What’s up with all the Snails?

I am Known as the Snail Guy

Often when I meet a new formling, the usual greeting is “oh, you’re the snail guy!”

My reputation precedes me.

Yes, I am known as the snail guy because I have 3D printed thousands of tiny plastic snails. Many times I have hidden them around the office. My desk is also littered in snail paraphernalia, 3D printed and otherwise.

After realizing that I am, indeed, the snail guy, I am asked, “so what’s up with all the snails?”

The story, it turns out, is not that exciting. At least that is my opinion of it. Others have told me that I am wrong. So I will repeat it here and you can decide for yourself.

The Origin Story

A very blurry photo at the Form 1 factory as we prepared to ship the first unit. This is before I had printed any snails.

Back in the long, long ago, shortly after we shipped the Form 1, I was working on developing material files to improve print success.

Allow me to break down that last sentence a bit. The Form 1 was formlabs’ first product. We launched it on Kickstarter, raising nearly $3M from backers. It was a revolutionary product at the time—the first desktop SLA 3D printer. It promised customers a significantly higher part quality than any other printer at a much lower price point with much better usability. For fabrication material, the printer uses liquid resins (acrylate-based photopolymers), curing (solidifying) it with a UV laser like one you would find in a Blu-ray player. A material file is used to tell the printer exactly how to solidify the material. The material file controls laser power, speed, wait time, motor motions, and a variety of other parameters. By tuning the material file, we can get the printer to produce better parts.

Early snails prepare for a war against the crabs. Articulated crab model by Brian Chan.

At this particular time, the printers were having trouble printing successfully across the entire build area. Parts printed near the edges were more successful than parts printed near the center. To run tests with varying material files, I wanted a part that is quick to print, is pretty small, and is not too difficult from a printing perspective. I would print many of these parts, in a 5 x 5 grid on the build platform. As it so happens, I had downloaded several animal 3D models the day before, and the snail fit the bill. Within a few days, I had several hundred little plastic snails. I wasn’t sure what to do with them, so they just collected on my desk. As I began to amass an army, the person at the desk next to mine put a 3D printed shore crab model at the edge to defend her desk from invading snails.

It Begins to Escalate

Soon people around the office began to think I had a problem. It was becoming a joke that I was an engineer here only so I could invent new ways to 3D print snails more efficiently. Why did I have all these snails? For a while I told people I was printing these snails as part of a large prank. After a co-worker smashed cake in my face at the Form 1 shipping celebration, featured on Netflix documentary Print the Legend, I was going to get my revenge by filling his bed with snails one night. That act of revenge never materialized, but it was a good enough story until I figured out what I was actually going to do with all the snails.

The Great Snail-Bunny War of 2014

A few bunnies appear in the snail garden.

At some point in the summer of 2014, I noticed that a few bunnies appeared in the snail garden. A few days later, I began to find more bunnies hidden around my desk and around the office in general. I was unaware who was putting these bunnies everywhere, and no one else could provide me with any valuable intelligence.

At last I had found a use for my massive snail army: mounting a large scale war against the invading bunnies.

Since I didn’t know who was responsible for all the bunnies, I had to start by removing enemy combatants from the battlefield. At first, they were put in a jail, but they multiplied like bunnies and the jail couldn’t contain them all.

The war got brutal. There were heavily losses on the side of the bunnies and very few snails lives were lost due to extremely aggressive tactics. After a couple of weeks the war ended. The bunnies disappeared. It was a decisive victory for the snails.

While I won the war, I may have lost a few friends in the process.

The Snail Enthusiast

After the Snail-Bunny War of 2014, my friends and co-workers began to become more comfortable with my snail obsession. For my birthday the next summer, a few of them made these delicious snail cinnamon rolls to share with the team.

As the years passed, I become known more and more as the snail enthusiast. Friends send me pictures of snails they happen across in everyday life. Occasionally, some snail item will show up at my desk, usually without any indication of who put it there.

So there you have it. The story of how I became a snail enthusiast. Fun fact: I don’t actually know that much about snails.


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