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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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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