3D Printed Metamorphosis

20170819_3D Butterfly

3D printing insects and creatures is nothing new, but maybe the months written on the image above indicates something more is going on with these 3D prints…

The 3D models of the caterpillar and butterfly are in fact generated by monthly step data collected on my old Garmin Vivofit – no design (or designer!) required. This is all an experiment to explore how non-designers may be able to use 3D printers without needing to learn complex CAD software, or sit on websites like Thingiverse and download random things just for the sake of printing. With the proliferation of activity trackers and smart watches gathering this data, perhaps there are creative ways for software to generate rewards from this data, which can be sent to a 3D printer and turned into something tangible?

Garmin Steps

I won’t go into all the details and theories right now, this work will be presented at the Design 4 Health conference in Melbourne this December. Visitors will even be able to input their own daily, monthly or yearly step goals, along with their actual steps achieved, and generate their own rewards. This is all controlled in Rhino with Grasshopper using some tricky parametric functions to automatically grow a caterpillar into a butterfly; if the steps achieved are below the goal, you will have a caterpillar, with the number of body segments growing depending on the percentage of achievement towards the goal. If the goal has been exceeded, a butterfly will emerge and grow bigger and bigger as the steps achieved continue to increase over the goal. You can see the results for a number of months of my own data tracking in the image above.

The 3D prints are being done in plastic for the exhibition, the examples above done on UP Plus 2‘s, however there’s no reason a future system couldn’t use chocolate or sugar as an edible reward for achieving your goals! I think it will take some interesting applications of 3D printers such as this to ever see a 3D printer in every home as some experts have predicted. But as anyone with a 3D printer knows, it will also take far more reliable, truly plug-n-play printers to reach this level of ubiquity. Time will tell.

– Posted by James Novak

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3D Printed “Marshmallow Challenge”

collage

Have you ever done the Marshmallow Challenge? Chances are you’ve done something similar at school, or if you’ve ever been to a team building workshop it’s a pretty popular creative exercise. Basically teams must build the tallest freestanding structure they can in 18 minutes using 20 sticks of spaghetti, a yard of tape, a yard of string and 1 marshmallow on top. Tom Wujec has been running these challenges for many years and presented a great TED talk if you want to find out more about the challenge and what can be learned from it.

Well now I’ve put my 3D printing twist onto the challenge, running what turned into a very competitive series of workshops for the Intro to 3D Printing course at my university. Teams were given a selection of materials we had readily available for model making (20 paddlepop sticks, 1 paper plate, 2 paper cups, a few drinking straws, a length of masking tape and a length of string) and given a very simple brief – build the tallest freestanding structure possible during the 2 hour workshop. The catch:

Teams were each given an UP Plus 2 3D printer and laptop with Solidworks, and could print as much as they wanted to help build the structure.

Now that makes things interesting! These are first year students only new to CAD and 3D printing, so what can they both design and print in such a limited time? Do you print lots of small things, or 1 big thing? How can you tweak the 3D print settings to get things printed as quickly as possible? What do you do when your print doesn’t work? It turns out that this challenge can teach you a lot about 3D printing, and how to rapidly test, prototype and build without wasting any time like in the normal 6 week projects.

As you can see from the photos, the results are very impressive! The winning team built a structure up to 249cm, which basically meant they used all the materials end-to-end and could not go much higher even if they had more time. This team 3D printed small little rectangular connectors for the paddlepop sticks, and with a lot of delicate balancing, managed to get their structure stable at the very last second. Much much higher than I expected when I set this challenge! They were in a very close battle with the team that came second for the day, reaching 238cm with a slightly different connection method where they used 3D printing to connect the paddlepop sticks to the cups. What you might notice with the top 3 teams is that 3D printing was used for small connecting elements that could be quickly printed, whereas some of the other teams (eg. 4th place who I only have a photo of part of the structure) were 3D printing much larger bases and simply ran out of time to push their structures quite as high.

All of the students were very involved and motivated by this task, it’s something I will run again in future classes and 3D printing workshops as a way to push the limits of the 3D printers and break them out of being so precious about what comes off the printers. It also gets them thinking about how to combine 3D printing with other methods of prototyping, you don’t necessarily need to 3D print every part of your design as it’s quite a slow process, particularly for FDM machines. Feel free to make your own twists on this challenge in the classroom, and I’d love to see your results! Maybe the 3D Printed Marshmallow Challenge will be the next big thing?

– Posted by James Novak

InMoov Robot Hand First Prints

20160812_InMoov 3D Prints

If you’re already following my Instagram you’ve had a sneak peek at one of my side projects – to build the arm/hand for the InMoov robot. No small project! InMoov is the world’s first open-source 3D printable life-size robot, and you can find some excellent instructions and all the files on the InMoov website, a fantastic credit to Gael Langevin the creator of this robot.

Above you can see the first 3D prints I’ve completed for the arm, all printable even on the small print bed of the UP Plus 2. Some of the prints are also done on my Cocoon Create. At a guess it’s taken about 25-30 hours of print time to get the parts shown above, and there are still plenty more to go, so this isn’t a project for the feint of heart. But it is a great challenge that combines 3D printing with electronics and some understanding of mechanics, like an advanced version of Lego.

20160814 InMoov Details

There are other similar open-source projects out there, such as Open Bionics or e-NABLE, but I chose the InMoov because the instructions seem really clear and detailed (very important for a build like this!), and there is a good level of complexity in the movements of the hand. Check out this video to see some of the movements. Hopefully once I get the hand up and running I can have a play around with the design and the method of controlling the hand, but for now it’s just about getting the hand built and working. Keep an eye out for the progress, hopefully with some of the electronics installed once the servo’s arrive from China.

– Posted by James Novak

Cowtech 3D Scanner – The Build

20160729_Cowtech Ciclop Build

3D scanning has featured a few times on my blog (eg. see my custom virtual reality headset which perfectly fits my face), so it was only a matter of time until I bought a scanner for myself. Earlier in the year Kickstarter convinced me to help fund the Ciclop 3D Scanner from Cowtech, a $99 open-source system that was impossible to refuse. Yep, $99!

Well here it is, built over a couple of days and making me feel like a kid again with a new kit of Lego. I bought the cheapest version of the scanner, choosing to 3D print the components myself (naturally!) which can be freely downloaded from Thingiverse. These worked really well, only a few areas where support material was time-consuming to remove, and were all done on the small build plate of the UP Plus 2. The top left photo shows most of these 3D printed parts (12 in total needed).

20160805_Cowtech BrokenAfter receiving the other scanner hardware from Cowtech this week, it was finally time to put this kit together – no simple task after I snapped one of the key parts early in the assembly process! You can see the 2 broken pieces of acrylic to the left, which are both from the long arm connecting the 2 main octagonally-shaped hubs in the middle photo at the top of the page. So far Araldite seems to be holding them, and this snapping seems to be a common problem people are reporting – maybe a bit better tolerances required in the laser cut pieces, or a different material that’s not quite so brittle.

Otherwise the assembly process has been quite straight forward, the video provided by Cowtech is very easy to follow, especially if you’re a little familiar with Arduino’s. There are some really clever details in the way nuts slot into the laser cut pieces and screws slide through the 3D prints that I’ve never seen before, so as a designer it was fun to discover these details. I really appreciate the tolerances for many of the different parts fitting together, from laser cut to 3D print to machined screws, I am honestly surprised how well they all came together for me. So in the top right image you can see the final result – I have to admit I feel like an extra 3D printed part is required to cap off the top above the camera, it doesn’t look right to me so this might be something I make myself soon.

The challenge I’m having now is that I can’t get my camera to be recognised by the recommended open-source software for the scanner, Horus. I’ve spent hours installing software and drivers, rebooting my computer, uninstalling, installing in a different order, rebooting… Nothing is working. Hmmm, a bit frustrating but as I’ve learned with these sorts of new products from Kickstarter, sometimes it can take some time for people to start posting solutions and updates as my order was dispatched quite early and there is just not much up on the forum yet. Hopefully soon!

Keep an eye out on my blog for updates, and hopefully soon some successful 3D scans!

– Posted by James Novak

Update 7/8/2016:

Settings That Work CroppedAfter some ideas from the Cowtech Facebook Group, I have solved the connectivity problem – hopefully it helps anyone else that reads this. Firstly the Cowtech Scanning Guide says to plug in the camera to set it up in Horus – but you actually need to plug in the entire scanner – 2 USB’s and power. I then went into the preferences, selected the appropriate camera and serial, then changed the Arduino type to “Arduino Uno” and clicked “Upload Firmware” (shown left). I had to close and then re-open Horus, but now it’s all up and running. Hopefully the rest of the calibration goes a little smoother. I think the instruction booklet from Cowtech needs to make this clearer, and include these preference changes.

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 with PET Filament

20160219_3D Print PET

I think I need to start off with a bit of a colour code:

My collection of 3D prints off the new Cocoon Create 3D printer is growing, and the quality is excellent! On the top left you can see the parts I’ve printed so far (SUP Paddle Clip, Motorcycle Key Guard, Motorcycle Rear Pegs Plug). Top right shows a comparison between the Up! Plus 2 and Cocoon Create for the same part, with not noticeable differences at all – a really great result considering the Cocoon Create printer is nearly a quarter of the price!

20160219_PET 3D Prints

PET+ is meant to be as strong as ABS, but more flexible which is particularly great for the Motorcycle Key Guard shown just above which must flex and snap around the top of some handlebars. The PET+ material prints at the same temperature as ABS, and results in a slightly more glossy finish. I also noticed there was no smell during printing, which of course is very noticeable when printing with ABS plastic – I wonder if this results in better air quality? There is of course a growing interest in the VOC’s associated with melting plastics for 3D printing. The quality of this part is actually better than my previous prints from the Up! Plus 2, and printed with almost no support material as shown in the image just above, whereas the orange print on the Up! Plus 2 was full of support and a nightmare to clean up with pliers. And did I mention the the Cocoon Create is only a quarter of the price? So far a real win.

If you want to read a bit more about this printer, which is based on the RepRap Prusa i3, just check out my First Impressions article, or head to the Cocoon Create website.

– Posted by James Novak

Beyond FDM and the Future Printing Bureau

20160209_Complex 3D Prints

3D printing is a fantastic technology, and the quality of the prints from a desktop machine like my usual Up! Plus 2 are pretty awesome when you think about the fact that they’re produced on my desk! But at some point you’re likely to reach the limits of what can be achieved on such a machine, either through material limitations, size limitations, or in this case in the complexity of the parts themselves.

The parts pictured above are the next stage of development from some of the 3D prints I showed in a post a couple of weeks ago, with some of the patterns and ideas very similar. However now that I’m trying to move beyond relatively “flat” prints into these complex shapes that fit a 3D curved surface, the limitations of a desktop FDM machine become clear. The amount of support material needed, along with the delicate nature of the designs means that pieces of each part were broken during support removal, and on top of that, many areas of the prints simply didn’t print out clearly with lots of loose threads of ABS plastic floating around.

While these prints are enough to visually communicate a design idea, they simply aren’t accurate enough to allow us to physically test or embed electronics in. Therefore it seems we have reached the limits of what we can trial using desktop 3D printing, and must now look at moving to SLS or a similar high-end process, which of course means paying a lot more for prints. It also means that rather than being able to move back-and-forth between CAD and 3D printing multiple times a day, we will be waiting weeks while parts are printed and shipped to us – so a lot more pressure to really take what we’ve learned so far from these prints and ensure that the next set which we produce are going to work.

The reason I write about this is because there is always a lot of talk about whether everyone will one day have a 3D printer in their home. While it’s certainly a possibility, there are obviously limitations to the sorts of products people would be able to print with an affordable home machine. So why won’t everyone just have a SLS machine in the future I hear you ask? Well at the moment my university has purchased a SLS machine, however an even bigger challenge than raising the few hundred thousand dollars to purchase it (which of course will dramatically come down in price now that the patents have expired) is now how are we going to use it safely? It has an enormous checklist just to set it up including requirements for anti-static flooring, appropriate measures and warnings about the dangerous class 4 laser, being installed somewhere that has absolutely no vibrations around it (so not near other types of machinery), advanced air filtration and exhaust systems in the room, an eye-wash station next to it and many more… These don’t sound like the sort of renovations your typical home user is likely to invest in!

So in my opinion it is far more likely that we are going to see even more Shapeways style service bureaus pop up, which is already the case through Staples in the USA and now Officeworks in Australia, where you will take your files to get printed in your local area. All the costs, maintenance and training is covered by these commercial businesses, and we all get to enjoy the benefits. Until then, it looks like I will be placing yet another order for parts on the other side of the world so we can test out these designs properly.

– Posted by James Novak

Prototype or Fail

20160120_TTD Prototypes

These 5 different concepts continue from my last attempt to test a new design for a research project I’m working on – however these have been done on the ever-reliable Up! Plus 2 3D printers, not my useless Solidoodle Press! What a difference it makes…

Without going into specific details (the hush hush clause!) it was a great example of how important it is to test your ideas in the real world, you can’t rely on just what you see on screen and in your imagination. Each concept attempts to solve “the problem” in a slightly different way, and in fact the solutions we thought would work best didn’t, and the obscure ones that we didn’t really think would work very well have proven to be the best and are now evolving into the next stage of development. Without testing these we would never know, and could’ve invested a lot of time and money into something that wouldn’t have worked at all. So as the title says, prototype or fail.

Thanks to 3D printing it is very cheap and quick to test ideas, something that not so long ago may have taken a lot of time, skill and effort to make by hand, and thus limited the extent to which an idea could be explored. Having experienced these situations in professional practice where only a select couple of concepts could be squeezed into the budget (with plenty of kicking and screaming from clients), it’s amazing to now experience just how quick numerous ideas can be tested, with the above prototypes printed in an afternoon and analysed the next day in a 1 hour meeting. Done. We can move onto the next stage very quickly and with a lot of confidence in our direction.

– Posted by James Novak