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 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

3D Printed Knits

191115 3D Print Knit

Did you know it’s possible to knit using a desktop 3D printer?

This has been some work I’ve been doing in the background for a little while now and combines all the benefits of digital design with craft-based hand assembly. OK, so you can’t print with soft yarn (yet), but by printing thin geometry you can create some relatively soft and flexible knits that are unlike the typical chainmail assemblies often used in 3D printed fashion/textiles.

The trick to this is to simplify the knit into individual pieces, which can be 3D printed flat on the build plate. This makes printing extremely fast, also known as a 2.5D print which I’ve written about in a previous blog post. While one of the benefits often discussed about 3D printing is the ability to produce complex assemblies as a single part, in the case of a knit, this will result in significant amounts of support material, and the need for quite bulky geometry to ensure the knit geometry is strong enough. However, by printing separate components, these problems are avoided, and you can have some fun manually connecting the loops together while you wait for the next print.

Additionally, the new opportunity of 3D printed knits is to create completely new patterns and geometries in CAD software. This has been the focus of my newly published paper called A Boolean Method to Model Knit Geometries with Conditional Logic for Additive Manufacturing (free to access). In it I detail how to set up an algorithm in Rhino with  Grasshopper that will allow customisation of loop and float structures for a knit, the sort shown in the top picture. If you have some experience with the software, you can follow the process outlined in the paper to set up a similar system, and begin modifying parameters and geometry to create completely new knits that would not be possible using traditional knitting techniques.

191115 Grasshopper 3D Knit

As shown above, the Grasshopper code gets quite complex so is not for the feint of heart, but if you understand boolean logic, and have used Grasshopper, I’m sure you can build this! And if not, have a go at modelling some knit geometry in your favourite CAD package and print it out – you can keep printing on repeat to extend the size of your “knitted” textile, this is how some of my early tests were done. If you start by modelling some rows of circles, then connect them together, this will get you close to a knit structure.

Happy 3D knitting.

– Posted by James Novak

Fingerprint Stool 3D Printed on a BigRep ONE

Fingerprint Stool BigRep ONE

Size matters!

I’ve been throwing out teasers about this project on social media for over a year, and with my research just published in the Rapid Prototyping Journal, it is very exciting to finally be at the finish line and able to share it – all of it! So what exactly is it?

Well, it’s a 3D printed stool. But more than that, it’s the outcome of a design for additive manufacturing case study using the new BigRep ONE 3D printers, housed in the ProtoSpace facility at the University of Technology Sydney. The BigRep ONE is essentially a desktop FDM 3D printer on steroids, with a build volume measuring 1005 x 1005 x 1005mm, that’s over 1 cubic meter of space to 3D print! And much like a desktop FDM printer it uses filaments like PLA, PETG, TPU and realistically just about any other filament material, as well as using a Simplify3D profile for slicing, so designing for the printer and operating it is identical to many common desktop 3D printers.

edfGiven the newness of these machines when they were installed in ProtoSpace in early 2018, my job was to test the capabilities of them whilst developing a showcase product to highlight how they can be used to develop new types of products, and with such a large build volume, furniture was an obvious choice. However, my budget was not unlimited ($1500 AUD) and nor was the time I was allowed to run the printer, which was capped at 5 days so that it was not taken out of commission for other users for more than one working week. Sounds like a generous timeframe unless you’re familiar with just how slow FDM printing is even at the desktop scale, and while this printer is bigger, it is certainly not any faster. And when you are printing for 5 days, this machine will really chew through filament, so that $1500 budget quickly runs out.

In terms of the fingerprint concept, the stool was designed when I was newly engaged and uses a fingerprint from my (now wife’s) ring finger, and my own. Awwwwe… There are few features more unique to each human than a fingerprint, so this concept was also chosen as a truly unique feature that highlights the capacity for 3D printing to be used for one-off personalised products.

The above video helps explain the design and printing process, which essentially involved:

  1. Ink used to take impressions of fingerprints on paper.
  2. Fingerprints digitised using a flatbed scanner.
  3. Fingerprints vectorised in Adobe Illustrator. Exported as DXF files.
  4. DXF files imported into Solidworks CAD software and oriented 420mm apart for the height of the stool.
  5. Manual creation of the 3D geometry.
  6. Export to STL.
  7. Slice in Simplify3D.
  8. 3D print on the BigRep ONE [1mm nozzle diameter, 0.5mm layer height, 5% infill, 2 walls, 3000mm/min print speed]

Sounds nice and straight forward. However, I must admit things did not go this smoothly: Firstly, designing to fit a specific budget and print time required several iterations, with an early version of the design twice as large as the design pictured here. This meant initial cost estimates were in the range of $2194-3882 and print times 117.5-216.1hours – talk about variation! All of this variation is due to experimenting with process parameters like layer height and nozzle diameter for the same design, and was an important learning process that could be taken back into later iterations of the design, which ultimately became smaller.

Fingerprint Stool BigRep Adhesion

Secondly, another obstacle we struggled with was bed adhesion. This is a common problem with desktop machines, however, not normally when printing with PLA. We quickly found that during the first layers, a slight warp or piece of material sticking up would get knocked by the extruder, causing a knock-on effect as the extruder and any material it had collected quickly cause all of the individual sections of the fingerprint to dislodge. Pictured above on the left is the largest section that printed before some material snapped off and somehow caused the nozzle to become entombed in PLA, pictured above on the right. That was an expensive error, new nozzles for the BigRep ONE do not come cheap!

Given the design was intended to print without any need for support material, we eventually had to concede defeat and add a raft. This had the effect of linking all of the initially individual sections of fingerprint together during the first layers, and provided a strong adhesion to the bed. While we could’ve tried all sorts of glues, tapes and other hacks, we didn’t want to resort to these on such a new machine until we had more time to test settings and work with BigRep on a solution. The good news: the raft worked and after 113 hours, and at a cost of $1634 (only slightly over budget), the Fingerprint Stool was complete. The raft did take 1 hour to remove with a hammer and chisel (with a 1mm nozzle there is so much material it cannot be removed by hand), and the surface finish is quite rough – but in my mind this is the charm of FDM, just like a piece of timber has grain and knots that are simply part of the material.

Overall the BigRep ONE is an exciting technology, you just need to keep in mind that due to the scale, all of the small issues you can experience on a cheap desktop machine are also magnified. However, it is great for producing large-scale functional parts like furniture, or any of the other examples you may have seen from BigRep in 3D printing news over recent months.

This is a brief overview of the project, there is much more technical information and analysis in my paper in the Rapid Prototyping Journal, including metrology data of the final design compared with the 3D file, as well as surface roughness data. I’d love to hear your feedback on the project or your own experiences with the printer if you’ve been lucky enough to use one. And keep an eye out for updates about the stool appearing in an exhibition later in the year 😉

UPDATE: Thank you to BigRep for taking an interest in this project and writing their own story about it here, and to 3D Printing Industry for also sharing this story.

– 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!

Print

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.

Print

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

3D Scanning Natural Forms

IMG_20190117_3D Scan EinScan Pro

This is a post about my new favourite toy – the EinScan Pro 2X Plus 3D scanner from Shining 3D. Why? Because it allows you to turn any object into a 3D model! And I can tell you upfront, it works REALLY well!

This is not the first 3D scanner from Shining 3D, which is a good sign that both their hardware and software has had time to mature. The EinScan Pro 2X Plus is brand new to the market, which means there are not many reviews at the time I’m writing, although you can find a brief overview from 3D Scan Expert and will no doubt see a full review from him in the near future. I’m not a 3D scanning expert, so am not going to dive into all the details here. I have used several scanners in the past and written a few posts, but this is the first that I have full access and control over and am currently using on a daily basis.

Enough with the introductions. One of my first experiments has been to 3D scan some challenging organic forms, including some shells which I picked up from the beach. The top photo shows one of these shells being scanned (we have the “Industrial Pack” turntable and “Colour Pack” upgrades for the scanner). The process is straight forward in the accompanying EXScan Pro software – a few basic settings about the detail you’d like to capture and press go. The turntable and scanner do the rest, and you can see the points being captured in real-time on screen. There is a bit of cleanup after the first scan to remove any points that aren’t needed (e.g. you can see in the photo some points around the perimeter where the scanner picked up an edge of the turntable), at which point you have your first scan.

This could be all the detail you need depending on your application; however, all you have is an outside collection of points, with no detail about the inside of the shell. So I then flipped the shell over and performed a second scan. The only difference from the previous step is that now there are 2 scans. Amazingly the software is proving quite intelligent at automatically aligning multiple scans, finding common points and bringing them all together. This doesn’t always work, and there is an option to manually align 2 scans by selecting 3 common points in each. I must admit the interface for this process is quite painful to use at the moment, so it’s always great when the software automatically does this. Overall the software is very basic, you really don’t have a lot of control – which can be both a blessing and a curse. You certainly can’t perform any sort of editing actions other than selecting and deleting points.

The final step is to turn all of the points (aka. point cloud) into a mesh suitable for 3D CAD software, or 3D printing. There is an option to create a watertight mesh, letting the software automatically fill any holes in the model. For this shell scan I only had very minor gaps which were nicely cleaned up and blended into the mesh. However, I have found with some other scans that if holes are quite large, or there are some messy overlaps in scan data, the software will produce some weird results – best to keep scanning to capture as much data as possible before creating a mesh, once you get to this step there is no turning back.

IMG_20190118_3D Print Shell

Best of all, being a watertight mesh, the file can be immediately used for 3D printing. But why simply replicate a shell? I always see large shells as decorator items in stores retailing for hundreds of dollars – and now I can 3D print them for a fraction of the price. This one was scaled up 500% and printed on a Wanhao Duplicator D9/500 – which is still working somewhat consistently after my previous post and firmware upgrades. I decided to print it in an upright orientation so that the 0.5mm layers are similar to the layers naturally occurring in the shell. Even though the print quality is still quite rough, I think this only adds to the natural effect.

The shell has been saved as a .obj file, meaning that it has all the colour information along with the geometry that would normally be a .stl file. I have shared this on Sketchfab so that you can have a closer look at the mesh in 3D using the above viewer. I think it’s a really great result, and hopefully you can see why I have called this my new favourite toy. It really does open up new opportunities (perhaps you’ve already seen some new experiments if you follow me on Instagram). Stay tuned, I’m sure there’ll be plenty more posts that involve 3D scanning and 3D printing in the future.

– 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 Printing Education Book

190112 james novak lecture

As many readers will know, this blog came about when I started my post-graduate studies at university focusing on 3D printing. My knowledge allowed me to get into lecturing, and part of this role has allowed me to run workshops for the community, including school teachers, secondary students, and the broader public. It turns out these experiences have taught me a thing or two about running 3D printing workshops in short time-frames, often with people who have never seen a 3D printer in action, and has lead to me publishing a chapter in a book detailing how I organise a one-day 3D printing workshop.

190112 3d print education book

The book is called Interdisciplinary and International Perspectives on 3D Printing in Education, and includes 14 chapters from leaders around the world on the topic of 3D printing in education. My particular chapter is called Re-Educating the Educators: Collaborative 3D Printing Education, and calls attention to some of the many real challenges that plague teachers who are attempting to adopt 3D printing in the classroom. The chapter starts with a summary of how Australian schools are adopting the technology, and moves on to new research and peer-reviewed literature about how short, intensive courses are helpful in offering teachers meaningful training in regards to 3D printing. The later section of the chapter provides the organisational structure and hands-on activities I use in my workshops, and is hopefully useful to many other people who are running training programs for teachers and others interested in 3D printing.

A big thank you to Sarah Saunders at 3dprint.com for writing a great article about my research which you can read here. The article provides a nice summary of the book which I hope will help it reach a wide audience, as there is not enough material available for teachers, curriculum planners and education researchers wrestling to bring 3D printing and other technologies into the classroom. This book at least goes some way to presenting the latest research ideas and data to fill this gap.

Please help spread the word to anyone who may benefit from this book on 3D printing in education, and use my 50% discount code “IGI50” to purchase the whole book, or just my chapter, at a generous discount 🙂

– 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

First 3D Print with the Wanhao Duplicator D9/500

IMG_20180917_Webcam 3D Print Mount

If you have followed my blog for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed I’m quite a big fan of the Wanhao 3D printers – they’re cheap, reliable, upgradable, and just good value for money. Even my Cocoon Create from Aldi is actually just a Wanhao in disguise! Recently Wanhao released the Duplicator D9/500, which has an incredible 500x500x500mm build volume. Yes, you read that right, those numbers are not a typo! The picture above doesn’t do it justice, this is a big unit that currently we can only store and run on the floor until we can free up a large desk. Manoeuvring this thing is definitely a 2 person job!

Before I get into the details of the machine and my first experiences, the printed vase pictured above is the first successful print, which is the Curved Honeycomb Vase (free on Thingiverse) printed at 200% scale. Printed in vase mode (aka “spiralise” in Cura) with a 0.8mm nozzle, this print took approximately 6 hours to complete. A great design in itself, and very cool at this large size.

However, it certainly hasn’t all been smooth sailing with this printer. First, there were some lengthy delays from Wanhao between when we placed the order and finally received the machine – apparently some manufacturing and quality control issues, and Wanhao may have released the machine a bit too early to market. In total we waited several months, however, they may be much faster now that issues seem to be resolved. The second big issue we faced was assembly – the supplied instructions weren’t particularly useful or even relevant, with some of the components no longer supplied with the printer – it seems that the initial release included large brackets to help stabilise the frame and some other details in the instructions, so we were left feeling like we were missing some parts. Apparently we are not, although we still haven’t figured out some of the cable management issues and have had to hack together a temporary solution for now.

Another challenge with assembly was in constructing the frame; obviously at such a large size the frame wasn’t pre-assembled like the smaller Duplicator 3, and the frame also uses extruded aluminium rather than folded sheet metal. Squaring all of these extrusions is not simple, and some initial issues when running the machine were related to having one of the vertical frame pieces lightly twisted. Some better alignment details are definitely needed.

The final issue that we’ve been experiencing is in the auto-levelling sensor, which was not installed at the correct height in the factory and required a lot of manual adjustment (we had the nozzle collide with the bed several times when first running it). However, even with this, the machine doesn’t really seem to adjust the prints for any levelling issues; our first prints across the bed revealed a number of areas where the bed was slightly warped, which were not being corrected by the auto-level feature, so we are currently manually doing adjustments for now. And we have found the central area of the bed is OK, so the vase printed really well.

So overall I would have to recommend that anyone considering this printer hold off for at least a few more months, there are just too many issues for anyone without a lot of experience calibrating 3D printers, and without the time to really get in and troubleshoot issues. Last time I searched on YouTube it seems others have also come to a similar conclusion. I think with time this will be a great 3D printer, we’re certainly going to keep learning more about it, but this seems like a case of a manufacturer rushing to market without properly testing and perfecting their equipment. Unfortunately, an all too common story in the 3D printing world.

Make sure you follow my blog and social media accounts to keep up to date with ongoing test prints and posts about the Wanhao Duplicator D9/500. And please share your own experiences in the comments section so we can all learn from each other 🙂

– Posted by James Novak

*UPDATE 14/1/2019 Recently I have updated the firmware of the printer to see if that would improve performance of the machine. I recommend this as a priority for anyone with a D9, it could fix some of the issues you may be experiencing as there are probably several different versions of firmware out there now depending when you purchased your printer. While I haven’t noticed a difference with the levelling issues, it’s always worth running the latest firmware to fix any other potential issues. This video tutorial is excellent, I followed it exactly and managed to update both the LCD display and motherboard to version 0.164(B).

For now I’ve manually adjusted the levelling sensor so that in some areas the nozzle is lower than it should be, pushing into the print surface. This makes other areas of the warped plate the correct height, and after a few layers seems to level things off and be printing OK. Not great, but working for now.