Heated DryBox Banishes Filament Moisture for Under $20

There has been a lot of activity from [Richard Horne] regarding 3D printing filaments lately; most recently he has shared two useful designs for upping one’s filament storage and monitoring game. The first is for a DIY Heated DryBox for 3D printing filament. It keeps filament dry not just by sealing it into a plastic box with some desiccant, but by incorporating a mild and economical heater intended for reptile habitats inside. Desiccant is great, but a gently heated enclosure can do wonders for driving away humidity in the right environment. The DryBox design also incorporates a handy little temperature and humidity sensor to show how well things are working.

Spool-mounted adapter for temperature and humidity sensor (and desiccant) to monitor storage bag conditions.

The second design is a simple spin-off that we particularly liked: a 3D printed adapter that provides a way to conveniently mount one of the simple temperature and humidity sensors to a filament spool with a desiccant packet. This allows storing a filament spool in a clear plastic bag as usual, but provides a tidy way to monitor the conditions inside the bag at a glance. The designs for everything are on Thingiverse along with the parts for the Heated DryBox itself.

[Richard] kindly shares the magic words to search for on eBay for those seeking the build’s inexpensive key components: “15*28CM Adjustable Temperature Reptile Heating Heater Mat” and “Mini LCD Celsius Digital Thermometer Hygrometer Temperature Humidity Meter Gauge”. There are many vendors selling what are essentially the same parts with minor variations.

Since the DryBox is for dispensing filament as well as storing it, a good spool mounting system is necessary but [Richard] found that the lack of spool standardization made designing a reliable system difficult. He noted that having spool edges roll on bearings is a pretty good solution, but only if one doesn’t intend to use cardboard-sided spools, otherwise it creates troublesome cardboard fluff. In the end, [Richard] went with a fixed stand and 3D printable adapters for the spools themselves. He explains it all in the video, embedded below.

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Towards Sensible Packaging For 3D Printer Filament

Filament-based 3D printers are remarkably wasteful. If you buy a kilogram of filament from your favorite supplier, the odds are that it will come wrapped around a plastic spool weighing about 250 grams. Use the filament, and that spool will be thrown in the trash. Very, very few products have such wasteful packaging as 3D printer filament, with the possible exception of inkjet cartridges or getting a receipt with your purchase at CVS.

For the last few years, [Richard Horne], better known as RichRap, has been working towards a solution to the problem of the wasteful spools for 3D printer filament. Now, it looks like he has a solution with the MakerSpool. It’s the perfect solution for a 3D printing ecosystem that doesn’t waste 20% of the total plastic on packaging.

The design of the MakerSpool is fairly straightforward and also 3D printable. It’s a plastic filament spool, just a shade over 200mm in diameter, consisting of two halves that screw together. Add in some RepRap ‘teardrop’ logos, and you have a spool that should fit nearly any machine, and will accept any type of filament.

The trick with this system is, of course, getting the filament onto the spool in the first place. Obviously, filament manufacturers would have to ship unspooled filament that’s somehow constrained and hopefully vacuum packed. Das Filament, a filament manufacturer out of Germany, has already tested this and it looks like they have their process down. It is possible to ship a kilogram of 1.75 filament without a spool, and held together with zip ties. Other filament manufacturers also have packaging processes that are amenable to this style of packaging.

Whether this sort of packing will catch on is anyone’s guess, but there are obvious advantages. There is less waste for the environmentalists in the crowd, but with that you also get reduced shipping costs. It’s a win-win for any filament manufacturer that could also result in reduced costs passed onto the consumer.

Making Prints More Resilient With Fibre-Filled Filament

For all that we love 3D printers, sometimes the final print doesn’t turn out as durable as we might want it to be.

Aiming to mimic the properties of natural structures such as wood, bone, and shells, a research team lead by [Jennifer A. Lewis] at Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences’ Lewis Lab have developed a new combined filament and printing technique which they call rotational 3D printing.

Minuscule fibres are mixed in with the epoxy filament and their controlled orientation within the print can reinforce the overall structure or specific points that will undergo constant stresses. To do so the print head is fitted with a stepper motor, and its precisely programmed spin controls the weaving of the fibres into the print. The team suggests that they would be able to adapt this tech to many different 3D printing methods and materials, as well as use different materials and printed patterns to focus on thermal, electrical, or optical properties.

Be it adding carbon nano-tubes or enlisting the expertise of spiders to refine our printed materials, we’re looking forward to the future of ever stronger prints. However, that doesn’t mean that existing methods are entirely lacking in endurance.

[Thanks for the tip, Qes!]

Printing Without Supports!

If print supports have ever caused you grief, know that there’s an alternate printing method in the works. First: get yourself a vat of industrial gel in which to print.

Rapid Liquid Printing(RLP) is being developed in collaboration by Michigan-based company [Steelcase] and [Skylar Tibbits’] Self Assembly Lab at MIT. RLP is touting advantages over traditional 3D printing technology such as reduced print times, a higher quality print, and enabling larger scale prints — all without supports!

Working with rubber, plastic, or foam, the printing material is injected by nozzle into a basin of industrial gel. That gel suspends the print throughout the process without bonding to it and the finished product is simply lifted out of the gel and rinsed off. Shown off at the Design Miami event earlier this month, onlookers could pick up finished lampshades and tote bags after mere minutes.

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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.