3D Printed Oahu, Hawaii

Sometimes you see a design online and just have to 3D print it!

This is an amazing 3D topographic map of the Hawaiian island Oahu, and for anyone that’s been there you should be able to make out the airport, Pearl Harbour and Waikiki areas. Thanks to Eric Pavey who created this model and detailed the process of using a tool called Terrain2STL on his blog. It’s also available on Thingiverse. The detail is amazing!

For something a bit different, I wanted to do a two-tone print to separate the water and land. Using the Pause at Height feature in Cura, I was able to swap out filament after the first handful of layers, going from eSun white PLA, to eSun bamboo filament. I must admit, the pause feature didn’t quite work how I’d like it to on my Wanhao Duplicator i3 Plus, not actually pausing the print and allowing me to resume it again when I was ready, but I was able to time my prints and catch the feature in time to quickly do a swap during the 30 seconds or so that the Pause at Height feature ran. All it did was move the extruder to the home position and extruded a bunch of material, and then resumed automatically. I might need to create some better G-code for this next time.

However, I’m very pleased with the effect, especially when you move a light around the model!

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printing and COVID-19 in Data

Figure 2 Timeline

Following my previous post discussing some of the opportunities and challenges of using 3D printing to fill supply chain holes during COVID-19, I’m pleased to share the more detailed research I’ve been working on that supported my article in The Conversation.

Published here in an open access journal is an analysis of all 3D printing projects that were initiated during the first months of the pandemic. As a summary, the image above shows the timeline of these projects, and the types of products that were being produced. In total, 91 projects were documented in my research, with only 7 of these occurring before the World Health Organization (WHO) declaration of a pandemic on March 11. Most of these were based in Asia. The remaining 84 projects (92%) followed the declaration as the pandemic spread around the world and health systems rapidly struggled to meet the demand.

The figure above also shows that 60% of projects were for personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face shields and goggles, while 20% were for ventilator components, and a further 20% were for miscellaneous projects such as hands-free door openers.

200523 3D Print COVID-19 Data

Of the PPE projects, 62% were for face shields as shown above in the left chart. This includes the popular Prusa RC3 face shield pictured in my previous post, although the first documented face shield actually occurred on February 25 from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Obviously face shields are a relatively low risk product compared to components for a ventilators, and makers could easily 3D print these on desktop 3D printers.

The chart on the right above documents the types of 3D printing technologies used for each of the 91 projects. Perhaps it is no surprise that fused filament fabrication (FFF) was the most used, accounting for 62% of projects. Resin printing with stereolithography (SLA) or digital light processing (DLP) was the next most popular for 10% of projects, followed by multi jet fusion (MJF=9%), selective laser sintering (SLS=8%), continuous liquid interface production (CLIP=2%), and concrete was used in one project in China to 3D print concrete isolation houses for Xianning Central Hospital in Hubei. Interestingly, 8% of projects did not specify the 3D printing technology being utilised, suggesting that some projects lacked documentation or were reported by the media simply as “3D printing.”

While this review provides an overview of the broad trends related to the 3D printing of health and medical products during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing research is needed to continue monitoring 3D printed products throughout the pandemic to understand longitudinal trends. For example, does the initial hype from March subside and a more stable pattern of research and collaboration continue through April and the following months? Do projects consolidate and merge, with others ending as regulations tighten, or traditional supply chains stabilise?

It will also be necessary to analyse 3D printed products and validate them, particularly as the health crisis continues for months or even years. Initial 3D printing projects, while well intentioned, were largely unregulated and a reflexive response to direct and immediate needs. As supplies stabilise, and the infection curve flattens, more time and resources can be devoted to research, building upon the NIH 3D Print Exchange database of approved designs, perhaps developing an approved FDA or TGA database of designs as well as 3D print technologies and materials. These may be necessary for any future outbreaks of the virus, as well as allowing for better preparation for future health, humanitarian and natural disaster crises that may require a similarly rapid response to equipment shortages.

If you want to find more of the data and read the detailed analysis, please read the article here. Additionally, you can freely access all of the data I collected for this research, and continue building off it, by accessing it on Figshare. I hope it is useful for building our understanding of how 3D printing can be deployed during a health crisis.

– Posted by James Novak

Millions of products have been 3D printed for the coronavirus pandemic – but they bring risks

Header Image High Res

** Please note: this is a copy of an article I wrote for The Conversation, published on 5th May, 2020, and is shared under a CC-BY-ND license. You can access the original article by clicking here.**

With the COVID-19 pandemic, an urgent need has risen worldwide for specialised health and medical products. In a scramble to meet demand, “makers” in Australia and internationally have turned to 3D printing to address shortfalls.

These days 3D printers aren’t uncommon. In 2016, an estimated 3% of Australian households owned one – not to mention those available in schools, universities, libraries, community makerspaces and businesses.

3DEC Lab

A collection of desktop 3D printers in the Deakin University 3DEC lab. James Novak

Across Europe and the United States, access to essential personal protective equipment (PPE) remains a concern, with nearly half of all doctors in the UK reportedly forced to source their own PPE.

In Australia, reports from March and early April showed hospital staff reusing PPE, and health-care workers sourcing PPE at hardware stores due to shortages.

The global supply chain for these vital products has been disrupted by widespread lockdowns and reduced travel. Now, 3D printing is proving more nimble and adaptable manufacturing methods. Unfortunately, it’s also less suited for producing large numbers of items, and there are unanswered questions about safety and quality control.

Sharing is caring

One of the earliest examples of 3D printing being used for pandemic-related purposes is from mid-February. One Chinese manufacturer made 3D-printed protective goggles for medics in Wuhan. With 50 3D printers working around the clock, they were producing about 300 pairs daily.

Designers, engineers, students, manufacturers, doctors and charities have used 3D printing to produce a variety of products including face shields, masks, ventilator components, hands-free door openers and nasal swabs.

Many designs are freely shared online through platforms such as the NIH 3D Print Exchange. This US-based 3D printing community recently partnered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs, to assist with validating designs uploaded by the community. So far, 18 3D-printable products have been approved for clinical use (although this is not the same as FDA approval).

Such online platforms allow makers around the world not only to print products based on uploaded designs, but also to propose improvements and share them with others.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

In a public health crisis of COVID-19’s magnitude, you may think having any PPE or medical equipment is better than none.

However, Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) – our regulatory body for medical products – has not yet endorsed specific 3D-printed products for emergency use during COVID-19. Applications for this can be made by manufacturers registered with the TGA.

However, the TGA is providing guidelines which designers, engineers and manufacturers are working with. For example, Australian group COVID SOS aims to respond to direct requests by frontline medical workers for equipment they or their hospital need. So, local designers and manufacturers are directly connected to those in need.

3D printing provides a means to manufacture unique and specialised products on demand, in a process known as “distributed manufacturing”.

Unfortunately, compared with mass production methods, 3D printing is extremely slow. Certain types of 3D-printed face shields and masks take more than an hour to print on a standard desktop 3D printer. In comparison, the process of “injection moudling” in factory mass production takes mere seconds.

That said, 3D printing is flexible. Makers can print depending on what’s needed in their community. It also allows designers to improve over time and products can get better with each update. The popular Prusa face shield developed in the Czech Republic has already been 3D printed more than 100,000 times. It’s now on its third iteration, which is twice as fast to print as the previous version.

Prusa RC3 Face Shield

A Prusa RC3 face shield 3D printed on a desktop 3D printer. James Novak

Opportunity vs risk

But despite the good intent behind most 3D printing, there are complications.

Do these opportunities outweigh the risks of unregulated, untested product used for critical health care situations? For instance, if the SARS-CoV-2 virus can survive two to three days on plastic surfaces, it’s theoretically possible for an infected maker to transfer the virus to someone else via a 3D-printed product.

Medical products must be sterilised, but who will ensure this is done if traditional supply chains are bypassed? Also, some of the common materials makers use to 3D print, such as PLA, aren’t durable enough to withstand the high heat and chemicals used for sterilisation.

And if 3D-printed products are donated to hospitals in large batches, identifying and treating different materials accordingly would be challenging.

For my research, I’ve been tracking 3D-printed products produced for the pandemic. In a soon-to-be-published study, I identify 34 different designs for face shields shared online prior to April 1. So, how do medical practitioners know which design to trust?

If a patient or worker is injured while wearing one, or becomes infected with COVID-19, who is responsible? The original designer? The person who printed the product? The website hosting the design?

These complex issues will likely take years to resolve with health regulators. And with this comes a chance for Australia – as a figurehead in 3D printing education – to lead the creation of validated, open source databases for emergency 3D printing.

– Posted by James Novak

Read more: Can 3D printing rebuild manufacturing in Australia?

Surviving COVID-19 with 3D Printed Toilet Paper

IMG_20200321_Covid 19 3D Toilet Paper

Most of us would agree that some of the events of the last couple of weeks have overshadowed the seriousness of COVID-19 (Coronavirus). In particular, the panic buying of toilet paper, which seemed to start here in Australia and spread like the Coronavirus itself around the globe, has been quite ridiculous to watch. While there is a serious side to this issue, it’s become one of those situations that you have to have a sense of humour about in order to get through.

In response, I thought it would be fun to start 3D printing toilet paper rolls (aka. loo rolls). What started as a single 3D model last week, quickly turned into a series of different toilet rolls that can all be downloaded for free and stockpiled to your heart’s content! Simply select your preferred 3D file platform to download: Thingiverse, Pinshape, Cults or MyMiniFactory.

Collect them all:

  1. Hotel Triangle: For a touch of class and those 5-star vibes.
  2. Hanging Square: Fully stocked and ready to go.
  3. Neat Perf: The clean-cut toilet roll.
  4. Half: Nervous times, time to print some more.
  5. Last Square: Oh dear….

IMG_20200316_3D Print Toilet Paper KeyringThey were all modelled in Solidworks at half the size of a regular roll of toilet paper. If you prefer a different size, just scale them up or down (i.e. scale 200% to be the same size as a real roll). Great to carry with you everywhere you go for any unexpected emergencies 😉

Divide them amongst your family members, share them with your neighbours, be generous and take a few spares to work – we’re all in this together during Coronavirus 2020.

– Posted by James Novak

 

3D Printed Sea Urchin Light

IMG_20200301_Sea Urchin Light

This project has been a little while in the making and it’s exciting to finally be writing about it. About a year ago I posted about 3D scanning some shells, and as part of the scanning I captured a sea urchin shell. At the time I didn’t know what I’d do with it, but fast forward a year and I’ve found a perfect application; turning the sea urchin shell into ceiling light covers in my house.

Sea Urchin GIFIn this post I’ll go over the main processes and experiments I went through to get the finished product, but in case you’re just here for the big finale, here’s the link so you can download the final Sea Urchin Light exclusively from my Pinshape account and 3D print as many as you like!

3D Scanning

ScanAs explained in further detail in my previous post, I used an EinScan Pro 2X Plus 3D scanner, which included a turntable to automatically capture all angles of the sea urchin shell. This resulted in a full-colour, highly detailed model of the shell, as shown to the right. However, as anyone familiar with 3D scanning will know, this model is just a skin with no thickness or solid geometry, and was just the starting point for the design process.

Design

If you don’t have access to expensive CAD programs, good news; this project was completely designed in free software! I’ve used Autodesk Meshmixer for many of my tutorials and posts, it’s a surprisingly powerful tool and a must for anyone involved in 3D printing. Additionally, it’s quite useful when you are working with 3D scan files, which are typically a mesh like a STL or OBJ. The process took a little time, but has been outlined in 6 basic steps below:

IMG_20200301_Sea Urchin Meshmixer Tutorial

  1. Fill any holes and errors in the 3D scanned sea urchin shell. In Meshmixer, this simply involves using the “Inspector” tool under the “Analysis” menu.
  2. Scale up the shell to the appropriate size, then use the “Extrusion” tool to thicken the skin into a solid shell. So that the shell would allow a lot of light through, I used a 0.7mm thickness for the overall design.
  3. I wanted to create an interesting pattern when the light was turned on, so separated several areas of a copy of the original mesh to be used to create thicker sections. This was a slow process of using the brush selection tool to remove areas, before repeating step 2 with slightly thicker geometry. For this design I ended up with 3 different thicknesses around the shell.
  4. To allow the light fitting within the shell, a larger opening was needed at the top. A cylinder was added from the “Meshmix” menu and placed in the centre.
  5. By selecting both the shell and the cylinder together, the “Boolean Difference” command became available, subtracting the cylinder section from the shell.
  6. Lastly, a neck section measured off the original light fitting was added. I cheated slightly and modelled this in Autodesk Fusion 360 (also free if you’re a student), but you could use Meshmixer – it would just take a bit longer to get accurate measurements. Then the separate parts are joined together using Boolean Union, and the design is finished.

3D Printing

As well as the new design needing to fit the geometry of the existing light fixture, it also needed to fit the build volume of the 3D printer – in this case a Prusa i3 MK3S. As you can see below, the shell is only slightly smaller in the X and Y dimensions than the build plate.

IMG_20200130_Shell on Prusa i3 MK3S

In terms of print settings, I stuck with some pretty typical settings for PLA, including a 0.2mm layer height. Support material is necessary with the light printed with the neck down – this is the best orientation in terms of ensuring the surfaces visible when standing below the light (remember, it is ceiling mounted) are the best. Where support material is removed is always going to be messy, and you wouldn’t want to have these surfaces being the most visible. Overall, this meant that each light took ~32 hours to print.

Material & Finishing

One of the steps that took a bit of experimentation was choosing the right material in order to look good when the light was both on and off. Each of these lights are the main, or only, sources of light in the spaces they are installed, so they need to provide a good amount of light.

IMG_20200218_Sea Urchin Light Materials

As shown above, 3 different materials/finishes were trialled. Initially I began with a Natural PLA from eSUN, which is a bit like frosted glass when printed. While this allowed all the light to escape and illuminate the room, most of the detail was difficult to see in both the on and off settings. It was just like a random glowing blob. I then tried pure white PLA, hoping that the print would be thin enough to allow a reasonable amount of light out. Unfortunately very little light escaped, however, the shadows from the different thicknesses looked excellent, and when the lights was off, it was very clear this was a sea urchin shell. Perhaps this would be a good option for a decorative lamp, but not so good for lighting a whole room.

So the “Goldilocks” solution ended up being in the middle – I 3D printed the shells in the translucent Natural PLA, and then very lightly spray painted the exterior with a matt white paint. Just enough to clearly see that it is a sea urchin shell when the light is off, and translucent enough to allow a lot of light out. Perhaps there is a material/colour of filament that would achieve this with needing to paint, but I didn’t want to have to buy rolls and rolls in order to find it. PETG would be interesting to try, and if you have any other suggestions, please leave them in the comments section.

The Result

IMG_20200219_143458 Dimensions CropTo the right are the dimensions of the ceiling light fixture within which the sea urchin light comfortably fits. The light itself is a standard B22 fitting, so the sea urchin can comfortably fit most standard interior lights. However, if you have a different sized fitting, or want to fit it over an existing lamp, you can easily scale the design up or down to suit your needs. I’ve already fitted one of the early small test prints over an old Ikea lamp, it just sits over the top of the existing frame. In total I’ve now installed 5 of the large ceiling light covers in my house, and am planning a new design to replace some of the others (my house is full of this terrible cheap fitting!).

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, I have made this design exclusively available on Pinshape – it’s just a few dollars to download the file, and then you can print as many as you like! If you 3D print one, please share a photo back onto Pinshape, I love seeing where my designs end up and what people do with them.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Model Aircraft Stand

IMG_20200121_3D Print Aircraft Stand

What good is a model aircraft if it’s stuck on the ground? Planes are made to be in the air!

Unfortunately in our recent interstate moves the stand for this model aircraft was lost. But as I’ve said many times on this blog, including the previous post, 3D printing to the rescue! Projects like this really tick all the boxes for me:

  1. From idea/need to the final solution can be done in a matter of hours.
  2. No need to spend a lot of money buying a replacement (if you can even find one). With 3D printing you can make your own for next to nothing.
  3. Bring the product back to life. While there was no need to throw this aircraft away now that it had no stand, some products are not so lucky. If you can replace a missing part, you can extend the use and enjoyment of it.
  4. Share it – chances are someone, somewhere, may be looking for exactly the same part. Just as I’m doing here, by sharing what you make, you might save one more product from going to landfill.

Having said that, you can freely download and edit this model aircraft stand from your favourite 3D printing platform: Thingiverse, Pinshape, Cults or MyMiniFactory.

It was designed in Autodesk Fusion 360, and features 2 pieces that print nice and flat, making them strong and durable. Fitting them together is tight, you may need to shave off a little plastic with a file or knife depending on your print quality, but this ensures that you won’t need any glue, and it should hold a good amount of weight without wobbling. The critical dimensions you may be interested in are the size of the stand tip that slots into the aircraft: It measures 6.0mm long (front to back direction of aircraft), 2.3mm wide (wing to wing direction), and 6.0mm tall as pictured below.

Tip Dimensions

If you need a different size, please feel free to make modifications to the files uploaded to the various 3D printing platforms, and then re-share them as a remix. I’m not an aircraft collector and don’t know how many different geometries there may be for stands, this was just the one we needed. Hopefully it is useful for someone else.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Flexible Lens Cover

IMG_20200113_3D Print Lens Cover

I’ve said it countless times before, and I’ll say it again – some of my favourite 3D printing projects are the ones which are quick, easy, and either add value to an existing product (e.g. see my 3D printed webcam mount or lucky bamboo holder), replace something broken or lost (e.g. my SUP paddle lock),  or in this case, something missing.

I recently bought an old pair of binoculars (or is it just a binocular?) from an antique store. They came in a pretty beaten up case, and were missing two of the protective lens covers, but overall worked nicely with lenses that weren’t scratched. The lens covers that did come with the binocular were cracking and didn’t really stay in place any more, so it was 3D printing to the rescue.

Planning to use some PolyFlex TPU95 filament from Polymaker to create a soft, rubber-like lens cover, I ended up designing the lens covers to be just slightly smaller than the measured diameter of each lens, 0.25mm smaller to be specific, with the intent of creating a secure friction fit, but not so tight they had to be stretched over the lenses. The design is very simple, a couple of extrudes in Fusion 360, before adding the circular pattern detail around the outside (which was not part of the original lens caps!) to add a personal touch. Now that they’re printed they remind me of beer bottle caps, but the intent was just something a bit rugged and easy to grip without spending a long time trying to be too clever in CAD.

These were 3D printed on a Wanaho Duplicator i3 Plus with an upgraded Flexion Extruder. What’s a Flexion Extruder? Well, you can read my whole series documenting early experiments trying to 3D print flexible materials here, but long story short, a Flexion Extruder is the ultimate upgrade for cheap desktop FDM machines that allows you to successfully and reliably 3D print with soft TPU materials. If you don’t have a Flexion, or a good quality system like the Prusa MK3S which has been designed to print a whole range of materials including TPU, chances are you will end up with a tangled mess of filament coming out the side of your extruder, or worse! They’re just too soft to be forced down into the hotend and come out of a tiny nozzle.

The other trick is getting the right settings to print with – you will find loads of different theories and recommendations online, 3D printing TPU is a bit of a dark art and there are many different types of flexible TPU that require different settings. So getting things right will take some time. This is a good general guide to follow, and I’d reiterate that you MUST print extremely slow – I used 20mm/s for the lens caps. Also, follow the recommendations from your filament supplier, this material from Polymaker was printed at 220°C with the build plate at 50°C. Seemed to be about perfect.

IMG_20200113_3D print flexible TPU

Above you can see just how flexible the end result is, the lens caps easily bend and squash without permanent deformation. If you’ve got any settings you’ve found are reliable, or just general tips and tricks for 3D printing TPU, please comment below to build up some resources for others to find.

Happy 3D printing.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Knits

191115 3D Print Knit

Did you know it’s possible to knit using a desktop 3D printer?

This has been some work I’ve been doing in the background for a little while now and combines all the benefits of digital design with craft-based hand assembly. OK, so you can’t print with soft yarn (yet), but by printing thin geometry you can create some relatively soft and flexible knits that are unlike the typical chainmail assemblies often used in 3D printed fashion/textiles.

The trick to this is to simplify the knit into individual pieces, which can be 3D printed flat on the build plate. This makes printing extremely fast, also known as a 2.5D print which I’ve written about in a previous blog post. While one of the benefits often discussed about 3D printing is the ability to produce complex assemblies as a single part, in the case of a knit, this will result in significant amounts of support material, and the need for quite bulky geometry to ensure the knit geometry is strong enough. However, by printing separate components, these problems are avoided, and you can have some fun manually connecting the loops together while you wait for the next print.

Additionally, the new opportunity of 3D printed knits is to create completely new patterns and geometries in CAD software. This has been the focus of my newly published paper called A Boolean Method to Model Knit Geometries with Conditional Logic for Additive Manufacturing (free to access). In it I detail how to set up an algorithm in Rhino with  Grasshopper that will allow customisation of loop and float structures for a knit, the sort shown in the top picture. If you have some experience with the software, you can follow the process outlined in the paper to set up a similar system, and begin modifying parameters and geometry to create completely new knits that would not be possible using traditional knitting techniques.

191115 Grasshopper 3D Knit

As shown above, the Grasshopper code gets quite complex so is not for the feint of heart, but if you understand boolean logic, and have used Grasshopper, I’m sure you can build this! And if not, have a go at modelling some knit geometry in your favourite CAD package and print it out – you can keep printing on repeat to extend the size of your “knitted” textile, this is how some of my early tests were done. If you start by modelling some rows of circles, then connect them together, this will get you close to a knit structure.

Happy 3D knitting.

– Posted by James Novak

Mannequin Head Remix

3D Print Mannequin Head

Close but no cigar.

Sometimes you find something close to what you want on Thingiverse, Pinshape or other 3D printing platforms, but it’s just not quite right. Well, there is often something you can do about it, and it won’t cost a cent.

I’ve written several tutorials about using free software Meshmixer to make various modifications, for example creating a mashup of 2 different files or adding some text to a design. On this occasion I found a 3D scan of a styrofoam mannequin head on Thingiverse, which included all of the messy details you’d expect from a foam model (smaller head in the image above right). Great if you’re after realism, but not great when you want nice smooth surfaces for 3D printing. The model was also not at the correct scale, and I wanted a mannequin head to use as a model.

The scale was an easy fix, and of course could be done in your slicing software.  Cleaning up the surfaces was also quite simple using the ‘Sculpt’ tool and choosing one of the smoothing brushes. This essentially irons out all the rough details, smoothing out the model as you brush over it. A few minutes of work and a rough model is now clean and ready for 3D printing – which of course I’ve uploaded as a remix on Thingiverse so you can download it for yourself.

The above left image shows the 3D printed result from a Creality CR-10 S5, a very cheap, very large FDM machine with a build volume measuring 500x500x500mm. Obviously my settings weren’t great, the seam is in the worst possible position, and because I wanted a quick result I used only a single wall thickness and almost no infill, which split apart at the top. However, it’s fine for my purposes, and the surface quality on most of the model is fantastic.

Happy smoothing!

– Posted by James Novak