Printing your own useful stuff

People constantly talk about the future where you will print the things you need or want.

Before I bought my first 3d printer, I watched a video of a young man who printed replacement parts for various things in his kitchen and bathroom.

While I thought these were interesting uses, the economies of scale in time and convenience are still WAY off of being compelling to consumers.

For instance, the inkwell I made – the larger one took six hours to print. That’s nowhere near as economical as shopping for one at a local art store.

One could say that the hours taken to design it, to print it and clean it so that it is usable costs a consumer far more than it would to simply buy one at retail.

But does it?

Pencil_Holder

My new pencil holder for the desk – designed, modeled and printed in less than 10 hours total time.

Consider some of the most basic aspects of manufacturing an object as simple as the inkwell I designed.

For a manufacturer to produce a similar inkwell for retail, commonly they would have to:

  • Acquire design services
  • Solicit retail
  • Secure credit and financing
  • Purchase manufacturing capacity
  • Arrange shipping and customs agreements if made abroad
  • Marketing and advertising budgets including package design

For myself I needed:

  • A weekend to design the object
  • Design software
  • 3d printer and filament to cover prototypes and the final
  • a few days to print prototypes and the final versions

Obviously I am leaving out a LOT of detail. But at a glance what do you think really means more to users of the things 3d printing is actually capable of making right now?

I have some obvious advantages over everyday users. Even with the emergence of 3d ecosystems with thousands and even millions of objects available for printing, I can design and prototype my own objects without ever incurring anything but the time to design anything.

I also have some experience in computer aided design, drafting and product and packaging design – not to mention nearly 2 decades of computer modeling experience.

It’s really easy for me to fire up a modeling program and synthesize nearly anything I want.

The learning curve behind really making new things is still pretty steep. And I remember when people used to talk about how long it would take for 3d modeling software would take before it became commonplace – a household thing. It’s been almost 20 years since I remember people talking about that and there are only recently some useful 3d programs on mobile devices. That took an awfully long time.

Even I am still looking for that 3d printing “killer app” – that thing that will make 3d printing a real game changer for other people because I have to be honest.

I hate the thought of not having one in my house and being able to make nearly any object I want – especially after making a living for years making monsters.

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Proto Pasta and printing metallic PLA

So I am hoping to get my hands on some of this material soon and try it out.

It’s the new stainless steel PLA from Proto Pasta – it is among the new filaments for Fused Filament Manufacturing (FFM) 3d printers they just released.

The carbon fiber PLA they also make is easily the best looking black material I have used – stock PLA from many sources has a really bright sheen even at higher resolutions which is tough to light and sometimes tough to sand.

The new material from Proto Plant looks really interesting for several reasons.

There are lots of model painting tricks to make something look like metal, and often the results just look painted anyway on plastic models. But there are some blends of industrial plastics that look like brushed metal and let’s face it – I like robots. Robots. Metal. It’s a REALLY good fit.

The other reason is sanding – it looks like this material was made with the intentions of actually looking good even when only partially sanded. I have to say that ALL stock PLA material when sanded looks like just that – partially sanded material.

I hope to get some of this stuff for the next large scale project.

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This is when you will outgrow your first 3d printer

The minute you want to build something bigger than the printer is capable of printing in one piece. At least a dozen people I know have said something which indicates the size printer they want to buy is dictated by the thing they most want to make RIGHT NOW. Later on … you get the picture?

Minifigs, RPG set pieces, jewelry, designer ice trays … tiny stuff. Cool.

And that STILL shouldn’t stop you from printing something pretty darned huge.

The guys at Ultimaker proved this by printing a life sized elephant in dozens of individual pieces using a “print farm” – a group of Ultimakers all working together.

The Gulanee model I printed out was originally targeted for the Makerbot Mini where the size was set to 1 foot – minus the base I made separately.

Want to know what comes in strikingly handy? The built in Windows 8 calculator which does many conversions natively.

calculator

If this is the first time someone has praised Windows 8, don’t freak out.

Going bigger on the Ultimaker 2 meant doing some re-configuring to get parts that would print the model 2 feet tall. That’s bigger than my old Godzilla toys.

Having a good grasp of conversions is something every scale modeler knows – 1/8 scale this or that, 1/32 scale ships and so on.

So a workflow for me always started with “How big do I want this thing to be” and not “how big can the printer make it.” Because frankly, it’s a stupid question. The bigger and better questions are “what’s the right scale” and “how much filament do I need.”

All slicer software worth it’s salt should tell you a few things.

  • How much material will it take
  • How large the final print will be
  • The exact scale entered to produce the final print
  • And how long it will take to print

This is an example of the Cura display showing these values.

Rocket-Cura

In a previous post I said how crucial CGI modeling skills were going to be? Glad I spent years modeling things the hard way – polygon to polygon.

The Gulanee was designed and built for animation production – not 3d printing. Plenty of conventions in animation just don’t fly in 3d printing.

The biggest problem? Floating parts. Anyone who has done visual effects and CGI knows this.

polygroups

All of the armor and little screws were all discreet pieces of the model that had to be merged so it’s a bit like building the model twice.

The final result can be noticeably better if you take the time to merge things manually – the biggest reason is that the software which more easily merges models also increases their file size and can soften certain details. Even with more expensive software, I spent so much time modeling the Gulanee the first time, I REALLY wanted to preserve that detail.

People call this process making the model “watertight.” It’s still an important step but it’s one lots of people are working hard to eliminate. Wouldn’t you want to save production time?

Determining the ideal spot where you will split up your model is also something various programs handle differently – I’ve been doing it manually. For the most part, breaking you model into parts is about scale.

It is also about strength. Many parts of the Gulanee were made unnaturally thin – it was meant to indicate something sleek. But in the real world, that meant change attributes of the model to be stronger.

The legs of the Gulanee were printed with different settings – basically they were given more internal structure and therefor strength than the res of the model. Parts of the feet are almost solid.

If you are satisfied downloading models from the internet, printing out that Yoda model in the material of the day, be my guest. Once you find out what you REALLY want to make, you’ll have to design it yourself.

THEN, you’ll be making the future. Then you’ll likely want another printer.

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Things no one tells you about 3d printing

I know a lot of this has been said online. But I experienced all of this first hand over the past year. Some of it could be painfully obvious, but too much of the press around this topic is only about new equipment, new materials, and company politics.

Screw that. There’s plenty more stuff you need to worry about or at least think about before you dive into the field. These were just the things off the top of my head that I never really heard anyone address honestly:

Gulanee-outside-sml

  • You better know how to model. Cleanly making good polygon models is beyond important no matter what software you use. Ever wonder why so many 3d printed models look so crude, clunky and faceted? It’s just easier for people to handle, for cruder machines to print and many slicing programs to handle.
  • Slicing software is not all created equally. Some programs have pretty crude visualizations of the toolpath of your printer. If you don’t know, a slicer program is the software which literally generates the instructions a printer needs to build your model a layer at a time. I like software which allows me to closely and completely see each of the thousands of layers of the slicing easily. Sometimes you can see exactly where problems will occur and you can adjust for problems.
  • If you built plastic models, have some woodworking skills, any kind of real craftsmanship and steady hands you are at an immediate advantage over most people with 3d printers. Having the ability to add another layer of finish to your 3d prints is huge.
  • No amount of money you spend on a 3d printer will make you a good designer. Don’t know anything about 3d modelling or CAD? Never pushed around tons of polygons? Don’t have skills in design and constructive solid geometry? Chances are you’re just going to be stuck downloading other people’s models and hoping they fit your needs. Just like 2d printers didn’t make people good designers, 3d printers don’t make you an inventor or maker. Well, it is cooler to your friends but that novelty without design chops is seriously overrated.
  • Get used to print failures, they happen. and worse, you won’t notice simple mistakes until they end up costing you money and material. Plenty of copy editors will attest to the fact that things went to print with terrible mistakes. It happens. But in 3d printing, seeing those mistakes manifest in the third dimension is demoralizing on a whole new level if you let it get to you. But if you are used to experimentation, like iterating and experimenting, or just tinkering then you should do fine.
  • If you live somewhere with seriously hot summers, be prepared for a utilities spike. I ran two printers nearly all summer long and saw my highest power bill ever for at least one month. The difference between last year and this year even with a rate increase was noticeable. This kind of equipment needs reliable power and if you can, dedicating an uninterrupted power supply is a given if you plan on using these things for something critical to your home business or workplace.
  • For now, nothing you print will be as high quality as the same object injection molded from some cheap manufacturer in China. Just look at even the cheaper toys at a supermarket checkout – there isn’t a single Kickstarted campaign indie funded ANYTHING that can come close to the quality of some of the stuff you can get mass produced in China. At least, NOT YET. But there is something far more interesting and novel about things you 3d printed for a specific purpose or request. I know people love the inexpensive stereo lithography DLP printers coming out now – but think about this. Resin models printed on these SLA printers cost 10-100 times as much per item as the exactly same thing injection molded by an experienced manufacturer. But you can customize faster. At least FOR NOW. To paraphrase Seth Godin, is the cost of NOT MAKING something HIGHER than the cost of you MAKING something.

Still want to get into 3d printing? You’re nuts. Just like me. See you at the funny farm.

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What does a piano have to do with 3d printing?

I promise this will make sense eventually.

There are plenty of people who have posted tons of finishing, painting and polishing tutorials online for 3d printing.

And yeah – DINOVEMBER!

blockysaurus

If you are like me, and basically trying to make things work with whatever you have lying around the house (face it – like me you likely already spent too much money on the printer).

Some vital stuff I have never owned before but now keep handy are a dremel and soldering kit.

And you might not be a guitar player, but I am. When you see a tutorial online telling you to get “piano wire” for clearing clogs and you don’t have a piano you want to mutilate, use a guitar string. Specifically the G String. There are jokes there but I’m too tired.

Chances are if you rock up to a music store and ask for piano wire, they might make a suggestion or two but remember to check the size of your extruder (the piano wire is used heated to help unclog certain extruders).

Even guitar strings usually have the dimensions in millimeters labelled so you can tell what gauge of guitar string will work.

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3D printing and making people love plastics

Nearly everything I make 3d printed these days is based on the question “what’s it for?”

And oh yeah, Dinovember:

Trex Jungle

 

Display. Industrial. Kitchen. Entertainment or Play. Everything you’re going to make on a 3d printer these days has an ideal material and it hasn’t taken long for the prosumer market to come up with a host of materials to suit the needs for stuff you want to make.

I think of most of these materials under some basic rules:

Fading – is it going to maintain it’s basic color
Wear and durability – can it take the forces you foresee
Waterproofing – is it bouyant and weatherproofed
Sterile – can it be sterilized
Inert – is the chemically reactive

And that’s just for starters. But the truth is that most of the 3d printers you can get commercially are going to melt a form of plastic or slowly cook come kind of resin.

Look at how much we complain about plastic but look how far it gets you on a daily basis.

Most manufacturers have already figured this out and made forms of plastic that degrade naturally in landfills- PLA, or Polylactic Acid. Hopefully, those claims are true as I’m not sure how well tested they are IN landfills.

I honestly have made things I don’t mind keeping, using and reusing. But I also know people have questioned the waster material that is generated when you throw away support material.

With some basic research you should be able to find out the method your community or city uses for waste management. If you have an industrial level composting capability in your area, and you REALLY want to separate your PLA waste products, you should be fine taking them there. The catch some point out is that PLA is made by so many different people. Some are even made to melt at higher temperatures and are being mixed with outer fillers to get different print properties.

I imagine that as the usage of 3d printing approaches Walmart kind of ubiquity, we’ll be in some trouble again and need ANOTHER alternative material. But by then, there might not be any Walmarts. Hmmm.

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Can you make a rocket out of carbon fiber PLA?

Sure you can. As long as you’re talking about a carbon fiber Rocket Racoon. All joking aside, I made this prior to the Long Beach Comic Con as a demonstration piece for the Ultimaker 2.

The first one came out very well for being printed in one pass – no parts, no orientation tricks. I think people always want to know – especially 3d modellers – how well a 3d printer will work with their models. The answer is always it depends, but so far the Ultimaker 2 has really dared me to do things that are more difficult.

The results of this test aren’t perfect, but they are impressive considering the level of “difficulty” of this model.

Test-render-00003_001

The basic figure was sculpted in Sculptris which thankfully is still free. The figure was posed and the gun was added with Lightwave 3d. I also made the model watertight – if you don’t know what that means, it’s made into one continuous polygon mesh – also in Lightwave. But the software is less relevant than the material – Carbon Fiber reinforced PLA.

Although this came out better than I expected, I should have increased the wall thickness of the print.

As a result the legs broke when I cleaned the model. But, I am used to cleaning and polishing plastic models. What red blooded teen-aged boy didn’t spend hours making plastic models seamless?

Some Tamiya modeling putty and 2 grains of sandpaper (60-120 grain) will make this raccoon whole again, but since the test was meant to see how the untouched surface would hold up – well I think it’s still successful as the finish is actually very good by default.

Chances are you have everything you need around the house when you first get a 3d printer – especially if you are already a hobbyist of some skill level. The only thing I really didn’t have lying around which made this much easier was the Tamiya putty – which is terribly expensive by volume. I think I would DIY an alternative since basically it is a quick drying semi-polymer based, molding putty. Time to break out the chemistry set.

Even printed at only 100 microns (mostly for speed), the model printed well for something with an enormous amount of overhang issues. People constantly tell those who do 3d printing to try and avoid overhangs by orienting parts in certain ways. And that’s still true but I like to torture test materials and equipment with tough situations and this guy has every DON’T DO THAT issue related to 3d printing there is.

For more information on the ultimaker 2 and Carbon fiber reinforced filament, visit https://www.ultimaker.com/ and http://www.proto-pasta.com/

And sign up for important private invites and announcements. I want to offer something to the courageous soon.

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Makerbot removed from iMakr stores

The following is a link to something everyone who has followed my printing experience with the Makerbot Mini has known for most of the year:

Want to know what this is? Tough, you’re Makerbot is jammed again.
Cough up a hundred bucks or suck it up kid.

http://3dprint.com/23136/imakr-removing-new-makerbot/

Customers of the bots they got at iMakr are not happy with the 5th gen Makerbots. I’m not happy with mine. And it’s been another week of waiting on support.

The 5th gen machines only need two improvements to make them credible and reliable. Unfortunately both of those changes are expensive because they involve all the things that make it a 3d printer – the extruder, and the stepper motors.

It’s loud as hell and jams too easily. That’s it. If Makerbot as a company can resolve these two things they’d really have it made because they spent so much effort lining up deals to get the products into every possible space they could, if they actually had a KILLER product they’d be running the world (or at least a small part of it).

It doesn’t help that the company gets accused of actually stealing ideas and patents from their users, it’s bad enough they how bad they look now. I honestly chose a Makerbot because of their previous reputation with the cupcake and rep 2’s, and because they were backed by enough money to ensure they wouldn’t disappear overnight which is the fear I have for 90 percent of the 3d printer gold rush companies flooding Kickstarter with stuff.

Even the venerable Form 1, the SLA printer I initially wanted and seriously considered has struggled with it’s fair share of FULL machine replacements. If you think a failed print on Makerbot looks bad you should see some of the fails from a Form 1 or other SLA printer. It’s something which makes the 5th gens so hard to swallow – the ideas in them are actually REALLY good – just poorly executed. Make it quiet, reliable and easy to get back up an running again. PLEASE!

Even if they do get this settled, the accusations by users of idea theft still bugs me. It was the biggest reason I’ve never contributed anything to their so called ecosystem that isn’t an ecosystem. If anyone in tech is going to use that term it better include better ways for users and not just filament re-sellers to make some coin.

I want Makerbot to succeed for two reasons – the first being so I can actually make back the money I blew on the Mini by making something worth buying, and two so they can repay the users they allegedly stole from should that ever become a thing they need to do. THEN. Then, I can feel comfortable buying something other than filament from them again.

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