Vacuum Forming Over 3D Prints

3D printing is awesome for creating so many things – I’ve certainly lost track of how many things I’ve made and shared on this blog! But it’s also fantastic to use alongside traditional manufacturing techniques – moulds for casting, jigs to help in assembly, or in this case, as moulds for vacuum forming. The short video above shows this process being demonstrated to the Intro to 3D Printing class at my university. The faces are 3D printed from 3D scans in ABS plastic, and we are using 1.2mm PETG plastic for the vacuum forms.


The results are really detailed – even the layers from the FDM process have been transferred to the vacuum forms as a texture! After a few of these being created some visible melting of the prints was visible, mostly on the chin and nose where the initial contact with the hot PETG sheet is made – so I’m not sure how long they would last if you were to make 100 of these or more. But a great example of how quickly and easily you can create many copies of a part using the relatively simple method of vacuum forming – you could probably create one of these every 2 minutes, with the plastic only needing 23 seconds to heat before the vacuum process. I know I’ve got some ideas from seeing this.

– Posted by James Novak

InMoov First Twitches of Life

20160820_InMoov Arm Servo

The 6 servo’s needed to build the InMoov robotic arm/hand arrived since my previous InMoov post, and are now installed and working individually. All up they cost about $35AUD on Ebay. The Meshmixer hack for the stands I discussed in the last post also worked quite well, and luckily no other stands to mount the servo’s have needed re-printing – just a few spots of super glue to prevent any minor splitting between the printed layers. This means that most of the assembly of the arm and wrist is now complete, other than running all the lines to control the fingers (a big job I’m not looking forward to). Below is a video of the wrist movement using a MG 996 servo – sounds like it means business!


Nothing particularly exciting just yet, although it’s nice to see the InMoov showing the first signs of life (Frankenstein anyone?). As you can see I’ve connected this servo to an Arduino Uno, and am manually controlling the movements using Grasshopper and Firefly, both plugins for Rhino 3D CAD software. I’m not sure if any other InMoov makers have done this, but if you’ve followed my blog for a while you’ve probably seen previous demonstrations of how you can use what is essentially a 3D CAD program to control the Arduino in real-time, something I’m very excited about. I certainly aim to continue using this visual programming language (VPL) to interact with the arm, perhaps making it more intuitive and interactive to control. Next step: 3D printing the fingers.

– Posted by James Novak

Abstract Portrait Drawing Machine

Earlier in the year I gave a little demo of controlling a 3D printer with a Wii Nunchuk controller. Well I can finally show you where that project went since it ended up in the ACM SIGCHI Designing Interactive Systems conference which happened this week in Brisbane, Australia. The easiest way to explain what it does is to watch the video – but in simple terms it is a process of automatically drawing abstract portraits from a webcam in real-time, using a hacked 3D printer to draw this artwork on paper. Perhaps the machine version of Picasso?

For those of you who follow my blog you would no doubt be familiar with my frustrations with the failed Solidoodle Press 3D printer, which was so bad that it actually caused Solidoodle to close down only a few months ago. Well this project has stemmed from a need to find some useful function for the machine rather than simply throw it away, so now it is more of a 2D printer and it finally seems to be useful.

20160606_Hacked 3D Printer

The photos above are from the DIS experience night where conference attendees were able to come and get a free portrait drawn in about 10 minutes, taking home a cool souvenir and a unique, one-of-a-kind artwork produced entirely by algorithms and a machine. I was just the guy loading paper and pressing a few buttons on and off (a slave to the machines!). But it drew (pardon the pun) a really good crowd for 3 hours with some fun group portraits, some posts on social media, plenty of suggestions to play with different drawing tools and materials, and a pile of portraits with no technical failures during the event – amazing considering my experiences with the Solidoodle printer!

This is something anyone could do with their 3D printer (or indeed any CNC machine) since it is all controlled by standard G-code, it just requires a way to hold a pen on the extrusion nozzle (in my case a custom 3D printed attachment) and a way to convert any linework into G-code – in this case using the Grasshopper plugin for Rhino. I wish I had something like this while I was an Architecture student, it would’ve been fantastic to cheat with my drawings and use it to create quick pencil sketches of my designs from a CAD model! Haha perhaps there is more to this project yet.

To access the published paper that accompanies this work, click here for the link to the ACM Digital Library.

– Posted by James Novak

Wii Nunchuk Controls 3D Printer

Yes it’s as simple as the title says; I can now control the movements of my useless Solidoodle Press (and probably almost any other 3D printer) using a Wii Nunchuk!

Don’t ask me why. It’s more of a personal challenge to see if it could be done, and now that it can, I have a few fun ideas for this. The whole thing was surprisingly simple, and builds upon some previous work where I used Wii Nunchuk’s to customise a 3D CAD model, and of course my work using Rhino CAD software combined with the Grasshopper and Firefly plug-ins. In simple terms, I’ve managed to convert the X and Y signals from the Wii Nunchuk’s joystick into the X and Y G-code commands used by most 3D printers. It’s a little clunky, but at the same time it’s pretty cool to directly control this machine.

With a couple of buttons on the front of the Wii Nunchuk it won’t be hard to add some extra functionality to this, although my intention is certainly not to try printing plastic using this controller, there’s just no real reason to. You will just have to check back in later to see where this experiment goes!

– Posted by James Novak

Beer Bottle Lock in Action

It’s always really rewarding to see others enjoying my designs, and @AngryPancreus on Thingiverse has just created a video of 5 3D prints for beer and wine (a topic I certainly enjoy!), featuring my Beer Bottle Lock. If you’re not sure what a Beer Bottle Lock is, just look back at my Christmas giveaway which you can also download for free from Thingiverse and Pinshape. Just a bit of fun that can save your favourite beers from mysteriously vanishing…

Happy making, and please share a photo or video if you make one for yourself 🙂

– Posted by James Novak

Grasshopper + Firefly = Light Sensor Prototype

It’s been a little while since I posted any of my experiments using Rhino + Grasshopper + Firefly with an Arduino – but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy behind the scenes continuing to experiment! The last video I posted was actually the first showing how it can all come together, and it’s definitely come a long way since then. Time for something new.

This video shows the latest experiment to control the opening of some panels using a light sensor. While relatively self explanatory, the idea is that as more light is detected, the panels open, like a flower opening as the sun rises. This is a very rough prototype to simply test how the system would work and prove an idea I’ve had in my head for a week now. I’d call this a success!

There’s something fulfilling about hacking together a proof-of-concept model like this – it doesn’t have to be pretty, but gets the idea out of your head in the shortest amount of time so you can be confident developing it further, rather than investing a lot of time into a really nice (potentially 3D printed) model that might not even work. With this I can now move on to thinking through both the application and detailing of the concept into more of a product. If you’re interested in finding out more about how this system works, check out the Firefly website. It’s definitely the coolest bit of CAD software I’ve come across lately.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Wood vs. Plastic

Well here it is – my 3D printed wooden phone amplifier fresh from i.Materialise, which won their 3D printed wood challenge! Now it’s time to have your say:

Which sounds better? 3D printed wood, or 3D printed ABS plastic?

On first impressions it’s definitely a fragile material, a bit like something between MDF timber and an egg carton. The graininess can be rubbed off like sand, and you can already see one of the dots in the ‘i’ has broken off. But it smells really nice, I just can’t quite put my finger on what it reminds me of. But definitely very wood-like.

150716 3D Print Wood

For those wanting to print one yourself, the plastic version is freely available for you to download from my Thingiverse or Pinshape profiles. This wooden one is slightly different to meet the requirements of the printing process, but I may add this to the i.Materialise shop very soon so you too can enjoy the natural sounds of timber.

– Posted by James Novak

My 3D Printed Life

A lot of people look at me with a mixture of excitement and confusion when I tell them what I do for work, probably because it sounds a bit futuristic and weird. And it is! But hopefully this profile video prepared by Griffith University and the Gold Coast City Council will explain things a little better than I can, featuring my FIX3D Bike 3D printed by Materialise. I always get a kick from sharing my knowledge of 3D printing with kids still in school since it is really going to affect their lives in the most exciting ways; hopefully videos like this can inspire them to take up the careers of the future.

Also a huge thank you to everyone at the recent RAPID 3D Printing Conference in Los Angeles hosted by SME for awarding my paper the Dick Aubin Distinguished Paper Award, I am still extremely surprised that out of all the amazing work mine had such an effect! My brain still hurts from soaking up so much information but I will post some photos and some of the exciting things I saw in the next few days, and strongly recommend anyone with a serious interest in 3D printing and 3D scanning attend this event if you get the chance.

– Posted by James Novak

Arduino + Rhino + Grasshopper + Firefly

For me this is finally the wow moment. Today I have made the connection between all my Arduino experiments and the latest work I’ve been doing in Rhino. This video shows a very simple Arduino circuit featuring nothing more than a potentiometer (basically like a volume knob). Rather than writing code within the Arduino IDE as per normal, you can actually load an add-in for Grasshopper called Firefly, which will allow you to build code through the normal Grasshopper graphic interface. As a designer, not a coder, this really makes a lot more sense to me!

I’ve then added the Arduino to my previous Grasshopper model (check it out here), allowing the heights of the hexagons to be controlled by turning the potentiometer, and dividing the area of each hexagon by a function of this reading. The attractor points still also modify the model when dragged, so if I had some more potentiometers I could potentially control the location of these as well and creat a model that is easily modified using hardware external to the computer. Very cool!

As yet I’ve had no real luck finding any tutorials for Firefly so I think I’ll be making it up as I go from now on. If anyone does have some good links, please leave me a comment.

– Posted by James Novak

Solidoodle… Try, Try Again.

Another day, another headache. The video above shows what happens when the auto-level feature of the Solidoodle Press 3D printer fails to pop down at the beginning of a print, causing the nozzle to collide with the print plate. It doesn’t sound good! The only way to stop that terrible noise is to cut the power. Unfortunately this isn’t the first time it’s happened either. The only way I’ve found to deal with this is to turn the printer back on and use the slider for the z-axis height in the settings to drop it down and relieve the pressure on the extruder. I feel like it’s thrown some of the calibration off though, and with the auto z-axis calibration not working in the current version of SoliPrint, I’m going to have to do some searching online for fixes. If you haven’t read my previous post, a great place to start looking for help with the Solidoodle Press is the SoliForum.

Some of you may also be asking what’s going on with my shiny print plate in the video. Well, as mentioned in yesterday’s post I’ve stuck 2 perforated PCB’s onto the glass plate to see if the prints will stick, much like the old faithful Up! Plus 2. So far it seems to only work moderately well (which is still a whole lot better than printing onto the glass), but since my collision problems it doesn’t seem like the nozzle is close enough to the plate anymore during the first layer printing. The video below actually shows the start of a successful print with the perforated PCB’s, although there are some major problems with the auto-level tool still not working!

In this video I manually dropped the auto-level tool just in time, however didn’t manage to raise it quick enough causing it to collide with the side of the printing plate. What a nasty grinding sound! Amazingly when I flicked the auto-level out of the way the printer actually went on to print something (almost) successful! The photo below shows where I had to stop the print as the small details beginning to snap as they collide with the nozzle, but the main point is that the print stuck to the perforated PCB plate. This gives me some hope! If I can only get the z-axis working properly again I might be able to get that magical first print out!

2015-02-09 11.45.20I also have hairspray at the top of my shopping list just to see if that makes much of a difference printing on the glass plate – one way or another I need to figure this all out ASAP! If you’ve experienced issues like this with Solidoodle or any other 3D printer I’d love to hear about it, please comment or subscribe to keep up to date.

– Posted by James Novak