Modular Box Design Eases Silicone Mold-Making

Resin casting is a fantastic way to produce highly detailed parts in a wide variety of colors and properties, and while the process isn’t complicated, it does require a certain amount of care and setup. Most molds are made by putting a part into a custom-made disposable box and pouring silicone over it, but [Foaly] was finding the process of making and re-making those boxes a bit less optimized than it could be. That led to this design for a re-usable, modular, adjustable mold box that makes the workflow for small parts considerably more efficient.

The walls of the adjustable box are four identical 3D-printed parts with captive magnets, and the base of the box is a piece of laser-cut steel sheet upon which the magnetic walls attach. The positioning and polarity of the magnets are such that the box can be assembled in a variety of sizes, and multiple walls can be stacked to make a taller mold. To aid cleanup and help prevent contamination that might interfere with curing, the inner surfaces of each piece are coated in Kapton tape.

The result is a modular box that can be used and re-used, and doesn’t slow down the process of creating and iterating on mold designs. The system as designed is intended for small parts, but [Foaly] feels there is (probably) no reason it can’t be scaled up to some degree. Interested? The design files are available from the project’s GitHub repository, and if you need to brush up a bit on how resin casting works, you can read all about it here.

Casting Skateboard Wheels With A 3D Printed Mold

We’ll admit that most of the Hackaday staff wouldn’t get too far on a skateboard, but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the impressive DIY wheels that [Chris McCann] has managed to cast using 3D printed molds. From unique color combinations to experimental materials, the process certainly opens up some interesting possibilities for those looking to truly customize their rides. Though it’s worth noting there’s a certain element of risk involved; should a set of homemade wheels fail at speed, it could go rather poorly for the rider.

Both the STL and STEP files for the mold have been released under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license, meaning anyone with a 3D printer can follow along at home. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple as clicking print and coming back to a usable mold. Because of the layer lines inherent to FDM 3D printing, the inside of the mold needs to be thoroughly sanded and polished. [Chris] mentions that printing the mold in ABS and using vapor smoothing might be a workable alternative to elbow grease and PLA, but he hasn’t personally tried it yet.

Once you’ve got the three part mold printed, smoothed, and coated with an appropriate release agent like petroleum jelly, it’s time to make some wheels. The core of each wheel is actually 3D printed from PETG, which should give it pretty reasonable impact resistance. If you have access to a lathe, producing aluminum cores shouldn’t be too difficult either. With the core loaded into the mold, urethane resin is poured in through the top until all the empty space is filled.

But you’re not done yet. All those little air bubbles in the resin need to be dealt with before it cures. [Chris] puts his filled molds into a pressure chamber, though he mentions that vacuum degassing might also be a possibility depending on the urethane mixture used. After everything is solidified, the mold can easily be taken apart to reveal the newly cast wheel.

While there’s often some trial and error involved, 3D printing and resin casting are an undeniably powerful combination. If you can master the techniques involved, you can produce some very impressive parts that otherwise would be exceptionally difficult to produce on a hacker’s budget. Especially when you’re ready to start casting molten metal.

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Peeking Inside A VW Gearbox Reveals Die Casting Truths

Recently, I was offered a 1997 Volkswagen Golf for the low, low price of free — assuming I could haul it away, as it suffered from a thoroughly borked automatic transmission. Being incapable of saying no to such an opportunity, I set about trailering the poor convertible home and immediately tore into the mechanicals to see what was wrong.

Alas, I have thus far failed to resurrect the beast from Wolfsburg, but while I was wrist deep in transmission fluid, I spotted something that caught my eye. Come along for a look at the nitty-gritty of transmission manufacturing!

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More LEDs Means Faster Print Times For 3D Printer, But There’s A Catch

[Jan Mr├ízek] is no stranger at all to home-grown improvements with his Elegoo Mars SLA 3D printer, and there is a lot going on in his experimental multi-LED upgrade which even involved casting his own lens array. In the end it did speed up his prints by a factor of three to four, though he cooked an LCD to failure in the process. Still, it was a fun project done during a COVID-19 lockdown; as usual there is a lot to learn from [Jan]’s experiences but the mod is not something he necessarily recommends people do for themselves.

[Jan] started by wondering whether better print quality and performance could be obtained by improving the printer’s UV light source. The stock printer uses a single large UV LED nestled into a reflector, but [Jan] decided to try making a more precise source of UV, aiming to make the UV rays as parallel as possible.

Custom LED array molded in clear epoxy.

To do this, he took a two-pronged approach. One was to replace the single large UV LED with a 4×7 array of emitters plus heat sink and fans. The other was to make a matching array of custom lenses to get the UV rays as parallel as possible.

Casting one’s own lens array out of clear epoxy was a lot of work and had mixed results, but again, it was a lockdown project and the usual “is-this-really-worth-it” rules were relaxed. In short, casting a single custom lens out of clear epoxy worked shockingly well, but when [Jan] scaled it up to casting a whole 4×7 array of them, results were mixed. Mold deformation and artifacts caused by the areas between individual lenses robbed the end result of much of its promise.

More success was had with the array of UV emitters, which enabled faster curing thanks to higher power, but the heat needs to be managed. The stock emitter of the printer is about 30 W, and [Jan] was running his new array at 240 W. This meant a blazing fast one second exposure time per layer, but the heat generated by the new lighting was higher than anticipated. After only ten hours the LCD failed, probably at least in part due to the heat. [Jan] halved the power of the array down to 120 W and added an extra fan, which appears to have done the trick. Exposure time is two to three seconds per layer, and it’s up to 150 hours of printing without problems.

Again, it’s not a process [Jan] necessarily recommends to others (and he definitely recommends buying lenses if at all possible instead of casting them) but as usual there is a lot to learn from his frank sharing of results, both good and bad. We’ve seen 3D-printed lenses as well as adding WiFi connectivity to one of these hobbyist printers, and it’s great to see the spirit of hacking alive and well when it comes to these devices.

Mold-Making Masterclass In Minutes

Making silicone molds seems easy, but there are a lot of missteps to be made along the way that can mean the difference between a great, reusable mold, and one that’s a sad waste of silicone. If you’re helpless to know the difference, then check out [Eric Strebel]’s 9-minute masterclass teaser video on making a two-part mold for resin casting, which is also embedded below.

Even if you already know how to do this, there’s probably a good tip in here somewhere. One of them being that you should always pour your silicone from one place and let it coat the piece being copied. Otherwise, there might be lines on the mold. Another tip is for DIY mold release made from petroleum jelly thinned with naphtha.

Our favorite tip has to do with the way [Eric] makes this a reusable two-part mold, which is more akin to injection molding. To pour silicone for the second part and get it to separately nicely, [Eric] uses sprues made out of resin rods that were cast inside of drinking straw molds. These he chamfers against a belt sander to minimize the contact with the cast part, which makes them a snap to break off. [Eric] says this is just the beginning, and there are more videos to come that will break down the steps.

There’s more than one way to make a mold, especially for casting in metal. We’ve seen everything from 3D-printed molds to kinetic sand.

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Steampunk Brushless Motor Demo Pushes All The Maker Buttons

We’ll be honest right up front: there’s nothing new in [David Cambridge]’s brushless motor and controller build. If you’re looking for earth-shattering innovation, you’d best look elsewhere. But if you enjoy an aimless use of just about every technique and material in the hacker’s toolkit employed with extreme craftsmanship, then this might be for you. And Nixies — he’s got Nixies in there too.

[David]’s build started out as a personal exploration of brushless motors and how they work. Some 3D-printed parts, a single coil of wire, and a magnetic reed switch resulted in a simple pulse motor that performed surprisingly well. This morphed into a six-coil motor with Hall-effect sensors and a homebrew controller. This is where [David] pulled out all the stops on tools — a lathe, a plasma cutter, a welder, a milling machine, and a nice selection of woodworking tools went into making parts for the final motor as well as an enclosure for the project. And because he hadn’t checked off quite all the boxes yet, [David] decided to use the 3D-printed frame as a pattern for casting one from aluminum.

The finished motor, with a redesigned rotor to deal better with eddy currents, joined the wood and metal enclosure along with a Nixie tube tachometer and etched brass control plates. It’s a great look for a project that’s clearly a labor of self-edification and skill-building, and we love it. We’ve seen other BLDC demonstrators before, but few that look as good as this one does.

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Printable, Castable Feeders Simplify Pick-and-Place Component Management

It goes without saying that we love to see all the clever ways people have come up with to populate their printed circuit boards, especially the automated solutions. The idea of manually picking and placing nearly-microscopic components is reason enough to add a pick and place to the shop, but that usually leaves the problem of feeding components to the imagination of the user. And this mass-production-ready passive component feeder is a great example of that kind of imagination.

Almost every design we’ve seen for homebrew PnP component feeders have one of two things in common: they’re 3D-printed, or they’re somewhat complex. Not that those are bad things, but they do raise issues. Printing enough feeders for even a moderately large project would take forever, and the more motors and sensors a feeder has, the greater the chance of a breakdown. [dining-philosopher] solved both these problems with a simple design using only two parts, which can be resin cast. A lever arm is depressed by a plunger that’s attached to the LitePlacer tool, offset just enough so that the suction cup is lined up with the component location on the tape. A pawl in the lower arm moves forward when the tool leaves after picking up the part, engaging with the tape sprocket holes and advancing to the next component.

[dining-philosopher] didn’t attack the cover film peeling problem in his version, choosing to peel it off manually and use a weight to keep it taut and expose the next component. But in a nice example of collaboration, [Jed Smith] added an automatic film peeler to the original design. It complicates things a bit, but the peeler is powered by the advancing tape, so it’s probably worth it.

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