3D Printed Outdoor Lights in PETG

It’s official – my entire house now uses 3D printed light covers!

If you follow this blog you may have seen some of my previous indoor light covers, featuring a 3D scanned sea urchin shell and a pineapple. Of course, I couldn’t stop with indoor lights, especially since the outdoor wall-mounted lights on my house looked like the cheapest fittings available. They were desperately in need of an upgrade.

Luckily the fitting includes a piece that is easily unscrewed to accommodate standard DIY light covers. A few simple measurements, including the diameter of the fitting and distance of the protruding light bulb, meant that I had everything needed to create my own design in CAD. For this one I decided to use Fusion 360, just to keep my skills up as I’ve done a few projects in Solidworks recently. The only other limitation was the size of the Prusa MK3S+ build volume (250 x 210 x 210mm), as I wanted the light cover to be 3D printable in a single piece.

Putting all of this information in Fusion 360 gave me a starting point, and of course I began experimenting with a few simple ideas. The one that stuck was this collection of lofts that twist in different directions. Not overly complex, just a clean design that is easy to clean (a complex lattice would just invite spiders!) and protects the lightbulb from sun/rain. Because these are mounted quite high on the walls, what I really wanted was a cool effect when you are looking directly up at the light from below – see the top right image.

Something else I experimented with for the first time with this design was 3D printing using PETG filament – specifically, PETG from eSun. Why? Mainly because PETG has good UV stability so should last while out in the elements and sunshine. But what I’ve really enjoyed is how easy it is to print with – no warping, good adhesion to the build platform and no smelly fumes while printing. Happy days! I actually used the default PETG settings in PrusaSlicer and they seem to be dialled in nicely (no surprises really, thanks Prusa). The material also has a translucency, so the light shade has a bit of a glow when the light is on as you can see in the photos. If you’re looking for more details about the material properties and slicing settings for PETG, this article is a good starting point.

And of course, I’m giving this design away for FREE! Download from your favourite 3D file marketplace: Thingiverse, Pinshape, Cults, MyMiniFactory or PrusaPrinters.

Happy 3D printing.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Toys with Moving Parts

My desk is covered with 3D prints, some of them my own designs, and others are just cool examples of what can be done with a home 3D printer. This is one of those examples.

Stian Ervik Wahlvaag (@agepbiz) has created a clever range of 3D printed vehicles known as “Tiny Surprise Eggs” – why? Well, because they fit within an egg of course! The unique feature of each toy (and egg) is that they feature moving parts printed in place, without the need for any support material. Once the toy is taken off the printer, it is ready to go. The example pictured above is “Surprise Egg #7 – Tiny Car Carrier” and all the vehicle wheels rotate, and the car carrier itself can raise and lower the ramps.

While I didn’t print the egg, I did scale these prints up 200% to have something a little bit more child-friendly. Unfortunately I enjoy them so much they have permanently stayed on my desk, but I promise I’ll print my son another set! The moving parts still work really well at this increased scale and provide some clever design tricks to ensure multiple parts can be printed as an assembly. As an example, above is a cross section through one of the cars showing how the wheels and axels are designed within the main body of the car. Some simple angled details mean that no support material is needed when printed in this orientation, yet from the outside the car just looks like it has normal cylindrical wheels. Great example of how to design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) as it’s known.

Following the vehicle carrier, I’ve also 3D printed “Surprise Egg # 6 – Tiny Jet Fighter” which features wings which fold out, again at 200% scale and with no support material. Both of these designs, as well as at least 8 more surprise egg vehicles, are free to download from Thingiverse, and highly recommended as a way to test your print settings (if there are any issues the moving parts may end up fused together), and learn a few of the tricks for designing assemblies for 3D printing.

If you print these yourself, or have any other recommended prints that include clever design details like moving parts, please share them in the comments section.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printing Build Farms

3D printing is a slooooow process. While 3D printing geeks like me can spend hours watching a printer lay down layers of plastic, it often turns manufacturers off who are used to rapid manufacturing process like injection moulding where parts can be pumped out every few seconds. However, there is a way to produce products en masse and it’s called the 3D printing build farm.

Perhaps you’ve already seen images like the ones above – these are well known examples of 3D printing build farms at Ultimaker (left) and Prusa (right) that illustrate what they’re all about: Lots and lots of 3D printers! A 3D printing build farm is basically just a collection of several 3D printers, or many hundreds of 3D printers, that can significantly scale up the production of parts. These can often be networked together as part of a single management system, meaning only a small number of workers are needed to keep an eye on things. The benefit over other mass production technologies is that you still retain the benefits of 3D printing a unique item on every 3D printer, rather than just producing thousands of exactly the same product. Of course, you can also produce thousands of the same part, for example the Prusa build farm is made up of over 500 of their own 3D printers, which are used to print many of the parts to assemble new 3D printers.

A centralised build farm (left) and a decentralised, geographically dispersed build farm (right)

Recently I published a book chapter analysing 3D printing build farms in the context of work and the future. Titled ‘3D Printing Build Farms: The Rise of a Distributed Manufacturing Workforce,’ one of the main opportunities we discuss that has not yet been exploited is for 3D printing build farms to be geographically distributed, rather than centralised within a single facility (illustrated above). If all the 3D printers within the build farm are connected to a central management system, then they do not actually need to be located in the same physical location.

Obviously there are some benefits to having all the machines located together, particularly for maintenance and monitoring. However, there may also be several benefits to distributing the 3D printers domestically or internationally, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the longer-term changes we may now enjoy working from home, or at least working in a more decentralised manner:

  • 3D printers can be located closer to customers. Centralised 3D printing build farms must still ship products around the world, just like conventional manufacturers, which costs time and money.
  • Distributed farms may better suit new flexible working conditions, allowing people to work the hours they want, from a location they want.
  • New jobs in regional areas with smart regions connected to smart cities. 3D printers may be distributed in regional areas, as well as cities, reducing the need for people to relocate to overcrowded cities in order to find work.
  • Businesses may join forces and utilise shared “nodes” of the 3D printing build farm.

Time will tell if this provides businesses with new advantages, but it is clear that build farms, whether centralised or distributed, are a growing trend with real commercial value. Some of the biggest adopters are in the dental industry, for example SmileDirectClub which uses 49 multi jet fusion 3D printers from HP to manufacture moulds for up to 49,000 clear aligners each day. This is big business, driven by 3D printing and build farm systems.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printing in Sport – Hit or Hype?

If you’re into 3D printing, no doubt you are familiar with some of the ways it is being used in sports. Some of my own products (above) have included a 3D printed bicycle frame, smart bicycle helmet and surf fins, while in the media products have included shoes, golf clubs and shin pads.

However, as a researcher, I was interested to know how this translates into academic research. How many research studies have been looking at 3D printing for sports products? How much improvement does a 3D printed product offer over a conventional one? Which sports are adopting 3D printing? Working with my brother, Dr Andrew Novak, we hypothesized that given the amount of coverage in 3D printing media, there should be quite a large amount of research supporting the developments of iconic 3D printed sports products, as well as novel developments that haven’t even made it into the media yet. The results – published in a paper titled ‘Is additive manufacturing improving performance in Sports? A systematic review‘ – were surprising (preprint version freely available).

Up until May 2019, we found only 26 academic studies that provided any empirical evidence related to 3D printing for sports products. The graph above shows which sports, and how many articles have been published. The first of these appeared in 2010. Running/walking was the most popular sport with 10 articles (38%), followed by cycling with 4 articles (15%) and badminton with 3 articles (12%). All other sports – baseball, climbing, cricket, football (soccer), golf, hurling, in-line skating, rowing and surfing – had only been assessed in single studies. This means that a lot of research into 3D printing of sports products are just one-off projects, and indicates that there may be very little funding/interest to continue building larger projects.

It also suggests that any research being done to support mainstream commercial applications of 3D printing, for example for brands like Adidas and Specialized, is protected by intellectual property (IP) and not being published.

10 articles (38%) observed improvements in performance of products developed via 3D printing compared to conventionally manufactured products, 8 articles (31%) found a similar performance, and 5 articles (19%) found a lower performance.

From a technical perspective, powder bed fusion technologies were the most utilized with 50% of articles using either selective laser sintering (SLS) or selective laser melting (SLM), although 52% of articles did not name the 3D printer used and 36% did not name any software used to design or optimize products. 3D scanning technology was also utilized in 11 articles (42%).

So, is 3D printing in sport a hit or hype? Based on this research it is clear that within academia, 3D printing is still in the very early phases of consideration, and seems to be significantly behind industry. While you may be able to go and buy some 3D printed running shoes or insoles, or cycle on a 3D printed saddle, you won’t find any objective data in journal articles on these products or much research to suggest that 3D printed products are any better than conventionally manufacture products.

– Posted by James Novak

Popular 3D Prints on Thingiverse

Anyone with a 3D printer will no doubt be familiar with Thingiverse, an online database of files that can be searched, downloaded and 3D printed; a universe of things. I’ve been using it for 7 years, and you can find many of my projects from this blog available there.

While the platform isn’t without its issues, particularly over the last year or so, it is still the largest 3D printing file database with over 1.9 million files at this time of writing – you couldn’t print that much stuff in a lifetime!

Because of the scale, many researchers have used Thingiverse as a way of understanding how people engage with 3D printing and file sharing, and beginning in 2018, I wanted to understand the characteristics of the most popular files on Thingiverse. My research paper has just been published called “500 days of Thingiverse: a longitudinal study of 30 popular things for 3D printing” and as the name suggests, involved tracking 30 things over a 500 day period.

The image at the top is one of the graphs from the paper that compares the downloads per day for these 30 things over time. At the start of the study, a new design called the Xbox One controller mini wheel had just been released and was all over social media, attracting a lot of attention and downloads. This equated to 698 downloads per day. However, this momentum didn’t last. In comparison, well established designs like #3DBenchy continued to increase in downloads per day, and during the period of this study, #3DBenchy became the first thing on Thingiverse to be downloaded over 1 million times! These numbers are beginning to approach figures on more mainstream social media and image/video sites, showing just how popular 3D printing has become. And keep in mind, this is just one of many file sharing websites for 3D printing, a topic that was part of a previous research paper I wrote with friend, colleague and fellow maker, Paul Bardini.

If you’re interested in all the details, I have shared a preprint version of the paper which can be freely accessed. Additionally, all of the raw data can be freely accessed if you’re interested in diving into the nitty gritty details, or even continuing to add to what I started. I hope this provides some insights into the scale of making and 3D printing, and some of the trends that drive the most popular files on Thingiverse.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Mounting Brackets

Brackets are pretty boring, I know, but being able to 3D print exactly what you need, for just a few cents, just makes good sense (see what I did there?).

I wanted to mount a LED strip underneath my kitchen bench top, but also wanted it to run off batteries so I didn’t have chunky cords to plug in for power. The set that I ended up buying had a battery pack which needed to be mounted along with the strip, as well as a remote. One option would be to use double sided tape, however, this would make accessing and changing the batteries painful. So, a simple bracket was needed. While doing this, I also decided to mount the remote so it wouldn’t get lost.

Like many of the projects on this blog, the entire process from CAD to finished 3D printed parts only took a few hours. Solidworks was used for the CAD modelling, while the brackets were printed on a Wanhao Duplicator i3 Plus in PLA. A couple of screws up into the bench top and job done. Secure and out of the way, but easy to remove the remote and battery pack when needed.

If you’re interested in more quick projects like this, check out my special friction hooks or hex business card holder tiles.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Pineapple Light

3D printing light covers and lamps are always fun projects, you can’t really go wrong.

Continuing from a previous post where I outlined the process of designing sea urchin light covers for my house, I’ve still been wanting to design another light cover to mix things up so each room isn’t the same. Enter the pineapple light! 🍍

Unlike the previous process of designing the sea urchin light from scratch using a 3D scan, this time I was able to find something on Thingiverse that was almost perfect – this model of a pineapple. The bottom part had a really nice geometric pattern that saved me hours of mucking around in CAD and designing the same thing from scratch. This is one of the things I love about the 3D printing community – the open sharing of 3D models to be remixed (also known as a mashup) just like a song or video into something new and creative. You can read more about remixing in one of my previous tutorials.

Similar to the sea urchin light, all the pineapple needed was to be scaled to the right size, hollowed, given a thickness, and have a neck piece added to connect with the light fitting. This neck piece was directly imported from my previous project in Meshmixer (free CAD software), and both pieces were joined together. Nice and easy!

Just like the sea urchin light, these pineapples were 3D printed on a Prusa i3 MK3S in a natural PLA from eSun – it’s a translucent material which I found from previous experiments to work really well for light covers when given a very light dusting of white spray paint. The painted exterior still allows the light to shine through nicely, but just helps define the form better than the natural finish on its own. If you want to see exactly how this compares to the natural filament on its own, or a pure white PLA, check out my sea urchin light post. This design can also be 3D printed without any support material.

Best of all, you can download my pineapple light cover completely free from Thingiverse, Pinshape, Cults and MyMiniFactory! Just like the original design of the pineapple which helped me in this project, I hope this remix will help you in your own project – even if you don’t have the same size light fitting as me, with a bit of editing in Meshmixer or another CAD program, you can easily modify this design to suit your own needs. Enjoy.

– Posted by James Novak

Meshmixer Tutorial: Brake Lever Lattice

Recently I was asked to put together a Meshmixer tutorial for students studying additive manufacturing at Deakin University. The result: a 20min demo project to show you how to turn a pretty standard brake lever into something really cool for 3D printing. If you scroll through the tutorial section of this blog you will find many other demos of how to use Meshmixer, it really is one of my regular go-to tools.

Even if you’re not interested in the brake lever, through the tutorial you will learn to divide a single part into multiple segments, modify mesh quality, convert a part into a lattice structure, and join multiple parts together into a single part ready for 3D printing. You can apply any of these tools to your own project.

Enjoy.

– Posted by James Novak

Customising Surf Fins for 3D Printing

Early followers of this blog may be familiar with several projects to 3D print kiteboard and stand up paddle (SUP) board fins, including some fins you can freely download if you’re into kitesurfing. It’s been a little while between posts on this topic, however, I have been busy in the background producing a system to help people with no CAD experience design and customise their own fins ready for 3D printing. The full details have just been published in the Computer-Aided Design and Applications Journal.

Quite a few people have used 3D printing to produce surf fins – after all, it’s very cheap and means you can produce just about any geometry you like. Researchers have looked at the strength of different materials and 3D printing technologies for this application, as well as the performance (fluid dynamics) of different geometries. However, if you are not a relatively advanced CAD user, it is unlikely you will be able to design the fin of your dreams, no matter how awesome the research suggests 3D printing can be! This is what I was interested in solving.

Using Rhinoceros and Grasshopper, the complexity of a fin was condensed down to a series of limited controls that allowed for freeform experimentation. The above image is the interface that allows surfers to customise a fin design in real-time. It is based on a handful of common fin properties such as the fin system, fin position on the board, cant, fin depth, sweep, base length, base foil profile, tip sharpness and tip thickness, all of which can be modified using some simple sliders or dropdown menus. Feedback is also provided in the form of overall dimensions and volume. From the image at the top of the page, you can get a sense for the wide variation in designs possible from this simple interface.

Once you’re happy with the design it can be exported ready for 3D printing. I’ve 3D printed a couple of different designs for testing on my SUP board, the smaller white fin in the image above being 3D printed using FDM, while the larger fin was 3D printed using selective laser sintering (SLS). Both worked well in flat water paddling, although I’m sure some carbon fibre would give me a bit more confidence heading into the surf.

Hopefully some more to come soon as spring and summer approach.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Face Shields vs. Masks

As the graphic above shows, 3D printing a face shield is twice as fast as 3D printing a face mask. How do I know?

In my latest journal article called A quantitative analysis of 3D printed face shields and masks during COVID-19, I documented 37 face shields and 31 face masks suitable for fused filament fabrication (FFF, or FDM). The graphic provides the average data for all the different designs, including a range of qualities including the amount of filament required, number of 3D printed parts, total volume of all parts, and the dimensions of the largest part for each design (so you know if it will fit within your 3D printer’s build volume). If you’re interested in all of the specific details for each of the individual designs, all of the data is free to access here. You might also want to start with my first article analysing 91 3D printing projects at the start of the pandemic.

Why is this important? Well, if you look at the graph above, you can see that the print time and amount of filament for each individual design varies significantly. For face shields, the shortest print time was 46mins to produce a single part with 12g of material for the Version 1 face shield from MSD Robotics Lab. The longest print time for a face shield was 4h 34min (274min) and required 63g of filament, also only a single part from MITRE Corporation. This means that for each MITRE Corporation face shield you could 3D print almost 6 MSD Robotics Lab face shields. This is a big difference if you’re trying to maximise the quantity you produce for your local hospital or health centre. Below you can visually see how different they are, and why there is such a difference in print time and filament use.

Print times vary even more for face masks, with the shortest print time being 2h 14min (134mins) requiring 32g of filament for a 3-part design from Collective Shield (v.0.354). This design is 3D printed in a flat form only 0.6mm thick and then folded into a 3D face mask, often referred to as a “2.5D print.” In contrast, the longest print time for a face mask was 10h 32mins (632mins) with 130g of filament required to print 26 separate parts, forming a respirator style mask called Respirator V2 from Maker Mask. Both of these different designs can be seen below.

Assuming a price for PETG filament of $30/Kg, the cost of 3D printed components for face shields can be calculated to range from $0.33–1.95, while the range of face masks was $0.96–3.90. For one-off products these differences may not be critical to makers, yet when multiplied by hundreds of thousands or even millions (e.g. the IC3D Budmen face shield has been 3D printed over 3 million times!), the potential investment by makers, organisations, charities and businesses may vary significantly based on the selection of one design over another, or one version of a design over another.

If you want to find more of the data and read the detailed analysis, please read the full article here. I look forward to continuing to bring you new analysis of 3D printing during COVID-19.

– Posted by James Novak