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.
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