3D printing is cool, but have you tried 2.5D printing?

20190617 2-5D Print Thin Wall 3D

Over the last 18 months or so I’ve been stripping back FDM 3D printing to its basics, experimenting with a variety of materials, composites and patterns designed to be printed flat and assembled into more complex 3D forms. Why?

Well there are many reasons why you might want to use a 3D printer to create relatively flat forms: firstly, as anyone who has used a 3D printer would know, the process is extremely slow. The less vertical height you need to print the faster your part will be completed (generally). Secondly, most accessible 3D printers have a very small build volume, and often you want to 3D print something huge. By 3D printing a lot of smaller, flat parts and assembling them later, you can create a large 3D printed object on a small machine (for example check out the full length inBloom Dress by XYZ Workshop which was assembled out of 191 smaller panels).

This type of 3D printing has actually been called 2.5D printing, since it is essentially the production of 2D geometry that is extruded in a single direction. No fancy lattice structures or compound curves here! Below are some examples I’ve printed over the years, and while some of them like the mesostructure (centre) may look complex, the geometry can be described by a single 2D drawing and extrusion (Z) dimension.

20190617 2-5D Print Examples

What I’ve learned is that when you are 2.5D printing often thin geometries, optimising the dimensions of the geometry for the specific capabilities of your FDM machine are critical. In fact, just a 0.1mm change in the thickness of a wall can reduce your print time by ~50%, which is a huge time saving. Knowing what these “magic” wall thickness settings are is powerful, and also very simple when you understand the logic.

This information has now been published in a book chapter titled “Designing Thin 2.5D Parts Optimized for Fused Deposition Modeling,” and provides several equations you can use to quickly calculate the optimum dimensions you should use if you want to 2.5D print (or even 3D print) as quickly as possible with maximum accuracy. Below is a visual graph that can be used to select the optimum wall thickness settings when 3D printing with a 0.4mm nozzle, and also shows the effect STL resolution can have. Full details about this graph can be found in the book, however the short version is that you want to be designing thin wall features using dimensions that fall inside the black boxed (or dashed) regions. So, for example if you will be using a 0.8mm printed wall thickness (representing 2×0.4mm extrusions in your slicer), the optimum dimensions to design with in CAD are 0.5-0.8mm, 1.3-1.6mm, or 2.0-2.3mm. Anything outside of these dimensions will require some level of infill structure which takes longer to print, and can result in a more messy part.

20190617 3D Print Thin Wall

For a part similar to the mesostructure earlier, we calculated that simply adding 0.1mm of thickness to the design from 1.2mmm up to 1.3mm would decrease print time by 38% – yes, it sounds counter-intuitive, but adding material can actually reduce print time!

Designing for additive manufacturing (DfAM) is a very important research area, and it is knowledge like this that I hope can be implemented by designers, manufacturers and others involved in 3D printing. If you want to learn more about 2.5D printing, and the equations you can use to calculate the “optimized zones” for your own 3D printer, please check out my chapter which can be purchased with a 40% discount using my author code “IGI40,” or if you are at a university you may find you already have access through your library subscriptions.

Happy 2.5D printing.

– Posted by James Novak

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Hex Business Card Holder Tiles

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A new office and a new excuse to design and 3D print something! Like many people I end up with piles of business cards that I don’t know what to do with. They clutter my desk, get lost, and ultimately end up in the bin. Sure, there are loads of fancy solutions at stationery stores, and plenty of apps to digitise them, but where’s the fun in that?

Now that I have pinboards wrapping my desk I decided to design a simple, easy to 3D print hexagon business card holder that could be pinned up out of the way. After all, everyone loves hexagons right? While the design is extremely simple (a few extrudes and cuts in Fusion 360), the trick was to model it in a way that would allow it to be 3D printed without any support material – so, as you can see from the layers in the photos, they are (perhaps counter-intuitively) printed in the same orientation they are used. This was an important thing to consider during the design process, with no horizontal beams and all angles >30° from horizontal, and is an important part of what’s known as Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM).

There is a small hole and recess to fit a thumb tack, and you can 3D print as many as you need. As usual you can freely download and print this design for yourself from Thingiverse, Pinshape, MyMiniFactory or Cults, and I’d love to see photos of how big you can make your Hex Business Card wall!

Happy printing 🙂

– Posted by James Novak

 

3D Printing Pop Culture & Viral Objects

20190508 Pop Culture 3D Print

As regular readers of this blog will know, I’ve been involved with 3D printing, making, education and various online communities for a while now. Which is why it’s very exciting to share my latest piece of writing, a book chapter titled “The Popular Culture of 3D Printing: When the Digital Gets Physical” which I wrote with former colleague and fellow maker Paul Bardini from Griffith University.

As the name suggests, the chapter looks at the popular cultural context of 3D printing, rather than the more technical aspects featured in most academic writing. As makers, we are both really interested in the growth of 3D printing and spread of 3D printing files on platforms like Thingiverse, MyMiniFactory and others, so we got a bit scientific and collected some data. The results are very interesting!

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Firstly, one of the things we did was collect the total number of files available from a range of 3D printing file repositories, as well as other more general 3D file repositories. Above is the data we collected (on 26th August 2018) which clearly shows Thingiverse to be the largest specific 3D printing file website. This is no surprise given that the website began in 2008, well before most competitors, building a network effect that still seems to be going strong despite some of the most recent challenges Thingiverse has been experiencing. However, there are plenty of other much larger libraries of CAD files that could be searched for 3D printing files, and even though some will be specific to certain CAD software, there’s always a way to make these 3D printable.

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Given the size of Thingiverse, we then looked at the most popular designs on the platform, collecting data (you will have to check out the full chapter for this!), and then calculated the average downloads per day for these designs. The graph above shows this data against the date the design was uploaded to the platform. Some of the names you may recognise: #3DBenchy, Baby Groot, the XYZ 20mm Calibration Cube and the Xbox One controller mini wheel. But what does it all mean?

Well, the short story is that objects uploaded to Thingiverse today will be downloaded in higher volumes per day than objects uploaded earlier in Thingiverse’s history. The trend line is increasing, matching the growth of 3D printer ownership; more people are downloading more things, with the Xbox One controller mini wheel recording 700 downloads per day when it was newly released. However, #3DBenchy is by far the most downloaded design of all time, right now having been downloaded over 900,000 times on Thingiverse alone, as well as being available on almost every other 3D file platform. This has lead to our classification of it as a “viral object.” Similar to viral videos and viral media campaigns, a viral object extends these concepts into the physical world through 3D printing, being first spread rapidly through online file sharing communities, then turned into physical objects in their thousands despite each being made in a different location, by a different machine.

This raises some interesting questions:  A viral video or piece of advertising made up of digital bits can easily be deleted, but how do you delete a viral object made up of physical atoms? Simply discarding 3D prints into landfill is unsustainable, and new solutions are necessary that make recycling of 3D prints affordable and accessible to the masses. It is also worth looking at the quantities an object like #3DBenchy is being downloaded and 3D printed, which is clearly in a magnitude similar to injection moulding and the mass production paradigm that 3D printing is supposed to disrupt. While it’s useful to have an object to calibrate and compare 3D printers, it’s also interesting to see that people still want to print and own the same object, rather than being truly individual.

The trend for viral objects is certainly one to watch, and the chapter provides a detailed analysis of this and other emerging trends related to 3D printing and pop culture. If you’re interested in reading the chapter, you may use my author discount code “IGI40” to get a 40% discount, or if you’re at a university you may find you already have access through your library subscriptions. Paul and myself certainly welcome your feedback and thoughts 🙂

– Posted by James Novak

Shim the 3D printed shim

IMG_20190226_3D Print Shim Doorstop

We’ve all experienced that wobbly table at a cafe and struggled to wedge coasters and napkins under the legs to balance it out. This is where you need a shim, a small wedge that can fill the gap and ensure your drinks don’t go flying. Shim is also fun to say, quick to 3D print, and a good test of your print settings due to the top surface exhibiting the stair-stepped effect.

There are many designs available on popular 3D printing file websites, but I just wanted one that was a useful size (easy to carry with you in a small bag) and that said what it was. So here it is, Shim the shim! You can download it for free on Thingiverse, Pinshape, Cults or MyMiniFactory. Alternatively you can follow the basic outline of the design process below to make your own from scratch in your favourite CAD software. It’s similar to some of my previous designs including an “edditive” desk logo which might give you some inspiration for different ways to use text in 3D.

IMG_20190226_Solidworks TextShim was designed in Solidworks by using the text tool on the top sketch plane. The key is to squish all of the text together so that the letters intersect, meaning they will 3D print together as a single object (in Solidworks you can simply change the spacing of text within the text tool). The text was then extruded 10mm, creating solid geometry. All you need to do to create the wedge shape is then slice a triangular portion off the top, which in Solidworks uses the extruded cut tool. Save to STL and 3D print, it couldn’t be much simpler!

This is a nice quick 3D print and could easily be used as a keyring or give-away item, especially if you design your own. Enjoy, share and print!

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Chainmail: Size XL

20181030_3D Print Chainmail

If you’re into 3D printing like me, chances are you’ve already 3D printed chainmail and been excited by the ability to produce something that is made of multiple parts already assembled and ready to go. If you’re new to 3D printing, what you might not realise is that because you are printing objects in small layer increments, you can print these layers in such a way that different pieces become trapped within each other as the print progresses, permanently assembling them together. This means that something like chainmail, which has been hand assembled for thousands of years one link at a time, can now be printed with all the links in place.

One of the most popular examples in recent years has been from well known designer Agustin Flowalistik, whose unique design of chainmail has been downloaded over 100k times already on Thingiverse! Click here to download the file for yourself and add to this growing number. After one of my previous posts about the new Wanhao Duplicator D9/500 printer, I wanted to see how it would handle the intricate geometry, however, at 200% the scale. Go big or go home!

Well, as you can see from the photos it worked quite nicely. With the large 0.8mm nozzle the layers certainly look rough and messy – this print isn’t going to win any awards for being pretty. But it worked, and on this sketchy 3D printer that’s the most important thing at the moment. One of the nicest things was peeling it off the magnetic flexible build plate of the D9, which you can see in the first picture above – no hacking away with a spatula which is one of the positives of the printer. The links freely move and because of the large size, the chainmail has quite an industrial feel about it. Very satisfying.

So I think I can chalk this one up as a win on the Wanhao D9, which I think brings my score up to about 2 wins, and too many failures to count… Not great but after a firmware update I hope there will be some more wins to come.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Medal and Trophy

IMG_20181024 3D Printed Trophy Medal

As a product designer focused on 3D printing in my job at the University of Technology Sydney, it was no surprise that I found myself being asked to design some 3D printed awards for the end of year 2018 Vice-Chancellor’s Awards for Research Excellence. And while not receiving an award (yet!), I think it’s even more fun to get to be designing them – besides, now I can print them out for myself!

I was asked to design 2 different awards which you can see pictured above. The first were a set of 3 medals, and my only brief was to have them 3D printed in metal, and for them be approximately the size of previous medals given out for the awards. I based my design on a spinner concept which I’ve previously printed, with an important feature being the cone-like details which hold this assembly together when printed as a single part. There is no support material required, with one of my goals being to highlight through the design the capabilities of 3D printing in metal. For recipients, my goal was to create something playful and engaging, rather than most medals which are kept in a case and quickly forgotten. Thanks to my friend Olaf Diegel at Lund University for printing these in aluminium and sending them to us in time!

VID_20181023_095036 GIF

For those familiar with metal 3D printing (Direct Metal Laser Sintering to be specific), you can probably guess there was a lot of manual post-processing of these medals to remove the base supports and polish the surfaces. Below you can see the medal as it comes out of the printer on the left (once cut from the build plate), and the final polished version on the right. All of the base support material you can see in the raw version had to be filed away while held in a vice, before going through a lengthy process of polishing. Slow, painful work, but you haven’t truly 3D printed in metal until you’ve gone through this process, it makes peeling away plastic support material from FDM prints seem like child’s play!

cof

The second award was a trophy which also continued with the 3D printed assembly concept. My only brief for this design was for it to be printed on our own HP Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer, which is very similar to SLS printing. Many of us have seen the “ball in a ball in a ball” type of prints which are often shown at 3D printing expos and events, and I built off this to incorporate a lattice frame to contain the balls. The basic design was done in Solidworks, however, the balls were just solid spheres at this stage. I then exported them into Meshmixer in order to apply a lattice structure to them, using 2 different geometries. All parts were then imported into Meshmixer in order to export them as a final fully assembled file ready for printing.

VID_20181024_134222 GIF

A little bit of laser cutting and timber work by a colleague really helped bring the design to life, and again, the trophy encourages interaction and play. Congratulations to the winners and finalists, I hope you enjoy your awards as much as I did creating them. With any luck I might get to design them again in 2 years and bring one home myself for real! 😉

– Posted by James Novak

Using Every Last Drop

IMG_20180917_Webcam 3D Print Mount

Perhaps it’s the result of spending 10 years as a poor uni student, but I really like to use every last drop of liquids: sauce, toothpaste, shampoo and yes, deodorant. Many of the roll-on style deodorants, such as those from Nivea, have a domed lid, meaning it’s impossible to tip them upside down as liquid is running low and store them so gravity can do its thing. In my mind, this is a design flaw in the packaging (although from Nivea’s point of view, this is a great way to keep people buying more products more often).

I had originally planned to create my own design to solve this problem, however, after a quick search on Thingiverse I was pleasantly surprised to see many people had already beat me to it! There are plenty of designs to choose from, and I decided on this helix design for its interesting form. Click here to download the file for yourself from Thingiverse.

The print took just over an hour to complete, and as you can see from the pictures, it does exactly what it promises. I also streamed the 3D print on my YouTube channel, so if you like watching the grass grow, here is an hour of entertainment just for you! Make sure you subscribe if you want to be alerted of the next live 3D print 🙂

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Webcam Mount

IMG_20180917_Webcam 3D Print Mount

Whenever I travel I always have a small Guerrilla tripod to easily mount my cameras just about anywhere – the flexible arms make it perfect for wrapping around handrails or quickly levelling on uneven surfaces. Which made it my first choice when it came to mounting an old webcam so I can begin streaming my 3D prints to Youtube!

I’m seeing a lot of people like @wildrosebuilds posting awesome time-lapse videos of their 3D prints, and plenty of tutorials online showing how to build quite elaborate rigs to do so. I don’t really have time to deal with all of the video editing for each print, but the opportunity to live-stream prints directly to Youtube seems like a great way to share what I’m working on in real-time, and also allow me to monitor prints without having to physically be with the printer. However, webcams aren’t designed to mount to the typical screw mechanism used by tripods/cameras, so I had to design my own bracket to allow me to mount an old Logitech C270 HD webcam to the tripod.

The top right image shows the small slide-in clip that screws to the underside of a camera, and locks into the tripod. My first step was to reverse engineer this part with a set of calipers, modelling the geometry in Solidworks. I then added a vertical element to attach to the webcam, which has a hole on the back normally used by a bracket attaching the webcam to a computer screen. An extra lip on the front to hold the webcam in a vertical orientation, and voilà!

The blue bracket has been printed on my Wanhao Duplicator i3 Plus in PLA, and a screw I had lying around holds the webcam to the bracket. A nice little solution that should see some action very soon. Subscribe to my Youtube channel or follow me on Twitter to be alerted when I begin streaming prints, I know it can be a bit like grass growing but watching 3D prints is still addictive to me. If you’d like to download this design for yourself, you can find it on Thingiverse, Pinshape and Cults – feel free to make your own modifications as needed and share, I know the C270 is quite a popular webcam.

– Posted by James Novak

UPDATE: If you want to see my first live-stream using this webcam mount, here it is:

Check out my channel to see more, and subscribe to be alerted when I go live.

#3DBenchy, the Most Downloaded 3D Print

20180914_3DBenchy

If you are involved in 3D printing there’s no doubt you’ve at least heard of #3DBenchy, if not printed one, or two, or even more. What is #3DBenchy? Well, it’s a tug boat of course! But more than that, #3DBenchy has become like the “Hello World!” from coding, the go to 3D model to test out a new printer or setting. Why a tug boat? That’s a very good question, and the only real explanation is that it includes a number of features that challenge a printer including overhangs (e.g. roof) and a variety of angled surfaces. Also, it’s a little more interesting than a basic calibration cube or set of test prints.

#3DBenchy was developed by a company called Creative Tools, initially as an in-house calibration test for their own printers. On April 9th 2015, Creative Tools uploaded the design to Thingiverse for anyone to download for free, and the rest, as they say, is history. Since then the file has been downloaded over 600,000 times from Thingiverse alone, and can be found on pretty much any other 3D file sharing website. #3DBenchy even has its own website, Instagram profile, and Twitter account – talk about a famous 3D print!

I’ve never seen any need to jump on board the #3DBenchy bandwagon, however, I was recently writing up some research that required me to photograph a #3DBenchy, and I’m always up for an excuse to print something new. So here we are, #3DBenchy in hand, and given I used some relatively fast settings to get it printed in about 1 hour, I think the result is quite good. This one is the original #3DBenchy at full scale, printed without support. And of course my photos have been fed back onto Thingiverse as one of the 2788 makes of #3DBenchy, and one of 2961 posts on Instagram… and counting. Vive la révolution!

– Posted by James Novak

Yes I Wrap, Don’t You?

20180831_3D Print Vase Wrap String

One of the common features of desktop 3D printing is the sharp, hard feel of plastic with that scratchy horizontal layered surface finish. Sure plastic has many benefits, but when you handle 3D prints all day long you sometimes forget that there are other textures in the world that are soft, delicate, pleasurable to touch. Enter the wrap, an experiment that softens those 3D prints in a crafty, hand-finished way.

For this project I downloaded the Customizable Twisted Polygon Vase from Thingiverse, which you will notice when you download is a solid block. This print takes advantage of a feature known as “vase mode” in many slicing programs, although if like me you are using Cura it’s called “Spiralize,” and you will need to activate it in your settings in order to have it available in your main screen settings. Basically the idea is that you can load any solid 3D model and automatically turn it into a vase-like shape i.e. a base and an outside wall without any interior or top surface. The outer wall is a single perimeter, which the printer continually extrudes in a spiralling/helical fashion as it works its way up the vertical height of your object. So no need to use a “shell” command in your 3D CAD modelling software, you can design a solid block and let the slicing software automatically create a single perimeter based on the extruder settings of any FDM 3D printer. A fun project in itself.

Phase 2 of the project was to use some wool yarn to wrap the exterior. What’s interesting about this process is that the layered surface finish of the 3D print actually helps hold the yarn/string in place, stopping it from slipping down the vase and helping align each rotation of the yarn. A relaxing project while you’re sitting in front of the TV or Netflix! The yarn I used was very fine so took quite a while, however you could easily use a thicker yarn to reduce the amount of effort to achieve a similar result. The result is really interesting; it keeps the layered appearance of a 3D print, yet is soft to the touch and provides a unique finish to the vase. Something you could easily customise with colours and different types of yarn materials. Ultimately, it creates an interesting combination of a highly digital process with a more craft-based process and material… Something worth a bit more experimentation I think.

If you give it a go, please share a photo with me, I’d be interested to see your results!

– Posted by James Novak