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

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

Custom SUP Fin

20160125_Custom SUP Fin

I’ve recently bought my own Stand Up Paddle (SUP) board, an inflatable version from Flysurfer, which so far is working really well. But this isn’t a product review! My local paddling spots are all very flat, but the fins that came with the board are very surf oriented. This means that when paddling in flat water there is a lot of drag from the 2 outside fins which are angled out from the center line (see the middle photo), and the board doesn’t travel in a straight line – you have to swap hands every few strokes. It’s not a huge deal, but I was curious to see what difference a large single fin would make since most boards I’ve seen use this. Unfortunately Flysurfer don’t sell them, so it was time to get making!

All I did was use my flatbed scanner to capture the original fin shape (the black one in the right photo), trace the top section in Adobe Illustrator since this is the critical detailing to fit with the board, and then add my own shape for the fin based on the shape of some popular fins online. No 3D CAD required. This was laser cut from a piece of clear acrylic, and I used a file and sandpaper to add some shape to the edges. Voila.

Unfortunately I can’t give this particular design 2 thumbs up, it doesn’t perform quite as well as I expected. While it seems a little easier to glide through the water, the fin doesn’t improve the boards ability to hold a straight line – I think it’s a little bit loose in the socket and tilts on an angle in the water. The acrylic might be a little too thin, but it’s a start. I’ll make some tweaks and try again – it’s nice to make something that’s not 3D printed for a change.

If anyone has any experience playing around with different fin configurations or shapes I’d love to hear from you – I’ve read a few interesting articles from and Neverbored but there’s only so much you can learn by reading, especially when you have to make your own fins because of the limitations of the inflatable board.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Motorcycle Key Guard

20151215 Bike Key Cover

To finish 2015 I have finally had a chance to 3D print another part for my motorcycle – a key guard. In a previous post I showed some 3D printed rear peg plugs and mirror plugs using this same bright orange ABS colour which perfectly matches my bike. With this being a second hand bike from 2007, the paint around the ignition has many scratches, with previous owners obviously having a key-ring and letting the extra keys bounce around to cause a mess. Nothing major, but something I see every time I get on the bike. I personally keep my bike key separate so this doesn’t happen, but something to cover the scratches seems like a nice addition, and another custom feature for the bike.

With a new tank pad, I’ve used a matching pattern for this part to create some consistency in design. As usual the design was created using some digital calipers to take measurements, and Solidworks CAD software for the 3D modelling. Another quick job less than an hour to design (my favourite)!

The challenge with it is definitely in the 3D printing – it’s quite a fragile piece, and I have broken a number of previous attempts just trying to remove support material. You can see in the top left photo that this working part was printed standing up on an Up! Plus 2, ensuring the layers run in the optimal direction for strength when flexing it over the bike handlebars (it uses a snap detail to hold in place). The downside with this orientation is that support material was added to each of the openings, requiring a slow and painful process to remove it all. A couple of minor fractures had to be super-glued along the way, but at least it’s held together OK. I will try this part again in the future (hopefully on my new Tiko when it arrives!), possibly thickening it a fraction to give it a little more strength.

I also did try using acetone to cleanup the surfaces and stress marks where support was removed, which I’ve had success with on previous prints, but found that a white residue was left on the material – apparently this can happen with some colours of ABS plastic. So instead I tried ‘brushing’ the surfaces through a hot flame, with moderate success. This removed the white residue and cleaned things up a bit, but in one area did cause a bubble to form and slight blackening of the surface. Luckily these aren’t really noticeable unless you get up really close. So all in all, another great bit of custom 3D printing for my bike!

That’s it for 2015, have a fantastic Christmas and New Year, and thanks for reading my blog and following all of my trials and errors with this great technology. See you all for another big year of 3D printing in 2016.

– Posted by James Novak

Solo Riding Only – 3D Printed Solution

20151102_Motorcycle Rear Pegs

Many motorcycle riders will never take a passenger, yet all bikes will accommodate for those that may by including larger/extra seating, handles and rear foot pegs. While of course you can just leave these on and ride as normal, I’m someone that likes to remove anything that’s not needed, streamlining the look of the bike and of course reducing a bit of extra weight! It can also save a bit on your registration costs.

Unfortunately one issue with my Kawasaki ER-6N is that the positioning for the rear pegs is part of the rear sets, to which my rear brake, gear lever etc. are fitted, so removing them is not an option (as shown in the top right image). Many bikes will have a separate frame for the pegs so they can be completely removed without affecting the rest of the bike. So when I removed the pegs I was left with empty brackets in a very visually obvious position on both sides of the bike. Hello 3D printing!

I 3D modeled a simple plug to fill in the gap using Solidworks, a very quick process once the key measurements had been taken of the bracket. They were 3D printed on an Up! Plus 2 (as usual), and a colleague at uni tried a couple of orientations to test the surface finish as pictured above. Obviously the one on the right has the least amount of support material and the best surface finish in the areas where it will be seen so this is what I’ve used on my bike. Perfect fit the first time, and I think a nice detail on the bike to match my previously 3D printed mirror plugs.

There is another part I’m playing around with at the moment, but as yet the prints I have don’t have a good surface finish, even after playing around with acetone. You will just have to watch this space to see what it is 🙂

– Posted by James Novak

First 3D Printed Motorcycle Parts

20151023_Mirror Plugs

Yes I’m a 3D printing nerd, and yes I’ve been dying to 3D print some pieces for my motorcycle since buying it a few weeks ago!

One of the upgrades I’m doing on the bike is to change my mirrors to bar end mirrors, meaning I have no need for the mounting holes built into the controls for standard mirrors. This will normally leave a large hole (10mm diameter) on each controller in a very visually obvious location, and on my last bike I spent nearly $20 on just 2 coloured titanium screws to fill them in. But this time I knew I could do it far cheaper with 3D printing.

A few simple measurements later, and a quick Solidworks CAD model, the caps you see pictured were ready to print. It may seem a bit wanky but I thought adding my initials to them would be an interesting way to talk to people about 3D printing and the ability to customise a design, in a similar way to adding my name within the 3D printed bicycle I created last year. But what’s most enjoyable is seeing the threaded detail work perfectly (it’s an M10 x 1.25 thread for anyone playing at home!), so once again I have to give my big tick of approval to the Up! Plus 2 printers for being extremely consistent and accurate. These were printed using the 0.15mm layer thickness and fine speed settings.

Plenty more ideas for parts to come, so stay tuned.

– Posted by James Novak

10 Steps to STL File Modification: A Beginner’s Guide

Pinshape STL Article

Have you ever wanted to modify a .stl file that you’ve downloaded from a website like Pinshape or Thingiverse? While .stl’s are tricky to work with (similar to a really low resolution image), there is free software out there that will let you both modify and repair files to your hearts content!

My first tutorial as a guest writer for Pinshape has just been published, showing you how to modify a .stl file in 10 easy steps – just click the link to check it out. It’s very exciting to be writing for them, and I hope it helps give you the confidence to start customising your 3D prints, as this is really one of the great advantages of 3D printing in the first place.

You can also look back to some of my own past tutorials that I’ve created whilst working on particular projects, including using MeshLab to add text to a .stl, or turning a 3D form into a low-poly model. I must admit that I’ve now discovered Meshmixer (as featured in the Pinshape tutorial), and think it is a far easier tool to use than MeshLab. Both are free so check them out and see what suits you.

– Posted by James Novak (aka. edditive)

UPDATE 30/03/2016: With the sad news that Pinshape has closed down (read more here), you can now read this article in the PDF below.

Click here to open the PDF

A Game of Generative Design

150824 Lightbulb

A few weeks ago I designed a 3D printable light cover (lampshade) inspired by a shattered lightbulb – you can read more about it and download the STL file for free by clicking here. I’ve been taking the concept a bit further using Grasshopper in Rhino to explore the ability to generatively create endless forms within the exact same bounds, meaning every iteration can be successfully 3D printed. Above are some of the outputs from this experimentation.

These are going to be 3D printed for an upcoming exhibition at Design Philadelphia, along with the complete interactive CAD model which will allow 2 people to work together to customise the lamp design using Wii game controllers, turning the design process into a game-like experience. There’s a bit of work left to go to get this interactive element right, but it will hopefully show how CAD may move from being a complex, time-consuming skill to learn into something much more tactile and interactive for the every-day consumer. There are already a handful of interesting apps surfacing such as the Shape Maker tool from Makerbot, or the 2D to 3D tool from Shapeways, which make creating 3D files as simple as drawing a sketch on paper and taking a photo. But generative tools like I’m working on may be the next generation, allowing far more intricate and complex forms.

What do you think would be useful for non-designers to create 3D CAD files?

– Posted by James Novak

Use Protection, It Only Takes 1 Hour

2015-02-27 USB CoverI love little projects like this! There’s just something so satisfying about having an idea, creating a 3D model, and turning that idea into reality all within an hour. The power of 3D printing!

I’m sure from the photos this one’s pretty self explanatory, but after buying a new USB for uni, I thought a cover/cap might be useful to protect it from collecting dirt in my bag and damaging the electronics. Also, the opportunity to label it with my name ‘Novak’ was important since USB’s can be so easily lost at uni, or mixed up with someone else’s while being shared around.

2015-02-27 14.18.37 editAll I did to create this was use a set of calipers to measure the USB, add a tolerance of about 0.5mm, and Bob’s your uncle. I 3D printed it on my Up! Plus 2 using the 0.15mm layer thickness, which took about 35 minutes. Whilst doing this I also made an attempt on my less-than-reliable Solidoodle Press, but for some reason after making a good start there was a ‘skip,’ causing the extruder to start printing in mid air (pictured to the right). sigh. And just in case you’re wondering why this print looks like it’s printed on a piece of cardboard instead of the glass or perforated PCB, well it is! Just experimenting with printing on different surfaces to avoid that annoying need to spray hairspray/glue everywhere on the standard glass print plate of the Press… Stay tuned for some results soon.

– Posted by James Novak