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.


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

3D Printed Enclosures Are So Rewarding

20160423_3D Print Enclosure

OK so some people might look at this and think it’s just a box, but when you stop and think that 2 hours ago this “box” had never before existed in the entire span of human history, and that it was made on my desk, with a printer, well that’s pretty cool!

That might be over-dramatising things just a little, but there really is something very rewarding about 3D printing a custom enclosure to contain your electronics. I have quite the collection now, for example an Arduino enclosure and a Wiiduino. In this particular case a custom PCB has been manufactured, and we need to contain it in something for trials, keeping all the wires and mess tidy and giving the appearance of a real wearable product as it one day could be.

20160423_3D Print PCB Case

The PCB is about the size of an Arduino Uno, with a lithium battery that needs to be housed inside as well. I started by modelling the PCB in Solidworks, just as I have done in previous projects. While many people would only bother creating a simple block model of the overall dimensions, I’ve gone to the trouble of accurately modelling all of the key components like LED’s, buttons and connectors as shown above. This means that in the enclosure design, I’ve been able to play with form, giving the design tapered edges to make it seem slimmer, and accurately place holes and details for the various components. In doing so, the first 3D prints fitted successfully, saving time stuffing around later. These were printed on my Cocoon Create, which is still going along nicely, thanks Aldi!

I’ve also opted to use 2 screws to secure the enclosure halves, as snap details on such small enclosures can be fiddly when using desktop 3D printers – if you don’t print them in the right orientation, they just snap off. With holes already placed on the PCB, it makes sense to use these to both secure the 2 shells, and hold the PCB in place. So you get the full picture, here’s the 3D model for you to spin around.

Lastly my tip is to always add some sort of logo or name to the enclosure – it just makes it really pop, and takes no time at all to add. Even a rough prototype should look good!

– Posted by James Novak




Mesostructure… Is that a real word?

It sure is, and while the definitions are quite complex, the best way to understand a mesostructure is to look at some images of them. The top left photo is actually a nice 3D print of one you can download free from Thingiverse, and if you’re after something to show people the interesting things that can be 3D printed, this is a great example. I’ve printed them in ABS plastic, but the structure itself is both rigid and flexible. 3D modeling them can be a good little challenge – hopefully whatever CAD program you’re using has some great patterning and mirroring tools! I used Solidworks and really made the most of the parametric functions to allow quick and easy changes in the future. By changing the density of the structure, or simply increasing the thickness of them, you can really play around with the flexibility of the structure.

The other 2 images are actually my first little attempt and having a functional use for a mesostructure. I’m trying to isolate some small vibration motors, and this was one of the ideas building upon a previous round of prototypes that I’ve posted. It’s just like building in some springs between each motor. Nice and flexible and only 25 minutes to 3D print on my Cocoon Create, which is great when you’re trying to test and iterate multiple ideas quickly. Below is the 3D model for you to spin around.

– Posted by James Novak

Add a Sense of Mystery!

20160225 3D Enclosure

Most of the time when you’re playing around with electronics, or sharing them with people, you want the circuits and parts to be as clear as possible for viewers to understand or modify. However occasionally you may have the realisation that what you’ve got is a little bit special, or at the very least you don’t want to be serving up your hard work on a silver platter for someone to copy without putting in some hard yards of their own. That’s where I’ve found 3D printing to be an excellent tool – creating a simple enclosure that neatly hides away the circuitry inside a box of mystery!

I’ve previously done this for the Wiiduino, providing a clean object suitable for exhibition at Design Philadelphia, but this time my purpose was as much about hiding away the electronics as it was about providing a neat, compact electronics module to show at the Wearable Tech in Sport Summit in Melbourne. In the above images you can see the raw electronics (I don’t mind if you see them 😉 ) and the 3D printed enclosure I quickly designed in Solidworks and 3D printed on my Cocoon Create 3D printer the evening before the conference. Ahh yes, the beauty of having a 3D printer at home to quickly create almost anything!

20160221 3D Box

If you look closely at the enclosure you will notice some imperfections – the main lower part lifted in the corners and caused some separation of layers, while the lid obviously has some shifting layers, probably because of the orientation and speed I printed them. Honestly I’m just happy they printed out and were usable with no time to muck around at the last minute! Just like the Wiiduino enclosure, a little bit of paint brought out the logo and makes the enclosure pop as something much more resolved and purposeful (as opposed to an anonymous blank box).

If you’re not as confident with CAD and accurately measuring your circuitry, there are some great free models that will fit Arduino’s and Raspberry Pi’s which you can download from Pinshape or Thingiverse. They make a great starting point, and you can always add your own logo or details following my Pinshape tutorial on using Meshmixer to modify a .stl file.

– Posted by James Novak

Wii Nunchuk Controls 3D Printer

Yes it’s as simple as the title says; I can now control the movements of my useless Solidoodle Press (and probably almost any other 3D printer) using a Wii Nunchuk!

Don’t ask me why. It’s more of a personal challenge to see if it could be done, and now that it can, I have a few fun ideas for this. The whole thing was surprisingly simple, and builds upon some previous work where I used Wii Nunchuk’s to customise a 3D CAD model, and of course my work using Rhino CAD software combined with the Grasshopper and Firefly plug-ins. In simple terms, I’ve managed to convert the X and Y signals from the Wii Nunchuk’s joystick into the X and Y G-code commands used by most 3D printers. It’s a little clunky, but at the same time it’s pretty cool to directly control this machine.

With a couple of buttons on the front of the Wii Nunchuk it won’t be hard to add some extra functionality to this, although my intention is certainly not to try printing plastic using this controller, there’s just no real reason to. You will just have to check back in later to see where this experiment goes!

– Posted by James Novak