Oh That’s Handy – 3D Printed Prosthetic

20180114_e-Nable Prosthetic Hand

If you’ve been paying any attention to 3D printing over recent years, no doubt you’ve seen at least a few 3D printed prosthetics. From the Iron Man prosthetic arm to the prosthetics being 3D printed for our animal friends, 3D printing is ushering in a new generation of low-cost, customisable prosthetics. Perhaps you’ve even seen my build of the fully robotic InMoov hand which has been documented on this blog.

At the extremely affordable end of the spectrum for humans, Enabling the Future (also called e-NABLE) is one of the most well-known names, developing a range of  open source prosthetics since 2013, which can be freely downloaded, printed, assembled and sent off to those in need. As part of my research I have wanted to build one of the e-NABLE hands for a while now to understand more about them, particularly in comparison to the more complex InMoov robot arm. As pictured above, I’ve finally got around to printing the Phoenix v2 hand, which is wrist actuated to open/close the fingers.

When you look at all the details, it really is a clever design which is optimised for 3D printing on a desktop FDM machine, with almost no support material or waste, and tolerances that fit really well together. Anyone with a 3D printer could assemble one of these, most of the non-3D printed parts can be sourced at a local hardware store or found in your shed (screws and fishing line). The instructions are very clear, and there are loads of videos to help demonstrate the assembly process and how some of the technical aspects of the hand work. Because I printed in ABS rather than PLA plastic, the only small hurdle I had was in the thermoforming process of the gauntlet (the bent white piece that mounts to the users arm), which required me using a strip heater in the university workshop. If you find yourself in a similar situation, you can check out the details which were posted in one of my previous posts. However, I recommend using PLA if you have the choice to make this part easier, only requiring some boiling water as demonstrated in this video. In itself, this is a really cool technique that I will use in the future to create stronger parts; you can always learn a lot from 3D printing other people’s designs.

Overall the e-NABLE community really has done a great job in refining this design over the years, and I’m already working on some of my own iterations which will hopefully be fed back into the e-NABLE community in the future. If you’re looking for a project to build and learn from, or potentially getting involved in the community and building hands for people in need, Enabling the Future is definitely worth researching.

– Posted by James Novak

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Organic Models Grown in Grasshopper

During November 2017 I was lucky enough to be involved in a 2-day workshop run by Lionel Dean from Future Factories. Lionel has been working with 3D printing for many years, and his work is very inspirational – I’d recommend taking a look at his projects which all use algorithms to generate complex, one-off products often 3D printed in precious metals like gold. The projects really highlight the capabilities of 3D printing and push the boundaries of what is possible.

The workshop focused on using Grasshopper, which runs as a plugin for the 3D modelling software Rhino. If you’ve been following this blog for a while you’ve probably seen a few videos and demonstrations as I’ve been learning the program, including my successful Kickstarter earlier this year. The video above is the final simulation produced by the end of the workshop, which was an exploration of mimicking natural growth processes, similar to a sprouting seed. It’s not perfect, but definitely highlights the opportunities of using algorithms to design, as opposed to manually creating a singular static form. In Lionel’s work, he often uses these forms of growth to allow people to essentially pause the simulation and have the particular “frame” 3D printed as a custom object.

20171220 Grasshopper Code

For any fellow Grasshopper geeks, above you can get an idea of the code used to generate these sprouts. There is no starting model in Rhino, it is entirely built from this code. Hopefully this will influence some future projects…

– Posted by James Novak

Thermoforming 3D Prints

20171113_Thermoform 3D Print

Sorry for the blogging silence, this is the longest break I’ve had since starting a number of years ago. Long story short I’ve made a big move recently for work and am only just starting to get back into printing and making new projects. If you follow my social media, you’ve probably noticed some new things starting!

One of the projects I’ve wanted to play with since previously building the InMoov robot arm is the Enabling the Future prosthetics (aka. e-NABLE). This week I 3D printed and built most of the Phoenix v2 hand, which of course is open source and free to download. A really inspiring company, and a vastly more simple design compared to the electronic InMoov! Some of the pieces, which I printed on an UP Mini 2 in ABS plastic, can be seen above. I’ll post full details once I get it up and running, just waiting on some elastics for the fingers. The gauntlet piece, which attaches to the users forearm, is printed in a flat position and then bent into a C shape afterwards. This is a really clever idea for providing the strongest functional part with optimal layer orientation. But how do you bend a 3D print?

Well the instructions from e-NABLE require dipping the piece in boiling water for a few seconds to make it pliable – if you 3D print in PLA, which has a lower melting temperature than ABS. Check out the video here. However ABS is not really going to be affected by boiling water, and just to make sure I did try this technique with my first print. It did get a bit of a bend, but mostly a snap!

For print #2 I instead found myself a strip heater in the workshop, which is perfect for heating a nice clean line and normally used to bend acrylic sheets. A few seconds on each side of the print and it bent perfectly without de-lamination or splitting, and was easy to re-heat to make small adjustments to fit with the hand print. This is a technique I’d never thought of using, but has really given me a lot of ideas for creating 3D prints which are post-processed like this into a stronger shape than if they were 3D printed in their final more complex form. I think some of the simple enclosures I’ve made in the past could be much stronger if considered more like a sheet-metal part, although then this begs the question why not just laser cut the design? Well in the case of this e-NABLE prosthetic, there are some 3D details for snapping in other pieces, which could not be done using a 2D process like laser cutting. This would be important to consider if using this process with 3D printing, but it’s certainly an interesting technique worth further experimentation.

If you’ve done something like this yourself, or have ideas for thermoforming a 3D print, leave me a comment.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Metamorphosis

20170819_3D Butterfly

3D printing insects and creatures is nothing new, but maybe the months written on the image above indicates something more is going on with these 3D prints…

The 3D models of the caterpillar and butterfly are in fact generated by monthly step data collected on my old Garmin Vivofit – no design (or designer!) required. This is all an experiment to explore how non-designers may be able to use 3D printers without needing to learn complex CAD software, or sit on websites like Thingiverse and download random things just for the sake of printing. With the proliferation of activity trackers and smart watches gathering this data, perhaps there are creative ways for software to generate rewards from this data, which can be sent to a 3D printer and turned into something tangible?

Garmin Steps

I won’t go into all the details and theories right now, this work will be presented at the Design 4 Health conference in Melbourne this December. Visitors will even be able to input their own daily, monthly or yearly step goals, along with their actual steps achieved, and generate their own rewards. This is all controlled in Rhino with Grasshopper using some tricky parametric functions to automatically grow a caterpillar into a butterfly; if the steps achieved are below the goal, you will have a caterpillar, with the number of body segments growing depending on the percentage of achievement towards the goal. If the goal has been exceeded, a butterfly will emerge and grow bigger and bigger as the steps achieved continue to increase over the goal. You can see the results for a number of months of my own data tracking in the image above.

The 3D prints are being done in plastic for the exhibition, the examples above done on UP Plus 2‘s, however there’s no reason a future system couldn’t use chocolate or sugar as an edible reward for achieving your goals! I think it will take some interesting applications of 3D printers such as this to ever see a 3D printer in every home as some experts have predicted. But as anyone with a 3D printer knows, it will also take far more reliable, truly plug-n-play printers to reach this level of ubiquity. Time will tell.

– Posted by James Novak

Giant 3D Printed SUP Fin

20170511_3D SUP Fin

Behind the scenes I’ve been working on a Stand Up Paddle (SUP) fin project for quite a while now, 3D printing many prototypes, and more often than not, failing! There is more to this project than meets the eye, but for now the details are under wraps. However I thought it might be interesting to share some of the 3D prints in case anyone feels inspired to give it a go themselves.

The design pictured above is the first one that worked successfully without breaking or having other technical issues. Printed in 4 pieces on my Cocoon Create due to the size, it required a bit of gluing, and as you can see from the pink highlight, a bit of gap filling with a 3Doodler Pen (if you want to know more about using a 3D printing pen as a gap filler, check out one of my previous posts all about it). As a result the fin is about 400mm long, huge compared to the fin that came with the board (which for any SUP fans out there is a Slingshot G-Whiz 9’4″)

20170511_3D SUP Fin

These images show some of the breakages I’ve had due to layer delamination – unfortunately the optimal way to print the 4 pieces in terms of minimising support material and warping is vertical, however the optimal orientation for strength is laying down on the flat sides (similar to the image on the right). A bit of an oversight on my part I’ll admit, however I was genuinely surprised how much force the flat water put on the fin. Another issue may be the minimal infill, which was also beefed up in my later prints to add internal strength. There is always a delicate balance between print orientation, layer strength and infill in 3D printing, to name just a few!

The main thing is that the fin prototype now works, and I may have a more advanced version being printed using Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) as I write this… If you keep an eye on my blog by subscribing below, you may just get to see where this project is going 🙂

– Posted by James Novak

My First Kickstarter Goes Live!

I don’t normally use my blog to promote or sell anything, but I figure for the launch of my first Kickstarter campaign I can make a small exception! Besides, it’s actually developed from some of my previous posts where I hacked my useless Solidoodle Press 3D printer to draw images and had some fun using a Wii Nunchuck controller to manually move the extruder.

Through the month of January Kickstarter are running the Make 100 Challenge, and I was inspired to set something up quickly that would be a bit of fun for both myself and potential backers. The idea of the challenge is to get something off the ground that is limited to 100 editions, so it’s inspiring to see a lot of new projects that might not normally launch on Kickstarter, many of them quite creative and artistic. That’s where I’ve pitched my Kickstarter – something a bit unusual and creative, yet fitting in with my interests of customization, hacking, digital manufacturing, algorithms, coding, parametric design, CAD… All the fun stuff.

On paper the idea is relatively simple – send me a photograph, I use some software to generate a Picasso-like line drawing, and that drawing gets sent to my hacked Solidoodle Press to be drawn on paper. But hopefully the video shows that the process is a little more complex than that, and quite interesting to watch.

I would love you to take a look, share the link, or if you’re really interested help get this project off the ground with funding levels starting at only $8 for the final eBook compilation. Whatever happens it’s been a great experience to put this campaign together.

– Posted by James Novak

22/1/2017 UPDATE: To thank everyone for your support and reaching the 200% funding milestone, here’s a new short video showing what happens when Robot Picasso draws a cliff-top building.

Robot Picasso also has a new Facebook Page you can follow to keep up to date with the latest developments. Let’s keep the momentum of this campaign and try and get 100 unique drawings!

Vacuum Forming Over 3D Prints

3D printing is awesome for creating so many things – I’ve certainly lost track of how many things I’ve made and shared on this blog! But it’s also fantastic to use alongside traditional manufacturing techniques – moulds for casting, jigs to help in assembly, or in this case, as moulds for vacuum forming. The short video above shows this process being demonstrated to the Intro to 3D Printing class at my university. The faces are 3D printed from 3D scans in ABS plastic, and we are using 1.2mm PETG plastic for the vacuum forms.

collage

The results are really detailed – even the layers from the FDM process have been transferred to the vacuum forms as a texture! After a few of these being created some visible melting of the prints was visible, mostly on the chin and nose where the initial contact with the hot PETG sheet is made – so I’m not sure how long they would last if you were to make 100 of these or more. But a great example of how quickly and easily you can create many copies of a part using the relatively simple method of vacuum forming – you could probably create one of these every 2 minutes, with the plastic only needing 23 seconds to heat before the vacuum process. I know I’ve got some ideas from seeing this.

– Posted by James Novak

Goodbye 3D Printing, Hello 4D Printing

Many people I talk to at events and workshops are only just catching on to this whole 3D printing thing, but did you know some of the exciting research in this field has already moved on to the next dimension – literally?

4D printing might sound a bit weird and wacky, but it basically just means something that has been 3D printed, but changes its shape afterwards since time is the fourth dimension. So a 3D print that changes over time. Skylar Tibbits from MIT is really one of the pioneers of such a concept, so if you want to wrap your head around the concept this link to his Self-Assembly Lab at MIT will have some more videos to explain what it means. Having spent some time lately writing about 4D printing for part of my PhD, I thought it was time to give it a go, taking inspiration from the Active Shoes created by the Self-Assembly Lab.

As you can see from my very rough video, it’s actually quite easy to do. All I did was create a few concentric circles in CAD with a 0.2mm thickness so that they would print only 1 layer thick on my Cocoon Create 3D printer. I then stretched some material (from an old pair of stockings – not mine I swear!) over the base plate and held it in place with clips. A slight adjustment to the height of the base plate to make room for this material and 1 minute later it was done.

20160628_4D Print

The result is really cool (I think) for something that only took 1 minute to print. It’s certainly not perfect, but shows a lot of opportunity for the future of fashion design. If you wanted to only use 3D printing to create this shape it would easily take 20 minutes or more on a standard FDM printer, so I think some more experimentation is required.

– Posted by James Novak

Abstract Portrait Drawing Machine

Earlier in the year I gave a little demo of controlling a 3D printer with a Wii Nunchuk controller. Well I can finally show you where that project went since it ended up in the ACM SIGCHI Designing Interactive Systems conference which happened this week in Brisbane, Australia. The easiest way to explain what it does is to watch the video – but in simple terms it is a process of automatically drawing abstract portraits from a webcam in real-time, using a hacked 3D printer to draw this artwork on paper. Perhaps the machine version of Picasso?

For those of you who follow my blog you would no doubt be familiar with my frustrations with the failed Solidoodle Press 3D printer, which was so bad that it actually caused Solidoodle to close down only a few months ago. Well this project has stemmed from a need to find some useful function for the machine rather than simply throw it away, so now it is more of a 2D printer and it finally seems to be useful.

20160606_Hacked 3D Printer

The photos above are from the DIS experience night where conference attendees were able to come and get a free portrait drawn in about 10 minutes, taking home a cool souvenir and a unique, one-of-a-kind artwork produced entirely by algorithms and a machine. I was just the guy loading paper and pressing a few buttons on and off (a slave to the machines!). But it drew (pardon the pun) a really good crowd for 3 hours with some fun group portraits, some posts on social media, plenty of suggestions to play with different drawing tools and materials, and a pile of portraits with no technical failures during the event – amazing considering my experiences with the Solidoodle printer!

This is something anyone could do with their 3D printer (or indeed any CNC machine) since it is all controlled by standard G-code, it just requires a way to hold a pen on the extrusion nozzle (in my case a custom 3D printed attachment) and a way to convert any linework into G-code – in this case using the Grasshopper plugin for Rhino. I wish I had something like this while I was an Architecture student, it would’ve been fantastic to cheat with my drawings and use it to create quick pencil sketches of my designs from a CAD model! Haha perhaps there is more to this project yet.

To access the published paper that accompanies this work, click here for the link to the ACM Digital Library.

– Posted by James Novak

Spreading the 3D Printing Bug

20160528_3D Printing Workshop

Another weekend, another 3D printing workshop. This is my third year at Griffith University as a lecturer, and my third year running these weekend workshops on 3D printing for local school teachers to help answer their questions, teach them CAD, and get them hands-on with some 3D printers so that they can take this knowledge back to their schools. Definitely a great feeling to turn a few more people into fellow 3D printing geeks like me!

Within an hour of running the group through the basics of Solidworks, everyone was printing their first little key ring designs, all unique, and for them a really exciting moment to see their first design being produced on our Up Plus 2 printers in our brand new 3D printing lab. I couldn’t drag them away while their parts printed out! But I don’t blame them, I still love watching the printing process.

We then moved onto some more complex designs for some lattice chess pieces after a suggestion from one of the teachers, and eventually found our way to creating some designs around a 3D scan of an arm.  Combined with an analysis of what’s happening in the world of 3D printing, some of the theory, and the future careers some of their students may be interested in, I’m quite sure this was a very big day for everyone!

We will be running some more comprehensive workshops at the beginning of July over 2 weeks (during the school holidays), so keep your eyes on my blog for details when I confirm details with the uni. Teachers can even bring 1 student for free, so this should be a lot of fun.

– Posted by James Novak