Ask Hackaday: Material Databases

With more and more previously industrial processes coming online in the home shop, people are finding that getting the information that was previously provided by the manufacturer of a hundred thousand dollar machine for their three hundred dollar Shenzen special is not easy.

Some early work from UFID shows how even different Slic3rs can change the expected material properties of a filament.
Some early work from UFID shows how even different Slic3rs can change the expected material properties of a filament.

A common example is this, a hacker purchased themselves a brand new 3D printer off amazon for a price too good to be true. After a week of tinkering with it, a small fire, and a few replacement parts later, they get it to work. After they’ve burned through, perhaps literally, the few hundred grams of filament that came with the printer at the setting recommended by the manufacturer, they do a small blanket order of the different filaments out there. Now comes the trouble, each printer is a little different and each filament has different properties. Most people find that the second spool of filament they feed into their printer doesn’t work at all. What’s the quickest way to get the right temperature, cooling, and feed settings for your printer configuration?

This isn’t a problem for the expensive machines. Epilog, a manufacturer of laser cutters, provides a grid of settings for each material you’re likely to cut, tuned to the different properties of each model of laser cutter they sell. Same goes for the expensive industrial 3D printers, each (very expensive) spool of material has the setting sitting in a chip in the casing. When the spool is slotted in the machine, it reads the settings and adjusts accordingly. All the work of tuning was done in a lab somewhere and the print is, theoretically, guaranteed.

Your Oshpark order would get delayed, your lulzbot support case would be dropped, teensies would ship late, and the Amp Hour would just be the EEVBlog Podcast if this bar burnt down, but it was a great event!
Your Oshpark order would get delayed, your Lulzbot support case would be dropped, Teensies would ship late, and the Amp Hour would just be the EEVBlog Podcast if this bar burnt down, but it was a great event!

While we were at the Bay Area Makerfaire 2016, we had a chance to talk to [Gauthier de Valensart] and buy him a beer at the Hackaday Meet-up. [Gauthier] is from Belgium where he is the founder of a start-up with one of those fancy new TLDs: The goal of is to create a database of 3D printer materials and link that up with a user’s 3D printer settings. The eventual goal being, much like the industrial printers, a user would be able to simply scan a barcode, or wave the spool over an RFID reader to input the needed settings into his slicing software or printer.

This sounded familiar to me, not the least because I had started work on it as an extension for when that was a larger focus in my life. In fact, I remember, while I was kicking the idea around to people at MRRF, that they kept telling me someone else was working on a similar project. I wanted to introduce [Gauthier] to the person who was working on the project back then. Since I was at a bar full of people in the industry, I sort of helplessly rotated in my spot trying to find someone who might remember. I spied [whosawhatsis], a common attendee of MRRF, and asked him. Okay, that was easy, [whosawhatsis] informed us that is was his project… introduction complete. Goes to show you what a good networking event buying a bunch of nerds beer can be.

They got a pretty okay logo while they were at it.
They got a pretty okay logo while they were at it.

The project was called, “Universal Filament Identification System,” and it proposed to, “… eliminate the guess-work,” by, “…developing a method for tagging, tracking, and identifying filament for 3d printing in machine-readable formats…” The project appears to be mostly dead now and its domain is a placeholder. I think it suffered from the standard open source feature creep, but the idea is sound.

Which gets us to the questions. There are a lot of difficulties with creating such a system. The first being the data collection. Who should be responsible for measuring the filaments, the materials for laser cutting, or any other process that needs tuned settings? The ideal track, of course, would be for the manufacturers to hold themselves accountable and report on the settings for their filaments. However, many filament manufacturers rely on the ignorance of users to sell dodgy products, it’s only in the interest of a few top-quality ones to do so. If the users do so, then how will the information provided be vetted? You definitely don’t want someone’s ignorance about a faulty thermistor to encourage you to run PLA at 280C.

More and more difficulties arise. How should the information be transferred, etc. What properties should even be recorded? UFID was going as far as to use a color sensor to keep track of colors between batches from 3D printer manufacturers. In the end it’s about creating standards in a standard-less industry by using crowdsourcing. Either way, take a look at what [Gauthier]’s doing (and send him some feedback), read the backlogs of UFID, think about how annoying it was to get the right settings for a laser cutter the last time you used one, and let us know your thoughts in the comments.

How to Fail at Laser Cutting

Laser cutters are CNC power tools, which means an operator uploads a job digitally and then pushes START to let the machine do all the work while they lie back in a hammock sipping a margarita, occasionally leaping out in a panic because the sound coming from the machine changed slightly.

Like other power tools, laser cutters are built around doing one thing very well, but they require an operator’s full attention and support. The operator needs to handle all the other things that go on before, during, and after the job. It’s not too hard to get adequate results, but to get truly professional and repeatable ones takes work and experience and an attention to detail.

People often focus on success stories, but learning from failures is much more educational. In the spirit of exploring that idea, here are my favorite ways to fail at laser cutting and engraving. Not all of these are my own personal experience, but they are all someone’s personal experience.

Continue reading “How to Fail at Laser Cutting”

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.

Continue reading “3D Printed Microscope Chamber Saves Big Bucks”

Two-Sided Laser Etching

[Dan Royer] explains a simple method to engrave/etch on both sides of a material. This could be useful when you are trying to build enclosures or boxes which might need markings on both sides. There are two hurdles to overcome when doing this. The first is obviously registration. When you flip your job, you want it re-aligned at a known datum/reference point.

The other is your flip axis. If the object is too symmetric, it’s easy to make a mistake here, resulting in mirrored or rotated markings on the other side. Quite simply, [Dan]’s method consists of creating an additional cutting edge around your engraving/cutting job. This outline is such that it provides the required registration and helps flip the job along the desired axis.

You begin by taping down your work piece on the laser bed. Draw a symmetrical shape around the job you want to create in your Laser Cutter software of choice. The shape needs to have just one axis of symmetry – this rules out squares, rectangles or circles – all of which have multiple axes of symmetry. Adding a single small notch in any of these shapes does the trick. Engrave the back side. Then cut the “outside” outline. Lift the job out and flip it over. Engrave the front side. Cut the actual outline of your job and you’re done.

Obviously, doing all this requires some preparation in software. You need the back engrave layer, the front engrave layer, the job cut outline and the registration cut outline. Use color coded pen settings in a drawing to create these layers and the horizontal / vertical mirror or flip commands. These procedures aren’t groundbreaking, but they simplify and nearly automate a common procedure. If you have additional tricks for using laser cutters, chime in with your comments here.

Laser Cut Mechanical Logic Gates

When you create logic circuits using ICs or FPGAs, you can’t easily visualize their operation without special tools. But if you’ve ever seen a mechanical computer (like the Computer History Museum’s Babbage engine) operate, you know you don’t have that problem. Just like it is fascinating to watch a 3D printer or CNC machine, watching mechanical logic gates work can be addictive.

[Anthony] wanted to build some mechanical logic gates and set out designing them using Inkscape. Unlike some common mechanical gate schemes, [Anthony’s] gates use gears to implement the logic operations. He sent the designs off to a laser cutter service and got back parts cut from 3mm acrylic.

Continue reading “Laser Cut Mechanical Logic Gates”

Show Us Your Human Interface; Win Laser Cutting Time

Our newest Hot List is Human Interfaces. This is anything you’ve designed into your project to interact with people. And we want to see it all! Do you have something bristling with buttons, boasting many LCD screens, hosting controls organized with the principles of Feng Shui, or intuitively voice activated? Show us the user interface you’re proud of and you could win one of thirty $100 gift cards for Ponoko laser cutting service.

We’re in the thick of judging the Wheels, Wings, and Propellers hot list from this week. We’ll be announcing the rankings in the coming days, but for now you need to get your project onto the Your Human Interface hot list. Here’s what you need to do before Thursday, 7/16/15:

Good luck, and per usually we’d like to encourage you to Vote this week. It’s a great way to explore the entries in this year’s 2015 Hackaday Prize, and you just might win $1000 from the Hackaday Store just for voting!

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Laser Engraving in Color?

Here’s a fantastic way to add a new dynamic to your laser cut and engraved parts. Did you know it is possible to color your engravings on acrylic? It’s kind of one of those moments where you go “Why didn’t I think of that?”

[Frankie Flood] works at the Digital Craft Research Lab (DCRL for short), which is kind of like a hackerspace for the University of Wisconsin — complete with CNC routers, lasers, 3D printers, and all your basic manufacturing tools.  [Lionel Rocheleau], one of his lab technicians at DCRL was interested in doing some experiments with the laser cutter, so they came up with this experiment…

Continue reading “Laser Engraving in Color?”