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

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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

Lucky Bamboo, Lucky 3D Printing

20170627_3D Print Bamboo

My desk is loaded with 3D prints, I’m surrounded by plastic! To even things out a bit I’ve added some greenery in the form of bamboo. The great thing is that it can grow in water, no need for messy soil, and it doesn’t need much light (hopefully the glowing of my computer screen is plenty!)

However the pot I have for it came with a plastic insert (black) designed for soil. It only fits in one way, being tapered, so I couldn’t just flip it upside down and drill a hole to support the bamboo. Of course, that’s just another excuse to design something new for 3D printing!

The white part in the photos above is the simple part I designed, basically the same dimensions as the original black insert but reversed with an open bottom, and a hole to allow the bamboo to fit through, including its roots. This sits down loosely inside the plant pot, and then 2 smaller inserts slot in around the bamboo when it’s inserted to hold it nice and vertical (right image). All printed without support material on my Cocoon Create, now with the Micro Swiss upgraded hotend (which seems to be working very well).

It’s probably not the sort of design worth sharing on 3D file websites given it is very specific to this plant pot, but if for some reason you want this file just leave me a comment and I’ll email it to you.

– Posted by James Novak

Moreton Technology Alliance

2017 Moreton Technology Alliance

Last week I teamed up with fellow Advance Queensland Digital Champion  (AQDC) and resident of Moreton Bay, Kate vanderVoort, to discuss the latest digital trends in social media and 3D printing with local businesses in our area. This was hosted by the newly formed Moreton Technology Alliance (MTA), a group of local business owners who are passionate about the region and driving innovation here.

Having been an AQDC for a couple of years now, it was great to team up with newbie to the program Kate, and deliver our insights into what may at first seem like 2 different topics. Kate began by sharing her experience with helping businesses engage with their customers through social media, and how businesses that do this well are finding that their communities of followers begin to act as customer service agents and brand ambassadors, solving fellow customer problems using the immediacy of social media. In Kate’s words, it’s a good problem to have – until your employees start feeling like their jobs are in jeopardy!

This idea of building online communities linked well to my later discussion around Intellectual Property (IP) and how online communities of designers like myself are tapping into the growing libraries of files on websites like Thingiverse and Pinshape to replace broken products, upgrade them, or modify them to perform new functions, sharing our designs for free, or for small payments just like buying a song on iTunes.

20170420_3D Print GoPro Mount

I used the example of GoPro mounts which retail at $29AUD for a pack of 6 genuine mounts, or I can 3D print 6 for $1 in material cost (pictured above from Thingiverse). Sure it’s not quite as perfectly fitting, and the material might break, but I could print 174 mounts for the same cost as 6 genuine mounts – essentially a lifetime supply from my own desktop factory. And this is just from a $400 machine, what if I have a better machine or material?

How do businesses deal with this? Will they be forever chasing people around the world with cease and desist letters (lawyers would be rubbing their hands together!)? Or will businesses shift their thinking and embrace this change, in the same way Hasbro’s My Little Pony has become an online community through Shapeways, where children and adults alike are encouraged to design and sell their own My Little Pony creations?

I certainly don’t profess to have the answers (in short I’m not a big believer of IP even without the 3D printing aspect), however the point of this example, along with examples of projects happening from a variety of industries embracing 3D printing, was to inspire the audience at this MTA event, and encourage further discussion. Which I believe it did given the questions from members afterwards, and realisation that this technology really will affect anyone developing physical products in some way or another.

We also discussed opportunities for businesses to collaborate with universities in order to develop research programs into technologies like 3D printing, with the Australian Government recently changing funding models for universities to emphasise greater links with industry, and grants announced for SME’s to fund innovation in partnership with universities and researchers. Follow the links to find out more information.

Thanks to MTA for inviting me to speak, I hope to be fielding a few questions in the near future from businesses who have been inspired to take the 3D printing plunge!

– Posted by James Novak

Star Wars Death Trooper

20170415_3D Stormtrooper

Sometimes you just see a 3D print and think OMG, I NEED THIS!

Enter the Star Wars Death Trooper model by Paul Braddock, available on MyMiniFactory. Having repaired my Cocoon Create 3D printer (again!) in my previous blog post, and also upgraded my version of Cura (losing all of my print settings refined over the last year), this was a great model to iron out the kinks and get back to normality – I hate being without a working 3D printer.

From a technical standpoint my print isn’t perfect with the wall thickness far too thin, leaving some holes and messy details (eg. if you look closely at the eye socket of the skull). My new Cura settings still need some tweaks. However given all the hurdles, it’s still a pretty damn cool print that is really brought to life by the addition of a bit of black paint, and a simple coffee stain for the skull. I recommend checking out the original by Paul to see all the details of the design that aren’t captured well in my print, he’s done a brilliant job of finishing his print to give it an aged bronze look that shows every little scar and crack of the smashed Stormtrooper helmet.

If you want to make one for yourself, don’t forget to upload a photo of your 3D print to Pinshape by May 12th – there is a competition to win 1 of 40 rolls of filament (ABS or PLA) or some Resin if you use an SLA printer. You get an entry for every 3D print you upload of anything on the website!

– Posted by James Novak

Enabled by 3D – Twisty Pen Grip

20160829_3D Print Pen Grip

It’s competition time at MyMiniFactory and I thought I’d use it as an excuse to spend an afternoon creating something new and simple to 3D print. The “#enabledby3d” competition brief calls for an “item that makes an everyday chore easier, or an enabling device, allowing those with disabilities greater accessibility.”

I decided to focus on something most of us take for granted – writing and drawing with a pen. If you have arthritis or some other sort of hand dexterity problems from injury or illness, picking up a cheap standard pen and using it can be frustrating, painful or even impossible. One option is to pay a lot more money for large diameter pens, or buy those slide-on grips which look ugly and draw attention to the fact that you may have grip difficulties.

So what I’ve created is a simple sheath that slides over the full length of a standard Bic pen or similar, significantly increasing the diameter of the pen and changing the geometry so that it may be more easily maneuvered. The sheath prints without needing any support material, and the cheap pen simply sides inside ready to use. What I hope is achieved by this design is something that not only enables people with hand dexterity issues, but something that is appealing to anyone – in this way the design doesn’t seem like an assistive device, but something desirable that someone might be using simply to stand out and be unique. Rotate the model around below to see all the details, particularly the spiral top.

If you like the Twisty Grip head over to the MyMiniFactory page to give it a like to increase my chances of winning the competition! Better yet, you can download this design for free and print it for yourself, or for someone you know who could benefit from it. As soon as the competition ends I’ll also post it to the other 3D printing file sites I normally use, but for now please help share this design and have some fun making it for yourself. Print in bold colours to stand out, or use different coloured materials to designate different pen colours – the choice is yours.

– Posted by James Novak

UPDATE 28/11/2016: The STL file to print this design is now also freely available on Thingiverse, Pinshape, 3D File Market and Cults. Enjoy!

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

Drawing in 3D – First Attempt

20160514_3Doodler Pen

If you follow 3D printing at all, chances are you’ve at least heard about 3D printing pens like the 3Doodler and others, with the 3Doodler originally funded through Kickstarter and now a successful brand. While I’ve seen people make some really interesting things like the Eiffel Tower and Golden Gate Bridge, I have to admit the pens have never really interested me. I can see the fun for kids because they are so easy to pick up and begin using, much like a hot glue gun, and there are templates you literally trace over to construct your object. However the models are really only visual, it would be almost impossible to make anything accurate or functional in the same way you can with an actual 3D printer.

However I was given a 3Doodler, and have been looking for an excuse to try it out. Well, one broken 3D print off my Cocoon Create (who by the way have their own 3D Pen which was sold through Aldi for $79) and I finally had my chance! The benefit I see of such pens is the ability to repair and weld details on a regular 3D printed part – in this case a Voronoi Tealight Candle Holder available on Thingiverse. You can see the before and after photos above.

I have to admit the process wasn’t nearly as easy as I thought. The slowest speed of the pen is still quite fast, and once the plastic starts coming out of the nozzle you really need to get moving! The easiest repairs were the little ones near the bottom of the design, just a quick squirt and it was done. The larger distances were much more messy because of the speed of extrusion, but adhere well to the existing design especially if you use the nozzle to melt some of it to begin with and fuse the new material. I found that once I had roughed out the repair, I could use the hot nozzle to go back and “smooth” the outside surfaces like putty (although the result is far from smooth). This could be further improved with acetone (you can see some of my previous experiments cleaning surfaces with acetone here) but for an experiment like this, I’m happy to leave it as is.

The kit comes with both ABS and PLA filaments, with 2 temperature settings on the pen to match. However it would definitely be interesting to experiment with some different materials – I see on the 3Doodler website they also sell a Flexy Material in numerous colours. I wonder if you could put a conductive filament through to draw electronic circuits? Hmm that’s not a bad idea, perhaps there is more use to this pen than I first thought…

– Posted by James Novak