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


InMoov Custom Mobile App

It’s been a while since posting about the InMoov robot hand I started building last year. Previously I had everything assembled and was using some direct controls in Grasshopper (plugin for Rhino) to test and tweak the movements of the fingers and wrist (click here to see the last video). That was fun, but not as fun as being able to control the fingers wirelessly from across the room!

Using MIT App Inventor, I’ve created a very basic mobile app that now allows the fingers and wrist to be controlled on my phone using a Bluetooth connection to the Arduino board. It’s nothing fancy right now, just some simple sliders that control the servos, but now that the basics are working some more automated movements could be set up eg. by using the built-in sensors of the phone, movements could be controlled by simply tilting the phone.

20161203_InMoov Display

In order to display the working InMoov hand at the CreateWorld Conference last year, IĀ  also built a display box from plywood since the arm is not really attached to anything and there are a lot of electronics dangling around that are a bit too messy for display. It actually makes moving the hand around and working on it quite a bit easier now since it’s raised up as well. If I had files for this case I would share them, but I went old-school for this one and just created it freehand with a jigsaw – I’m not completely reliant on digital manufacturing (yet!). Inside the box on the right are all the messy electronics, and a hole for the Arduino USB cable to reach through to connect to computer when needed.

I’ve also 3D printed a stamp with my name and the edditive logo to “tag” this project. Using 3D printing to make custom stamps is something I wrote about in one of my first ever blog posts, click here to take a trip back in time. It’s always the little details that bring a project to life for me.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printing Workshops Galore


University and school might be winding down for the year, but I’ve been as busy as ever running workshops on 3D printing and attending conferences – the silly season indeed!

I was a mentor at an event called GLO@Logan, a 3-day startup style workshop for teams of year 9 students from high school’s around the Logan area of Queensland. The project briefs looked at the future of health care, and how technology can be used to better enable people suffering from debilitating disease or age-related problems. A huge congratulations to the team from Loganlea State High School (top right image) who won first prize for their mobile app (which they actually created using MIT App Inventor) which was designed for people in wheelchairs to plan their route to restaurants, bringing in Google Street View images and reviews to help them plan their trip and locate wheelchair friendly restaurants. I was very impressed to see that within a couple of hours of the day 2 practical workshop they already had a rough prototype working on a tablet and had divided tasks nicely within their team. It’s very rare to see a group work so well or efficiently at university, so well done!

For some students like those from Flagstone State Community College, this was also their first opportunity to see a 3D printer in action – and they embraced the technology immediately. You can see their prototype in the top middle image which combines 3D printed pieces, Lego Mindstorms EV3 and a mobile phone, the idea being a robotic dog to act as a companion for elderly people including the capacity to make emergency calls should the person fall and injure themselves. Congratulations on winning second place.

I really hope to see some of these students come through the design courses at university, the ideas and prototypes of all groups were as good, if not better, than many I see from university students.


We also ran a 3D printing workshop at the CILECT Congress 2016 (the International Association of Film and Television Schools Congress), and what really amazed me is that none of the people who attended the session had ever seen or used a 3D printer before! I really thought film and 3D printing went hand-in-hand these days, particularly when you see the work of Legacy Effects in major movies like Iron Man and Robocop which rely heavily on 3D printing. But from the feedback I think the workshop definitely opened everyone’s mind to the potential of the technology, and need for it to be brought into the education of future film makers.


Most recently Createworld offered the opportunity to meet with educators and practitioners at the intersection of design and technology over 2 days of presentations and workshops, and this was also the first showing of the InMoov robot hand I’ve been building over the last few months (click here to check out the full development of this project). It now has a plywood stand which is great for hiding all the raw electronics. I also used my Wiiduino project from last year to showcase ideas like gamification, visual programming languages and customisation for 3D printing, alongside a few students from my Human Machine Interfaces class and fellow PhD researchers. I look forward to this event growing even bigger next year, it’s early days for this conference but the ideas and projects are very high quality.


Lastly a sneak peek inside the new 3D printing facility at Deakin University Waurn Ponds campus, where they have everything from desktop through to metal 3D printers and everything in between. The top left image is overlooking just some of the 3D printing facility, with more equipment in other rooms including a Virtual Reality room and labs for building robotics. I was there for the DESTECH conference and was blown away by the facilities, like a kid in a toy store! There are plenty of high-profile research projects coming out of here already so watch this space.

Looking at my calendar over the last month it has been a whirlwind of events, and it’s finally time to sit back, unwind and process it all over a few (or more!) drinks in the lead up to Christmas. 2016 has shown that 3D printing continues to grow and inspire, and I’m finally seeing some positive steps within schools, although there is still a long way to go. My printer has been running pretty constantly between these events so stay tuned for some project updates very soon.

– 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

Inside 3D Printing Sydney Review

20160511_Inside 3D Printing Syd 1

As my brain still tries to process everything from the 2016 Inside 3D Printing Conference Sydney, I thought a bit of a review might be a good way to try and both sort out my thoughts, and share with you some of the things on show and discussed throughout the 2 day conference. This conference was shared with National Manufacturing Week, which actually makes up the bulk of the exhibitor stands in the image above – 3D printing only filled up the very right thoroughfare from the Fuji Xerox sign to the back (yes there’s a bit of a disappointed tone in my voice here).

20160512_Inside 3D Printing Syd 2

Above you can see the size of the 3D printing conference itself – which I have to admit was a real shock to see when I walked in on day 1 expecting at least 100 people or more. Having been to RAPID last year in Los Angeles (you can read about my experience here) I guess I just expected a lot more interest in 3D printing by now in Australia! Our slow uptake despite having a significant share of the worlds titanium, which could be used right here for 3D printing, was certainly a common theme for discussion from many speakers, as were the trends and predictions for continued worldwide growth after the latest Wohlers Report for 2016. But well done to all the Queenslanders who made the trip down, I couldn’t believe how often I would speak to someone only to find out they were from my part of the world! Perhaps Inside 3D Printing should look at running in Brisbane next time?

The good news is there were some really great speakers, one of my favourites being from keynote Paul D’Urso about his pioneering use of 3D printing in surgery over the last 20 years. What I liked most was his candid insight into the tensions between what surgeons and their patients want (for example custom-fitting implants that heal quickly and are comfortable, custom tools and guides for surgeons to provide more accurate surgery, and 3D prints from CT scans for pre-surgical analysis and practice which saves time in the operating theater) as opposed to regulatory bodies like the FDA in the United States who are getting in the way of innovations like 3D printing and basically enabling large corporations to own the monopoly on expensive standardised medical equipment. He has a great proactive attitude of just getting in and improving implants and tools himself using 3D printing, and has founded Anatomics as a way to reach out to other surgeons with the tools and products he and his team have developed. A great “just do it” message which was really motivating.

Education was also a big theme, with speakers like Ben Roberts from Modfab and Stuart Grover from 3D Printing Studios sharing their experiences around educating children and the general public about 3D printing through various training programs and initiatives here in Australia. However it seems that there is still far too little being done to educate people about 3D printing, and indeed many other emerging technologies, and perhaps the low attendance at this conference is evidence of how far we have yet to go when compared with the same Inside 3D Printing conferences around the world which seem to generate very high numbers of attendance. A re-work of high school curriculum’s was a well received solution at the conference, with traditional wood-work and metal-work style classes needing to be reinvigorated with digital technologies to provide appropriate high-value skills to students due to the rapidly changing nature of jobs, with reports suggesting that by the year 2020 5 million jobs will be made redundant due to robotics and automation. One of the hurdles argued by Ben Roberts was that most teachers either don’t have the skills to teach CAD and 3D printing, or learned them 5 or more years ago and are now outdated. As someone very keen to help enable the next generation of designers through my regular training programs and visits to schools, along with being a part of the Advance Queensland scheme, I think this is an extremely important issue to tackle right now. Anyway, on to some of the fun things.

20160512_Inside 3D Printing Syd 3

Just like with RAPID, perhaps my favourite part of these conferences is the exhibition space – you never know what you’re going to see! Above on the left is the 3D printed jet engine from Monash University, Deakin University and Lab 22 (part of the CSIRO) which you may have seen in the media already. A lot of complexity with multiple 3D printing methods and materials used for the various parts, I just wish it was a working model! In the middle is a full-colour 3D printed hand, almost exactly the same size as mine. What’s unique about this print is that not only was it printed in 1 go, but that the outer “skin” material is soft and squishy like skin! This is a brand new printer from Fuji Xerox capable of printing with 5 material cartridges at once, and there is huge potential for this to create simulation models for training surgeons, or realistic copies of organs or tumors for surgeons to actually practice on prior to cutting open their patient. Lastly was a highly detailed SLS print of feathers as a fabric-like material at the 3D Printing Systems stand – just something a little more unusual compared to all the usual prints everyone normally displays.

20160512_National Manufacturing Week

Lastly just a few things that caught my eye throughout the other exhibits – on the left is one of the robotics displays for automating tasks like pick ‘n’ place – I think I could have a lot of fun with one of these next to my desk! In the middle was perhaps the most interesting display from my own research perspective, with CAD company PTC Creo beginning to enable Internet of Things devices to integrate into their software through the ThingWorx platform. Very much in line with my experiments using Rhino with the Grasshopper and Firefly plugins, however the addition of augmented reality is a really great touch – if you want to see a demo of their full system in action, check out their short 3 minute demo video of the bike being used in both the physical and virtual world. Lastly there were a few companies showing their CNC routers and laser cutters, some of them desktop in size – I just wish I could line them all up next to my 3D printer at home!

Overall a lot to soak up and plenty of new networks created with other attendees, I just hope next year there is an even bigger audience at the conference and even more amazing things happening.

– Posted by James Novak

Inside 3D Printing Sydney

160429 Inside 3D Printing Sydney

I just wanted to quickly put the word out about the Inside 3D Printing Conference & Expo happening in a couple of weeks in Sydney. Keynote speakers are Ian Gibson, Head of School at Deakin University, Fred Fischer from Stratasys, and neurosurgeon Paul D’Urso from Epworth Hospital. I’m also excited to be speaking at the conference on a topic called Gamification of CAD: Engaging Consumers Into The Design of 3D Printable Products which will show some of the developments around turning the 3D modeling process into more interactive and game-like experiences that anyone can pick up and understand. I will also be using some examples from my own work which I’ve previously posted here, including the Wiiduino which uses Wii nunchuck controllers to customise a 3D model in Rhino. Should be a lot of fun if the demo works! Come along and say hi šŸ™‚

But as always with these events, I’m most excited to wander the exhibit hall and speak with people about materials, printers and all things nerdy! My last experience at RAPID was just awesome, so much to learn and so many people doing interesting things.

If you’re interested in attending I have a discount code for the 2 day pass, just use the code SPEAKER40 to get 40% off your ticket! You can thank me later. Hope to see you there.

– Posted by James Novak

Design Your Own Custom Pen

2015-06-18 3D Print Pen

Last year I posted a bit of an inside look at a small project I was working on for my PhD (click here to have a look back at the post) but couldn’t say much since it was for an upcoming conference. Well that conference has been and gone, and my full paper has just been published online for you to read.

In essence it was an exploration of something called interactive fabrication, whereby someone with no CAD or design experience can actually create their own unique 3D printed pen using the ‘testing pen’ shown in the top right image. As you grip this pen, sensors translate the force of your grip in real time into a 3D model that is ergonomically correct for you. You then draw a closed shape such as a hexagon on a piece of paper, hold this up to your computer’s webcam, and this shape is automatically translated up the shaft of the pen. It’s as simple (and behind the scenes very complex) as that! The top left photo shows 4 different pens from 4 different people used during the testing of this project.

The complete process is controlled within Rhino 3D, using the Grasshopper plugin with Firefly to communicate with an Arduino, which I’ve explored in previous projects. There are plenty of improvements that can be made to this design, but as a prototype it certainly proves the potential to embed sensors within a product and automatically create custom functional products for people without the need for them to learn complex CAD software. As it happens, this is a large focus of my PhD!

Please feel free to read my paper called “Drawing the Pen: From Physical to Digital and Back Again” for full details of this project.

– Posted by James Novak

Creating 3D Print Test Parts in Solidworks

20151125_3D Test Piece

Over the last 2 days I’ve been heavily involved with the “Beyond 3D Printing: The Evolving Digital Landscape” conference in BrisbaneĀ  as discussed in a previous post. As part of the day 1 masterclasses I ran sessions on “CAD Strategies for 3D Printing” where we got everyone hands-on with Solidworks and ran a tutorial on how to create useful test pieces when you have a 3D printer, and how to take advantage of parametric tools available in Solidworks.

Obviously there are lots of ways to test your 3D printer’s limits, one of the simplest being to download some pre-made test pieces and run them through your printer to work out things like minimum wall thicknesses and support angles – Make Magazine have provided some great ones free on Thingiverse which they use for their articles comparing 3D printers. However this is more of a calibration tool, and doesn’t give you a deeper understanding of the limits and opportunities of 3D printing.

To get people thinking about this, I created a step-by-step tutorial showing how to create the test-pieces shown above. Click the below PDF to download the guide and follow along. If you don’t have Solidworks, you may still follow along and use the tools available in your own CAD software to create something similar.

CAD Strategies for 3D Printing – PDF Tutorial

A good test piece should give you a number of things to discover in each print, not only about what your printer can/can’t do, but also informing your design process. As you can see in the photographed prints, a test piece doesn’t have to successfully print in order to be valuable, you can learn a lot either way. By taking advantage of the parametric tools in Solidworks, when a print does fail, it will be very quick to modify a dimension or 2 and re-run the print. In this model we can learn about 3D printing without support material and minimum wall sections. We can also gauge how likely our more complex model on the right is to print, which is simply a repeated pattern of the basic pyramid lattice. Complexity doesn’t actually have to be complex to model, you can use pattern features to repeat a relatively simple shape over and over again.

This also brings into question the debate about when CAD should be used in your design process. Traditionally the development of a concept has been done by sketching on paper, with CAD being used more as a final documentation tool later in the design process. But when designing for additive manufacturing, perhaps it’s time to bring CAD into the early stages of the process alongside sketching, in order to understand exactly what’s possible with the technology, and challenge traditional thinking? What do you think?

– Posted by James Novak

Brisbane 3D Printing Forum

151026 3D Print Forum

Normally I never use this blog to promote anything, but with a 2-day 3D printing forum happening in my part of the world in November, I think it’s my duty to put it out there! Normally I have to travel around the world to attend events like RAPID, so it’s great that my university has sponsored one right here in Brisbane, Australia.

If you’re in this part of the world, or can get here, click this link to read the full schedule and register to attend. I will also be showing my latest wearable technology PhD project (you may notice some of my previous work featured in the flyer!), alongside a selection of students from my Human Machine Interfaces class who have spent the semester using Arduino’s and 3D printing to create everything from exo-skeleton hands to wearable posture correction devices.

Key speakers include Dr Lionel Dean from Future Factories who I’m really interested to speak to about his work in computational design, and Professor Olaf Diegel whose 3D printed guitar you are probably familiar with. Should be a great event so I hope to see you there!

– Posted by James Novak

A Rapid Roundup of RAPID

2015-05-20 RAPID

As mentioned in my last post, I recently returned from the RAPID 3D Printing Conference in Los Angeles and was completely blown away by the amazing talks and exhibitions over 4 days. A must-see event for anyone serious about the world of 3D printing and also 3D scanning. The photo above shows the huge exhibition floor that I easily spent a few hours exploring every day just to soak it all up. Here I’d just like to share a small selection of the things that really amazed and inspired me.

150526 RAPID Keynotes

Two of the keynotes were of course extremely interesting, day 1 featuring Jason Dunn from the well known Made in Space program. Yes, the guys responsible for sending and operating the first 3D printer on the International Space Station! As a bit of a space nerd, who spent my first day before the conference visiting the retired Endeavour Space Shuttle, this talk was extremely inspiring. Just hearing about the extreme lengths they went through to design and test their printer, and receive approvals from an extremely conservative NASA, was a real insight into the challenges we face when we think about missions to Mars and beyond. For example did you know that it currently costs $10,000 to send just 1kg of material into space? Or that an astronauts time on board the International Space Station costs $40,000 per hour! So asking an astronaut to remove a simple 3D print can turn into a very costly process!

As always Terry Wohlers provided an insight into the current state of the 3D printing industry, and a vision for what to expect over the coming years. Beyond the stats that formulate part of the annual Wohlers Report, something that really stood out to me was that Airbus currently employ 35 people full-time dedicated to additive manufacturing. In just 3 years time (2018) they will be producing 30 tonnes of parts manufactured using 3D printing technology. 30 tonnes!!! That’s a lot of metal and plastic printers, and a lot of raw material being bought up by just one company. For those people still thinking 3D printing is only a prototyping technology, it’s time to wake up!

2015-05-20 StratasysWith 3 days of presentations, there was of course something for everyone during the event. I took this photo during a presentation from 2 guys at Stratasys who have completely 3D printed functional skis and a snowboard. They have used a variety of internal cell structures to increase strength, as well as using a material called ULTEM 9085 which runs through the Fortus machines and provides extremely high strength and stiffness. Definitely a material I’d like to get my hands on, and hopefully possible to run through our Fortus 250mc at Griffith University.

By far the most crowded room I squeezed into was a presentation by Greg Mark, the CEO of MarkForged. If you haven’t heard of this company, look them up – their Mark One printer can print with continuous strands of carbon fiber and kevlar, all for under $5000. Judging by the crowd, and having the chance to spend 5 minutes talking with Greg on the exhibition floor, I think it’s pretty clear that everyone is excited by this company. The parts I played with, including a surfboard fin and motorcycle brake lever, were incredibly strong, and only featured a handful of layers of carbon fiber within the 3D printed parts. The Mark One is certainly on top of my wishlist, especially with my previous attempts of 3D printing fins for my kiteboard.

2015-05-21 RAPID

Despite all of this, by far the best part of RAPID was the show floor. Not only was there a diverse range of companies, from the big players like 3D Systems and Materialise down to newer start-ups, but every booth had a diverse range of 3D printed products, the sorts of products I’ve only seen written about online. This included the first functional 3D printed motorcycle, the New Balance custom track shoes, numerous 3D printed medical devices and prosthetics, piles of crazy lattice structures in metals and plastics, fashion, furniture… The list is endless! Hence why my brain hurt by the end of each day! But what was great was the ability to get up close to these products, touch them, question them, and discuss them with people that were involved in creating them.

2015-05-19 Nervous

A personal highlight was of course seeing some pieces by Jessica Rosenkrantz (aka Nervous System) who I have been following for some time. You might recall a recent print of a bracelet I did from a downloaded Thingiverse file from Nervous System that turned out really well. The complexities of their designs, created using algorithms and coding, are really cutting edge and helped inspire my FIX3D bicycle frame and my new line of PhD research that delves into some similar generative tools.

In terms of some new products that interested me, there was a really interesting PLA material from a company called 3D Fuel in partnership with Algix, which is infused with Algae. This means the material is very quick to break down and compost at the end of its’ life, much faster than traditional PLA. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a sample, but it’s one to keep an eye on as they plan to bring a range of different colours to market soon. Lulzbot also had an impressive display of their 3D printers, with the large TAZ model (print area of 298mm x 275mm x 250mm) priced at $2200. The printer and software is all open source, and they had some great examples of products printed in NinjaFlex, and also a brand new material called n-Vent by Taulman 3D.

This is just a very brief summary of a few of the highlights from RAPID 2015, an event that I hope to attend again next year. I can’t recommend it enough. Hopefully some of these links and companies to watch are useful to those that couldn’t make it. If you’re in Europe, an announcement was made at the conference that SME would be partnering with EUROMOLD later this year to really bring the excitement of RAPID to Europe, so keep an eye out for that.

– Posted by James Novak