David Giles has been a member and volunteer at our MAKLab Glasgow studio since February 2015. David came to us after completing his second degree in Aeronautical Engineering looking to build up his rapid prototyping skills. When he's not helping us look after the Glasgow studio or lending us his fantastic 3D modelling skills, he likes to work on building space guns under the brand name Optimistic Geometry. We're huge fans of his projects, so we've asked him to write us a guest post to share some of his experience.

Fake Fantasy Firearms

I've been working on a replica prop from the Mass Effect game series for roughly a year now and for nine months of that I've been telling everyone it's nearly finished. As my first venture into prop making, I went in with a confidence born purely of ignorance. Of course, it didn't help that I decided to make it animatronic... and to replicate a weapon that broke the laws of physics.

Mass Effect M3 Predator Pistol - animation render courtesy of Optimistic Geometry

Mass Effect M3 Predator Pistol - animation render courtesy of Optimistic Geometry

Mass Effect is one of my favourite game series, I played it all throughout my university years when I probably should have been doing something more academically minded. A sci-fi epic, set in the not so distant future, as an engineer and space lover I found all the possible new technologies very exciting. In particular, the weapons in the game folded into a smaller shape for storage in a way that was just plausible enough to work. The thing about games though, is that objects can pass through each other, something I've had some trouble replicating in the real world.

It wasn't until I found MAKLab and discovered Fusion 360 that I had the chance to turn my replica prop idea into reality. Starting as what I thought was a simple idea, I quickly fell down the rabbit hole of bad design choices, from over engineering to failing to kill ideas. The first prototype was simply a proof of concept, a rough blocky object with all the basic ideas and none of the pretty detail. As a first venture into 3D printing using an Ultimaker, it was perhaps a bit ambitious and there were plenty of failed prints but it showed me the potential I needed to keep going.

The second prototype was going to be fully motorised until my friends convinced me I should maybe make it work properly before attempting the more complex design. I compromised on a spring-loaded version; enthusiasm has a way of blinding my practicality. Everything worked for the most part however it only came frustratingly close to meeting my expectations. At this stage, perfectionism was battling the slowly dawning realisation that design really is an iterative process.

After learning many lessons from earlier prototypes such as how metal doesn't play nice with plastic, machine tolerances are a real thing and friction is an unfortunate rule of the universe, I was ready to start my final prototype.  Completed with a motor, LEDs and full gears, this version contained everything I'd originally set out to do. But despite numerous changes, fixes and a healthy dose of lubricant, the mechanism still doesn't function the way I want.

The real value of this project, however, can't be measured solely by the success of its mechanism. After three prototypes and a lot of hard work, it has taught me some valuable lessons. Not simply practical skills such as 3D modelling and 3D printing, laser cutting and mathematical modelling of joints. But also the nuances of the design process, the patience it requires and how perfectionism can actually hinder progress. Perhaps the most valuable lesson has been how to fail. Fear of failure can be an incapacitating problem, one that can cost a lifetime of opportunities. Through experience and encouragement, I have learnt that my latest failure is simply a success on the previous attempt. Without MAKLab, I never would have learnt these important lessons, they are not taught in any school or university and yet they are almost essential for the working world.