3D Printed Medal and Trophy

IMG_20181024 3D Printed Trophy Medal

As a product designer focused on 3D printing in my job at the University of Technology Sydney, it was no surprise that I found myself being asked to design some 3D printed awards for the end of year 2018 Vice-Chancellor’s Awards for Research Excellence. And while not receiving an award (yet!), I think it’s even more fun to get to be designing them – besides, now I can print them out for myself!

I was asked to design 2 different awards which you can see pictured above. The first were a set of 3 medals, and my only brief was to have them 3D printed in metal, and for them be approximately the size of previous medals given out for the awards. I based my design on a spinner concept which I’ve previously printed, with an important feature being the cone-like details which hold this assembly together when printed as a single part. There is no support material required, with one of my goals being to highlight through the design the capabilities of 3D printing in metal. For recipients, my goal was to create something playful and engaging, rather than most medals which are kept in a case and quickly forgotten. Thanks to my friend Olaf Diegel at Lund University for printing these in aluminium and sending them to us in time!

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For those familiar with metal 3D printing (Direct Metal Laser Sintering to be specific), you can probably guess there was a lot of manual post-processing of these medals to remove the base supports and polish the surfaces. Below you can see the medal as it comes out of the printer on the left (once cut from the build plate), and the final polished version on the right. All of the base support material you can see in the raw version had to be filed away while held in a vice, before going through a lengthy process of polishing. Slow, painful work, but you haven’t truly 3D printed in metal until you’ve gone through this process, it makes peeling away plastic support material from FDM prints seem like child’s play!

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The second award was a trophy which also continued with the 3D printed assembly concept. My only brief for this design was for it to be printed on our own HP Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer, which is very similar to SLS printing. Many of us have seen the “ball in a ball in a ball” type of prints which are often shown at 3D printing expos and events, and I built off this to incorporate a lattice frame to contain the balls. The basic design was done in Solidworks, however, the balls were just solid spheres at this stage. I then exported them into Meshmixer in order to apply a lattice structure to them, using 2 different geometries. All parts were then imported into Meshmixer in order to export them as a final fully assembled file ready for printing.

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A little bit of laser cutting and timber work by a colleague really helped bring the design to life, and again, the trophy encourages interaction and play. Congratulations to the winners and finalists, I hope you enjoy your awards as much as I did creating them. With any luck I might get to design them again in 2 years and bring one home myself for real! 😉

– Posted by James Novak

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Using Every Last Drop

IMG_20180917_Webcam 3D Print Mount

Perhaps it’s the result of spending 10 years as a poor uni student, but I really like to use every last drop of liquids: sauce, toothpaste, shampoo and yes, deodorant. Many of the roll-on style deodorants, such as those from Nivea, have a domed lid, meaning it’s impossible to tip them upside down as liquid is running low and store them so gravity can do its thing. In my mind, this is a design flaw in the packaging (although from Nivea’s point of view, this is a great way to keep people buying more products more often).

I had originally planned to create my own design to solve this problem, however, after a quick search on Thingiverse I was pleasantly surprised to see many people had already beat me to it! There are plenty of designs to choose from, and I decided on this helix design for its interesting form. Click here to download the file for yourself from Thingiverse.

The print took just over an hour to complete, and as you can see from the pictures, it does exactly what it promises. I also streamed the 3D print on my YouTube channel, so if you like watching the grass grow, here is an hour of entertainment just for you! Make sure you subscribe if you want to be alerted of the next live 3D print 🙂

– Posted by James Novak

First 3D Print with the Wanhao Duplicator D9/500

IMG_20180917_Webcam 3D Print Mount

If you have followed my blog for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed I’m quite a big fan of the Wanhao 3D printers – they’re cheap, reliable, upgradable, and just good value for money. Even my Cocoon Create from Aldi is actually just a Wanhao in disguise! Recently Wanhao released the Duplicator D9/500, which has an incredible 500x500x500mm build volume. Yes, you read that right, those numbers are not a typo! The picture above doesn’t do it justice, this is a big unit that currently we can only store and run on the floor until we can free up a large desk. Manoeuvring this thing is definitely a 2 person job!

Before I get into the details of the machine and my first experiences, the printed vase pictured above is the first successful print, which is the Curved Honeycomb Vase (free on Thingiverse) printed at 200% scale. Printed in vase mode (aka “spiralise” in Cura) with a 0.8mm nozzle, this print took approximately 6 hours to complete. A great design in itself, and very cool at this large size.

However, it certainly hasn’t all been smooth sailing with this printer. First, there were some lengthy delays from Wanhao between when we placed the order and finally received the machine – apparently some manufacturing and quality control issues, and Wanhao may have released the machine a bit too early to market. In total we waited several months, however, they may be much faster now that issues seem to be resolved. The second big issue we faced was assembly – the supplied instructions weren’t particularly useful or even relevant, with some of the components no longer supplied with the printer – it seems that the initial release included large brackets to help stabilise the frame and some other details in the instructions, so we were left feeling like we were missing some parts. Apparently we are not, although we still haven’t figured out some of the cable management issues and have had to hack together a temporary solution for now.

Another challenge with assembly was in constructing the frame; obviously at such a large size the frame wasn’t pre-assembled like the smaller Duplicator 3, and the frame also uses extruded aluminium rather than folded sheet metal. Squaring all of these extrusions is not simple, and some initial issues when running the machine were related to having one of the vertical frame pieces lightly twisted. Some better alignment details are definitely needed.

The final issue that we’ve been experiencing is in the auto-levelling sensor, which was not installed at the correct height in the factory and required a lot of manual adjustment (we had the nozzle collide with the bed several times when first running it). However, even with this, the machine doesn’t really seem to adjust the prints for any levelling issues; our first prints across the bed revealed a number of areas where the bed was slightly warped, which were not being corrected by the auto-level feature, so we are currently manually doing adjustments for now. And we have found the central area of the bed is OK, so the vase printed really well.

So overall I would have to recommend that anyone considering this printer hold off for at least a few more months, there are just too many issues for anyone without a lot of experience calibrating 3D printers, and without the time to really get in and troubleshoot issues. Last time I searched on YouTube it seems others have also come to a similar conclusion. I think with time this will be a great 3D printer, we’re certainly going to keep learning more about it, but this seems like a case of a manufacturer rushing to market without properly testing and perfecting their equipment. Unfortunately, an all too common story in the 3D printing world.

Make sure you follow my blog and social media accounts to keep up to date with ongoing test prints and posts about the Wanhao Duplicator D9/500. And please share your own experiences in the comments section so we can all learn from each other 🙂

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Webcam Mount

IMG_20180917_Webcam 3D Print Mount

Whenever I travel I always have a small Guerrilla tripod to easily mount my cameras just about anywhere – the flexible arms make it perfect for wrapping around handrails or quickly levelling on uneven surfaces. Which made it my first choice when it came to mounting an old webcam so I can begin streaming my 3D prints to Youtube!

I’m seeing a lot of people like @wildrosebuilds posting awesome time-lapse videos of their 3D prints, and plenty of tutorials online showing how to build quite elaborate rigs to do so. I don’t really have time to deal with all of the video editing for each print, but the opportunity to live-stream prints directly to Youtube seems like a great way to share what I’m working on in real-time, and also allow me to monitor prints without having to physically be with the printer. However, webcams aren’t designed to mount to the typical screw mechanism used by tripods/cameras, so I had to design my own bracket to allow me to mount an old Logitech C270 HD webcam to the tripod.

The top right image shows the small slide-in clip that screws to the underside of a camera, and locks into the tripod. My first step was to reverse engineer this part with a set of calipers, modelling the geometry in Solidworks. I then added a vertical element to attach to the webcam, which has a hole on the back normally used by a bracket attaching the webcam to a computer screen. An extra lip on the front to hold the webcam in a vertical orientation, and voilà!

The blue bracket has been printed on my Wanhao Duplicator i3 Plus in PLA, and a screw I had lying around holds the webcam to the bracket. A nice little solution that should see some action very soon. Subscribe to my Youtube channel or follow me on Twitter to be alerted when I begin streaming prints, I know it can be a bit like grass growing but watching 3D prints is still addictive to me. If you’d like to download this design for yourself, you can find it on Thingiverse, Pinshape and Cults – feel free to make your own modifications as needed and share, I know the C270 is quite a popular webcam.

– Posted by James Novak

UPDATE: If you want to see my first live-stream using this webcam mount, here it is:

Check out my channel to see more, and subscribe to be alerted when I go live.

#3DBenchy, the Most Downloaded 3D Print

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If you are involved in 3D printing there’s no doubt you’ve at least heard of #3DBenchy, if not printed one, or two, or even more. What is #3DBenchy? Well, it’s a tug boat of course! But more than that, #3DBenchy has become like the “Hello World!” from coding, the go to 3D model to test out a new printer or setting. Why a tug boat? That’s a very good question, and the only real explanation is that it includes a number of features that challenge a printer including overhangs (e.g. roof) and a variety of angled surfaces. Also, it’s a little more interesting than a basic calibration cube or set of test prints.

#3DBenchy was developed by a company called Creative Tools, initially as an in-house calibration test for their own printers. On April 9th 2015, Creative Tools uploaded the design to Thingiverse for anyone to download for free, and the rest, as they say, is history. Since then the file has been downloaded over 600,000 times from Thingiverse alone, and can be found on pretty much any other 3D file sharing website. #3DBenchy even has its own website, Instagram profile, and Twitter account – talk about a famous 3D print!

I’ve never seen any need to jump on board the #3DBenchy bandwagon, however, I was recently writing up some research that required me to photograph a #3DBenchy, and I’m always up for an excuse to print something new. So here we are, #3DBenchy in hand, and given I used some relatively fast settings to get it printed in about 1 hour, I think the result is quite good. This one is the original #3DBenchy at full scale, printed without support. And of course my photos have been fed back onto Thingiverse as one of the 2788 makes of #3DBenchy, and one of 2961 posts on Instagram… and counting. Vive la révolution!

– Posted by James Novak

Yes I Wrap, Don’t You?

20180831_3D Print Vase Wrap String

One of the common features of desktop 3D printing is the sharp, hard feel of plastic with that scratchy horizontal layered surface finish. Sure plastic has many benefits, but when you handle 3D prints all day long you sometimes forget that there are other textures in the world that are soft, delicate, pleasurable to touch. Enter the wrap, an experiment that softens those 3D prints in a crafty, hand-finished way.

For this project I downloaded the Customizable Twisted Polygon Vase from Thingiverse, which you will notice when you download is a solid block. This print takes advantage of a feature known as “vase mode” in many slicing programs, although if like me you are using Cura it’s called “Spiralize,” and you will need to activate it in your settings in order to have it available in your main screen settings. Basically the idea is that you can load any solid 3D model and automatically turn it into a vase-like shape i.e. a base and an outside wall without any interior or top surface. The outer wall is a single perimeter, which the printer continually extrudes in a spiralling/helical fashion as it works its way up the vertical height of your object. So no need to use a “shell” command in your 3D CAD modelling software, you can design a solid block and let the slicing software automatically create a single perimeter based on the extruder settings of any FDM 3D printer. A fun project in itself.

Phase 2 of the project was to use some wool yarn to wrap the exterior. What’s interesting about this process is that the layered surface finish of the 3D print actually helps hold the yarn/string in place, stopping it from slipping down the vase and helping align each rotation of the yarn. A relaxing project while you’re sitting in front of the TV or Netflix! The yarn I used was very fine so took quite a while, however you could easily use a thicker yarn to reduce the amount of effort to achieve a similar result. The result is really interesting; it keeps the layered appearance of a 3D print, yet is soft to the touch and provides a unique finish to the vase. Something you could easily customise with colours and different types of yarn materials. Ultimately, it creates an interesting combination of a highly digital process with a more craft-based process and material… Something worth a bit more experimentation I think.

If you give it a go, please share a photo with me, I’d be interested to see your results!

– Posted by James Novak

A 3D Printing Workflow with Free Software

Solid Hollow Lattice

One of the challenges for designers (beginner and advanced) creating objects for 3D printing is finding software capable of doing the complex things we enjoy seeing in 3D printing news and exhibitions. There really doesn’t seem to be one program capable of doing it all, and this has been re-emphasised to me during my recent studies at MIT and a visit to Autodesk. However, there is some good news: if you’re able to quickly learn software, you can find an increasing number of freebies that seem to be specialising in small aspects of the workflow, which you can move between to create complex designs.

Form 2 Print Lattice

This tutorial will show you how I used completely free software to create a complex object during my time in the MIT course “Additive Manufacturing: From 3D Printing to the Factory Floor” as part of a group project, and is actually very quick once you become familiar with the programs. This particular design combines a hollow object with an internal lattice structure suitable for SLA printing on a printer like the Form 2 from Formlabs, which is what was used for the translucent version in the photo above. The white version in the background is a cross-section view of what is going on within the SLA print.

Step 1: The Overall Form

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There are loads of free programs to use for creating 3D models – Tinkercad, Sketchup, Openscad, Sculptris, Fusion 360 (if you’re linked to an educational institution)… there are many more and you can certainly use your favourite. For this project, I actually used Onshape for the first time, which runs completely in the cloud (so no software downloading or limitations on computer operating systems/specifications). If you are at a school or university, you can get a free license. It works very similar to Solidworks or other high-end CAD packages, so if you are familiar with sketches and features, you will pick it up very quickly.

Basically, whichever CAD software you use, you want to create the overall shape of your object. In this case, I created an organic tear-drop shape using a “loft,” and cut a section out of the back so that it would clip onto a desk and act as a bag hook (part of the MIT design challenge).

Step 2: Make it Hollow

Many CAD programs will allow you to “shell” your design, making it hollow inside. However, if you can’t find the tool, or aren’t getting good results, we can do this in the next piece of software. But first, export your solid file as a STL (and if you managed to shell it in this step, export a STL of the hollow version as well and skip the rest of this step. You will still need a solid version for the lattice process).

Meshmixer Hollow

The next free program, which I think is a must for anyone with a 3D printer, is Meshmixer. It allows you to edit the normally un-editable STL file format, and I have previously written tutorials about how to do download files from Thingiverse and combine them in creative ways or add your name to a downloaded part.

If you weren’t able to hollow out your design previously, click on Edit>Hollow and set your wall thickness. Just like that, your solid object is now hollow, and can be exported as a STL.

A note for SLA printing:

Meshmixer Drainage Holes

When using the Form 2 3D printer for the first time, I was surprised to learn that the PreForm software doesn’t allow for the user to specify infill patterns in the same way that is commonly done with FDM printing. That is what created the need for this custom lattice infill, and this tutorial. So, being a liquid resin printer, the final important step is to add drainage holes so that the form doesn’t end up completely full of liquid, and errors don’t occur during printing.

Meshmixer again has this function built in. While in the Hollow tool, you will have the option to “Generate Holes” and manipulate their location. This is really important, as you won’t be able to do it again later once your hollow and lattice are combined (unless you’re familiar with the boolean commands in Meshmixer and manually add a cylinder from the Meshmixer menu to use as a cutting tool).

Step 3: Creating a Lattice

Lattices and 3D printing are best friends. But creating a lattice in many CAD programs is close to impossible, usually requiring advanced skills and a computer that can handle very large patterning features. nTopology Element is a free program that will dramatically simplify the process for you – simply load a STL file, choose a lattice pattern, and boom! your object is now a lattice. But let’s go through it a little more slowly.

1. Import your solid STL file into nTopology Element.

2. On the top menu, click Lattice>Generate

3. In the pop-up, you can play with the lattice patterns (called “Rules”), the size of each lattice volume, and click Generate to get a preview. When you’re happy with the result, click on Apply.

nTopology Lattice Trim

4. You will notice that the result has the lattice coming outside of the original object. This is because only whole lattice volumes are used to fill the object, rather than automatically being trimmed to fit. So we must do this manually. In the top Edit menu, click on the Trim tool. A new pop-up will appear, asking you to select the Lattice geometry and the Trim Volume (original model), which you can select from the drop-down menu on the left. Click apply and the lattice will be trimmed to fit perfectly within your original design.

5. At this point, the lattice is made up of vectors – they have no volume. So the next step is to use the Thicken tool on the top menu to provide a diameter to your lattice.

nTopology Tutorial

6. Lastly, the thickened lattice needs to be turned into a single mesh that can be 3D printed. The Mesh button (where it says Interchange on the top menu) will join everything together and give you a single mesh. In the drop-down menu on the left, you can now right-click on the mesh, and click on export to get your STL file.

Step 4: Bringing it all Together

The free version of nTopology won’t let you stitch multiple files together, however the Pro version will if you ever end up with the need for a full license. So back to Meshmixer to bring it all together ready for 3D printing.

1. Import the hollow STL and lattice STL into Meshmixer (when you click on import for the second file, use the Append option).

2. You will notice that the ends of the lattice stick out from your object. There are 2 ways to correct this: Option 1 is to use the sculpt tool with the “Flatten” brush to go around and push the ends of the lattice inside of the object boundary – it’s just like pushing clay.

Meshmixer Sculpt Lattice

Option 2 is to ever so slightly reduce the scale of your lattice. With the lattice selected in the pop-up Object Browser window (on the right of my window), click on Edit>Transform and you can either manually manipulate the scale, or more accurately type in the reduction in the transform window (with the uniform scaling option ticked). You should only need a small reduction until the lattice fits just inside the outer skin of your object.

3. By turning off the hollow part in the Object Browser, but keeping it selected, you will get an X-Ray view into your object to check if the lattice and hollow part are intersecting. This can help with any final alignment. Remember; you want the lattice touching the solid shell, but not poking through so it’s visible, or loosely floating within the hollow.

Meshmixer Lattice View

4. In the Object Browser, [shift]+click to select both parts at the same time. A new window will appear that will allow you to Boolean Union or Combine both parts together, creating a single object.

5. Export the final STL and you are ready for 3D printing.

SLA Form 2 Print Fresh

Step 5: Getting Creative

Meshmixer Creative Lattice

Once you get a bit of experience with this process and some of the other tools in Meshmixer, your imagination is the limit! You can really begin to play with different combinations of solid and lattice structures depending on the result you want. Have some fun and feel free to share any of your own creations in the comments section.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Hooks

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3D printing really does solve so many problems – previously I’ve replaced a small whisk in a milk frother, produced my own kitesurfing fins, 3D printed locking mechanisms for some stand up paddles, and made numerous enclosures for Arduinos. What did we do before 3D printing?

This is yet another example of the need for a unique part – some hooks to display some work in front of my office, which could attach to some vertical plywood fins without permanent fixings like screws or staples. The plywood is 17mm thick, which was the only dimension needed to create this hook design, and I’ve modelled the arms to be a maximum of 17mm apart, with a 1º draft angle to really hold on to the plywood towards the back of the arms which are less than 17mm apart. This creates a good clamping force on the plywood. They are also designed so that they require no support material when 3D printing, making them fast and efficient to produce.

While it’s quite a unique case, I’ve decided to share the design on Thingiverse, Pinshape and Cults  in case it’s of use to anyone, or even just a good starting point for your own design. You could even try scaling them in width to fit the dimension of your vertical board. Happy printing.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Prosthetic Research

As a university researcher, it often takes a long time until I can actually share my work publicly. As a result this blog often only tells part of the story, for example I recently posted about 3D printing a prosthetic hand by e-NABLE. What I didn’t say is that this was part of research into adapting the design to perform different tasks. Recently undergraduate product design student Cory Dolman worked with me to prototype some new concepts, and his work has been picked up by UTS who created this great video about his process and the ideas we’ve been bringing to life. You can also read all the details on his blog which was maintained during the project with me here.

For anyone who is yet to realise the opportunities of 3D printing technology, hopefully this video goes some way to showing how quickly designers like Cory and myself are able to iterate designs, constantly testing our ideas and expediting the design process. We hope that as we refine these designs, we will be able to share them back into the e-NABLE community, and allow anyone with access to a 3D printer to not only benefit from the prosthetic, but also continue to iterate and improve it collaboratively. This is what excites me about 3D printing – it’s not just about the technology, but what it enables.

– Posted by James Novak

Ninjaflex Part 3 – Flexion Extruder Upgrade

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This is the third post in a series about 3D printing with Ninjaflex, which initially began using the stock standard extruder on a Wanhao Duplicator i3 (click here to start at the beginning), before a 3D printed modification was trialled (click here for post 2), and now here we are with a completely upgraded extruder specifically for printing with soft materials.

Pictured above you can see some fancy red anodised components and exposed gears – this is the Flexion HT Extruder, a relatively expensive upgrade (US$179) which is about half the cost of the entire printer itself. It replaces the entire core of a standard single extruder; all that remains from the original is the stepper motor and cooling fans. So why upgrade?

Well as the previous posts discovered, the highly flexible nature of Ninjaflex (shore hardness of 85A) meant that it was difficult for the standard extruder to force down through the hotend and out the nozzle. Imagine taking a length of soft liquorice and trying to push it through a hole that is smaller than the liquorice diameter! As a result, after a few minutes of printing, it was common for the filament to begin looping out the back of the extruder. The Flexion extruder has much tighter tolerances around the filament the entire length it travels, so there is nowhere for the filament to go except down. Also, it has adjustable pressure using the round dial you can see with the knurled detail in the photo above – this means you can apply more force on the soft filament to maintain a strong grip against the stepper motor gear. By rotating the dial, you can quickly scale the pressure back when you change to a rigid filament like PLA, with 4 levels of variation possible and a grub screw to really dial in each setting. The design is completely open, (when it was assembled I initially thought something was missing!), which means you can see the filament and gears, which is great for maintenance and adjustment. And while I haven’t tried yet, according to the Flexion website the nozzle can handle higher temperatures than a standard extruder, up to 290°C, which is great for plastics like nylon and polycarbonate.

The photo at the top right is one of the first 3D prints done to test the abilities of the extruder, taking approximately 4 hours. It looks good from a distance, although there are some small gaps where we started with too much retraction and not enough flow – at this point we are still experimenting with settings to get the best results, currently trying 107% flow, 40mm/s print speed and 1mm retraction. If you are using a Flexion for Ninjaflex and have some reliable settings, I’d love you to post a comment and share them!

– Posted by James Novak