rubik’s Cube solving robot. He showed up in our forum a couple of weeks ago and he quickly became an active member.

He is a good example of one of our most common user types. The ones, who want to do serious modeling, but the current solutions are just overwhelmingly ineffective, need a lot of initial investment and difficult to learn.

This customer segment has been struggling to get along with 3D modeling and 3D printing. So they are on a constant look for an easy-to-use, but still professional app. This is in fact how Dennis himself found us, Shapr3D. We grabbed the chance to speak with him about his background and his future plans.

robotics project 3d model

Origins & Background

Can you tell us about your background?

My background is very diverse – you might say – as I have changed careers multiple times over the last 30 years. However, I have always had an interest in design and engineering. It started with remodeling and building homes including the electrical, plumbing and HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning). In all my positions I had to work with blueprints.

Later I moved from construction to industrial welding, where I would build things from blueprints. It could be entire buildings, railings, holding tanks and many other things made from steel. During my time as a welder, I was introduced to CNC machines and machining. Still, after 10 years in this field, it still didn’t satisfy my need for engineering work. I decided to follow my childhood passion for computers.My occupation today is a small business owner designing and managing data centers for large companies. I have worked in all areas of this industry for many large companies managing their environments and even designing some of them.

Today, I am contracting to the State of MA (Massachusetts), I’ve redesigned one of their small data centers and manage all the equipment in it. My education is only the completion of High School with a diploma. I attempted college in my adult years but quit after almost 1 full year. I wasn’t learning anything that I wanted and I found it a waste of money for me.

I’m best suited as a self-learner from books, videos, and hands-on experience. I have an occasional class on a specific software within the computer industry, but no real formal training of any kind.


How experienced are you in 3D/using a CAD system?

My relation to the 3D modeling world is only as a hobbyist at this point. I have no formal training in this at all and just getting started. I took interest in 3D modeling after buying my first 3D printer about 3 years ago, a Makerbot Replicator 2. It was mostly used to print designs from others, but occasionally I would attempt to modify a design.

I gave Solidworks, Sketchup, Autodesk 123D and Autodesk Inventor a try. I liked Solidworks and Autodesk Inventor the most as solid modeling is what drew my interest. Solidworks, unfortunately, was far too expensive for someone like me, who is just a hobbyist. Due to having a College email address at the time, I was able to get involved with Autodesk as a student and got the software at no charge. As time went on, I lost interest. Mostly because of how difficult it was to use the software without any training or experience. I decided to sell my 3D printer and give up on the idea.

A couple years went by and I decided that I would give it a go again and purchased a Makerbot Replicator+ (October 3, 2016). This led me back to choosing a 3d modeling software again. While exploring options I found some models to print from to get me started with the printer side of things. Eventually, I found a model called Snappy RepRap. This was a 3D printed 3D printer. What intrigued me was that it was a large model with many moving parts as well as electronics. So I spend 300+ hours printing it.

Once it was assembled and running I found that I couldn’t keep the extruder from slipping and clogging. So I went online downloaded the freely available source files for the printer and decided that I would redesign the printer to take a different type of extruder that would fit my needs.

Once I did, I found that the parts were modeled in openSCAD, however, this is a program I am unfamiliar with. I spent 2-3 weeks attempting to figure it out and couldn’t. I posted online asking for assistance and didn’t’ receive any reply over the course of a couple weeks or more.

Extruder Tray 3 in Shapr3D

How did you discover Shapr3D?

I discovered Shapr3D by accident, really. During my attempts to use openSCAD I had other issues going on that made things more difficult. I was a Windows user, then switched to Linux, but there aren’t that many CAD programs designed to it. This made me switch to Apple OSX, and all the solutions it gave to me.During this switch, I had planned to go back to Autodesk 123D as that is a piece of software I am familiar with, but that is no longer available.

I then discovered Autodesk Fusion 360 and once I got all setup I kept playing with it for close to 2 weeks – with very little success. This is when I had purchased an iPad Pro for my girlfriend for Christmas and started to search for drawing apps with the Apple Pencil.

During my research I found a video on Shapr3D, I watched it and several others. This intrigued me to the point I installed the app on her iPad Pro and gave it a try. I found that I could create simple designs within minutes of downloading the app.

A couple days went by and I decided this was the way for me to go.I went out and purchased a 12.9” iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil. I downloaded Shapr3D and started working on my modified Extruder plate. I got about 80% on Shapr3D but was having issues with the joining system of my part, as it had to join the original creator’s parts. I actually gave up for about a week. During that time I watched videos on Shapr3D and Fusion 360. I finally started to model the part in Fusion 360 to try and figure out the joints and was able to get it to, where I believed it would function as designed. I exported the design from Fusion 360 and imported into Shapr3D. This allowed me to finish the design on the iPad Pro. I printed the design and test fitted things.

It took me 14 revisions to get it to where it is today. The part I designed solved the issues I was having and my 3D printed Printer now functions.

A couple days after posting the design on Thingiverse I received a request to modify my model to fit another type of extruder. I searched for technical specs of the extruder online and modeled it in about 4 hours and uploaded it to the requestor and the Shapr3D forums to share. This time I solely used Shapr3D for the modeling.

Extruder tray 3D model and 3D print

How does your normal work process look like with 3D modeling?

This is tough for me to answer as I really don’t have any workflow or a process at this time. For me, it is more like I see an issue with something such as the extruder base I modeled and I just dive in and work through it.

However, Shapr3D has given me a clearer understanding of the process of sketches and then the modeling which is how I figured out how to use Fusion 360 and Shapr3D.When I first started I was using the software all wrong. I would just start creating shapes and extruding them and trying to make something. I watched the Shapr3D videos and tutorials and it became evident to me.

By sketching out the entire design at first and organizing my work in sections/groups makes modeling much easier. Once I figured this out thanks to Shapr3D, things became clear to me. It starts with an idea now, I will doodle it on paper or even on iPad with the Notes App. Then I will use Shapr3D to start working on the sketches and eventually the modeling. I expect that the more I use Shapr3D the more I will develop a proper workflow or at least one that works for me.

robotics project 3d print

Becoming a 3D modeler

What are your future plans with Shapr3D?

Currently, I am really new to 3D modeling and my goal at this time is to learn as much about the design process as possible. Right now I am experimenting with Shapr3D by finding things that I have an interest in and modifying them by recreating the design either entirely or just part of it.

This is essentially what I did with my very first part created with Shapr3D. The end goal would be to start modeling for a company or contracting my modeling services out once my skill set is where it needs to be.

My next project started last week. I set out to create a 3D model of a device that will solve a Rubik’s Cube. The idea was inspired by the Lego Mindstorms’s MindCuber and the Kitables Rubisolver. I am not fully sure of which design will influence me more, but right now the goal is to model, print and test it. The end goal is to come up with my own version that will hopefully be fully automated. This is a work in progress and has no ETA to completion at this time. This project is to help model and design a device that moves and incorporates a computer.

Do you read any industry related blogs? Are you part of any 3d modeling and printing communities?

I have been following Adafruit’s website for about 3 years now. This site is where I learned about 3D printing in the beginning and influenced me to buy my first 3D printer. They have many projects where 3D modeling and 3D printing are used.

I also read Shapeways blog from time to time to see what is going on. Since discovering Shapr3D I have become a member of the forums and have been actively reading many of the posts there. I also follow news and posts by Makerbot and frequent Thingiverse almost daily.

Is there anything you can’t do in Shapr3D now, but would love to in the future?

The only feature at this time that I find myself leaving Shapr3D for is rendering. Currently, after I model a part, I export it as an STL or STP and import it into Fusion 360 to render. If that feature existed within Shapr3D, I am not sure I would need Fusion 360. The only reason I could see needing Fusion 360 after that, is if I wanted to work on my larger screen, in which case I would export the design as an STP file and continue with the design on the MacBook Pro with Fusion 360. Then I would likely import it back into Shapr3D to finish the design if it wasn’t complete yet.

Advice for beginners

Which material helped you the most?

I don’t know if any specific one helped me the most. However, the first 2 videos posted on the Shapr3D YouTube channel are the ones that brought me to Shapr3D. Since then, I have watched all of the videos posted on the channel. I have also looked at some of the in-app tutorials and find them very helpful. I am enjoying the forums probably the most as I am seeing how things are done by others and just learning more and more about the app and 3D modeling in general.

Who would you recommend Shapr3D to?

In short, everyone who is looking to model in 3D. But I think it’s very good for those who are new to 3D modeling. There are many reasons for this. The first thing to consider is the entry price, vs the entry price of many of the Programs with same abilities. Many of the free modeling software that are available are cloud based and require a browser that supports them and an internet connection. This gives you a limited ability if you wanted to model while being mobile. With Shapr3D you do not need an internet connection to model, you can just use it as long as you have an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. Many of the paid software have hefty computing requirements as far as CPU, RAM, and Video Card. This makes the cost of modeling skyrocket in many cases. For instance, when I first tried modeling I found Solidworks and had to basically build a $5000 system to keep up with it. With Shapr3D I got started for less than $700 for both the iPad Pro 12.9 and the Apple Pencil. There are many great deals on iPad Pros on eBay. So cost to start is much easier to take in.

Modeling with the Apple Pencil is more like drawing or drafting on paper. This seems natural to me, trying to draw with a mouse and keyboard is overly complex by comparison. Modeling is also very rewarding when you can bring an idea to life, but it can be very damaging too if you have difficulties trying to complete a model.

Many software programs have caused me to walk away due to how difficult they are to use. Shapr3D just feels natural in the way it is used with the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. The in-app tutorials are extremely helpful too. Everything is right at your fingertips.

You can follow Dennis’s development on the following links:

YouTube Channel:

Shapr3D forum: