Making a Difference for Assistive Technology

Kim was born without arms and legs, and needed to pick things up with her mouth. Zebreda needed a way to feed herself after her assisted living facility would no longer cover the expense of a helper, while Shari needed a way to transfer herself from a wheelchair.

Every person with a disability has a unique experience, and no solution fits all. That’s where TOM comes in.

Tikkun Olam Makers is an Israel-based nonprofit whose name means “repairing the world.” TOM brings together “need-knowers” like Kim or Zebreda with experts like mechanical engineers or exoskeleton scientists. Over the course of 72 hours, the teams solve real problems that the need-knowers experience in their daily lives.

MakerBot was inspired and honored to be part of TOM’s fourth and most recent such event in San Francisco last month, where more than 120 people came together at TechShop to form 18 teams and solve 18 problems. TOM partnered with and United Cerebral Palsy of North Bay, which identified the need-knowers, while tools and support were provided by MakerBot, TechShop, and others.

With the need-knower to test and identify pain points, and so many tools available, teams were able to iterate quickly. Many tried out several failed concepts before they landed on a viable solution.

For example, Shari is able to pull but not push, so many designs that would work for other wheelchair transfers didn’t work for her. And with Kim, one prototype for a grasping device put too much strain on her neck; another felt uncomfortable in her mouth.

If one team needed the skills of another team’s experts, TOM would connect them to collaborate. That way, the teams could arrive at as many solutions as possible by the end of 72 hours.

TOM recognizes that there is a cost to not integrating the disabled population into society. The solutions explored at the TOM Makeathon began with one person’s challenge but many will apply to others. About 15% of the world population, or one billion people, live with a disability, according to the World Health Organization. In the end, though, helping even one person to live better is a victory.

As one of the need-knowers told us, “I wake up every morning, and I can guarantee myself that I’m gonna have obstacles… it’s the little things during those days that can help make those challenges a little easier — that makes the biggest difference.”

All but one of the teams used a MakerBot Replicator during the 72-hour makeathon. The many 3D printable solutions are shared on Thingiverse and can be scaled or modified to help another person with a similar challenge somewhere else in the world.

Have great ideas about how you can make someone’s life a little easier? Check out our latest Thingiverse Challenge to design something great for a fellow human.

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Five 3D Printers for Five Schools


This summer, we asked Thingiverse users to put on their thinking caps for five Summer STEAM Challenges, which called for 3D printable designs in science, technology, engineering, art, and math. At the same time, schools across the country made their cases for why their school needed a 3D printer.

The STEAM challenge winners each received a MakerBot Replicator Desktop 3D Printer of their own, plus the chance to give one to a participating school.

These five deserving schools have big plans for their 3D printers, and we’re so excited to see what they make.

1. The Make it Float challenge winner, David Choi, sent a MakerBot Replicator to Lincoln Park High School, in Chicago, IL. Lincoln Park piloted a 3D printing and physical computing program in which students train to teach others, and this year, they’re going to roll out the curriculum to 1500 students.

2. Citrus Hills Intermediate School in Corona, CA, was chosen by the Light it Up challenge winner, German mechanical engineering student Christoph Queck. The school has just welcomed technology teacher Leanne Edwards, who has a background in 3D modeling, and will use its MakerBot Replicator to supplement her curriculum in design, science, math, and history.

“This really allows students’ designs to come alive and their excitement to grow exponentially as they see their hard work come to fruition,” says Edwards.

3. Catch the Wind winner Mike Blakemore gave a MakerBot Replicator to Almaden County School in San Jose, CA. The middle school has been running successful 3D printing electives with a borrowed printer, and plans to use their new MakerBot Replicator to devote a whole 12-week period to 3D printing design and creation.

“More students will have a chance to create more than one iteration of a prototype, which is an especially important part of the design thinking model,” says Mary Beth Gay, the Director of Technology at Almaden County Schools.

4. See the World challenge winner Chris L. sent a MakerBot Replicator to the residential Illinois School for the Deaf, whose students plan to customize and 3D print cochlear implants and hearing aids with the help of their expert audiology, design, and IT staff.

5. Build a Castle winner Will Webber chose Georgia Connections Academy, a virtual charter school that wants to build a mobile 3D printing lab to travel around the Peach State and bring hands-on STEM experiences to their community of 4,000 students.

Nearly 90 schools entered for a chance to receive a 3D printer, and the recipients were chosen from this list of 10 finalists.

Thanks to all who participated, and congratulations to the winning designers and schools.

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7 Life Skills You Can Teach with a 3D Printer


Learning traditional subjects with 3D printing teaches students practical lessons, like modeling in 3D design software, but it also helps kids develop crucial life skills.

As Randy Asher, the Brooklyn Technical High School principal, says, “It’s not about teaching the tool, but about using the tool to teach.”

Brooklyn Tech, the largest high school for STEM subjects in the United States, incorporated six MakerBot Replicator Desktop 3D Printers into its curriculum in 2012. Now the school has over 20.

Asher knows that students with access to 3D printing learn how to create a 3D model, how to orient a print, and how to level the build plate. He knows this hands-on approach helps them gain a fuller, lasting grasp of science, technology, engineering, and math concepts.

He also knows that the skills a student needs to achieve success in school, work, and life go beyond the classroom, and that these skills can be gained through the use of 3D printing in the curriculum. Here’s our roundup of the top seven:

1. There are many ways to learn.
Students can learn about history, for example, from a book or a documentary, but a 3D printer transforms this topic into a tactile experience. Students can interact with 3D printed models in real time, stimulating their imagination and deepening their understanding.

Teacher Heather Calabro of Mid-Pacific Institute of Hawaii showcased this when she asked her ninth graders to pretend they were a person involved in World War II and had them design an artifact related to that historical figure. The artifacts came together to form what Calabro calls a “biographical timeline” that gave both students and visitors a different understanding of the past.

2. Think critically to solve problems.
Identifying pain points and then iterating until you find a working solution is a process taught across schools and disciplines. At the all-boys Browning School in New York, students use 3D printing to learn engineering concepts and design basics.

Jeremy Sambuca, the former director of academic technology at Browning, says:

We’re in a society where winning and being perfect is going to get you into a good college. And with engineering, those concepts are very difficult because your product is not always going to come out perfect. Allowing the boys to troubleshoot their way through it is making them better problem-solvers.

Hands-on practice in real time helps students become invested not just in learning the design process but in making it a habit that stretches beyond class assignments.

3. Resilience builds confidence. And confidence is important to succeed.
Going through multiple iterations of a design allows kids to fail early and often. Sambuca says that using 3D printers to learn the design process is “making [the students] more resilient. So that they can build confidence in themselves knowing that, hey, it’s OK to fail.”

3D printing helps students to see failure as an opportunity to persist and succeed. Empowered to control a project themselves, students necessarily form a sense of leadership, ownership, and pride. Check out how Browning uses MakerBot to empower their students.

4. Competition can be healthy.
Eighth graders at A. MacArthur Barr Middle School in Nanuet, NY, use 3D printing as part of their yearly CO2 drag race, led by technology teacher Vinny Garrison. Students create lightweight race cars, learning the principles of engineering and design — and the principle of healthy competition. They use their 3D printers to design faster moving wheels.

It’s a project the kids look forward to all year, and one they remember, says Garrison.
Check out how 3D printing gets kids across the finish line.

5. Collaboration is necessary.
Brooklyn Technical High School’s civil engineering club designed a hydroelectric dam that harvests kinetic energy from flowing water with a 3D printed turbine, then converts that energy into electricity. To accomplish this smoothly and successfully, they distributed tasks such as project leadership, design, and photography according to each student’s strengths.

6. Communicate clearly.
North Carolina fifth grade teacher Kelly Hines says her students learned communication skills just by having a 3D printer in their classroom, because they had to explain the printer to curious classroom visitors.

7. Have empathy for others.
The 3D printer also unearthed empathy and social awareness, Hines told teacher and author Vicki Davis. When her students saw the Robohand and other prosthetics, Hines says, they saw their MakerBot Replicator as a tool for becoming more aware of the needs of others, and learning how they could help.

Any lesson plan will teach math and science concepts. But when students have access to 3D printers, they can pick up skills they will use on the job and in life.

To teach your students life skills with 3D printing, try starting here.

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The Oregon Pint Runneth Over

Posted by on Wednesday, August 19, 2015 in Uncategorized

With roots in Portland, North Drinkware founders Nic Ramirez, Matt Capozzi, and Leigh Capozzi wanted to showcase the things that they — and most Oregonians — love about their state, specifically craft beer and lush mountains. Like all great ideas, their custom-made pint glass with a replica of Mount Hood in the base now seems obvious.

The Kickstarter community thought so too: North Drinkware’s Oregon Pint reached its $15,000 target in five hours and fifteen minutes, and the campaign went on to raise more than $500,000 by the time it closed in March 2015.

Kickstarter’s project rules call for “explicit demos of a working prototype.” So the North Drinkware team combined 3D technologies with the old-school craft of glassblowing to make a physical proof of concept.

They took 3D data of Mount Hood, the state’s highest peak, from the United States Geological Survey, and mocked up a digital model of it in the base of a pint glass that they had designed themselves. Then they 3D printed the completed glass design on a MakerBot Replicator to develop the plaster molds that shaped the first glasses.

“By using a MakerBot, we were able to do five iterations for almost nothing, versus, if we had made five graphite molds, it would have cost $20,000,” said Ramirez.

With overwhelming backing in place, North Drinkware needed to go into production on a scale much larger than anticipated. “We got to the point where we imagined we would be in five years in five days,” he said.

Scaling up quickly can uncover pain points in manufacturing, and North Drinkware needed to invent some processes as they went. For example, sometimes a glass needs to be ground at the lip after it’s been flame-polished. In this instance, the team designed a 3D printed fixture to hold the bottom of the glass and keep it level as it’s ground. One more flame polish, and that glass is ready to be shipped.

The first Kickstarter backers received their Oregon Pint glasses in May.

Aside from finding harmony between an age-old craft and emerging technologies, North Drinkware built a new kind of local operation with both handmade and manufactured elements. They also created six new jobs, giving back to the community in a way they hadn’t expected.

To get started, they say, “Kickstarter was the big accelerant. To get to the proof of concept, MakerBot was critical.”

And next? Eventually, they plan to offer glasses with a signature landmark in other states, including Washington, Vermont, California, and Colorado.

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A Hospital 3D Prints to Practice Medicine


A few days after my post about innovative patients using desktop 3D printing to help themselves and their loved ones, I visited Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, where I met Matt Batie, a clinical engineer and a true inspiration. Batie uses two MakerBot Replicator Z18s to prepare surgical teams for complex operations.

When I was there, he was working on a case involving a child who has a birthmark covering much of his torso. Many birthmarks need to be removed, since they can develop into skin cancer. To get rid of a large birthmark, a plastic surgeon will implant tissue expanders — basically medical-grade water balloons — under the child’s skin. Over the course of a few months, the balloons will fill with fluid and skin will grow and stretch over them. When enough healthy skin grows, the birthmark can be removed and the healthy skin can cover where it was.

To plan for this kind of operation, the surgical team will practice on 3D prints of the the torso (or whatever part of the body is affected), which Batie makes from a scan on the MakerBot Replicator Z18. Following instructions from the plastic surgeon, he will make a model that incorporates the fully ballooned expanders into the torso, then cover it with skin-like rubber just like Hollywood special-effects artists use. This way, surgeons can test whether they’ve found the best places to implant the expanders, and also the best places to cut when they’re ready to remove the birthmark. After trying out various approaches and choosing the best one, they can also generate a precise template that will guide their incisions during an operation.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital has used this technique already with five children, including a toddler named Lily, who had birthmarks on her face, head, and neck. Surgical planning on a 3D print can help surgeons reduce operating time and avoid errors — so it improves a child’s chances for success. Thomas Sitzman, the plastic surgeon who treated Lily, has said, “I think being able to model each individual patient’s surgery in advance is going to just bring us a tremendous step forward.”

Other hospitals are also using desktop 3D printers to plan delicate operations. In Louisville, Kosair Children’s Hospital made a 3D model of a 14-month-old boy’s heart before repairing a hole in it. “Once I had a model of this child’s heart, I knew almost exactly what I needed to do and how I could do it,” Dr. Erle Austin, III, said at the time. Houston Methodist Hospital printed a full-scale model of the brain of a 37-year-old man before removing a malignant tumor. Veterinary surgeons are also using MakerBot to generate models of patients and reduce operating time and risk.

After ten years in the 3D printing business, you can still meet amazing individuals who are using this technology in ways you never thought possible. And as Matt Batie and his colleagues at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital told me, “This is only the beginning.”

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Innovative Patients Help Themselves


A missed connecting flight in Chicago meant that the Arkansas leg of my 11-week, 22-state Listening Tour was unfortunately restricted to listening. I called in to a meeting with the EAST Initiative, which provides students with 3D printers and other technology to learn through projects that serve their communities.

And at the Innovation Hub, a makerspace in North Little Rock, I missed meeting Mike Kelley, a member who came by to use the MakerBot Replicator Z18 to take care of himself.

Kelley has a denegerative spinal disorder. He was at the Innovation Hub that morning to print a 3D model of his cervical spine, the section just below the neck. He started with a recent CT scan, which takes a lot of two-dimensional pictures, and found free software online that converts those slices into a 3D printable file. A network engineer at Cisco, Kelley had never used a 3D printer before, but he likes to make things in his shop at home, and he quickly got a handle on the MakerBot 3D Ecosystem and created a replica of his upper spine.

Kelley plans to bring the model of his spine to his next doctor’s appointment. In the meantime, friends can now see how his bones are worn down, and they seem to understand better that he’s hurting. “For a guy that will be 52 later this month, I think I’m very healthy,” says Kelley, who is a competitive weightlifter. “People don’t realize that sometimes I’m just sucking it up and getting through the day.”

The model also has helped Kelley come to grips with his own condition. He considers himself a visual person, and he had trouble deciphering the CT scan. 3D printing, he says, “brings back that mechanical approach to things.” Doctors have more practice reading CT scans, but 3D printed models are more clear, and can lead to better informed decisions.

Kelley is one of many people who have found their way to desktop 3D printing to manage their own medical problems or those of their loved ones. After 6-week-old Ari needed an emergency operation on her walnut-sized heart, her mother, Anne Garcia, started a nonprofit called OpHeart so that planning with 3D printed heart models becomes the standard for surgery on young children. When Michael Balzer’s wife needed a brain tumor removed, he printed a model of her skull and sent it to her surgeon, who was then able to perform a less invasive surgery. A Hodgkin’s patient printed out models of his tumor when it was discovered, and again after radiation and chemotherapy made it shrink. Researchers are modifying the MakerBot Replicator 2X Experimental 3D Printer to look into custom treatments, from administering the right amount of medication to replacing sections of windpipe. And of course there is Robohand, which began as a way to help one man and has grown into a global effort to provide low-cost prosthetics.

When it comes to 3D printing, doctors can get good ideas from patients, just as teachers can learn a lot from their students. Kelley says he told some doctor friends about his spine model, and they now want to know how he made it. Desktop 3D printing can make the worrisome world of medicine more concrete and accessible, and break down barriers between doctors and patients.

The same user-centered principle is behind the Bay Area Makeathon for Assistive Technology. We are proud to be the 3D printing partner for the event, which is hosted by TOM, UCP of the North Bay, and At the Makeathon, people with skills such as product design, coding, and 3D printing will be collaborating with people who understand the needs of people with disabilities, including the people with disabilities themselves. We invited Kelley to join us at the Bay Area Makeathon, and he will use his making skills — including perhaps his newfound knowledge of 3D printing — to help others.

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A Fixture on the Production Line

MakerBot CEO Jonathan Jaglom and productor Wilson Feliciano

MakerBot CEO Jonathan Jaglom and productor Wilson Feliciano

MakerBot has a 3D Ecosystem that helps others — engineers, designers, educators, students, hobbyists — to turn their ideas into reality. It includes software, materials, and support, but these elements of the MakerBot 3D Ecosystem all involve the 3D printers that we make in Brooklyn — now in a new factory, with double the manufacturing capacity.

A few days after we opened the factory, I spent a few hours on our production line, as part of the human ecosystem that is ramping up the factory to full capacity. I worked a station on the MakerBot Replicator 2X line, building what we call the Z stage: the motor, the threaded rod, the holder that heats the build plate. At the Z stage station, as at many work stations, the task of assembly involves a fixture to hold the parts in place. Fixtures can be machined, but 3D printed fixtures take less time and money to make than metal ones, and in many cases are just as good as metal. 3D printed fixtures allow us not only to create a repeatable manufacturing process, but to refine and improve the process as we go.

You might expect us to make our own fixtures on MakerBot Replicators, but we’re not alone. In Chicago a couple of weeks ago, on my 11-week, 22-state Listening Tour, I stopped by the Center for Lost Arts, monthlong pop-up community workshop, where the makers of the Beton Coffee Storage Vessel were making rewards for their backers on Kickstarter. They had 3D printed a fixture to shape the handle of the coffee scoop using the MakerBot Starter Lab at the Center for Lost Arts.

Beton is a two-person operation — Dan Cigler and Travis Koss — but the big boys do it, too. I went to see a multibillion-dollar manufacturer with a million-square-foot facility, and they make some fixtures on a MakerBot Replicator Z18.

The Z stage fixture back at our factory worked pretty well, but if I’d had any ideas, I could have shared them with our manufacturing engineers and, in a matter of hours, we could design and 3D print something new and see if it made things go more smoothly. And that’s not just because I’m the CEO: Any worker on the line can recommend an improvement to the workflow, which can be tested with a small investment of time and filament, and if it’s not right the first time, we can try again. The worker shapes a process he or she understands best; the line becomes more productive. Everybody wins.

Soon there will be customers who will have a MakerBot Replicator 2X that I helped to assemble, and it means a lot to be able to take pride in our products in this direct, physical way.

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Kids Make It Challenge Winners Announced

ThinkFun - Winners

This July, educational game maker ThinkFun partnered with MakerBot Thingiverse to sponsor a Kids Make It Challenge. The participants competed for the title of Master Maker as well as fun prizes.

The kids who made it have been announced: @bumbleflies, who built a toy fishing boat; @PlayEatGrow, who fashioned an alien friend with a propeller; @SkunksMonkey, who made a sweet penguin mobile; @AlissaApel, who souped up a Creativity Can; and @SalientTech, who created a working fishing pole.

Each Master Maker will receive a large spool of MakerBot PLA Filament or its equivalent in 3D printed products, plus a collection of ThinkFun games.

For the challenge, ThinkFun made its Maker Studio Construction Sets available for free on Thingiverse, so that anyone can download and 3D print the files from the Gear, Winches, and Propellers sets. Use the Maker Studio sets to build suggested projects, or to create something entirely from your imagination.

Congratulations to all the winners, and thanks to everyone who participated.

Didn’t get to enter this challenge? Keep your eyes peeled for more from ThinkFun and Thingiverse.

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The Coolest Way to Prototype

Posted by on Wednesday, July 29, 2015 in Uncategorized

Once upon a time, at the end of the 20th century, Ryan Grepper of Montana had a weed whacker but no yard. One day, he turned the weed whacker into a blender, and added it to a beverage cooler that he’d modified to play music.

These tinkerings became the very first version of the Coolest cooler, which raised $13.2 million in a Kickstarter campaign last summer — at the time a record sum — and started shipping to backers this month.

“The Coolest was basically my attempt to correct every shortcoming that I’ve ever experienced with any other cooler,” Grepper says. “Looking back, the last big innovation in coolers was wheels.”

It took a while for his vision to materialize.

Grepper and his wife moved to Portland and started a family. It took them a few years to make friends and get out of the house, and they discovered that their makeshift beach party — the cooler and the blender — had not aged well. As a product developer and early fan of MakerBot, Grepper knew that he could do better, and started to play around with a cooler that would make a family trip to the park nicer and easier. He prototyped battery connections and a blender lock, and, armed with the know-how and the tools, used his MakerBot Replicator to iterate as he went.

“That first one probably won’t work the way you imagined it, but that’s a chance to learn what else could be better and then go back and iterate,” he says.

In product development, Grepper uses 3D printing mostly to test for functionality. Does his hypothesis make sense in the real world? What can be refined? Prototyping helps him recognize pain points quickly.

“3D printers make it so easy. You can make a correction; you can print. You can test.”

Thirteen years after his first tinkerings, all the elements came together into what seemed like a solution for a lot of people. Grepper turned to Kickstarter, which “lets you get your idea directly in front of the people who are going to be using your idea,” he says. “They’re voting with their wallet, which is the most honest feedback you can get.”

Kickstarter’s rules say that “physical products must feature explicit demos of working prototypes.” Grepper did this for his first campaign, in late 2013. It didn’t quite make the goal of $125,000, but he did raise more than $100,000 in pledges. That plus encouragement from family, friends, and supporters inspired Grepper to refine and relaunch. And the second campaign was successful — raising a record $13.2 million.

Grepper then worked with an industrial design firm in Ohio to do a lot of rapid iteration on the final design, exchanging 3D printable .STL files over the Internet. “The portable party disguised as a cooler” incorporates music, food, drink, storage, and clean up.

On its journey from unused weed whacker and broken cooler to crowdfunded success, the Coolest is the story of a big need, an inspired idea, and the tools that made it happen.

“The promise of 3D printing,” says Grepper, “is that you can get your own Coolest idea out there.”

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A 3D Printer on the Desk of Every Engineer and Designer


At the center of the MakerBot Replicator Desktop 3D Printer — our best known product — is the word “desktop.” I now think a lot about the tops of desks, after a decade around industrial 3D printers. And I believe that the desk of every engineer and every designer needs a 3D printer on it. That’s true whether you work in a one-person studio or a Fortune 500 company.

Of course mass adoption would be great for MakerBot. But I firmly believe that a 3D printer on every engineer’s and designer’s desk is what every company needs, that being so close to a 3D printer makes a quantum difference in your ability to create and innovate, to make your best work.

Desktop isn’t just about size. As I headed last week to Chicago and up into Wisconsin to meet with GE Healthcare, S.C. Johnson & Son, and other customers on my Listening Tour, I got new insight into how engineers feel when they are making things and solving problems. One engineering manager told me he has noticed that engineers will try out riskier stuff — more daring concept models, multiple options — when they have a 3D printer on their own desk, ideas that they’d be too embarrassed or intimidated to send to the internal print service bureau, lest somebody see and judge them before the ideas have been worked through. “I have seen product development ideas that were not possible before, simply by having the printers sitting beside the engineers,” he said.

Back in New York, Mark Palmer, MakerBot’s director of industrial design, affirmed the engineer insight. Before MakerBot, Palmer worked for Motorola Solutions in New York. His “rapid prototyping” involved ordering 3D prints from Motorola’s internal prototyping labs, on site and in Florida. It wasn’t just the queue time and distances that added friction to the process, but the inevitable second-guessing by other designers, engineers, and business leaders who would see your prototypes in the lab, waiting to be picked up. Without proper context, an early prototype could be viewed as a failure, or it might be politically volatile.

Some prototypes need to be kept close to the chest until the time is right. Think of what you’d write in a notebook but not on a whiteboard, or on a whiteboard but not post on the company Intranet.

Prices can also affect how you prototype. Filament for a desktop 3D printer costs a lot less than materials for an industrial one — so much less that, for some companies that own a bigger 3D printer, the savings on materials alone will pay for a new MakerBot Replicator. Likewise, if you’ve ever ordered SLAs from a vendor, a desktop 3D printer can cost less than a couple of those. The relatively small cost of desktop 3D printing materials leads to more and bolder experimentation.

Then there are feedback loops, which are much quicker with a 3D printer on your desk. One engineer told a story about how he can look at a print that’s only half done and already see what needs more work. He hits cancel, reworks his 3D design file, and starts printing on his MakerBot Replicator again. More iterations, more refinement, means better solutions.

There will be skeptics, just as there were when the office computer was a mainframe that took up most of a room and the PC showed up. A 3D printer on every desktop isn’t some far-off dream. It can happen now.

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