The Internet of Non-Electronic Things

The bill of materials for even the simplest IoT project is likely to include some kind of microcontroller with some kind of wireless module. But could the BOM for a useful IoT thing someday list only a single item? Quite possibly, if these electronics-less 3D-printed IoT devices are any indication.

While you may think that the silicon-free devices described in a paper (PDF link) by University of Washington students [Vikram Iyer] and [Justin Chan] stand no chance of getting online, they’ve actually built an array of useful IoT things, including an Amazon Dash-like button. The key to their system is backscatter, which modulates incident RF waves to encode data for a receiver. Some of the backscatter systems we’ve featured include a soil sensor network using commercial FM broadcasts and hybrid printable sensors using LoRa as the carrier. But both of these require at least some electronics, and consequently some kind of power. [Chan] and [Iyer] used conductive filament to print antennas that can be mechanically switched by rotating gears. Data can be encoded by the speed of the alternating reflection and absorption of the incident WiFi signals, or cams can encode data for buttons and similar widgets.

It’s a surprisingly simple system, and although the devices shown might need some mechanical tune-ups, the proof of concept has a lot of potential. Flowmeters, level sensors, alarm systems — what kind of sensors would you print? Sound off below.

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3D Prints and Food

We recently ran a post about a cute little 3D printed elephant that could dispense booze. The design didn’t actually have the plastic touching the liquid — there was a silicone tube carrying the shots. However, it did spark a conversation at the secret Hackaday bunker about how safe it is to use 3D printed objects for food. In particular, when I say 3D printing, I’m talking fused deposition modeling. Yes, there are other technologies, but most of us are printing using filament laid out in layers with a hot nozzle.

There’s a common idea that ABS is bad in general, but that PET and PLA are no problem because there are food-safe versions of those plastics available. However, the plastic is only a small part of the total food safety picture. Let me be clear: I am not a medical professional and although my computers have run a few plastics plants in years past, I am not really an expert on polymer chemistry, either. However, I don’t use 3D printed materials to hold or handle food and while you might not drop dead if you do, you might want to reconsider.

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Mini Spool System for 3D Printing Pen Tidies Things Up

3D printing pens may be toys to some, but they can be genuinely useful tools to repair 3D prints, rescue a support structure, or weld together different pieces. However, [BManx2000] found that the way the filament simply sticks out of the back of a 3D printing pen like a bizarre tailfeather was troublesome.

The solution? A Mini Spool System for 3D Printing Pens, with which you can use your 3D printing pen to weld together the parts after printing them. The unit holds 1.75mm filament coiled under its own tension in a tidy package that doesn’t interfere with feeding. Since different 3D pens are shaped differently, the interface to the pen is a separate piece that can be modified or changed as needed without affecting the rest of the design.

We’ve seen some interesting innovations with filament holders before, like this entirely 3D printed filament holder, but a mini spool for a 3D pen is definitely a new one.

Filaween 2.0 is Go

[Thomas Sanladerer] is at it again: testing all of the 3D-printer filaments that are fit to print (with). And this year, he’s got a new and improved testing methodology — video embedded below. And have a search for “filaween2” to see what he’s reviewed so far. There’s some sexy filaments in there.

We really love the brand-new impact strength test, where a hammer is swung on a pivot (3D printed, natch), breaks through the part under test, and swings back up to a measurable height. The difference in swing height reflects the amount of energy required to break the test piece. Sweet physics.

[Thomas] ran a similar few-month-long series last year, and we’re stoked to see it return with all the improvements. Here’s to watching oddball plastics melt!

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Worried About Running Out Of Filament Mid-Print? Join It!

If you’ve ever cringed over throwing away any printer filament you know wouldn’t cover your next small part — let alone an overnight print — you may appreciate [starlino]’s method for joining two spools of filament together.

While there are other methods to track how much filament you’re using, this method removes some of the guesswork. First, snip the ends of the filament on a diagonal — as close to the same angle as possible. Cover both ends with shrink wrap tubing — 2mm tubing for 1.75mm filament for example — ensuring that the two ends overlap inside the wrap. Tape the filament to a heat resistant mat with Kapton tape, leaving exposed the joint between the two filaments. A temperature sensor may help you to find your filament’s melting point, or you can experiment as necessary to get a feel for it.

Melt the filament inside the tubing with a hot air soldering station or heat gun and cool it down promptly with a few blasts from an air duster. All that’s left is to cut the filament free of the tape and shrink wrap, scraping away any excess so as to prevent printer jams. Done! Now, back to printing! Check out the tutorial video after the break.nning

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Improving Mister Screamer; an 80 Decibel Filament Alarm

I created a prototype 3D printer filament alarm that worked, but the process also brought some new problems and issues to the surface that I hadn’t foreseen when I first started. Today I’m going to dive further into the prototyping process to gain some insight on designing for a well-specified problem. What I came up with is an easy to build pendant that passively hangs from the filament and alerts you if anything about that changes.

I began with a need to know when my 3D printer was out of filament, so that I could drop whatever I was doing and insert a new spool of filament right up against the end of the previous spool. By doing this within four minutes of the filament running out, printing very large jobs could continue uninterrupted. The device I designed was called Mister Screamer.

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MRRF 17: Lulzbot and IC3D Release Line Of Open Source Filament

Today at the Midwest RepRap Festival, Lulzbot and IC3D announced the creation of an Open Source filament.

While the RepRap project is the best example we have for what can be done with Open Source hardware, the stuff that makes 3D printers work – filament, motors, and to some extent the electronics – are tied up in trade secrets and proprietary processes. As you would expect from most industrial processes, there is an art and a science to making filament and now these secrets will be revealed.

IC3D Printers is a manufacturer of filament based in Ohio. This weekend at MRRF, [Michael Cao], founder and CEO of IC3D Printers announced they would be releasing all the information, data, suppliers, and techniques that go into producing their rolls of filament.

According to [Michael Cao], there won’t be much change for anyone who is already using IC3D filament – the materials and techniques used to produce this filament will remain the same. In the coming months, all of this data will be published and IC3D is working on an Open Source Hardware Certification for their filament.

This partnership between IC3D and Lulzbot is due in no small part to Lulzbot’s dedication to Open Source Hardware. This dedication is almost excessive, but until now there has been no option for Open Source filament. Now it exists, and the value of Open Source hardware is again apparent.