That Time I Spent $20 For 25 .STL Files

Last weekend I ran out of filament for my 3D printer midway through a print. Yes, it’s evidence of poor planning, but I’ve done this a few times and I can always run over to Lowe’s or Home Depot or Staples and grab an overpriced spool of crappy filament to tide me over until the good, cheap filament arrives via UPS.

The Staples in my neck of the woods was one of the few stores in the country to host a, ‘premium, in-store experience’ featuring MakerBot printers. Until a few months ago, this was a great place to pick up a spool of filament that could get you through the next few hours of printing. The filament cost about three times what I would usually pay, but it was still good quality filament and they usually had the color I needed.

This partnership between MakerBot and Staples fell through a few months ago, the inventory was apparently shipped back to Brooklyn, and now Robo3D has taken MakerBot’s space at the endcap in Staples. Last weekend, I picked up a 1kg spool of red PLA for $40. What I found next to this filament left me shocked, confused, and insatiably curious. I walked out of that store with a spool of filament and a USB thumb drive loaded up with twenty-five STL files. This, apparently, is the future of 3D printing.

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DIY 3D Slicer is a Dynamo

We all know that hacker that won’t use a regular compiler. If he’s not using assembly language, he uses a compiler he wrote. If you don’t know him, maybe it is you! If you really don’t know one, then meet these two. [Nathan Fuller] and [Andy Baldwin] want to encourage you to write your own 3D slicer.

Their post is very detailed and uses Autodesk Dynamo as a graphical programming language. However, the details aren’t really specific to Dynamo. It is like a compiler. You sort of know what it must be doing, but until you’ve seen one taken apart, there are a lot of subtleties you probably wouldn’t think of right away if you were building one from scratch.

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The Tiko Printer: What Happens When You Innovate Too Much

Sometime in the very distant future, the Universe will become the domain of black holes. Energy and entropy will be compressed into minuscule quantum fluctuations. Even in this domain of nothingness, there will still be one unassailable truth: you should not buy a 3D printer on Kickstarter.

We’re no strangers to failed 3D printer crowdfunding campaigns. Around this time last year, backers for the Peachy Printer, an inordinately innovative resin printer, found out they were getting a timeshare in Canada instead of a printer. This was unusual not because a crowdfunding campaign failed, but because we know what actually happened. It’s rare to get the inside story, and the Peachy Printer did not disappoint.

For the last few months, we’ve been watching another crowdfunding campaign on its long walk to the gallows. The Tiko 3D printer is another 3D printer that looks innovative, and at the time of the crowdfunding campaign, the price couldn’t be beat. For just $179 USD, the backers of the Tiko printer would receive a 3D printer. Keep in mind the Tiko launched nearly two years ago, when a bargain-basement printer still cost about $400. Fools and money, or something like that, and the Tiko 3D printer campaign garnered almost three million dollars in pledges.

Now, after almost two years of development, Tiko is closing up shop. In an update posted to the Tiko Kickstarter this week, Tiko announced they are laying off their team and winding down operations. It’s a sad but almost predictable end to a project that could have been cool. Unlike so many other failed crowdfunding campaigns, Tiko has given us a post-mortum on their campaign. This is how the Tiko became a standout success on Kickstarter, how it failed, and is an excellent example of the difference between building one of something and building ten thousand.

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3D-Printed Vise Is a Mechanical Marvel

We often wonder how many people have 3D printers and wind up just printing trinkets off Thingiverse. To get the most out of a printer, you really need to be able to use a CAD package and make your own design. However, just like a schematic editor doesn’t make your electronic designs work, a CAD program won’t ensure you have a successful mechanical part.

[TheGoofy] has a 100% 3D printed vise that looks like it is useful. What’s really interesting, though, is the video (see below) where he explains how printing affects material strength and other design considerations that went into the vise.

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Decorate Your 3D Prints with Detailed Hydrographic Printing

It’s like the old quip from [Henry Ford]: You can have your 3D prints in any color you want, as long as it’s one. Some strides have been made to bringing more color to your extruded goodies, but for anything beyond a few colors, you’re going to need to look at post-print processing of some sort. For photorealistic 3D prints, you might want to look into a simple hydrographic printing method that can be performed right on a printer.

If some of the prints in the video below look familiar, it’s because we covered the original method when it was presented at SIGGRAPH 2015. [Amos Dudley] was intrigued enough by the method, which uses computational modeling of complex surfaces to compose a distorted image that will be stretched back into shape when the object is dipped, to contact the original authors for permission to use the software. He got a resounding, “Nope!” – it appears that the authors’ institution isn’t big into sharing information. So, [Amos] hacked the method.

In place of the original software, [Amos] used Blender to simulate the hydrographic film as a piece of cloth interacting with the 3D-printed surface. This allowed him to print an image on PVA film that will “un-distort” as the object is dipped. He built a simple tank with overflow for the printer bed, used the Z-axis to dip the print, and viola! Photo-realistic frogs and globes.

[Amos]’ method has its limitations, but the results are pretty satisfying already. With a little more tweaking, we’re sure he’ll get to the point that the original authors did, and without their help, thank you very much.

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3D Printing Using Holograms is Actually Printing in 3D

It’s the year 2260 and you’re being beamed from your starship to the planet below. Being a descendant of present day 3D printers, the transporter prints you out, slowly making one layer before moving on to the next, going from the ground up. The you-that-was hopes nothing spills out before you’re done. But what if you could print every atom in your body at the same time? If those transporters are descendant’s of Daqri’s holographic 3D printing technology then that’s just what will happen.

Daqri’s process is akin to SLA (stereolithography) and SLA/DLP (digital light processing). In SLA, a laser beam is shone onto a pool of resin, hardening the resin at the beam’s point. The laser scans across the resin’s surface, drawing one layer. More resin is added and then the next layer is drawn. In SLA/DLP, the light for an entire layer is projected onto the surface at once. While both methods involve stereolithography, the acronym SLA by itself is commonly used to refer to the laser approach.

Holograhically 3D printing a paperclip
Holograhically 3D printing a paperclip

Daqri’s process however, uses a holographic chip of their own making to project the light for all the layers at the same time into the material, a light-activated monomer. Their chip is a silicon wafer containing a grid of tunable crystals. Those crystals control the magnitude and phase of light reflected down into the monomer, creating a 3D volume of interference patterns. The brief description of the process says that a laser is used to shine light onto the crystals, so there’s probably still some scanning going on. However, in the video, all of the object being printed appears illuminated at the same time so the scanning is likely very fast, similar to how a laser in a light show seemingly paints what appears to be a 2D shape on the side of a building, even though it’s really just a rapidly moving point. There’s also the possibility that the beam’s point is large enough to encapsulate all of the chip at once. You can see a demonstration of it in the video below.

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What Is This, A Battle-Bot For Ants?

Instructables user [Team_Panic] — inspired by the resurgence of robot battle arena shows — wanted to dive in to his local ‘bot building club. Being that they fight at the UK ant weight scale with a cap of 150 grams, [Team_Panic] built a spunky little Arduino Mini-controlled bot on the cheap.

The Instructable is aimed at beginners, and so is peppered with sound advice. For instance, [Team_Panic] advises building from “the weapon out” as that dictates how the rest of the robot will come together around it. There are also some simple design considerations on wiring and circuit boards considering the robot in question will take a few hits, as well as instructions to bring the robot together. To assist any beginners in the audience, [Team_Panic] has provided his design for a simple, “slightly crude,” wedge-bot, as well as his code. Just don’t forget to change the radio pipe so you aren’t interfering with other bots!

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