3D Printing An Ion Propulsion System

As much as we love Star Trek, we have to admit there are some continuity problems. For example, in Spock’s Brain, the alien-of-the-week’s ion drive gave Scotty engineering envy. However, in The Menagerie, the computer identifies a Starfleet shuttlecraft as having ion propulsion. Either way, ion propulsion is real and NASA has toyed with it for ages and many satellites use it for maintaining orbit. Now researchers from MIT and the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Studies 3D printed tiny ion engines.

The engine is about the size of a dime and, like all ion engines, produces tiny amounts of thrust. In fact, the researchers liken it to half the weight of one sesame seed from a hamburger bun. However, in space, these tiny thrusts add up and over time can produce significant acceleration.

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3D Printed Box Gets Bigger

If you ever watched Dr. Who, you probably know that the TARDIS looked like a police call box on the outside, but was very large on the inside. When asked, the Doctor had some explanation of how something can look small when it is far away and large when it is close up, which never made much sense. However, [iQLess] has been 3D printing boxes in a small area, that fold out to be much larger boxes. (Video, embedded below.) The design comes from someone called [Cisco] who has a lot of interesting print in place designs.

You can find the design on the Prusa site or Thingiverse. The boxes do take a while to print, according to the video below. What was interesting to us, though, is that you should be able to print a design like this to create a box larger than your printer.

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OpenSCAD Prints Woodworking Aid

Home-based 3D printing is getting pretty unremarkable. Sure, printers aren’t as ubiquitous as, say, PCs. But you wouldn’t be any more surprised if your neighbor had a 3D printer than if you found out they had a drill press. In fact, sometimes the real value of 3D printing something isn’t to make a working part, but to make up something that helps you create other things using methods other than printing. That’s exactly what [iqless] does when he uses his printer to make some jigs to help him easily build shelves. (Video, embedded below.)

The issue is making dowel joints for the shelve’s feet. Sure, you could just drill a piece of scrap wood as a template, but with a 3D printer you can do better. Using OpenSCAD, it is possible to create a parameterized jig that fits exactly the job at hand.

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Low Cost Metal 3D Printing By Electrochemistry

[Billy Wu] has been writing for a few years about electrochemical 3D printing systems that can handle metal. He’s recently produced a video that you can see below about the process. Usually, printing in metal means having a high-powered laser and great expense. [Wu’s] technique is an extension of electroplating.

Boiling down the gist of the process, the print head is a syringe full of electroplating solution. Instead of plating a large object, you essentially electroplate on tiny areas. The process is relatively slow and if you speed it up too much, the result will have undesirable properties. But there are some mind-bending options here. By using print heads with different electrolytes, you can print using different metals. For example, the video shows structures made of both copper and nickel. You can also reverse the current and remove metal instead of depositing it.

This looks like something you could pretty readily replicate in a garage. Electroplating is well-understood and the 3D motion parts could be a hacked 3D printer. Sure, the result is slow but, after all, slow is a relative term. You might not mind taking a few days to print a metal object compared to the cost and trouble of creating it in other ways. Of course, since this is copper, we also have visions of printing circuit board traces on a substrate. We imagine you’d have to coat the board with something to make it conductive and then remove that after all the copper was in place. When you build this, be sure to tell us about it.

We’ve seen electroplating pens before and that’s really similar to this idea. Of course, you can also make your 3D prints conductive and plate them which is probably faster but isn’t really fully metal.

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The US Air Force Wants Your 3D Scanner Ideas

One key piece of technology from Star Trek is the replicator, a machine that 3D prints up almost anything using some hazily-defined high technology. You have to wonder though, how did the patterns for Earl Grey tea or a spare part for a shuttlecraft intercooler come to exist in the first place. Maybe someone designed them, or perhaps they scanned the real articles. The US Air Force is betting on the latter, and they’ve asked for white papers and proposals for innovative methods to scan objects for 3D printing.

It isn’t surprising military planners would like to have effective 3D printing. After all, you can’t carry every spare part you might need into a theater of operation. Not to mention spares for your friends in joint operations or for enemy gear you might happen to capture. Having a truck that could turn out whatever your troops need is an attractive proposition. Continue reading “The US Air Force Wants Your 3D Scanner Ideas”

Getting Closer To Metal 3D Printing

Most of our 3D printers lay down molten plastic or use photosensitive resin. But professional printers often use metal powder, laying out a pattern and then sintering it with a laser. [Metal Matters] is trying to homebrew a similar system (video, embedded below). And while not entirely successful, the handful of detailed progress videos are interesting to watch. We particularly enjoyed the latest installment (the second video, below) which showed solutions to some of the problems.

Because of the complexity of the system, there are small tidbits of interest even if you don’t want to build a metal printer. For example, in the most recent video, a CCD camera gives up its sensor to detect the laser’s focus.

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3D Printed Gesture-Controlled Robot Arm Is A Ton Of Tutorials

Ever wanted your own gesture-controlled robot arm? [EbenKouao]’s DIY Arduino Robot Arm project covers all the bases involved, but even if a robot arm isn’t your jam, his project has plenty to learn from. Every part is carefully explained, complete with source code and a list of required hardware. This approach to documenting a project is great because it not only makes it easy to replicate the results, but it makes it simple to remix, modify, and reuse separate pieces as a reference for other work.

[EbenKouao] uses a 3D-printable robotic gripper, base, and arm design as the foundation of his build. Hobby servos and a single NEMA 17 stepper take care of the moving, and the wiring and motor driving is all carefully explained. Gesture control is done by wearing an articulated glove upon which is mounted flex sensors and MPU6050 accelerometers. These sensors detect the wearer’s movements and turn them into motion commands, which in turn get sent wirelessly from the glove to the robotic arm with HC-05 Bluetooth modules. We really dig [EbenKouao]’s idea of mounting the glove sensors to this slick 3D-printed articulated gauntlet frame, but using a regular glove would work, too. The latest version of the Arduino code can be found on the project’s GitHub repository.

Most of the parts can be 3D printed, how every part works together is carefully explained, and all of the hardware is easily sourced online, making this a very accessible project. Check out the full tutorial video and demonstration, embedded below.

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