The eurorack rail piece, just printed in white plastic, not yet folded, with a folded example in the upper right corner

Bend Your Prints To Eliminate Supports

When designing even a reasonably simple 3D-printable part, you need to account for all the supports it will require to print well. Strategic offsetting, chamfering, and filleting are firmly in our toolkits. Over time we’ve learned to dial our settings in so that, hopefully, we don’t have to fumble around with a xacto knife after the bed has cooled down. On Twitter, Chris shows off his foldable 3D print experiments (nitter) that work around the support problem by printing the part as a single piece able to fold into a block as soon as you pop it off the bed.

The main components of this trick seem to be the shape of the place where the print will fold, and the alignment of bottom layer lines perpendicular to the direction of the fold lines. [Chris] shows a cross-section of his FreeCad design, sharing the dimensions he has found to work best.

Of course, this is Twitter, so other hackers are making suggestions to improve the design — like this sketch of a captive wedge likely to improve alignment. As for layer line direction alignment, [Chris] admits to winging it by rotating the part in the slicer until the layer lines are oriented just right. People have been experimenting with this for some time now, and tricks like these are always a welcome addition to our toolkits. You might be wondering – what kinds of projects are such hinges useful for?

The example Chris provides is a Eurorack rail segment — due to the kind of overhangs required, you’d be inclined to print it vertically, taking a hit to the print time and introducing structural weaknesses. With this trick, you absolutely don’t have to! You can also go way further and 3D print a single-piece foldable Raspberry Pi Zero case, available on Printables, with only two extra endcaps somewhat required to hold it together.

Foldable 3D prints aren’t new, though we typically see them done with print-in-place hinges that are technically separate pieces. This trick is a radical solution to avoiding supports and any piece separation altogether. In laser cutting, we’ve known about similar techniques for a while, called a “living hinge”, but we generally haven’t extended this technique into 3D printing, save for a few manufacturing-grade techniques. Hinges like these aren’t generally meant to bend many times before they break. It’s possible to work around that, too — last time we talked about this, it was an extensive journey that combined plastic and fabric to produce incredibly small 3D printed robots!

We thank [Chaos] for sharing this with us!

Highly Configurable Open Source Microscope Cooked Up In FreeCAD

What do you get when you cross a day job as a Medical Histopathologist with an interest in 3D printing and programming? You get a fully-baked Open Source microscope, specifically the Portable Upgradeable Modular Affordable (or PUMA), that’s what. And this is no toy microscope. By combining a sprinkle of off-the-shelf electronics available from pretty much anywhere, a pound or two of filament, and a dash of high quality optical parts, PUMA cooks up quite possibly one of the best open source microscopy experiences we’ve ever tasted.

GitHub user [TadPath] works as a medical pathologist and clearly knows a thing or two about what makes a great instrument, so it is a genuine joy for us to see this tasty project laid out in such a complete fashion. Many a time we’ve looked into an high-profile project, only to find a pile of STL files and some hard to source special parts. But not here. This is deliberately designed to be buildable by practically anyone with access to a 3D printer and an eBay account.

The project is not currently certified for medical diagnostics use, but that is likely only a matter of money and time. The value for education and research (especially in developing nations) cannot really be overstated.

A small selection of the fixed and active aperture choices

The modularity allows a wide range of configurations from simple ambient light illumination, with a single objective, great for using out in the field without electricity, right up to a trinocular setup with TFT-based spatial light modulator enabling advanced methods such as Schlieren phase contrast (which allows visualisation of fluid flow inside a live cell, for example) and a heads-up display for making measurements from the sample. Add into the mix that PUMA is specifically designed to be quickly and easily broken down in the field, that helps busy researchers on the go, out in the sticks.

The GitHub repo has all the details you could need to build your own configuration and appropriate add-ons, everything from CAD files (FreeCAD source, so you can remix it to your heart’s content) and a detailed Bill-of-Materials for sourcing parts.

We covered fluorescence microscopy before, as well as many many other microscope related stories over the years, because quite simply, microscopes are a very important topic. Heck, this humble scribe has a binocular and a trinocular microscope on the bench next to him, and doesn’t even consider that unusual. If you’re hungry for an easily hackable, extendable and cost-effective scope, then this may be just the dish you were looking for.

Continue reading “Highly Configurable Open Source Microscope Cooked Up In FreeCAD”

FreeCAD Takes Off With A Rocket Design Workbench

Here’s how FreeCAD works: the program’s design space is separated into different “workbenches”, each of which is intended for a particular set of operations, and a piece of work can be moved between them as needed. There is a sketching workbench, a part design workbench, and now a Rocket workbench has been added to the healthy ecosystem of FreeCAD add-ons. There’s even a series of video tutorials; ain’t open source grand?

It all started when [concretedog] posted on the FreeCAD forums, making a strong case for a Rocket-themed workbench. People got interested, and a short while later [DavesRocketShop] had some useful tools up and running. Here’s a blog post by [concretedog] which goes into detail and background, and while the Rocket workbench is available via FreeCAD’s add-on manager, the very latest experimental builds are available for manual installation on [Dave]’s GitHub repository.

This sort of development and utility is exactly the kind of thing our own Elliot Williams was describing when he made the point that one of open source’s greatest strengths is in the little things, like the FreeCAD ecosystem letting people scratch strange and specific itches, and the ability to share those solutions with others.

Open Source: It’s The Little Things

I use open source software almost exclusively; at least on the desktop — the phone is another matter, sadly. And I do a lot of stuff with and on computers. Folks outside of the free software scene are still a little surprised when small programs are free to use and modify, but they’re downright skeptical when it comes to the big works of professional software. It’s one thing to write xeyes, but how about something to rival Photoshop, or Altium?

Of course, we all know the answer — mostly. None of the “big” software packages work exactly the same as their closed-source counterparts, often missing a few features here and gaining a few there, or following a different workflow. That’s OK, different closed-source programs work differently as well. I’m not here to argue that GIMP is better than Photoshop, but rather to point out what I really love about open software: it caters to the little guys and gals, the niche users, and the specialists. Or rather, it lets them cater to themselves.

I just started learning FreeCAD for a CNC milling project, and it’s awesome. I’ve used Fusion 360, and although FreeCAD isn’t “the same” as Fusion 360, it has most of the features that I need. But it’s the quirky features that set it apart.

The central workflow is to pick a “workbench” where specific tasks are carried out, and then you take your part to each bench, operate on it, and then move to the next one you need. But the critical bit here is that a good number of the workbenches are contributed to the open project by people who have had particular niche needs. For me, for instance, I’ve done most of my 3D modelling for 3D printing using OpenSCAD, which is kinda niche, but also the language that underpins Thingiverse’s customizer functionality. Does Fusion 360 seamlessly import my OpenSCAD work? Nope. Does FreeCAD? Yup, because some other nerd was in my shoes.

And then I started thinking of the other big free projects. Inkscape has plugins that let you create Gcode to drive CNC mills or strange plotters. Why? Because nerds love eggbots. GIMP has plugins for every imaginable image transformation — things that 99% of graphic artists will never use, and so Adobe has no incentive to incorporate.

Open source lets you scratch your own itch, and share your solution with others. The features of for-pay, closed-source software are driven by the masses: “is this a feature that enough of our customers want?” The features of open-source software are driven by the freaky ideas of nerds just like me. Vive la diffĂ©rence!

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”

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”

FreeCAD Vs SolveSpace

When you are ready to design real things, you’ll find simple CAD programs can be pretty limiting. Serious modern designs tend to use parametric modeling where you don’t necessarily set dimensions and positions of everything but instead constrain the design by describing the relationship between different elements. For example, you can create a vertical line and constrain other lines to be parallel, perpendicular, or form a given angle with that line. There are many tools that can do that, including FreeCAD and SolveSpace, two programs that [Joko Engineeringhelp] uses to create a complex compressor blade and it really shows the differences and similarities between the two tools.

You probably don’t need this particular design, but watching over someone’s shoulder while they do a complex design can be very valuable. Being able to see the differences between the two tools might convince you to learn one or the other or maybe even switch.

Continue reading “FreeCAD Vs SolveSpace”