More PLA quality issues

Getting good prints from PLA (Polylactic Acid based filament) is usually pretty easy – as long as you have a well calibrated extruder and good quality filament.

I once ran into quality issues with filament on the SAME filament reel. On the first limited test run of my Pencase, I started with a pale blue Matterhackers spool that went well, but then turned into total garbage by the end of the reel.

Since it was a new reel, or at least a newly ordered reel, I thought it was a material issue given the printer itself was also freshly calibrated, cleaned and maintained.

Hey, it happens. But the relative youth of a consumer or even pro-sumer 3d printing marketplace is going to have these kinds of hickups.

It’s one of the reasons I have always enjoyed using Protopasta filaments – the consistency of a material throughout it’s usage and lifetime in your shop is really important. And it’s clear from a sampling of materials that pricing might not reflect quality, but when there is consistent correlation between price and quality – you build some loyalty.

This sounds like more of a marketing blog than a 3d printing rant, but it cn be really tiresome trying to salvage a bad roll of remaining filament with different settings to compensate for brittleness, adhesion, clogging or other difficulties that come wwith inconsistent filament properties.

For instance, I actually sat next to my printer once with my finger on the temperature dial adjusting the filament temperature AS it was printing. If I saw or heard strain in the extruder I would adjust pressure slightly, or if I saw under extrusion I would briefly increase temperature, or even adjust speed. JUST to save on buying new filament.

I’m likely not going to do that again. It’s beside the point of having a robot in your living room, right?

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Switching off and on

I had a bunch of web hosting stupidity happen over the last few weeks. Going to switch web hosting soon and I don’t think it will interrupt anything, but I realized how long I have had a website when it’s just not as cool or common a thing any more. I don’t want to give up my url ever and was considering it in the light of how easy it is to not have one any more.

Host my demo reel? Just go to online video free services.

Host my artwork? Choose a platform?

One stop for all your content? Yeah, that’s still a harder proposition but hey, hyperlinks still connect everything so why keep my own url?

I’m damned stubborn, but the I have become kind of fond of the wordpress platform and less impressed with other web platforms. I’m still a feature guy, and things like twitter and Instagram are dumbed down they kind of make me anrgy by default at how little they offer in terms of features and control.

Thankfully, platforms like wordpress seem to be holding strong and other blogging and CMS platforms still have something to offer.

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Hammers and Nails

I’ve been drawing a lot less lately, preferring to go directly to digital for some product designs. It might sound like it would be a little slower, but the results are more conclusive.

That’s not to devalue a drawing, but when you want to manufacture a shape and not just make an accurate drawing, sometimes the digital approach is faster.

Here’s the thing I think some people, who are still romantic about drawing, don’t realize – it has some cognitive and physiological costs.

Say you draw something, you go through a dozen sketches, maybe spend an hour doodling and then hit the CAD program and realize “Hey this wouldn’t work in the real world.”

Going back to drawing can sometimes makes sense, but if you saw something that didn’t work in CAD, why leave your CAD program? It used to make sense when CAD programs were run on giant workstations, heating the very rooms they occupied.

You used to need to highly skilled and rare operators for those workstations, spending time translating your doodles into recognizable and annotated diagrams for someone else to interpret.

Now you can download apps, use in browser CAD programs, or highly accurate off the shelf vfx apps to do your CAD. If you have the skill level, there is no speed benefit to switching cognitively between the two processes. Unless you have highly internalized skills in sketching as well as computer aided design, then you have the trifecta when added to 3d printing knowldge. I’ve been developing those matched skills my whole life and having spent 3 years in additive manufacturing things are really coming together.

I’m just nagging and bragging now. After all, if you love your process, if you think it works for you, fine. But not questioning your process now and then is surefire stagnation fuel.

A line I read in a book pairs well with another popular aphorism. First, “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Add that to “When you believe in the problem more than the solution, which do you think will ultimately prevail?”

Altered just slightly, sometimes we can believe in a process more than the product, and you can tell when that happens. It’s when you get emotionally attached to the work done BEFORE the product than the product itself. Were you sad that the final product didn’t capture your sketches? You missed the point.

Were you disappointed that the spontaneity in your drawings didn’t translate to the printed or manufactured part? You missed something for sure.

That last quote comes from Ryan Holiday’s book “The Obstacle is the Way,” which became popular for sports teams, business leaders etc. in the last few years. It’s quickly become one of my favorite books.

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The Meta Cognitive Training Bracelet

Time Ferris, author of the 4-hour series of books and more, posted an article a while back about the use of Rubber bands as cognitive training tools. Like many things in meta cognitive training, an action, a behavior and an object are blended into a simple program which has become popular with personal development enthusiasts and trainers.

You can read more about that program in Tim’s post here:

Meta Cognitive Training

I happen to like the idea of meta cognitive training but as a designer and 3d printing nut I wanted to add something to that mix. While the rubber band bracelets were truly inexpensive, I thought a much more mechanical “switch” would be more symbolic and perhaps safer in a way.

That thought occurred to me while driving to work. Since the original meta cognitive program in Tim’s post was about complaining, I thought many people would be wearing these rubber bands while driving. If you add rabid cell phone use to complaining about traffic, the act of switching the rubber band from one wrist to the other as instructed in the training protocol above spelled disaster.

You can just see the disdain on the police officer’s face – “You see officer, I was just following my meta cognitive training protocol …”

The biggest advantage to the rubber bands, of course, is that they fit a much wider range of wrists without modification. Perfect design. But my next version of this bracelet may include a flexible wristband as I want to start experimenting with flexible 3d printing filaments.

It’s a little odd that I have not done so in the few years I have been printing. I have never liked the fact that many of these filaments’ early versions were in fact difficult to use and often ended up requiring a hardware upgrade to the printers before being truly usable.

But after the latest reviews of some of the latest flexibles, that may have finally changed. I’ll know more by the end of summer.

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You break it, you print it

I have had one case for my glasses which I liked – but it also had a property I disliked.

I liked that it opened from one end instead of lengthwise – it helped with unintentionally dropping my glasses or the fact that they would pop out of the lengthwise case too easily.

The thing I didn’t like was that the cap was rounded, the base was flat and it was chrome plated – in other words, it looked like a dildo. There were a number of odd glances my way when I would produce the case in public.

But I have had a 3d printer for several years now, and last week, having installed a new extruder I was looking for new projects.

I started designing the next case for my glasses years ago, but it evolved into the Pencase project which you can purchase here.

Although the current design for the case only shows the basic exterior it is no way going to be a business as usual case. I want this thing to be as desperately impractical as possible – more of a toy than something meant for the avid glasses switcher. Whatever that is. Whoever that is.

I am in other words breaking one of those tenets of good design (again) – that something be designed for its purpose as closely as possible. Braun designer Dieter Rams would be furious, but I feel that 3d printers are precisely and particularly fit for this sort of task.

The real purpose I find is in the way design itself is accessible, not it’s final products. There is a fantastic saying floating around the conversation of any technology but especially mobile technologies and I would add 3d printers to it – that what we design, ends up designer us in return.

The feedback from the objects and apps in our lives changes us in return and to be aware of that, act within it and take it as the true process is more important to me lately.

Mostly because I have to find a way to justify spending so much money on 3d printing! Hubris! Have fun out there if you live is LA – triple digits everywhere make for easy melting.

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Sunshower

About Chris Cornell I can say really only one thing – I was jealous of his range as a singer and musician. I sing and play guitar, and learned the song Sunshower recently, as it is one of my favorite songs. It is out of my vocal range, but I manage it on the guitar just fine as it really isn’t a difficult song to play.

I view much of my art as catharsis – much of it I never show to anyone. They are ideas to be expressed, examined and then put away. But this was different. Someone very close to me committed suicide last year, someone neither I or anyone closer had any idea that this was a possibility in his mind. It bothered me tremendously that as I close as I was I had failed to hear, to see, to know and to help before it was too late.

With the help of Dr. Ali Mattu, a psychologist who has a terrific youtube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClIZqOLqUCro7bKztUjYCNA, I’d like to offer the following resources.

If you are presently suicidal and want immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or chat with someone right now: https://t.co/vw9OIyshTQ

Have you lost someone to suicide? You’re not alone and help is available: https://t.co/RmSousPtpB
Another group place to link to for general psychological support: https://t.co/QCpROonMUx

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Waiting for my new extruder

I ran afoul of Fedex recently seemingly being unable to process a zip code correctly as my extruder ended up in Pacoima. Weird. I hate when simple things go horribly wrong like that. Yay, technology.

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Thumbtack adventure

Scanning old family photos has been a little tougher lately since so few services offer color transparency scanning. Any old flatbed can handle most of the standard prints and the larger prints can be photographed with a good digital SLR.

But my sister once visited Oklahoma’s premiere theme park – Frontier City – nearly twenty years ago and to commemorate the occasion, the family bought one of those family portraits.

But this one was a unique little keychain viewer which used an old odd sized color transparency format I wasn’t familiar with. Fortunately, some people still have flatbed transparency scanners – mostly the photographers trying to deal with a changing market.

I remember using dedicated slide scanners decades ago – they were the preferred method for the photographers back in the 90s when I worked at a magazine. Everything was just better fidelity than the flatbeds. But things advanced enough to the point where the flatbeds were winning out. Another case of digital creep – that point where old tech starts to give way to new toys.

SO here comes the gig economy – I needed a one time scan of a one of a kind image from a format that hasn’t been actively used in at least 20 years. In steps Thumbtack, whose SEO criteria carefully matched one of my searches.

I hate sites like Fivr – bad branding and bad attitudes and publicity made me think those were not the way to go. But Thumbtack seemed just left of center enough – same basic model but definitely a more approachable methodology.

Overall, I keep looking for ways to monetize art and my work, but sites like these just seem like they could be eliminated entirely with even better SEO by Google at some point. Since it really is all search based, only based on tasks matching to availability instead of web crawling and search phrases or images.

But it was good experience. I have my scan, spent 30 dollars and less than a full 24 hours later I can send the image to my family. I don’t know what kind of camera, photographer or other equipment was employed to make the original but even the most common iPhone model today can take a better picture than this film format with little assistance.

But it still took someone with a good eye and rare gear to make it happen. I think there’s a lesson in there somewhere but it’s not as apparent as digital creep and technological obsolescence. I think it’s more about needing to preserve certain things at the right time.

The real lesson is that the color transparency lasted over 20 years and sustained very little damage for being a physical thing. A digital photo that isn’t backed up disappears instantly with a careless swipe or a spilled bottle of kombucha (not kidding, that happened to thousands of my photos).

A color slide can survive a lot. I’ve spilled all kinds of other drinks on color slides, sat on them, flung them across the room in anger, and even set a few on fire. Ok, the last one did actually burn beyond recognition, but a corner or too survived. This one in particular survived a few decades in a jewelry box, stored in a non temperature controlled room in a state with temperature swings from freezing to 100 plus summers.

That’s a lesson – how robust are our digital photos when we constantly lose them to carelessness, but just as quickly fill up another device until it, too, is drowning in Kombucha? Haha!

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Going for a CAD upgrade

If you’re an experienced 3d modeler in any profession, you rely on certain tools. Being such an open source nerd, as well as just cheap, I depend on plenty of free tools.

Professional 3d modelers spend their careers keeping up with the tools that are in demand at movie or television studios which makes most of them scoff at free tools because of their simplicity or feature set.

But a key component lacking in entertainment work is dimensional and engineering accuracy. You can animate the universe in Maya and make it pretty, but good luck getting an accurate engineering visualization out of it.

And that’s something I looked for in other 3D CAD tools lately – sure the Hollywood boys an girls get all the glory on screen. But I’ve said this before since getting into 3d printing – NONE of the models usually made for the screen translate seamlessly to the printer. The demands on either are are very different.

There’s is some shared space between them in the concepts of creating profiles, polygons, extrusions and the like. But the meat an potatoes of creating something that actually works when manufactured? New ball of wax.

Dimensional accuracy, tolerances, the Shore scale of material usage, material density to weight ratios, etc. There’s so much more to worry about when turning a 3d design meant for actual use in the real world than there ever was in merely making something pretty onscreen. I take it back, but only a little – we’ve all worked for THAT director at some point. The one that things the weight of the world depends on THAT ONE PIXEL.

If only they knew.

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Form Fuse and Fabulous

The latest release from Formlabs is pretty impressive – maybe too expensive for me right now but definitely a serious thing to consider for the rest of the world.

Think about this for a second. Formlabs started on Kickstarter, made a successful if legally challenged launch, released a follow up to that product commercially as a fledgling company and has now released an SLS solution.

That stands for Selective Laser Sintering – a fancy way to get rid of the support structures and make incredibly clean prints. If you have any experience in 3d printing, you have dealt with supports, the structures that make 3d printing possible with other technologies to compensate for the annoyance of gravity.

SLS is not new, but for many serious prototyping facilities it is the only serious method to get around the laborious and sometimes destructive practice of cleaning off support structures. I typically don’t mind the process but I have become to accept it as a part of getting clean parts.

I have always hated the idea of altering my design to fit the limitations of the technology – this has always been a designer’s problem with regard to FDM or Fused Deposition Modeling, the more familiar melting plastic printing process to most of you.

But SLS technologies are the best current solution to getting clean parts with minimal cleaning out of a printer. The powders used get dusted off the parts as you pull them from SLS printers, kind of like the movie version of the archaeologist’s field work. Indiana Jones never had it so easy. And sure they have their share of issues, the relative ease of personally modifying an FDM printer (the first 2 Ultimakers are open source and famous for this ease) are likely gone.

SO think about it – a company that was crowdfunded has released a consumer model of the best possible way of getting clean 3d printed parts without tedious sanding and tweezer gymnastics other printing tech forces us to accept.

It’s a big move, and I can’t wait until I can justify the expense.

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