What To Expect From 3D Scanning, And How To Work With It

3D scanning and 3D printing may sound like a natural match for one another, but they don’t always play together as easily and nicely as one would hope. I’ll explain what one can expect by highlighting three use cases the average hacker encounters, and how well they do (or don’t) work. With this, you’ll have a better idea of how 3D scanning can meet your part design and 3D printing needs.

How Well Some Things (Don’t) Work

Most 3D printing enthusiasts sooner or later become interested in whether 3D scanning can make their lives and projects easier. Here are a three different intersections of 3D scanning, 3D printing, and CAD along with a few words on how well each can be expected to work.

Goal Examples and Details Does it work?
Use scans to make copies of an object.
  • 3D scan something, then 3D print copies.
  • Objects might be functional things like fixtures or appliance parts, or artistic objects like sculptures.
Mostly yes, but depends on the object
Make a CAD model from a source object.
  • The goal is a 1:1 model, for part engineering purposes.
  • Use 3D scanning instead of creating the object in CAD.
Not Really
Digitize inconvenient or troublesome shapes.
  • Obtain an accurate model of complex shapes that can’t easily be measured or modeled any other way.
  • Examples: dashboards, sculptures, large objects, objects that are attached to something else or can’t be easily moved, body parts like heads or faces, and objects with many curves.
  • Useful to make sure a 3D printed object will fit into or on something else.
  • Creating a CAD model of a part for engineering purposes is not the goal.
Yes, but it depends

In all of these cases, one wants a 3D model of an object, and that’s exactly what 3D scanning creates, so what’s the problem? The problem is that not all 3D models are alike and useful for the same things.

Continue reading “What To Expect From 3D Scanning, And How To Work With It”

When The Right Tool Is Wrong

I’m a firm believer in using the right tool for the job. And one of the most fantastic things about open-source software tools is that nothing stops you from trying them all. For instance, I’ve been going back and forth between a couple, maybe three, CAD/CAM tools over the past few weeks. They each have their strengths and weaknesses, and so if I’m doing a simpler job, I use the simpler software, because it’s quicker and, well, simpler. But I’ve got to cut it out, at least for a while, and I’ll tell you why.

The first of the packages is FreeCAD, and it’s an extremely capable piece of CAD/CAM software. It can do everything, or so it seems. But it’s got a long shallow learning curve, and I’m only about halfway up. I’m at the stage where I should be hammering out simple “hello world” parts for practice. I say, I should be.

Fortunately/unfortunately, some Hackaday readers introduced me to KrabzCAM through the comments. It’s significantly less feature-full than FreeCAD, but it gets the job of turning your wife’s sketches of bunnies into Easter decorations done in a jiffy. For simple stuff like that, it’s a nice simple tool, and is the perfect fit for 2D CAM jobs. It’s got some other nice features, and it handles laser engraving nicely as well. And that’s the problem.

Doing the simple stuff with KrabzCAM means that when I do finally turn back to FreeCAD, I’m working on a more challenging project — using techniques that I’m not necessarily up to speed on. So I’ll put the time in, but find myself still stumbling over the introductory “hello world” stuff like navigation and project setup.

I know — #first-world-hacker-problems. “Poor Elliot has access to too many useful tools, with strengths that make them fit different jobs!” And honestly, I’m stoked to have so many good options — that wasn’t the case five years ago. But in this case, using the right tool for the job is wrong for me learning the other tool.

On reflection, this is related to the never-try-anything-new-because-your-current-tools-work-just-fine problem. And the solution to that one is to simply bite the bullet and stick it out with FreeCAD until I get proficient. But KrabzCAM works so well for those small 2D jobs…

A hacker’s life is hard.

Photorender Your 3D Models

Of course, you’ll want to take your latest 3D design and print it so you’ll have a physical object. But in some cases, you’d like to have a rendering of it. If you use OpenSCAD, FreeCAD, or most other CAD programs you can get a simple rendering of your object, but what if you want something that looks real? [Teaching Tech] shows how you can use a website, Vectary, to get realistic photo renderings of your 3D models. (Video, embedded below.) The free plan has a few limits, but nothing that should bother most people.

Vectary is sort of like a super version of TinkerCad with a lot of options for realistic modeling and augmented reality. Some of the more advanced features are behind a subscription plan, but for what [Teaching Tech] is showing, you can use the free plan.

Continue reading “Photorender Your 3D Models”

3D Finger Joints For Your Laser Cutter

A laser cutter is an incredibly useful tool and they are often found in maker spaces all over. They’re quite good at creating large two-dimensional objects and by cutting multiple flat shapes that connect together you can assemble a three-dimensional object. This is easier when creating something like a box with regular 90-degree angles but quickly becomes quite tricky when you are trying to construct any sort of irregular surface. [Tuomas Lukka] set out to create a dollhouse for his daughter using the laser cutter at his local hackerspace and the idea of creating all the joints manually was discouraging.

The solution that he landed on was writing a python script called Plycutter that can take in an STL file and output a series of DXF files needed by the cutter. It does the hard work of deciding how to cut out all those oddball joints.

At its core, the system is just a 3D slicer like you’d find for a 3D printer, but not all the slices are horizontal. Things get tricky if more than two pieces meet. [Tuomas] ran into a few issues along the way with floating-point round-off and after a few rewrites, he had a fantastic system that reliably produced great results. The dollhouse was constructed much to his daughter’s delight.

All the code for Plycutter is on GitHub. We’ve seen a similar technique that adds slots, finger-joints, and t-slots to boxes, but Plycutter really offers some unique capabilities.

FreeCAD Debugging

Powerful software programs often have macro programming languages that you can use, and if you know how to program, you probably appreciate them. However, sometimes the program’s built-in debugging facilities are lacking or even nonexistent If it were just the language, that wouldn’t be such a problem, but you can’t just grab a, for example, VBA macro from Microsoft Word and run it in a normal Basic interpreter. Your program will depend on all sorts of facilities provided by Word and its supporting libraries. [CrazyRobMiles] was frustrated with trying to debug Python running inside FreeCAD, so he decided to do something about it.

[Rob’s] simple library, FakeFreeCad, gives enough support that you can run a FreeCAD script in your normal Python development environment. It only provides a rude view of what you are drawing, but it lets you explore the flow of the macro, examine variables, and more.

Continue reading “FreeCAD Debugging”

Digital Preservation For Old Batteries

The times they are a-changin’. It used to be that no household was complete without a drawer filled with an assortment of different sizes and types of batteries, but today more and more of our gadgets are using integrated rechargeable cells. Whether or not that’s necessarily an improvement is probably up for debate, but the fact of the matter is that some of these old batteries are becoming harder to find as time goes on.

Which is why [Stephen Arsenault] wants to preserve as many of them as possible. Not in some kind of physical battery museum (though that does sound like the sort of place we’d like to visit), but digitally in the form of 3D models and spec sheets. The idea being that if you find yourself in need of an oddball, say the PRAM battery for a Macintosh SE/30, you could devise your own stand-in with a printed shell.

The rather brilliantly named Battery Backups project currently takes the form of a Thingiverse Group, which allows other alkaline aficionados to submit their own digitized cells. The cells that [Stephen] has modeled so far include not only the STL files for 3D printing, but the CAD source files in several different flavors so you can import them into your tool of choice.

Like the efforts to digitally preserve vintage input devices, it’s not immediately clear how many others out there are willing to spend their afternoons modeling up antiquated batteries. But then again, we’ve long since learned not to underestimate the obscure interests of the hacker community.

FreeCAD Parametrics Made Simple

Simple drafting programs just let you draw like you’d use a pencil. But modern programs use parametric models to provide several benefits. One is that you can use parameters to change parts of your design and other parts will alter to take account of your changes. The other advantage is you can use one model for many similar but different designs. [Brodie Fairhall] has a nice video about how to use parameters in FreeCAD.

The nice thing about parameters is they don’t have to be just constants. You can put in formulae as well. For example, you could define one line as being twice as big as another line. You provide various constraints and parameters and FreeCAD works out the shape for you, keeping all the constraints and formulae satisfied.

Continue reading “FreeCAD Parametrics Made Simple”