Help! Maker Project Chaos

I need help! My maker projects are in chaos. Three years of designing, making and sharing 3D designs and makered projects have left my computer files and basement workshop in a mess.

I’ve always been a packrat (collector?). When I first started building computers and working in TechEd, having the right cable or spare part was important. Never throw away a functioning part because it might come in handy. As a maker, every piece of scrap and broken machine looks like raw material for future projects. The result is boxes and bins filled with enough junk to recreate the trash compactor scene in Star Wars.

Digital fabrication projects are even worse with files strewn across multiple devices, applications, folders and cloud storage platform. I recently started working with Lightroom to organize photos and realized how nice it would be to have a way to wrangle digital fabrication project files in a centralized way. I need to be able to find all assets related to a project in order to document or remix a model. I also need to teach students how to create portfolios of their maker projects.

I’ve been researching tools to help bring some order to my maker files. The diverse filetypes are challenging. Below are the many assets associated with one of my typical 3D projects.

Idea: I have lots of ideas for projects that pop in my head. If I’m lucky I will write on a scrap of paper, put in a IOS Note or OneNote notebook, or write in a paper notebook (Field Notes). Rarely ends up documented.

Sketch: A quick design sketch usually on an index card, scrap of paper or in a notebook. Rarely makes it into digital format.

Links: A 3D project usually involves a search on Thingiverse to see what is already available. Usually just keep browser tabs open with relevant websites up.

Source images: A search on google images, wikimedia and are great starting point. These images end up unsorted in my download folder. The info option on my Mac can show where I found the image. Sometimes these are screenshots 

Converted SVG: Often need to convert the source image to a SVG and frequently use online converter. SVG ends up unsorted in download folder.

Edited SVGs: The converted SVG is edited in Illustrator or Inkscape and usually involves creating multiple SVG files and variations. These usually end up on my desktop.

Tinkercad Model (link & account): SVG files are imported into Tinkercad to create a 3D model. Usually a single Tinkercad file but sometimes create duplicate for variations. File name, link and/or account info isn’t recorded locally. Can be a problem when working on STEM camp projects as model may be a different account.

Screenshots: Anywhere in the design or making process, I may take a screenshot to document a step. PNG file on desktop.

STL file: Download an STL file from Tinkercad for 3D printing which ends up in the downloads folder. May or may not have a relevant name depending on if I renamed the Tinkercad file.

Repaired STL file: STL file may need repair work or supports added using NetFabb and/or Meshmixer. Repaired STL may end up on desktop or downloads folder.

Gcode file: Gcode file for the specific printer being used. File usually ends up an SD card or downloads folder.

Physical 3D print: Majority of my 3D models are actually printed. 3D prints for current projects are moved around the house. Models can be found on the workbench, in pockets, backpacks and usually end up piled together in various bins and boxes.

Physical print failures: Failed prints usually have a story to tell and can be found on the workbench. Usually end up in failed parts boxes for future projects/articles and as test materials for various post-processing techniques.

Iterations: Physical prints frequently highlight issues with the design and all of the above steps can have multiple iterations. Sometimes overwriting previous versions.

Photos: Photos of projects are stored on my phone/camera and accessed from there. Moved to computer once phone fills up where they mainly are stored in folders by year with all the other family photos.

Edited Photos: Photos are usually edited via app on phone and sent to whatever device I am using. Results in duplicate copy of photo in download folder or on desktop.

Video: Recently experimenting with video but don’t have typical workflow yet. So various video files and edits on various apps. YouTube is probably default location.

Thingiverse file: Publishing model is usually done via Thingiverse which requires uploading STL file and photos along with writing a description & adding metadata such as category, tags, files remixed from, print setting, etc. Written information currently stays on Thingiverse with no local record.

WordPress Blog post: Project write ups including photos are published to a blog with no local backup of content.

Social Media: Each of the above steps might be documented at various points on social media. Mainly Instagram and Twitter. No local storage of these microblogs, journaling type posts.

If you have ideas or links that might be helpful to bring order to my maker projects, please leave a comment or contact me on Twitter @DesignMakeTeach. I would love to learn how you keep your maker projects organized.