What does a 3D productivity and digital media technologist really do all day?

Tom Ranson of the University of Suffolk at the MENTA business show demonstrating a 3D printer

Tom Ranson of the University of Suffolk at the MENTA business show demonstrating a 3D printer - Credit: Archant

While some aspects of Tom Ranson’s job are very hi-tech, in some ways its just child’s play as we discovered when we spent a day in his life.

Tom Ranson has worked at University of Suffolk as a technologist within the department of science and technology for the last six years.

He is an Intel education ambassador, the only one in higher education in the whole of the UK. This involves encouraging the use of technology and project-based learning in education, and strengthening links between local schools and the University within STEM subjects.

“My original degree was digital film production, so I really enjoyed making the cameras work,” he explained. “I kept my love of technology and every time a new piece of tech came into the university, I would purposefully spend a few hours with it. Then when the lecturers came across it, I knew all about it and could help them. My boss saw that in me, and eventually I changed from intern to the full job title I have today.”

A typical day


Breakfast depends on what’s in the cupboards – if there’s no bread, then I steal my wife’s Weetos! I live just south of Colchester so it’s a bit of a commute into Ipswich every morning.

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I get to work. Quite frequently it can take ten hours to complete a 3D print, so I go around checking that anything that’s been printing overnight has printed perfectly and if it hasn’t, then I’ll put it back on. I answer a few emails and set myself up for the day.


Recently I’ve been doing a lot of work with the National Trust at Sutton Hoo, the site of two Anglo-Saxon cemeteries near Woodbridge. I take our laser scanners over there to scan the artefacts they have there. I also bring along finished 3D printed pieces because I want to show members of the public the sort of stuff we make.


At Sutton Hoo, I scan some of the ancient artefacts they’ve got behind glass, so primary school kids can play with the 3D print copies without damaging the original parts. Their curators are quite interested in me scanning the small artefacts and printing big copies of them, so they can really see all the detail on the surface.


I’m vegetarian, and fortunately in Suffolk there are some good restaurants for vegetarians so sometimes I’ll nip out to get something fresh for lunch. The university supports me so I’ve got a card I can get lunch with and claim the money back.


I come back to campus and set my laptop up again to process all of my scans. I check the printers because sometimes they fail mid-print and I get a spaghetti-load of plastic! I then have to clean it all and start it again.


The people who run the college are often bringing business leaders through my lab, which is a jewel in the crown for the university. During the day, I might have two or three businesses come through, ranging from a local start up making small pieces to BT or Cisco engineering. Recently we had a visit from Tech Mahindra from India who came to see what we were doing - they’re a massive multi-billion pound company.


I spend some time just ‘playing’ in the lab, because these are toys, ultimately. But I’m still trying to make sure that I look professional at any time in case businesspeople come through.


I might be helping out with some lecturers, because my original degree was in digital film production and a lot of the lecturers record some of the sessions they do. So at any point, I could be going off to a lecture theatre to set up a camera so a lecturer can record their lecture, then I convert it all down afterwards and upload it onto our internal server.


Our students can access the 3D printer too, so our architecture students might come and print their buildings. When it dies down, I make sure that whatever I’m printing overnight is going according to plan. I just pray that when I come in the next morning, what I have set to print hasn’t failed! Because if it fails, the printer doesn’t know that, so it just carries on printing. That can be quite frustrating. I finish work as soon as I can because my wife is expecting a baby – we’re 36 weeks, so super close! My phone is on loud now in case she rings.


My wife and I are big gamers so we will be at our games console in the evening, or watching one of the five Netflix series we’re currently watching. I’m also busy washing and folding baby clothes ready for the new arrival.

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