Generative Design Algorithms Prepare For Space

NASA is famously risk-averse, taking cautious approaches because billions of taxpayer dollars are at stake and each failure receives far more political attention than their many successes. So while moving the final frontier outward requires adopting new ideas, those ideas must first prove themselves through a lengthy process of risk-reduction. Autodesk’s research into generative design algorithms has just taken a significant step on this long journey with a planetary lander concept.

It was built jointly with a research division of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the birthplace of many successful interplanetary space probes. This project got a foot in the door by promising 30% weight savings over conventional design techniques. Large reduction in launch mass is always a good way to get a space engineer’s attention! Mimicking mother nature’s evolutionary process, these algorithms output very organic looking shapes. This is a relatively new approach to design optimization under exploration by multiple engineering software vendors. Not just Autodesk’s “Generative Design” but also “Topology Optimization” in SolidWorks, plus others. Though these shapes appear ideally suited to 3D printing, Autodesk also had to prove their algorithm could work with more traditional fabrication techniques like 5-axis CNC mills.

This is leading-edge research technology though some less specialized, customer-ready versions are starting to trickle out of research labs. Starting with an exclusive circle: People with right tiers of SolidWorks license, the paid (not free) tier of Autodesk Fusion 360, etc. We’ve looked at another recent project with nontraditional organic shapes, and we’ve looked at generative designs used for their form as well as their function. This category of CAD tools hold a lot of promise, and we’re optimistic they’ll soon become widely accessible so we can all put them to good use in our earthbound projects.

Possibly even before they fly to another planet.

[via Engadget]

A Custom Keyboard At Maximum Effort

No one loves hacked keyboards more than Hackaday. We spend most of our workday pressing different combinations of the same 104 buttons. Investing time in that tool is time well spent. [Max] feels the same and wants some personality in his input device.

In the first of three videos, he steps us through the design and materials, starting with a layer to hold the keys. FR4 is the layer of fiberglass substrate used for most circuit boards. Protoboards with no copper are just bare FR4 with holes. Homemade CNC machines can glide through FR4, achieving clean lines, and the material comes in different mask colors so customizing an already custom piece is simple. We see a couple of useful online tools for making a homemade keyboard throughout the videos. The first is a keypad layout tool which allows you to start with popular configurations and tweak them to suit your weirdest desires. Missing finger? Forget one key column. Extra digit? Add a new key column. Huge hands? More spaces between the keys. [Max] copied the Iris keyboard design but named his Arke, after the fraternal sister to Iris which is fitting since his wrist rests are removable. Continue reading “A Custom Keyboard At Maximum Effort”

Repairs You Can Print: Racing the Clock for a Dishwasher Fix

No matter how mad your 3D printing skills may be, there comes a time when it makes more sense to order a replacement part than print it. For [billchurch], that time was the five-hour window he had to order an OEM part online and have it delivered within two days. The race was on — would he be able to model and print a replacement latch for his dishwasher’s detergent dispenser, or would suffer the ignominy of having to plunk down $30 for a tiny but complicated part?

As you can probably guess, [bill] managed to beat the clock. But getting there wasn’t easy, at least judging by the full write-up on his blog. The culprit responsible for the detergent problem was a small plastic lever whose pivot had worn out. Using a caliper for accurate measurements, [bill] was able to create a model in Fusion 360 in just about two hours. There was no time to fuss with fillets and chamfers; this was a rush job, after all. Still, even adding in the 20 minutes print time in PETG, there was plenty of time to spare. The new part was a tight fit but it seemed to work well on the bench, and a test load of dishes proved a success. Will it last? Maybe not. But when you can print one again in 20 minutes, does it really matter?

Have you got an epic repair that was made possible by 3D printing? We want to know about it. And if you enter it into our Repairs You Can Print Contest, you can actually win some cool prizes to boot. We’ve got multiple categories and not that many entries yet, so your chances are good.

Big Slew Bearings Can Be 3D Printed

Consider the humble ball bearing. Ubiquitous, useful, and presently annoying teachers the world over in the form of fidget spinners. One thing ball bearings aren’t is easily 3D printed. It’s hard to print a good sphere, but that doesn’t mean you can’t print your own slew bearings for fun and profit.

As [Christoph Laimer] explains, slew bearings consist of a series of cylindrical rollers alternately arranged at 90° angles around an inner and outer race, and are therefore more approachable to 3D printing. Slew bearings often find application in large, slowly rotating applications like crane platforms or the bearings between a wind turbine nacelle and tower. In the video below, [Christoph] walks us through his parametric design in Fusion 360; for those of us not well-versed in the app, it looks a little like magic. Thankfully he has provided both the CAD files and a selection of STLs for different size bearings.

[Christoph] is no stranger to complex 3D-printable designs, like his recent brushless DC motor or an older clock build. The clock is cool, but the bearings and motors really get us — we’ll need such designs to get to self-replicating machines.

Continue reading “Big Slew Bearings Can Be 3D Printed”

Making Parametric Models in Fusion 360

We all know and love OpenSCAD for its sweet sweet parametrical goodness. However, it’s possible to get some of that same goodness out of Fusion 360. To do this we will be making a mathematical model of our object and then we’ll change variables to get different geometry. It’s simpler than it sounds.

Even if you don’t use Fusion 360 it’s good to have an idea of how different design tools work. This is web-based 3D Modeling software produced by Autodesk. One of the nice features is that it lets me share my models with others. I’ll do that in just a minute as I walk you through modeling a simple object. Another way to describe what we’re going to learn is: How to think when modeling in Fusion 360.

Continue reading “Making Parametric Models in Fusion 360”

3D Printed Tourbillon Clock

3D printed clocks have been done before, but never something like this. It’s a 3D printed clock with a tourbillon, a creative way to drive an escapement developed around the year 1800. Instead of a pendulum, this type of clock uses a rotating cage powered by a spring. It’s commonly found in some very expensive modern watches, but never before has something like this been 3D printed.

3D Printed Clock[Christoph Lamier] designed this tourbillon clock in Autodesk Fusion 360, with 50 printable parts, and a handful of pins, screws, and washers. The most delicate parts – the hairspring, anchor, escapement wheel, and a few gears were printed at 0.06 layer height. Everything else was printed at a much more normal resolution with 0.1mm layer height.

Because nearly the entire clock is 3D printed, this means the spring is 3D printed as well. This enormous 2 meter-long spiral of printed plastic could not have been printed without altering a few settings on the printer. The setting in question is Cura’s ‘combing’ or the ‘avoid crossing perimeters’ setting. If you don’t disable this setting, the print time increases by 30%, and moving the print head causes the plastic to ooze out over the spring.

There’s a 26-minute long video of the 3D printed tourbillon clock in action that is horrendously boring. It does demonstrate this clock works, though. You can check out the more interesting videos below.

Continue reading “3D Printed Tourbillon Clock”