3D Printed Microscope Chamber Saves Big Bucks

Optical microscopy is over 400 years old, and in that time, it has come a long way. There are many variations of microscopes both in the selection of lenses, lighting, and other tricks to allow an instrument to coax out more information about a sample.

One proven way to increase the resolving power of a microscope is oil immersion. The sample and the lens are placed in oil that is transparent and has a high refractive index. This prevents light from refracting at the air-coverslip interface, improving the microscope’s overall performance.

The University of New South Wales has a lab that uses such a microscope. They use a special (and expensive) chamber to hold down the glass coverslip and contain the oil. The problem? At nearly $400 a pop, the chambers are a constant expense to replace, and they are not flexible enough to handle custom size requirements.

[Ben Goodnow], a first year student at the university, applied his 3D printing and laser cutting know-how to design and build a suitable chamber that costs much less and can be adapted to different projects. In addition to all the design files on GitHub, there’s also a document (PDF) that describes the design iterations and the total cost savings.

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A Look Into the Future of Slicing

I’ve had a few conversations over the years with people about the future of 3D printing. One of the topics that arises frequently is the slicer, the software that turns a 3D model into paths for a 3D printer. I thought it would be a good idea to visualize what slicing, and by extension 3D printing, could be. I’ve always been a proponent of just building something, but sometimes it’s very easy to keep polishing the solution we have now rather than looking for and imagining the solutions that could be. Many of the things I’ll mention have been worked on or solved in one context or another, but not blended into a cohesive package.

I believe that fused deposition modelling (FDM), which is the cheapest and most common technology, can produce parts superior to other production techniques if treated properly. It should be possible to produce parts that handle forces in unique ways such  that machining, molding, sintering, and other commonly implemented methods will have a hard time competing with in many applications.

Re-envisioning the slicer is no small task, so I’m going to tackle it in three articles. Part One, here, will cover the improvements yet to be had with the 2D and layer height model of slicing. It is the first and most accessible avenue for improvement in slicing technologies. It will require new software to be written but does not dramatically affect the current construction of 3D printers today. It should translate to every printer currently operating without even a firmware change.

Part Two will involve making mechanical changes to the printer: multiple materials, temperatures, and nozzle sizes at least. The slicer will need to work with the printer’s new capabilities to take full advantage of them.

Finally, in Part Three, we’ll consider adding more axes. A five axis 3D printer with advanced software, differing nozzle geometries, and multi material capabilities will be able to produce parts of significantly reduced weight while incorporating internal features exceeding our current composites in many ways. Five axis paths begin to allow for weaving techniques and advanced “grain” in the layers put down by the 3D printer.

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Extremely Thorough Formlabs Form 2 Teardown by Bunnie

[Bunnie Huang] recently had the opportunity to do a thorough teardown of the new Formlabs Form 2 printer. It’s a long read, so just head over there and immerse yourself in every detail. If you want the cliff notes, though, read this but still go look at all the pretty pictures.

First, it’s a major upgrade with pretty much every component. The CPU is a huge step up, the interface went from monochrome to full color touch screen, the connectivity has been upgraded with WiFi and Ethernet, the optics are much better and safer, the power supply is integrated, there are lots of little improvements that handle things like bed leveling, calibration, resin stirring, pausing jobs, and resin refilling during a print. Bunnie practically gushes at all the features and impressive engineering that went into the Form 2.

You can compare the teardown of the Form 2 to [Bunnie’s] teardown of the Form 1 printer back in 2013.

Ask Hackaday: Is PLA Biodegradable?

The most popular plastic for 3D printers is PLA – polylactic acid – a plastic that’s either derived from corn starch, inedible plant detritus, or sugar cane, depending where in the world it was manufactured. Being derived from natural materials, PLA is marketed as being biodegradable. You don’t need to worry about low-poly Pokemon and other plastic trinkets filling landfills when you’re printing with PLA, all these plastic baubles will return to the Earth from whence it came.

3D printers have been around for a few years now, and now objects printed in PLA have been around the sun a few times. A few of these objects have been completely forgotten. How’s that claim of being biodegradable holding up? The results are mixed, and as always, more data is needed.

A few weeks ago, [LazyGecko] found one of his first experiments in 3D printing. In 2012, he was experimenting with tie dying PLA prints by putting his prints in a jar filled with water and blue dye. This jar was then placed in the back of his cupboard and quickly forgotten. 3.5 years later, [LazyGecko] remembered his experiment. Absolutely nothing happened, save for a little bit of blue dye turning the print a pastel baby blue. The print looks and feels exactly like the day it came off the printer.

[LazyGecko]’s blog post was noticed by [Bill Waters], and he has one datum that points to PLA being biodegradable. In 2015, [Bill] printed a filter basket for his fish tank. The first filter basket worked well, but made a small design change a week later, printed out another, and put the first print in storage. He now has two nearly identical prints, one in constant use in a biologically interesting environment, the other sitting on a shelf for a year.

[Bill]’s inadvertent experiment is very close to the best possible experimental design to make the case for PLA biodegradability. The 3D printed filter basket in constant use for a year suffered significant breakdown, and the honeycomb walls are starting to crumble. The ‘inert’ printed filter basket looks like it just came off the build plate.

If that’s not confusing enough, [Bill] also has another print that has spent a year in a fish tank. This end cap for a filter spray bar didn’t see any degradation, despite being underwater in a biologically active environment. The environment is a little different from a filter basket, though; an aquarium filter is designed to break down organics.

To answer the question, ‘is PLA biodegradable,’ the most accurate answer is, ‘maybe’. Three data points in uncontrolled environments isn’t enough to draw any conclusions. There are, undoubtedly, more forgotten 3D prints out there, and more data to back up the claim of PLA being biodegradable.

This is where you come in. Do you have some forgotten prints out there? Your input is needed, the fruits of your labors are evidence, your prints might be decaying and we want to know about it below.

Be A Hero At Your Next Hackathon With A Foldable CNC

Be the hero at your next hackathon with this foldable cnc. When the line for the laser cutter is four teams deep, you’ll come out ahead. It might even be accurate enough to pop out a quick circuit board. Though, [wwwektor] just wanted a CNC that could be taken from storage and unfolded when needed. Sit it on a kitchen table and cut out some ornaments, or hang it from the front door to engrave the house’s address. Who needs injection molded chrome plated numbers anyway?

It’s based around tubular ways, much like other 3D printed CNCs we’ve covered. The design’s portable nature gives it an inherently unstable design. However, given the design goals, this is reasonable. It uses timing belts, steppers, and ball bearings for its movement. The way the frame sits on the table it should deal with most routing tasks without needing adjustment to stay in plane with the surface it’s set-on. As long as you don’t need square edges.

There’s a video of it in operation after the break. We love these forays into unique CNC designs. We never know what new idea we’ll see next.

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Kicking The Tires Before You Buy: 3d Printers

So you’re looking to buy your first 3D printer, and your index finger is quivering over that 300 US Dollar printer on Amazon.com. Stop! You’re about to have a bad time. 3D printing has come a long way, but most 3D printers are designed through witchcraft, legends, and tall tales rather than any rigorous engineering process. I would say most 3D printer designs are either just plain bad, or designed by a team of Chinese engineers applying all their ingenuity to cost cutting. There are a few that are well designed, and there is a comparatively higher price tag attached.

I’ll start by going through some of the myths and legends that show up in 3D printers. After that I’ll go through some of the common, mostly gimmick, features that typically hinder your printer’s ability, rather than adding any useful function. Next I’ll go onto the things that will actually make your printer better. Finally, I’ll add some special consideration if you’re a beginner buying your first printer.

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Good Vibrations in 3D-Printed Clay

An engineer with a 3D printer wants everything to be rigid and precise. Wobble induced by flex in the z-axis feedscrews, for instance, makes telltale wavy patterns in the surface that match exactly the screw pitch. Nobody likes those, right? Certainly not an engineer!

good_vibrations-shot0008_thumbnailBut one man’s surface irregularity is another man’s ornamentation. The details we have are sparse, but from looking at the video (also inlined below the break) it’s clear enough: [Olivier van Herpt] and [Ricky van Broekhoven] stuck a vibrating woofer underneath the print bed of their ceramic printer, and use it to intentionally ruin their smooth surface. And they do so to great artistic effect!

We’re not suggesting that you give up entirely on your calibrations, but we do appreciate a little out-of-the-box thinking from time to time. But then our internal engineer raises his head and we wonder if they’re linking the pitch of the woofer to the feed rate of the print head. Your thoughts in the comments?

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