Design a 3D Printed Snap-Fit Enclosure

20160623_Pine64 Enclosure

Today I’m pleased to share a tutorial that I’ve written for my new friends at Formlabs called “How to Design 3D Printed Snap Fit Enclosures.” Follow the link to read all the details, but in short, this tutorial will guide you through some of the important steps to designing your own custom enclosure suitable for 3D printing, and featuring a snap-fit detail so that you can easily open and close the enclosure without needing any tools. The tutorial is done using Solidworks, however you should be able to follow along no matter which 3D CAD software you use, even the free ones like 123D Design – the process and tips are exactly the same.

For this tutorial I used a PINE64, the famous $15 64bit computer funded on Kickstarter in 2015. The enclosure is designed to offer something unique and exciting to complement the computer, and of course take advantage of 3D printing. You can access all of the ports and features with the enclosure fitted, and there’s a great spot on top to store SD cards, USB sticks etc.

By the way, if you just want the enclosure without following the tutorial, of course I’ve uploaded the design to Pinshape, Thingiverse and Cults so you can download it and print it for yourself!

– Posted by James Novak

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Brimming with Success

20160712_3D Print Brim

Excuse the headline pun, but this post is all about 3D printing using a brim, which evidently can really improve your success rate with large flat surfaces.

For those not familiar with a brim, it’s an option in some 3D print software (such as Cura) that lays down an extra width of material around your object and attached to it, one or two layers tall. You can see the brim around my enclosure in the top left image. Essentially this extra material creates a stronger bond to the build plate, helping to fight the contracting forces of the cooling plastic that can commonly cause warping. Of course there are many other ways to combat this, including laying down some glue or adhesive spray, printing the part in a different orientation, or using an enclosure to keep the print warmer so there is less warping from rapidly cooling plastic. However these aren’t always an option, so using a brim can be a really effective solution that only wastes a very small amount of extra material.

In the top right image you can see my first attempt at printing this enclosure half, which is very clearly warped as the outer edges lifted up from the plate under the contracting forces of the cooling plastic. Support material was used, but nothing else. In contrast, you can see the middle image which is the end result once the brim from the left image was removed – perfectly horizontal! This is really important for this design since it is one half of an enclosure, and the warped version simply won’t fit properly with the other half.

20160712 CuraIt’s certainly not something needed for every print, but for large surfaces it’s proving to be very successful. If you’ve had similar problems with warping and haven’t tried a brim yet, it’s worth giving a go – you can see where to access this setting if you are using Cura on the left, very easy, or if you are using another program to slice and print, have a look through your settings. The raft is another option you may have used, however the raft builds up a lot more material underneath your entire object which is wasted. It can also be a good option though, especially if you are using a printer like the Up Plus 2 which does not have the option of printing a brim but will do a good job with a raft.

– Posted by James Novak

Spreading the 3D Printing Bug

20160528_3D Printing Workshop

Another weekend, another 3D printing workshop. This is my third year at Griffith University as a lecturer, and my third year running these weekend workshops on 3D printing for local school teachers to help answer their questions, teach them CAD, and get them hands-on with some 3D printers so that they can take this knowledge back to their schools. Definitely a great feeling to turn a few more people into fellow 3D printing geeks like me!

Within an hour of running the group through the basics of Solidworks, everyone was printing their first little key ring designs, all unique, and for them a really exciting moment to see their first design being produced on our Up Plus 2 printers in our brand new 3D printing lab. I couldn’t drag them away while their parts printed out! But I don’t blame them, I still love watching the printing process.

We then moved onto some more complex designs for some lattice chess pieces after a suggestion from one of the teachers, and eventually found our way to creating some designs around a 3D scan of an arm.  Combined with an analysis of what’s happening in the world of 3D printing, some of the theory, and the future careers some of their students may be interested in, I’m quite sure this was a very big day for everyone!

We will be running some more comprehensive workshops at the beginning of July over 2 weeks (during the school holidays), so keep your eyes on my blog for details when I confirm details with the uni. Teachers can even bring 1 student for free, so this should be a lot of fun.

– Posted by James Novak

WTF, a low-poly goat?

20160322_3D Print Trophy

Yes, a low-poly goat. A few in fact.

These are 2 trophies that I’ve 3D printed for my second year class at Griffith University as awards for their current project designing lights for Yellow Goat. Nothing beats getting the students to work on real projects with industry, and adding an extra incentive with these trophies adds an extra competitive level and of course bragging rights for the winners! If you look back to one of the largest 3D printing projects I’ve tacked using desktop machines, the Mario Kart Trophy, you’ll see it’s not the first time I’ve used 3D printing to create a custom trophy. It’s turning out to be a great application of 3D printing since you can get really creative and produce them very cheaply (I wonder if trophy manufacturers are using 3D printing?). On the left is the trophy for the best design as picked by the team from Yellow Goat, and the trophy on the right is for the best team leader, chosen by averaging the marks of all team members and finding which team overall has the highest marks.

20160323_Rhino Low Poly

The 3D CAD modelling of this design was not as straight forward as most of the other designs on my website, so here is my workflow in case you’d like to try something similar (you don’t need the same software, just to understand the process):

  1. Trace the outline of the Yellow Goat logo (shown above right) in Adobe Illustrator. Export as a .dxf file, providing accurate 2D line-work to use in the 3D CAD model (you could just bring the image directly into your CAD software if you prefer).
  2. Import the .dxf file into Solidworks. Use this line-work to base your 3D modeling off. I also created some guide lines to ensure that my model would fit onto my desktop 3D printer without needing to scale later.
  3. Export the final model from Solidworks as a .IGS file.
  4. Import the .IGS file into Rhino. The model in the image above on the left is the imported model from Solidworks (yes you could just model the design in Rhino to begin with, however I knew I could get to this point much faster in Solidworks).
  5. Use the “Reduce Mesh” tool in Rhino to reduce the number of faces of the mesh. I reduced mine by about 93%, resulting in the low-poly model shown above. It’s also possible to do this type of low-poly conversion using the free software MeshLab, just click here to read one of my previous posts about how to do this.
  6. Because 93% is a huge reduction, the resulting mesh did have some gaps where the software didn’t know what to do, so was not watertight (manifold) and ready to 3D print. I manually cleaned up some of the edges and added some surfaces to fix this issue.
  7. Export as .stl and 3D print!

20160321_Yellow Goat

As you can see I still ended up splitting the large goat piece in order to minimise support material, printing the body piece upside down with the legs in the air and gluing the head back on later. It took a few prints to get the smaller goat right, the middle image above showing some of the messy surfaces I was getting from the Up! Plus 2 printer I used, surprising since it’s normally very good. The ABS seemed a little more sticky than normal as well, meaning the support material didn’t just peel away but had to be scraped and cut, making more of a mess. But third time lucky! I also downloaded the human figure from Thingiverse to again save some time, and it gives the effect I wanted anyway. A bit of chrome spray paint, a chipboard base and voila!

Check out the 3D model above for the full effect of the low-poly design!

– Posted by James Novak

Cocoon Create Extruder Fix

20160218_Cocoon Create Extruder

After yesterday’s exciting successes with my new Cocoon Create 3D printer from Aldi, today there have been some hiccups – namely I tried to change filaments and could not load any new filament into the extruder. The filament would start to load, and after about 5mm there would be a “clunk, clunk, clunk” sound as the motor was grinding the filament but not pushing it any further down. Being jammed, there were 2 possibilities; either the filament was not able to find its way down towards the nozzle because something was misaligned, or there was some old filament jammed in there. So after only 24 hours of ownership, it was time to hack at it and take apart the extruder. It’s actually very easy, and I’ve used the photos above to try and illustrate how to fix a jam.

  1. Use an allen key to remove the 2 screws on the left side of the extruder – be careful as these hold the entire extruder together, so you want to catch the parts rather than let them drop. Also make sure your nozzle is nice and cool!
  2. The fan can just hang from its wires, but the heat-sink and 2 white spacers can be removed, leaving the motor and feeder as shown in the second photo. This is what feeds the filament down into the nozzle (entering from where my thumb is). Check for any loose material in here and clean (mine was fine).
  3. As circled in photo 3, this little piece of the remaining first filament is the culprit of my jamming. It wasn’t enough to grab with pliers, so I just turned on the printer, heated the nozzle, and then used a small allen key to push all the material down through the extruder, leaving a large opening for the new material to enter.
  4. Done. Just re-assemble and make sure all the little wire connections are firmly attached.

This quick process solved the problem and new material loaded without any further problems. After looking on the Cocoon Create website it seems that there is almost no support or FAQ as yet, so I hope this helps anyone stuck.

– Posted by James Novak

The 3D Printing Design Guide

20160216 Pinshape Design Guide

Are you new to 3D printing? Looking for a free complete guide to take your idea from concept through to sale? My friends at Pinshape have been working hard to put together the complete guide, full of the most up-to-date information, and I have been lucky enough to be involved in contributing to it. Just click here to read it. The chapters include:

  1. Design 3D Models People Want
  2. Choose the Best 3D Modeling Software
  3. Apply Design Principles for 3D Printing
  4. Prepare your File for 3D Printing
  5. Price your 3D Models
  6. Choose Where to Sell your 3D Models
  7. Use Marketing Tips to Sell your 3D Designs!
  8. Choose your 3D Design Hardware

This is a really great resource, so please share it around! If you’re looking for more specific tutorials, you can also check out some previous blog articles I’ve written for Pinshape including How to Repair STL Files and How to Modify STL Files: A Beginner’s Guide.

– Posted by James Novak

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

  1. Free 3D Design Software
  2. Free 3D Scanning Tools
  3. Free .stl File Checking Software
  4. 3D File Conversion Software

Click here to open the PDF

How to Repair STL Files

blog-header-repair-stls

My first blog article for the new year for my friends at Pinshape is now available, and walks step-by-step through a number of common repairs you may need to make to your files prior to 3D printing – just click this link to read all about it and follow along. The main things covered are:

  1. How to repair holes and gaps in surfaces
  2. How to delete or trim unwanted surfaces, particularly useful for 3D scan data
  3. How to add thickness to surface geometry, turning it into a solid
  4. How to reduce file size

All of the tutorials use the freely available software Meshmixer from Autodesk, as it’s by far been the most user friendly tool I’ve found for working with .stl files, however you should have similar success using other free software like MeshLab or netfabb Basic. This tutorial builds upon another similar tutorial I wrote for Pinshape in 2015 called How to Modify an STL File: A Beginner’s Guide which shows you how to take a downloaded .stl (or one of your own) and begin customising it for your own needs, for example adding text onto the design.

I hope it helps improve your designs and your 3D printing success rate 🙂

– Posted by James Novak

1/2/2016 UPDATE: A new version of Meshmixer has just been released – Makezine has just posted a really good summary of some of the exciting new features http://makezine.com/2016/01/30/autodesk-releases-meshmixer-3/

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

Click here to open the PDF

Creating 3D Print Test Parts in Solidworks

20151125_3D Test Piece

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

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

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

CAD Strategies for 3D Printing – PDF Tutorial

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

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

– Posted by James Novak

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

Pinshape STL Article

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

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

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

– Posted by James Novak (aka. edditive)

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

Click here to open the PDF

Shattered Faceted Light

20150726 Faceted Light

As featured on Pinshape’s ‘Pick of the Week

You may have already seen, or even downloaded, my Lightbulb Lampshade which I created a while ago to give a new lease of life to an old Ikea lamp. Now I’ve create a new version to fit the competition criteria of the latest Pinshape Design Competition for a low-poly design. Of course this means you can also download the file for yourself completely free, just click here to download from Pinshape, or here for Thingiverse 🙂

20150726_143212The model was printed on an Up! Plus 2 3D printer, using the 0.2mm layer thickness and minimal support material. As you can see in the image to the left, there really was only a small amount of support material generated in the middle to support the top section, and this broke away very easily. You can also see a small break near the bottom where the printer must’ve bumped the model as it was printing, but thankfully it kept printing. Overall it took about 4 hours to print. If you’re planning on making one, the minimum diameter inside the design to fit over your light fixture and light-bulb is 31mm – if you need it larger, just scale up the design before printing.

Faceted Development

Above you can see the process of creating the 3D CAD model, this time challenging myself to use Rhino for the complete development rather than my usual Solidworks. This was to create the more complex form in a shorter amount of time. From left to right the process was:

  1. Use Revolve to create the light-bulb form.
  2. Convert this to a Mesh.
  3. Reduce Mesh to create the faceted effect.
  4. Use the Line tool to connect the points of the faceted mesh.
  5. Use the Pipe tool to add thickness to the lines.
  6. Add some solid sections to fill in some of the gaps, then Join all the pieces into a single mesh ready to export to STL.

If you make one please share your photos back on Pinshape or Thingiverse so I can check it out!

– Posted by James Novak