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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3D Printed Kobayashi Fidget Cube

20180115_Fidget Cube 3D

One of the great opportunities presented by 3D printing is to print multiple parts as a single object, and have them move afterwards as a complete assembly. There are many great examples, and this Kobayashi Fidget Cube has been on my “to-print list” for some time now. The file is freely available on Thingiverse, and it is pretty awesome!

The photos above give some idea of how it works; a series of cubes that are linked, allowing them to rotate around through a series of positions as you fold and open sections of the object. However the video below (not my own) shows exactly how it works, and is basically a form of fidget device that is currently a popular trend.

As well as being a fun object, it is a great test of your printer’s accuracy and settings, and I must admit my Cocoon Create only had average results. The cube works, but some of the movements are much stiffer than the video. This is probably to do with my settings, I was a little impatient in printing so did not optimise as much as necessary things like layer thickness (used 0.2mm and should’ve tried 0.1mm) and printing speed (50mm/s instead of perhaps 30mm/s or less). I also had to use a knife to slice some of the bottom layers where the cubes had fused together on the print plate. Not a bad first effort, but I might try printing again soon to get a really smooth operating fidget cube.

– 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

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!