Mastering OpenSCAD Workflow

As you may have noticed in our coverage, we’re big fans of OpenSCAD around these parts. The fact that several of the Hackaday writers organically found and started using the parametric CAD package on their own is not only a testament to our carefully cultivated hive mind but also to the type of people it appeals to. Hackers love it because it allows you to model physical objects as if you were writing software: models are expressed in code, and its plain text source files can be managed with tools like git and make. If you’re a real Pinball Wizard you could design objects and export them to STL without ever using a graphical interface.

But as you might expect, with such power comes a considerable learning curve. OpenSCAD devotee [Uri Shaked] recently wrote in to share with us his workflow for designing complex interacting mechanisms, which serves as an excellent primer to the world of parametric design. From animating your models to recreating the “vitamins” of your build, his post contains plenty of tips that can help both new and veteran OpenSCAD users alike.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from his post is that you should be thinking of your projects as a whole, rather than as individual models. [Uri] recalls his early attempts at designing mechanisms: designing each component individually, printing it out, and only then finding out if it fits together with the other pieces. This method of trial and error is probably familiar to anyone who’s designed their own 3D printed parts — but it’s slow and wastes materials. The alternative, as he explains it, is to design all of the pieces at the same time and “assemble” them virtually. This will allow you to check clearances and fitment without dedicating the time and materials to test it in the real world.

In fact, as [Uri] explains, you’re better off spending your time bringing real-world parts into OpenSCAD. By carefully measuring the hardware components you want to interact with (servos, gears, switches, etc), you can create facsimiles of them to use as a reference in your OpenSCAD project. As time goes on, you can build up your own library of drop-in reference models which will accelerate future designs.

He also spends a little time talking about something that doesn’t seem to be terribly well known even among the OpenSCAD converts: you don’t have to use the built-in editor if you don’t want to. Since OpenSCAD source code files are plain text, you can write them in whatever editor you like. The OpenSCAD model viewer even has an option specifically for this scenario, which will cause it to update the rendered preview as soon as it detects the source has been updated. For [Uri] this means he can create his designs in Visual Studio Code with a constantly updating preview in another window.

If you’re looking for examples of what the parametric capabilities of OpenSCAD can do for you, we’ve got no shortage of excellent examples. From creating customized computer cases to saving time by using mathematically derived components. Our very own [Elliot Williams] even has a write up about that most glorious of OpenSCAD commands: hull().

Printed Parts Turn Ruler into Marking Gauge

For Hackaday readers who spend more time with a soldering iron than a saw, a marking gauge is a tool used to put parallel lines on a piece of wood (and occasionally metal or plastic) for cutting. The tool is run across the edge of the piece to be marked, and an adjustment allows the user to set how far in the line will be made. As an example, if you wanted to cut a board into smaller strips, a marking gauge would be an ideal choice for laying out your lines ahead of time.

But as with many niche tools, it’s not something you’re going to use every day. For [chaosbc], this meant he wanted to see if he could come up with a DIY solution on the cheap. Plus he could have it in hand now, rather than waiting for it to take the slow boat from overseas. With the addition of a few clever 3D printed components, he was able to turn his trusty aluminum ruler into a serviceable marking gauge for the cost of filament and a few bits of hardware.

The general design of a marking gauge is fairly simple: there’s a block that rides up and down a graduated shaft (known as the headstock) which allows you to set the depth of the line, and then a piece on the end which holds your marking tool. The marking tool could be a blade if you’re working with something soft enough, but for wood is usually going to be a pencil.

[chaosbc] provides all the STL files for his DIY marking gauge, though they might need adapting as they were created for his specific ruler. Luckily the parts aren’t that complex so it shouldn’t be too difficult to get it sorted out. He also has a useful hint for anyone looking to duplicate his work: a few drops of super glue on the bolt used to lock down the headstock is enough to create a non-marring surface so you don’t tear up your ruler.

We’ve got a few other tips for woodworking on a budget, as well as a primer about this whole making stuff with dead trees concept.

Continue reading “Printed Parts Turn Ruler into Marking Gauge”

Printed Part Gets Classic Truck Rolling

When working on classic vehicles, and especially when modifying them outside of their stock configurations, things can get expensive. It’s a basic principle in economics: the rarer something is the more money somebody can charge you for it. But if you’ve got the skills and the necessary equipment, you can occasionally save yourself money by custom-fabricating some parts yourself.

After changing the gear ratio in his 1971 Ford F100, [smpstech] needed to adjust his speedometer to compensate. Unfortunately, a commercial speedometer reducer and the new cables to get it hooked up to his dash would have run into the hundreds of dollars, so he decided to try designing and 3D printing his own gearbox. The resulting development process and final product are a perfect example of how even a cheap desktop 3D printer, in the hands of a capable operator, can do a lot more than print out little toy boats.

The gearbox contains a large ring gear driven by a smaller, offset, spur gear. This compact inline package drops the speed of the input shaft by 25.5%, which [smpstech]  mentions is actually a bit slower than necessary, but it does give him some wiggle room if he decides to change his tire size.

Even if you’re not looking for a speedometer reducer for a nearly 50 year old truck, there are some lessons to be learned here in regards to 3D printed car parts. The first version of his gearbox, while functional initially, ended up looking like a deflated balloon after being exposed to the temperatures inside the F100’s engine bay. His cheapo PLA filament, which is probably fine for the aforementioned toy boats, simply wasn’t the right material for the job.

[smpstech] then reprinted the gadget in HTPLA, which needs to be annealed after printing to reach full strength. Usually this would involve a low-temperature bake in the oven, but he found that simmering the parts in a pot of water on the stove gave him better control over the temperature. Not only did the HTPLA version handle the under-hood conditions better, it was also strong enough that he was able to use a standard die on the connections for the speedometer cables to create the threads instead of having to model and print them. Definitely a material to keep an eye on if regular PLA isn’t cutting it for you.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen 3D printed parts used to get a vintage vehicle back on the road. Building these custom parts would have been possible without a 3D printer, of course, but it’s a good example of how the technology can make these types of repairs faster and easier.

[via /r/functionalprint]

Annealing Plastic For Stronger Prints

Much fuss has been made over the strength of 3D printed parts. These parts are obviously stronger in one direction than another, and post processing can increase that strength. What we’re lacking is real data. Luckily, [Justin Lam] has just the thing for us: he’s tested annealed printed plastics, and the results are encouraging.

The current research of annealing 3D printed parts is a lot like metallurgy. If you put a printed part under low heat — below the plastic’s glass transition temperature — larger crystals of plastic are formed. This research is direct from the Society of Plastics Engineers, and we’re assuming they know more about material science than your average joe. These findings measured the crystallinity of a sample in relation to both heat and time, and the results were promising. Plastic parts annealed at a lower temperature can attain the same crystallinity, and therefore the same strength, if they’re annealed for a longer time. The solution is simple: low and slow is the best way to do this, which sounds a lot like sous vide.

A while back, [Justin] built a sous vide controller for the latest cooking fad. The idea behind a sous vide controller is to heat food in a water bath at a lower temperature, but for a longer time. The result here is the most tender steaks you’ll ever have, and also stronger 3D printed parts. In his test, [Justin] printed several rectangular samples of PLA, set the temperature to 70°C, and walked away for a few hours. The samples annealed in the water bath were either cooled quickly or slowly. The test protocol also included measuring the strength in relation to layer height. The test jig consisted of a bathroom scale, a drill press, and a slot head screwdriver bit.

Although the test protocol is slightly questionable, the results are clear: annealing works, but only if the part is printed at a low layer height. However, parts with larger layer heights had a higher maximum stress. Is this helpful for the home prototyper? That depends. The consensus seems to be that if you’re at the mechanical limits of a 3D printed part, you might want to think about more traditional manufacturing. That’s just common sense, but there’s always room to push the envelope of 3D printing.