It’s Time For Direct Metal 3D-Printing

It’s tough times for 3D-printing. Stratasys got burned on Makerbot, trustful backers got burned on the Peachy Printer meltdown, I burned my finger on a brand new hotend just yesterday, and that’s only the more recent events. In recent years more than a few startups embarked on the challenge of developing a piece of 3D printing technology that would make a difference. More colors, more materials, more reliable, bigger, faster, cheaper, easier to use. There was even a metal 3D printing startup, MatterFab, which pulled off a functional prototype of a low-cost metal-powder-laser-melting 3D printer, securing $13M in funding, and disappearing silently, poof.

This is just the children’s corner of the mall, and the grown-ups have really just begun pulling out their titanium credit cards. General Electric is on track to introduce 3D printed, FAA-approved fuel nozzles into its aircraft jet engines, Airbus is heading for 3D-printed, lightweight components and interior, and SpaceX has already sent rockets with 3D printed Main Oxidizer Valves (MOV) into orbit, aiming to make the SuperDraco the first fully 3D printed rocket engine. Direct metal 3D printing is transitioning from the experimental research phase to production, and it’s interesting to see how and why large industries, well, disrupt themselves.

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Retrotechtacular: Making Porcelain Insulators

Here is a silent film produced by General Electric that depicts the making of many kinds of porcelain insulators for power lines. Skilled craftsmen molded, shaped, and carved these vital components of the electrical grid by hand before glazing and firing them.

Porcelain insulators of this time period were made from china clay, ball clay, flint, and feldspar. In the dry process, ingredients are pulverized and screened to a fine powder and then pressed into molds, often with Play-Doh Fun Factory-type effects. Once molded, they are trimmed by hand to remove fins and flashing. The pieces are then spray-glazed while spinning on a vertical lathe.

Other types of insulators are produced through the wet process. The clay is mixed in a pug mill, which is a forgiving machine that takes scrap material of all shapes, sizes, and moisture levels and squeezes out wet, workable material in a big log. Chunks of log are formed on a pottery wheel or pressed into a mold. Once they are nearly dry, the pieces get their final shape at the hands of a master. They are then glazed and fired in a giant, high-temperature kiln.

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Vintage Kegerator

Vintage Kegerator

[Kerber] got his hands on a classic 1950’s General Electric fridge, and converted it into this classy vintage kegerator.

As his build log shows, it took an intensive restoration process to get this fridge back in shape. He completely stripped it down, scraping off the sixty year old insulation, fibreglass, and glue. Then the chassis was sanded down to a smooth finish and painted black. R-19 insulation was added to replace the old stuff.

Next up was electronics. An Arduino, DS18B20 temperature sensor, and a solid state relay were used to regulate the temperature and prevent frozen beer. There’s also a Guruplug server that reads data from the Arduino every minute. It makes this data accessible through a web page, so the temperature of the kegs can be monitored from anywhere. [Kerber] admits that this is overkill, but leaves room for future expansion.

The kegerator draws about 180 Watts, and runs for about 6 minutes per hour to keep the temperature regulated. This is pretty impressive considering the age of the fridge. The final restoration looks great, and serves up data along with the beer.