3D Printed Outdoor Lights in PETG

It’s official – my entire house now uses 3D printed light covers!

If you follow this blog you may have seen some of my previous indoor light covers, featuring a 3D scanned sea urchin shell and a pineapple. Of course, I couldn’t stop with indoor lights, especially since the outdoor wall-mounted lights on my house looked like the cheapest fittings available. They were desperately in need of an upgrade.

Luckily the fitting includes a piece that is easily unscrewed to accommodate standard DIY light covers. A few simple measurements, including the diameter of the fitting and distance of the protruding light bulb, meant that I had everything needed to create my own design in CAD. For this one I decided to use Fusion 360, just to keep my skills up as I’ve done a few projects in Solidworks recently. The only other limitation was the size of the Prusa MK3S+ build volume (250 x 210 x 210mm), as I wanted the light cover to be 3D printable in a single piece.

Putting all of this information in Fusion 360 gave me a starting point, and of course I began experimenting with a few simple ideas. The one that stuck was this collection of lofts that twist in different directions. Not overly complex, just a clean design that is easy to clean (a complex lattice would just invite spiders!) and protects the lightbulb from sun/rain. Because these are mounted quite high on the walls, what I really wanted was a cool effect when you are looking directly up at the light from below – see the top right image.

Something else I experimented with for the first time with this design was 3D printing using PETG filament – specifically, PETG from eSun. Why? Mainly because PETG has good UV stability so should last while out in the elements and sunshine. But what I’ve really enjoyed is how easy it is to print with – no warping, good adhesion to the build platform and no smelly fumes while printing. Happy days! I actually used the default PETG settings in PrusaSlicer and they seem to be dialled in nicely (no surprises really, thanks Prusa). The material also has a translucency, so the light shade has a bit of a glow when the light is on as you can see in the photos. If you’re looking for more details about the material properties and slicing settings for PETG, this article is a good starting point.

And of course, I’m giving this design away for FREE! Download from your favourite 3D file marketplace: Thingiverse, Pinshape, Cults, MyMiniFactory or PrusaPrinters.

Happy 3D printing.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Toys with Moving Parts

My desk is covered with 3D prints, some of them my own designs, and others are just cool examples of what can be done with a home 3D printer. This is one of those examples.

Stian Ervik Wahlvaag (@agepbiz) has created a clever range of 3D printed vehicles known as “Tiny Surprise Eggs” – why? Well, because they fit within an egg of course! The unique feature of each toy (and egg) is that they feature moving parts printed in place, without the need for any support material. Once the toy is taken off the printer, it is ready to go. The example pictured above is “Surprise Egg #7 – Tiny Car Carrier” and all the vehicle wheels rotate, and the car carrier itself can raise and lower the ramps.

While I didn’t print the egg, I did scale these prints up 200% to have something a little bit more child-friendly. Unfortunately I enjoy them so much they have permanently stayed on my desk, but I promise I’ll print my son another set! The moving parts still work really well at this increased scale and provide some clever design tricks to ensure multiple parts can be printed as an assembly. As an example, above is a cross section through one of the cars showing how the wheels and axels are designed within the main body of the car. Some simple angled details mean that no support material is needed when printed in this orientation, yet from the outside the car just looks like it has normal cylindrical wheels. Great example of how to design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) as it’s known.

Following the vehicle carrier, I’ve also 3D printed “Surprise Egg # 6 – Tiny Jet Fighter” which features wings which fold out, again at 200% scale and with no support material. Both of these designs, as well as at least 8 more surprise egg vehicles, are free to download from Thingiverse, and highly recommended as a way to test your print settings (if there are any issues the moving parts may end up fused together), and learn a few of the tricks for designing assemblies for 3D printing.

If you print these yourself, or have any other recommended prints that include clever design details like moving parts, please share them in the comments section.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printing Build Farms

3D printing is a slooooow process. While 3D printing geeks like me can spend hours watching a printer lay down layers of plastic, it often turns manufacturers off who are used to rapid manufacturing process like injection moulding where parts can be pumped out every few seconds. However, there is a way to produce products en masse and it’s called the 3D printing build farm.

Perhaps you’ve already seen images like the ones above – these are well known examples of 3D printing build farms at Ultimaker (left) and Prusa (right) that illustrate what they’re all about: Lots and lots of 3D printers! A 3D printing build farm is basically just a collection of several 3D printers, or many hundreds of 3D printers, that can significantly scale up the production of parts. These can often be networked together as part of a single management system, meaning only a small number of workers are needed to keep an eye on things. The benefit over other mass production technologies is that you still retain the benefits of 3D printing a unique item on every 3D printer, rather than just producing thousands of exactly the same product. Of course, you can also produce thousands of the same part, for example the Prusa build farm is made up of over 500 of their own 3D printers, which are used to print many of the parts to assemble new 3D printers.

A centralised build farm (left) and a decentralised, geographically dispersed build farm (right)

Recently I published a book chapter analysing 3D printing build farms in the context of work and the future. Titled ‘3D Printing Build Farms: The Rise of a Distributed Manufacturing Workforce,’ one of the main opportunities we discuss that has not yet been exploited is for 3D printing build farms to be geographically distributed, rather than centralised within a single facility (illustrated above). If all the 3D printers within the build farm are connected to a central management system, then they do not actually need to be located in the same physical location.

Obviously there are some benefits to having all the machines located together, particularly for maintenance and monitoring. However, there may also be several benefits to distributing the 3D printers domestically or internationally, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the longer-term changes we may now enjoy working from home, or at least working in a more decentralised manner:

  • 3D printers can be located closer to customers. Centralised 3D printing build farms must still ship products around the world, just like conventional manufacturers, which costs time and money.
  • Distributed farms may better suit new flexible working conditions, allowing people to work the hours they want, from a location they want.
  • New jobs in regional areas with smart regions connected to smart cities. 3D printers may be distributed in regional areas, as well as cities, reducing the need for people to relocate to overcrowded cities in order to find work.
  • Businesses may join forces and utilise shared “nodes” of the 3D printing build farm.

Time will tell if this provides businesses with new advantages, but it is clear that build farms, whether centralised or distributed, are a growing trend with real commercial value. Some of the biggest adopters are in the dental industry, for example SmileDirectClub which uses 49 multi jet fusion 3D printers from HP to manufacture moulds for up to 49,000 clear aligners each day. This is big business, driven by 3D printing and build farm systems.

– Posted by James Novak

Popular 3D Prints on Thingiverse

Anyone with a 3D printer will no doubt be familiar with Thingiverse, an online database of files that can be searched, downloaded and 3D printed; a universe of things. I’ve been using it for 7 years, and you can find many of my projects from this blog available there.

While the platform isn’t without its issues, particularly over the last year or so, it is still the largest 3D printing file database with over 1.9 million files at this time of writing – you couldn’t print that much stuff in a lifetime!

Because of the scale, many researchers have used Thingiverse as a way of understanding how people engage with 3D printing and file sharing, and beginning in 2018, I wanted to understand the characteristics of the most popular files on Thingiverse. My research paper has just been published called “500 days of Thingiverse: a longitudinal study of 30 popular things for 3D printing” and as the name suggests, involved tracking 30 things over a 500 day period.

The image at the top is one of the graphs from the paper that compares the downloads per day for these 30 things over time. At the start of the study, a new design called the Xbox One controller mini wheel had just been released and was all over social media, attracting a lot of attention and downloads. This equated to 698 downloads per day. However, this momentum didn’t last. In comparison, well established designs like #3DBenchy continued to increase in downloads per day, and during the period of this study, #3DBenchy became the first thing on Thingiverse to be downloaded over 1 million times! These numbers are beginning to approach figures on more mainstream social media and image/video sites, showing just how popular 3D printing has become. And keep in mind, this is just one of many file sharing websites for 3D printing, a topic that was part of a previous research paper I wrote with friend, colleague and fellow maker, Paul Bardini.

If you’re interested in all the details, I have shared a preprint version of the paper which can be freely accessed. Additionally, all of the raw data can be freely accessed if you’re interested in diving into the nitty gritty details, or even continuing to add to what I started. I hope this provides some insights into the scale of making and 3D printing, and some of the trends that drive the most popular files on Thingiverse.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Mounting Brackets

Brackets are pretty boring, I know, but being able to 3D print exactly what you need, for just a few cents, just makes good sense (see what I did there?).

I wanted to mount a LED strip underneath my kitchen bench top, but also wanted it to run off batteries so I didn’t have chunky cords to plug in for power. The set that I ended up buying had a battery pack which needed to be mounted along with the strip, as well as a remote. One option would be to use double sided tape, however, this would make accessing and changing the batteries painful. So, a simple bracket was needed. While doing this, I also decided to mount the remote so it wouldn’t get lost.

Like many of the projects on this blog, the entire process from CAD to finished 3D printed parts only took a few hours. Solidworks was used for the CAD modelling, while the brackets were printed on a Wanhao Duplicator i3 Plus in PLA. A couple of screws up into the bench top and job done. Secure and out of the way, but easy to remove the remote and battery pack when needed.

If you’re interested in more quick projects like this, check out my special friction hooks or hex business card holder tiles.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Pineapple Light

3D printing light covers and lamps are always fun projects, you can’t really go wrong.

Continuing from a previous post where I outlined the process of designing sea urchin light covers for my house, I’ve still been wanting to design another light cover to mix things up so each room isn’t the same. Enter the pineapple light! 🍍

Unlike the previous process of designing the sea urchin light from scratch using a 3D scan, this time I was able to find something on Thingiverse that was almost perfect – this model of a pineapple. The bottom part had a really nice geometric pattern that saved me hours of mucking around in CAD and designing the same thing from scratch. This is one of the things I love about the 3D printing community – the open sharing of 3D models to be remixed (also known as a mashup) just like a song or video into something new and creative. You can read more about remixing in one of my previous tutorials.

Similar to the sea urchin light, all the pineapple needed was to be scaled to the right size, hollowed, given a thickness, and have a neck piece added to connect with the light fitting. This neck piece was directly imported from my previous project in Meshmixer (free CAD software), and both pieces were joined together. Nice and easy!

Just like the sea urchin light, these pineapples were 3D printed on a Prusa i3 MK3S in a natural PLA from eSun – it’s a translucent material which I found from previous experiments to work really well for light covers when given a very light dusting of white spray paint. The painted exterior still allows the light to shine through nicely, but just helps define the form better than the natural finish on its own. If you want to see exactly how this compares to the natural filament on its own, or a pure white PLA, check out my sea urchin light post. This design can also be 3D printed without any support material.

Best of all, you can download my pineapple light cover completely free from Thingiverse, Pinshape, Cults and MyMiniFactory! Just like the original design of the pineapple which helped me in this project, I hope this remix will help you in your own project – even if you don’t have the same size light fitting as me, with a bit of editing in Meshmixer or another CAD program, you can easily modify this design to suit your own needs. Enjoy.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printing and COVID-19 in Data

Figure 2 Timeline

Following my previous post discussing some of the opportunities and challenges of using 3D printing to fill supply chain holes during COVID-19, I’m pleased to share the more detailed research I’ve been working on that supported my article in The Conversation.

Published here in an open access journal is an analysis of all 3D printing projects that were initiated during the first months of the pandemic. As a summary, the image above shows the timeline of these projects, and the types of products that were being produced. In total, 91 projects were documented in my research, with only 7 of these occurring before the World Health Organization (WHO) declaration of a pandemic on March 11. Most of these were based in Asia. The remaining 84 projects (92%) followed the declaration as the pandemic spread around the world and health systems rapidly struggled to meet the demand.

The figure above also shows that 60% of projects were for personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face shields and goggles, while 20% were for ventilator components, and a further 20% were for miscellaneous projects such as hands-free door openers.

200523 3D Print COVID-19 Data

Of the PPE projects, 62% were for face shields as shown above in the left chart. This includes the popular Prusa RC3 face shield pictured in my previous post, although the first documented face shield actually occurred on February 25 from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Obviously face shields are a relatively low risk product compared to components for a ventilators, and makers could easily 3D print these on desktop 3D printers.

The chart on the right above documents the types of 3D printing technologies used for each of the 91 projects. Perhaps it is no surprise that fused filament fabrication (FFF) was the most used, accounting for 62% of projects. Resin printing with stereolithography (SLA) or digital light processing (DLP) was the next most popular for 10% of projects, followed by multi jet fusion (MJF=9%), selective laser sintering (SLS=8%), continuous liquid interface production (CLIP=2%), and concrete was used in one project in China to 3D print concrete isolation houses for Xianning Central Hospital in Hubei. Interestingly, 8% of projects did not specify the 3D printing technology being utilised, suggesting that some projects lacked documentation or were reported by the media simply as “3D printing.”

While this review provides an overview of the broad trends related to the 3D printing of health and medical products during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing research is needed to continue monitoring 3D printed products throughout the pandemic to understand longitudinal trends. For example, does the initial hype from March subside and a more stable pattern of research and collaboration continue through April and the following months? Do projects consolidate and merge, with others ending as regulations tighten, or traditional supply chains stabilise?

It will also be necessary to analyse 3D printed products and validate them, particularly as the health crisis continues for months or even years. Initial 3D printing projects, while well intentioned, were largely unregulated and a reflexive response to direct and immediate needs. As supplies stabilise, and the infection curve flattens, more time and resources can be devoted to research, building upon the NIH 3D Print Exchange database of approved designs, perhaps developing an approved FDA or TGA database of designs as well as 3D print technologies and materials. These may be necessary for any future outbreaks of the virus, as well as allowing for better preparation for future health, humanitarian and natural disaster crises that may require a similarly rapid response to equipment shortages.

If you want to find more of the data and read the detailed analysis, please read the article here. Additionally, you can freely access all of the data I collected for this research, and continue building off it, by accessing it on Figshare. I hope it is useful for building our understanding of how 3D printing can be deployed during a health crisis.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Sea Urchin Light

IMG_20200301_Sea Urchin Light

This project has been a little while in the making and it’s exciting to finally be writing about it. About a year ago I posted about 3D scanning some shells, and as part of the scanning I captured a sea urchin shell. At the time I didn’t know what I’d do with it, but fast forward a year and I’ve found a perfect application; turning the sea urchin shell into ceiling light covers in my house.

Sea Urchin GIFIn this post I’ll go over the main processes and experiments I went through to get the finished product, but in case you’re just here for the big finale, here’s the link so you can download the final Sea Urchin Light exclusively from my Pinshape account and 3D print as many as you like!

3D Scanning

ScanAs explained in further detail in my previous post, I used an EinScan Pro 2X Plus 3D scanner, which included a turntable to automatically capture all angles of the sea urchin shell. This resulted in a full-colour, highly detailed model of the shell, as shown to the right. However, as anyone familiar with 3D scanning will know, this model is just a skin with no thickness or solid geometry, and was just the starting point for the design process.

Design

If you don’t have access to expensive CAD programs, good news; this project was completely designed in free software! I’ve used Autodesk Meshmixer for many of my tutorials and posts, it’s a surprisingly powerful tool and a must for anyone involved in 3D printing. Additionally, it’s quite useful when you are working with 3D scan files, which are typically a mesh like a STL or OBJ. The process took a little time, but has been outlined in 6 basic steps below:

IMG_20200301_Sea Urchin Meshmixer Tutorial

  1. Fill any holes and errors in the 3D scanned sea urchin shell. In Meshmixer, this simply involves using the “Inspector” tool under the “Analysis” menu.
  2. Scale up the shell to the appropriate size, then use the “Extrusion” tool to thicken the skin into a solid shell. So that the shell would allow a lot of light through, I used a 0.7mm thickness for the overall design.
  3. I wanted to create an interesting pattern when the light was turned on, so separated several areas of a copy of the original mesh to be used to create thicker sections. This was a slow process of using the brush selection tool to remove areas, before repeating step 2 with slightly thicker geometry. For this design I ended up with 3 different thicknesses around the shell.
  4. To allow the light fitting within the shell, a larger opening was needed at the top. A cylinder was added from the “Meshmix” menu and placed in the centre.
  5. By selecting both the shell and the cylinder together, the “Boolean Difference” command became available, subtracting the cylinder section from the shell.
  6. Lastly, a neck section measured off the original light fitting was added. I cheated slightly and modelled this in Autodesk Fusion 360 (also free if you’re a student), but you could use Meshmixer – it would just take a bit longer to get accurate measurements. Then the separate parts are joined together using Boolean Union, and the design is finished.

3D Printing

As well as the new design needing to fit the geometry of the existing light fixture, it also needed to fit the build volume of the 3D printer – in this case a Prusa i3 MK3S. As you can see below, the shell is only slightly smaller in the X and Y dimensions than the build plate.

IMG_20200130_Shell on Prusa i3 MK3S

In terms of print settings, I stuck with some pretty typical settings for PLA, including a 0.2mm layer height. Support material is necessary with the light printed with the neck down – this is the best orientation in terms of ensuring the surfaces visible when standing below the light (remember, it is ceiling mounted) are the best. Where support material is removed is always going to be messy, and you wouldn’t want to have these surfaces being the most visible. Overall, this meant that each light took ~32 hours to print.

Material & Finishing

One of the steps that took a bit of experimentation was choosing the right material in order to look good when the light was both on and off. Each of these lights are the main, or only, sources of light in the spaces they are installed, so they need to provide a good amount of light.

IMG_20200218_Sea Urchin Light Materials

As shown above, 3 different materials/finishes were trialled. Initially I began with a Natural PLA from eSUN, which is a bit like frosted glass when printed. While this allowed all the light to escape and illuminate the room, most of the detail was difficult to see in both the on and off settings. It was just like a random glowing blob. I then tried pure white PLA, hoping that the print would be thin enough to allow a reasonable amount of light out. Unfortunately very little light escaped, however, the shadows from the different thicknesses looked excellent, and when the lights was off, it was very clear this was a sea urchin shell. Perhaps this would be a good option for a decorative lamp, but not so good for lighting a whole room.

So the “Goldilocks” solution ended up being in the middle – I 3D printed the shells in the translucent Natural PLA, and then very lightly spray painted the exterior with a matt white paint. Just enough to clearly see that it is a sea urchin shell when the light is off, and translucent enough to allow a lot of light out. Perhaps there is a material/colour of filament that would achieve this with needing to paint, but I didn’t want to have to buy rolls and rolls in order to find it. PETG would be interesting to try, and if you have any other suggestions, please leave them in the comments section.

The Result

IMG_20200219_143458 Dimensions CropTo the right are the dimensions of the ceiling light fixture within which the sea urchin light comfortably fits. The light itself is a standard B22 fitting, so the sea urchin can comfortably fit most standard interior lights. However, if you have a different sized fitting, or want to fit it over an existing lamp, you can easily scale the design up or down to suit your needs. I’ve already fitted one of the early small test prints over an old Ikea lamp, it just sits over the top of the existing frame. In total I’ve now installed 5 of the large ceiling light covers in my house, and am planning a new design to replace some of the others (my house is full of this terrible cheap fitting!).

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, I have made this design exclusively available on Pinshape – it’s just a few dollars to download the file, and then you can print as many as you like! If you 3D print one, please share a photo back onto Pinshape, I love seeing where my designs end up and what people do with them.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Model Aircraft Stand

IMG_20200121_3D Print Aircraft Stand

What good is a model aircraft if it’s stuck on the ground? Planes are made to be in the air!

Unfortunately in our recent interstate moves the stand for this model aircraft was lost. But as I’ve said many times on this blog, including the previous post, 3D printing to the rescue! Projects like this really tick all the boxes for me:

  1. From idea/need to the final solution can be done in a matter of hours.
  2. No need to spend a lot of money buying a replacement (if you can even find one). With 3D printing you can make your own for next to nothing.
  3. Bring the product back to life. While there was no need to throw this aircraft away now that it had no stand, some products are not so lucky. If you can replace a missing part, you can extend the use and enjoyment of it.
  4. Share it – chances are someone, somewhere, may be looking for exactly the same part. Just as I’m doing here, by sharing what you make, you might save one more product from going to landfill.

Having said that, you can freely download and edit this model aircraft stand from your favourite 3D printing platform: Thingiverse, Pinshape, Cults or MyMiniFactory.

It was designed in Autodesk Fusion 360, and features 2 pieces that print nice and flat, making them strong and durable. Fitting them together is tight, you may need to shave off a little plastic with a file or knife depending on your print quality, but this ensures that you won’t need any glue, and it should hold a good amount of weight without wobbling. The critical dimensions you may be interested in are the size of the stand tip that slots into the aircraft: It measures 6.0mm long (front to back direction of aircraft), 2.3mm wide (wing to wing direction), and 6.0mm tall as pictured below.

Tip Dimensions

If you need a different size, please feel free to make modifications to the files uploaded to the various 3D printing platforms, and then re-share them as a remix. I’m not an aircraft collector and don’t know how many different geometries there may be for stands, this was just the one we needed. Hopefully it is useful for someone else.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Flexible Lens Cover

IMG_20200113_3D Print Lens Cover

I’ve said it countless times before, and I’ll say it again – some of my favourite 3D printing projects are the ones which are quick, easy, and either add value to an existing product (e.g. see my 3D printed webcam mount or lucky bamboo holder), replace something broken or lost (e.g. my SUP paddle lock),  or in this case, something missing.

I recently bought an old pair of binoculars (or is it just a binocular?) from an antique store. They came in a pretty beaten up case, and were missing two of the protective lens covers, but overall worked nicely with lenses that weren’t scratched. The lens covers that did come with the binocular were cracking and didn’t really stay in place any more, so it was 3D printing to the rescue.

Planning to use some PolyFlex TPU95 filament from Polymaker to create a soft, rubber-like lens cover, I ended up designing the lens covers to be just slightly smaller than the measured diameter of each lens, 0.25mm smaller to be specific, with the intent of creating a secure friction fit, but not so tight they had to be stretched over the lenses. The design is very simple, a couple of extrudes in Fusion 360, before adding the circular pattern detail around the outside (which was not part of the original lens caps!) to add a personal touch. Now that they’re printed they remind me of beer bottle caps, but the intent was just something a bit rugged and easy to grip without spending a long time trying to be too clever in CAD.

These were 3D printed on a Wanaho Duplicator i3 Plus with an upgraded Flexion Extruder. What’s a Flexion Extruder? Well, you can read my whole series documenting early experiments trying to 3D print flexible materials here, but long story short, a Flexion Extruder is the ultimate upgrade for cheap desktop FDM machines that allows you to successfully and reliably 3D print with soft TPU materials. If you don’t have a Flexion, or a good quality system like the Prusa MK3S which has been designed to print a whole range of materials including TPU, chances are you will end up with a tangled mess of filament coming out the side of your extruder, or worse! They’re just too soft to be forced down into the hotend and come out of a tiny nozzle.

The other trick is getting the right settings to print with – you will find loads of different theories and recommendations online, 3D printing TPU is a bit of a dark art and there are many different types of flexible TPU that require different settings. So getting things right will take some time. This is a good general guide to follow, and I’d reiterate that you MUST print extremely slow – I used 20mm/s for the lens caps. Also, follow the recommendations from your filament supplier, this material from Polymaker was printed at 220°C with the build plate at 50°C. Seemed to be about perfect.

IMG_20200113_3D print flexible TPU

Above you can see just how flexible the end result is, the lens caps easily bend and squash without permanent deformation. If you’ve got any settings you’ve found are reliable, or just general tips and tricks for 3D printing TPU, please comment below to build up some resources for others to find.

Happy 3D printing.

– Posted by James Novak