Saturday, November 15, 2014

TCTShow 2014 (Part II)

In sorting through my gatherings from the TCTShow (2014, Birmingham, England) there were another few bits I thought worth sharing. At this stage you will find comprehensive round-ups of the show on Rich's Blog, and for a view of the high-end machines do see Christopher Barnatt's excellent review here, but I had a few picts of my own to add.

Active3D's X1 on the left, RichRap's Sli3DR printer on the right.
If you like the make/build aspect of this world then a closer observation of the many printers on display at the shows is certainly worth while. For instance, the two machines above have something interesting in common. They both use Spectra fishing line instead of belts, one on x/y, and one with line on x/y and z! The print quality from both was excellent, which just shows that while not commonly used, the Spectra line is a practical alternative to belts.

And there was this curious configuration at the excellent Ooznet stand... looks like a Prusa i3, which it basically is, but fitted with an unusual extruder driving mechanism, called a Flex3Drive! It allowed the best of both worlds, the light x-carriage with the motor remotely, but still the benefits of direct drive extrusion (lower retract distances). It worked very well.

This lovely looking delta, by Andrew Wade drew lots of attention. It's a self-build which Andrew is working towards releasing.
This desktop sized filament maker was in the show's Start Zone. Called the "Strooder", it received it's start-up funding from a Kickstarter launch in June '14 and is hoping to do it's bit to reduce filament costs to consumers by providing a way to make your own filament from pellets, which are a fraction of the cost.

This prototype experimental hopper extruder design was on display by RichRap. At a desktop level, the whole concept of directly feeding plastic pellets is quite at it's infancy, but has exciting potential to reduce cost and offer interesting blending possibilities right at the printer.
Above, RichRap's prototype pellet extruder.

I'll rounding up with two short video clips...

The Nectar One wasn't quite ready to print at this years show, but gets the prize for the coolest door opening mechanism in the show! I wish them well in their launch.

The fastest moving mechanism at the show has to be the cutting blade on the Mcor IRIS printer! (See video below). 
3d landscape printed on the Mcor IRIS.

There's a bunch more photos which I'm going to push to a Google+ album for general viewing at this point. It's probably the handiest way to share them out. Link here.

Thanks for viewing!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The RepRap Community Hub experience at TCTShow 2014...Part 1

To truly gain new experiences you have to step outside your comfort zone. I knew I was doing that when I informed RichRap on the RepRap Forum, that I’d be willing to help out at the RepRap community hub at this year’s (2014) TCTShow in Birmingham, England. I had no idea how amazing an experience this would actually be!
Above, RichRap and one of his amazing creations, the Sli3DR in the background.

For me, one of the simplest satisfactions would be in helping and interacting with community members and visitors to the show. The side benefit would be the opportunity to meet some of the legends of the 3d revolution, the “virtually famous” of the RepRap world! Sad, I know! :-)

Also, having observed and experienced the rapid development and evolution of desktop 3d printing from a virtual and remote perspective for many years, I felt it was time to engage in a more real way. What better way than to fly into Birmingham and participate in what is now becoming an annual gathering, the RepRap Community Hub at the TCTShow!

(Above, Chris and Mary Palmer, of Mendel90 fame, working on Huxley90, and lots of vases!)

For sure there would be more to gain from interfacing directly. You can’t beat face-time for knowledge and experience exchange, and I knew the opportunities would present themselves, if all I did was show-up!

Having scratch built my own Mendel 90 over a year ago now, it was indeed an honour to meet the team behind the design, Chris and Mary Palmer (Below). With my silly t-shirt on, the ice broke quickly and the rest of the show was filled with gems of wisdom from Chris and good humoured banter and fun from Mary!
During the show, Chris worked quietly on a small machine in his area. but what had gone mostly unnoticed and without fan-fair was that we were witnessing the first public viewing of a brand new printer. To the passer-by it looked like another of the many many printer designs to be seen at the show, but to the 3d print Anoraks out there this is actually a portable version of the robust Mendel90. Chris indicates he's calling this one the "Huxley90".  It will offer the performance and reliability of the Mendel90 but combine it with portability, for those times when you just have to bring your printer with you! Expect to hear much more from Chris on this one.
(Above, Mendel90 and Huxley90 side by side.)

Have you ever made a copy of yourself? It's the latest in "selfies". It's a peculiar experience and worth doing once. I was tickled when Justin Carpenter of Active3D offered to scan and print me. It gave me a chance I've been looking for to explore the process and assess the workflow of scan to print. Justin made the operation of the hand-held scanner look easy, and I'm sure with a bit of practise anyone could manage it. He used a consumer level scanner called the Sense. It has encouraged me to research scanning in more depth, as I think ease of input is a great enabler to 3d printing work.

Head tilted back so no support needed. Printed in wood filament for good matt finish. One of the first things I printed when I got home was a second copy of myself. Good fun!

You just don't know who you are going to meet! I was introduced to Mark Drubin (MakeALot on Thingiverse),  an accomplished designer and user of OpenSCAD, a gentleman and another of the virtually famous of this 3d printing world! Check out his work...

The people... the prints... the machines... There are so many photos worth sharing that I just had to do collages to publish them more quickly! Have a browse!

Quite honestly, between all the exhibitors, the volume and quality of printed examples was facinating. So many to admire, examine and enquire about. Below is just a small flavour, and just too many to individually credit, so if you see your creation below, thank you for sharing!
The myriad of desktop sized printers was equally fascinating.

Hopefully at this point you have a small insight to my experience at this event! If I continue with a single post it's likely never to get published, so I'm going to hit "publish", and return with further posts to explore many more topics that interested me and are related to the show, such as:

3d printing/printers in schools/colleges. 3d content and the education sector.
Next year... how can the Community Hub be improved? Become a better experience for visitors?
What's happening on the filament front.
Is there diversity or convergence going on at a desktop 3d printer level?
The hot-end space...
New kids on the block... Nectar, others.
Who visited the RepRap Community Hub and what type of questions were asked.
Other stories from around the exhibition... as I occasionally wandered around, each stand and encounter had it's own story! I'll try pull some examples together!

Thanks for viewing. More to follow!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

3d printed Limerick City Model unveiled...

FabLab Limerick recently unveiled a scaled architectural model of Limerick City, Ireland. It's a most amazing model, faithfully reproducing the Georgian grid and architectural detail found centrally in the city. It's a living model which will continue to grow over time.

The city was surveyed and photographed extensively, and the arduous task of painstakingly drawing each building and city block was undertaken over the past few months. The work was conducted by graduates of the School of Architecture at University of Limerick. The FabLab is run by staff, students and graduates of SAUL.

Blocks of builds were prepaired and printed on a selection of 3d printers, including RepRapPro Mendels, Mendel 90, and Ultimaker2 printers. Below is a small selection of photos from the recent open evening at which the city model was unveiled. The base board was CNC cut from digital maps to accurately reflect the city terrain, incorporating another digital fabrication process available in the facility. The model remains available for public viewing at the FabLab.

I'm sure we will hear more about this fantastic undertaking and achievement!

I had the honour of being asked to help out with the printing. The blocks practically filled my print bed and ran from 8 to 12 hrs print times. Printed in PLA, a layer height of .2mm was used on the city prints through-out. This brought out fabulous architectural details that were captured in the fresh drawings of these buildings. After printing a few of the city blocks I found myself examining buildings and city streets with a new eye in recent days! It showed me detail around the city I had never noticed. Printing parts of the city and scrutinising other printed blocks has been a fun and enlightening experience!

Thanks for viewing.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Scaled 3D print of "ShopBot" project...

While learning how to use a ShopBot CNC router I was looking for a suitable starter project and came across the very popular Patio Chair project on the ShopBot site. It quickly occurred to me that I could assess quite a lot about the design simply by scaling and 3d printing the necessary parts. The conversion to STL file for slicing and printing was relatively straight forward, and is summarised below. I've broken down the steps, aiming the post at Sketchup beginners.

The downloadable drawing was in .DXF format and easy to view in a 2D drawing package such as DraftSight.

My starting point was to import the .DXF into Sketchup so I could use the Push/Pull tool to give each part some depth for printing. I first had to install a Plug-in into Sketchup to enable importing .DXF. There's a well known plug-in called "FreeDXF" which I found would only work with older versions of Sketchup than the free 2014 version I was using, but with some further digging I found I could manually install the plug-in by adding the files manually to the following location... (Windows7)
The plug-in still gave an error when starting Sketchup until I edited the "freedxf.rb" file, replacing ":" with ";" to clear up a minor issue.

When you import a DXF into Sketchup the shapes come in un-filled. This is easily fixed by drawing over any existing line. The part then turns dark grey, showing it is manifolded (no gaps), and ready to be extruded (push/pull tool). To remove internal shapes repeat the "draw over" process, then select the internal shape and 'delete'. There are probably plug-ins that can do this clean-up more quickly but, again, this walk-through is aimed at beginners. 
Selecting the Push/Pull tool, extrudes all parts to a depth of 3/4" to match the material specified in the original CNC cut design. If you have Sketchup set to millimetres you can still specify Imperial dimensions and it will conveniently do the unit conversion for you. Push/Pull to any distance, then simply type .75" and it will take the 3/4" distance and apply it.

To match the original wood design the joints need to be blind dog-bone pockets. Push/Pull the pockets to a depth of 1/2", matching the tenon depths on the chair sides. 
The final preparation step is to scale all parts down to a size that will fit on the 200x200mm print bed. This is best achieved by selecting all, then using the Scale Tool, drag one of the green corners of the yellow box inwards any distance, then type .15 and hit enter. This will scale all objects down to 15% of original size, to fit nicely on a typical desktop 3d printer.
Select and export the finished pieces from Sketchup in STL file format.
Because of the small pockets and little tabs on the objects I found it needs to be sliced at a reasonably high resolutions. I used .2mm layer height with a .3mm width in Slic3r, but you can choose your own slicing software and settings. The important thing is to preview the g-code to ensure you are getting good definition around the pockets and little tabs. Repetier Host is good for g-code preview, as is the on-line previewer If you experience any difficulty slicing then I find the Cloud based Netfabb STL repair service very good (, Service... Cloud Service). 

Here's a picture of the printed plate of parts. There was a little but of clean-up needed to be done around some of the tabs and pockets, but overall the parts printed well.

The chair was easily assembled with a dab of super-glue in the pockets and the parts pushed together, checking for square are you go. A trial dry fit is always a good idea too.
The finished miniature Patio Chair is proving to be a novel and popular item. Full credit TJ Christiansen who did the DXF drawings for ShopBot, and to ShopBot for sharing. The design was said to be found on and originally from American Woodworker Magazine. I'm sure it goes back a long way, and was made with traditional methods long before CNC or 3D printing!

Technical note: The parts were printed on a home made Mendel90, controlled by a Panucat Azteeg x3. It was printed with 3mm PLA using a .5mm J-head nozzle, active cooling on the J-head insulator and gentle cooling on the work. I use a glass print surface, cleaned with window-cleaner and a final wipe with vinegar. I have a Helios heated bed, which I set to 60Deg C for PLA printing.
The chair was sliced in Slic3r at .2mm height, and around 50mm/sec, but a much slower first layer.

I've shared my Sketchup and STL files on should you wish to try print this chair yourself. 

Thanks for viewing!

Monday, September 8, 2014

RepRap Community Hub and this year's TCT 3D Printing Show...

I'll be helping out at the RepRap Community Hub at this year's TCT 3D Printing Show in Birmingham, UK. It promises to be a busy and exciting 3 days! Looking forward to it!
Show Floor Plan

Further detail on RepRap Community participation in this years show on this RepRap forum post here.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Choice of slicer for hollow printing...

People occasionally ask me which slicer I use... the answer really is "it depends". It depends what I'm printing. Over time I've found that different slicing packages are good at different aspects of printing. A good example of this was when I tried printing this Worldcup Trophy. It's quite a large object and some reported it taking up to 6hrs to print and consuming around 10m of filament, even with a relatively low infill percentage. I felt printing it hollow was the best approach. This would considerably reduce the print time and material consumed and should be achievable.
Worldcup Trophy, standing about 22cm high including Alzibiff's base.

From experience of different slicer programs I've tried out, I've found Ultimaker's slicer "Cura" to be the best at printing hollow objects that close in at the top. When you slice a large object with Cura and set it to 0% infill it 'scribbles' support material on the inner walls when the walls close to a shallow angle as it nears the top. It can be seen as brown lines in Cura's Layers View Mode (below).
This additional sidewall support works well and allows a hollow object to close in completely without any internal infill or internal support construction. The successfully closed in top of the trophy print can be seen in the picture below. The print is hollow.

To complement the trophy, a nice base was designed and shared by Alzibiff, incorporating some nice raised text. I printed it in contrasting green and gold by simply "guesstimating" the length of green needed for the first part, then feeding some gold, then feeding some green to conclude the print. If the print rate is slowed down, as is possible with the speed slider control in Repetier Host, it's possible to watch the cut filament disappear into the extruder then manually feed the next colour into the extruder by hand until the hobbed bolt grips the newly fed filament.

One point of note if you are trying out Cura to slice for a RepRap printer is that Cura calculates Extrusion distances in "absolute" measures, where as RepRap printers generally expect "relative" extrusion distances. To accommodate this simply place an "M82" command in the Start.gcode section of Cura. M82 makes the extruder interpret the extrusion as absolute. M83 sets relative extrusion.

Thanks for viewing!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Makers Meetup... local Fab Lab event.

A recent local Makers Meetup brought a broad mix of skills and interests together, with talks from the worlds of photography, graphic design, ceramics and 3D printing.

Fab Lab Limerick promoted and hosted the event. The general aim was to ensure a presentation mix of creative and technological disciplines, to stimulate thinking, and discussion amongst the group, and explore how the different disciplines might complement each other. It was an interesting and enjoyable evening.

(Above) I spoke on the topic of 3d printing, focusing on how more accessible it's becoming, and showing many examples my 3d printed work. It was enthusiastically received and generated many questions from the group.

(Above) David Hunt, a keen photographer and Raspberry Pi exponent, showed how he has combined his interests by building a motorised time-lapse rail controlled by a Pi board. There are some great examples of 'time-lapse in the Irish landscape' on his website... , well worth checking out.

(Above) Claire Jordan, a local ceramic artist, talked about her work, and how engaging with the Fab Lab has helped her explore new directions. With help from the Lab, she's currently exploring the methodology and potential of 3d printed 'cookie cutter' style tools, as productivity aids for some porcelain ornament design lines she has in mind.
Above is one of the experimental 3d printed hand-tools Claire has devised in cooperation with staff at the Fab Lab.
Lucia Poliakova and Mariel Mazan, recent Visual Communications graduates, talked about how they have utilised the Fab Lab resources such as the laser cutter/engraver in creative ways, as they get their new design agency under way this year. The Lab is an invaluable resource in support of new start-ups, bringing creativity, technology and knowledge together with very positive results.

Finally, I brought my Mendel90 along on the evening and demonstrated it in action. It drew much interest. The Lab has some 3d printers as part of it's tool set, and has plans to add more printers soon.

A big thanks to Javier and Michael at the Fab Lab for hosting the event and providing the photos for this blog post.

Thanks for viewing!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

New Fab Lab opens locally...

Some local news worth sharing for the Irish readers of this blog. Limerick, Ireland, sees a new Fab Lab location launched recently.

There's a Makers Meetup event at the Fab Lab location (7 Rutland Street, Limerick, Ireland) on Thursday 24th Apr 2014. I'm bringing my Mendel90 along, and giving a short talk on my experience and the ever increasing accessibility of 3D printing. I'll also show some printed items, and engage in a bit of Q&A. Promises to be interesting.

I'm delighted to see the establishment of a local Fab Lab, giving a focal point for meetings, events and perhaps workshops. I look forward to meeting other 3D printer enthusiasts from the region, at the location over time.