Constant Innovation and Useless Ducks

[Mike]’s hacks aren’t breathtaking in their complexity, but they got a good chuckle out of us. [Mike], the CEO of The Useless Duck Company, lives in a hub of innovation somewhere in Canada, where he comes up with useful gadgets such as a Fedora that tips itself, or a door that locks when you’re shopping for gifts for your wife and you’re in incognito mode.

It all started when he was trying to learn the Arduino, and he put quite a few hours into making a device that could wirelessly squeak a rubber bath duck from the bathroom. The whole project reminded us of our first clumsy forays into the world of electronics, with entirely too many parts to complete a simple function. The Arduino being the gateway drug it is, it wasn’t long before he was building a bartending robot.

We hope he continues to construct more entertaining gadgets.

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Learn Resin Casting Techniques: Duplicating Plastic Parts

Resin casting lets you produce parts that would be otherwise impossible to make without a full CNC and injection molding set-up. It costs about as much as a 3d printer, 300 to 600 US dollars, to get a good set-up going. This is for raw material, resin, dye, pressure chamber, and an optional vacuum degassing set-up. A good resin casting set-up will let you produce parts which are stronger than injection molding, and with phenomenal accuracy, temperature resistance, and strength. I will be covering various techniques from the simple to advanced for using resin casting from a hacker’s perspective.

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Thermaltake Gets On The 3D Printing Bandwagon

We’re interested by a move from Thermaltake, a manufacturer of computer cases, fans, and power supplies. Thermaltake has released a computer case designed to be modded by those with a 3D printer. They released a set of models that fits the new case. These are all hosted on a service much like Thingiverse. So if you want a single SSD or a whole rack, print the model. Watercooling? There’s a model for that. In concept, it’s very cool.

We’re not certain how to feel about this. Our initial impression was that if Thermaltake is going to launch a case around 3D printing, they should at lease tune their printer and get some nice prints before they take the press photos. On our second pass we became intrigued. Is this a manufacturer cutting costs, crowd-sourcing design and engineering talent for free, or empowering the user? Arguably, a computer case is a great test bed for this kind of interaction.

Despite out skepticism, we’d like to see more manufacturers take this kind of contributing interest in 3d printing. If only to see where it goes. What other products do you think would benefit from this kind of, print the product you actually want model?

A Home CNC Built By Someone Who Knows Their Stuff

[thisoldtony] has a nice shop in need of a CNC. We’re not certain what he does exactly, but we think he might be a machinist or an engineer. Regardless, he sure does build a nice CNC. Many home-built CNCs are neat, but lacking. Even popular kits ignore fundamental machine design principles. This is alright for the kind of work they will typically be used for, but it’s nice to see one done right.

Most home-built machines are hard or impossible to square. That is, to make each axis move exactly perpendicular to the others. They also neglect to design for the loads the machine will see, or adjusting for deviation across the whole movement. There’s also bearing pre-loads, backlash, and more to worry about. [thisoldtony] has taken all these into consideration.

The series is a long one, but it is fun to watch and we picked up a few tricks along the way. The resulting CNC is very attractive, and performs well after some tuning. In the final video he builds a stunning rubber band gun for his son. You can also download a STEP file of the machine if you’d like. Videos after the break.

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Bubble Free Resin Casting With A Modified Paint Tank

[thelostspore] was experimenting with resin casting, and discovered that he needed a pressure casting chamber in order to get clear casts. There are commercial solutions for sale, and they are really nice. However, many hackers are on a budget, and if you’re only casting every now and then you don’t need such a fancy set-up.

Re-purposing equipment like this is pretty common in the replica prop making community. Professional painters use a pressurized pot filled with paint to deliver to their spray guns. These pots can take 60-80 PSI and are built to live on a job site. By re-arranging some of the parts you can easily get a chamber that can hold 60 PSI for enough hours to successfully cast a part. Many import stores sell a cheap version, usually a bit smaller and with a sub-par gasket for around 80 US Dollars. [thelostspore] purchased one of these, removed the feed tube from lid and plugged the outlet. He then attached a quick release fitting to the inlet of the regulator.

Alternative pressure casting set-up.
Alternative pressure casting set-up.

We used this guide to build our own pressure casting set-up. Rather than plug up the outlet on ours, we put a ball valve with a muffler in its place to quickly and safely vent the chamber when the casting has set. We recommend putting a female quick connect coupling or another ball valve in combination with the male fitting (if your hose end is female). It is not super dangerous to do it the way the guide recommends, but this is safer, and you can disconnect the compressor from the tank without losing pressure.

All that was left was to test it. He poured an identical mold and it came out clear!

Filament Thickness Sensors, What Are They and What Are They Good For?

I keep up with the trends in 3D printing reasonably well. The other day my friend mentioned that filament thickness sensing had been added to the latest version of the Marlin firmware. I had no idea what it was, but it certainly sounded cool. I had to find out more.

In industrial settings, filament is made by pulling extruding molten plastic at a certain speed into a cooling bath. The nozzle for 2.85mm filament and 1.75 mm filament is actually the same size, but the filament is stretched more or less as it leaves the nozzle. By balancing these three variables the extrusion machine can produce any size filament desired. Like any mechanical system, it needs constant adjustment to maintain that balance. This is usually done by measuring the filament with a laser after it has cooled, and then feeding this information back into the system. The better filament manufacturers have multiple lasers and very fast feedback loops. Some of the best offer +-0.04mm or less variation in thickness between any two points on the filament. Some of the worst have larger errors such as +-.10mm. Because the plastic is fed into the extruder at a fixed linear speed, this makes a variation in the volume of the plastic coming out of the nozzle per second. With the best we see a 4.41% variation in the volume of plastic extruded. With the worst we start to see 10.51% or more.

FIlament variation showing up as a cosmetic defect.
Filament variation showing up as a cosmetic defect.

A printer is dumb. It works under the assumption that it is getting absolutely perfect filament. So when it gets 10.51% more plastic, it simply pushes it out and continues with its life. However, if the filament is off enough, this can actually show up as a visible defect on the print. Or in worse cases, cause the print to fail by over or under extrusion of plastic.

So, what does a filament thickness sensor do to correct this issue? To start to understand, we need to look at how the filament is dealt with by the software. When the slicer is compiling the G-code for a 3D print, it calculates the volume of plastic it needs in order to deposit a bead of plastic of a certain width and of a certain height per mm of movement. That was a mouthful. For example, when a printer printing 0.2mm layers moves 1mm it wants to put down a volume that’s 1.0mm long x 0.4mm wide x 0.2mm high. The filament being pushed into the nozzle has a volume per mm determined by the diameter of the filament.

(\pi (radius_{filament})^{2}*length_{filament extruded})=volume

The volume out per mm of filament in.

(layer_{height}*layer_{width}*length_{move}) = volume

The equation we are trying to balance.

Our goal is to integrate the thickness sensor into these functions to see what the thickness sensor is doing. This is a linear equation, so there’s nothing fancy here. Now, the layer height, layer width, and length of the move are determined by settings and model geometry respectively. These are fixed numbers so we don’t care about them. That leaves us the diameter of the filament and the length of filament extruded. As we mentioned before, typically the filament is assumed to be a fixed diameter. So all the software has to calculate is the length of filament that needs to be extruded per mm of combined movement in the x and y so that our volumes match.

But, we know that one of these variables is actually changing per millimeter as well. The filament diameter! So now we have a problem. If the filament diameter is changing all the time, our equation will never balance! In order to fix this we can add a multiplier to our equation. Since we have no control over the width of the filament we can’t modify that value. However, if we know the width of the filament, and we know the value its supposed to be, we can change the length of the filament extruded. This is because unlike the filament, we have control over the stepper motor that drives the extruder. This value is called the extrusion multiplier, and its determination is what the thickness sensor is all about.

So all the filament sensor does is measure the filament’s current diameter. It takes expected diameter and divides it by the value it just measured to get a simple percentage. It feeds that number back into our system as the extruder multiplier and slows or speeds up the stepper motor as needed. Pretty simple.

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Shadows on the sensor from [inornate]’s variation.
There are a few thickness sensors being toyed with right now. The first, as far as I can tell; let me know if I am wrong in the comments, was by [flipper] on thingiverse. He is in his third version now. The sensor works by casting a shadow of the filament as it passes by onto an optical sensor. The firmware then counts the pixels and works backwards to get the diameter. This value is sent to the Marlin firmware on the printer which does the rest. As is usual and wonderful in the open source community, it wasn’t long before others started working on the problem too. [inoranate] improved on the idea by casting more shadows on the sensor. The technique is still brand new, but it will be interesting to see what benefits it reaps.

Now comes the next question,”Is it worth upgrading my printer with a thickness sensor?” If you typically run poor filament, or if you extrude your own, yes. The current sensors can only measure +- .02mm. So for the best filament, you won’t really see a difference, but for worse stuff, you might. The latest firmware of the Lyman filament extruder, for making your own filament, also supports these sensors, letting you feed back into your production system like the industrial machines. All in all a very interesting development in the world of 3D printers.

Learn How A Radial Engine Works or Gawk at Amazing Wood Model

[Ian Jimmerson] has constructed a detailed model of a radial engine out of wood and MDF for an undisclosed reason. Rather than just delivering the wooden engine to wherever wood engines go, [Ian] decided to take the time to film himself disassembling and reassembling his engine, explaining in detail how it works as he goes. He starts by teaching about the cylinder numbering and the different possible cylinder configurations. It only gets better after that, and it’s worth watching the full 20 minutes of video. You’ll leave with a definite understanding of how radial engines work, and maybe build something neat with the knowledge.

Our only complaint is the lack of build photos or construction techniques. It’s a real feat to build something with this many moving parts that can run off an electric drill. Was a CNC involved, or was he one of those hardcore guys who manage to get precision parts with manual methods? Part 1 and 2 after the break.

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