Making an Ultrasonic Cutter for Post-processing Tiny 3D Prints

An ultrasonic knife is a blade that vibrates a tiny amount at a high frequency, giving the knife edge minor superpowers. It gets used much like any other blade, but it becomes far easier to cut through troublesome materials like rubber or hard plastics. I was always curious about them, and recently made my own by modifying another tool. It turns out that an ultrasonic scaling tool intended for dental use can fairly easily be turned into a nimble little ultrasonic cutter for fine detail work.

Cheap ultrasonic scaler. The blue disk is for adjusting power. Foot switch not shown.

I originally started thinking about an ultrasonic knife to make removing supports from SLA 3D prints easier. SLA resin prints are made from a smooth, hard plastic and can sometimes require a veritable forest of supports. These supports are normally removed with flush cutters, or torn off if one doesn’t care about appearances, but sometimes the density of supports makes this process awkward, especially on small objects.

I imagined that an ultrasonic blade would make short work of these pesky supports, and for the most part, I was right! It won’t effortlessly cut through a forest of support bases like a hot knife through butter, but it certainly makes it easier to remove tricky supports from the model itself. Specifically, it excels at slicing through fine areas while preserving delicate features. Continue reading “Making an Ultrasonic Cutter for Post-processing Tiny 3D Prints”

Try This for 3D Printing Without Support

Have a look at the object to the right. Using a conventional fused deposition printer, how would you print the object? There’s no flat surface to lay on the bed without generating a lot of overhangs. That usually requires support.

In theory, you might be able to print the bottom of the sphere down, but it is difficult to get that little spot to adhere to the bed. If you have at least two extruders and you are set up to print support material, that might even be the best option. However, printing support out of the same material you are printing with makes it hard to get a good clean print. There is another possibility. It does require some post-processing, but then again, not as much as hacking away a bunch of support material.

A Simple Idea

The idea is simple and — at first — it will sound like a lot of trouble. The basic idea is to cut the model in half at some point where both halves would be easy to print and then glue them together.  Stick around (no pun intended), though, because I’ll show you a way to make the alignment of the parts almost painless no matter how complex the object might be.

The practical problem with gluing together half models is getting the pieces in the exact position, but that turns out to be easy if you just make a few simple changes to your model. Another lesser problem is clamping a piece while gluing. You can use a vise, but some oddly-shaped parts are not conducive to traditional vise jaws.

In Practice

Starting with an OpenSCAD object, it is easy to cut the model in half. Actually, you could cut it anywhere. Then it is easy to rotate half of it so the cut line is at the bottom of each part. That doesn’t solve the alignment problem nor does it help you clamp when you glue.

The trick is to build a flange around each part. The flanges mate with a few screws after printing so alignment is perfect and bolts through the flange holes can keep the parts together and immobilized while your glue of choice sets. The kicker is that I even have an automated process to make the design side of this trick very easy.

Continue reading “Try This for 3D Printing Without Support”

3D Printing Without Support

3D printing is getting better every year, a tale told by dozens of Makerbot Cupcakes nailed to the wall in hackerspaces the world over. What was once thought impossible – insane bridging, high levels of repeatability, and extremely well-tuned machines – are now the norm. We’re still printing with supports, and until powder printers make it to garages, we’ll be stuck with that. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, though. It is possible to print complex 3D objects without supports. How? With pre-printed supports, of course.

[Markus] wanted to print the latest comet we’ve landed on, 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. This is a difficult model for any 3D printer: there are two oversized lobes connected by a thin strand of comet. There isn’t a flat space, either, and cutting the model in half and gluing the two printed sides together is certainly not cool enough.

To print this plastic comet without supports, [Markus] first created a mold – a cube with the model of the comet subtracted with a boolean operation. If there’s one problem [Markus] ran into its that no host software will allow you to print an object over the previous print. That would be a nice addition to Slic3r or Repetier Host, and shouldn’t be that hard to implement.