Scanning electron micrograph of a microfabricated lens array

Getting A Fly’s-Eye View With Microfabricated Lens Arrays

Atomic force microscopy, laser ablation, and etching with a witches brew of toxic chemicals: sounds like [Zachary Tong] has been playing in the lab again, and this time he found a way to fabricate arrays of microscopic lenses as a result.

Like many of the best projects, [Zach]’s journey into micro-fabrication started with a happy accident. It happened while he was working on metal-activated chemical etching (MACE), which uses a noble metal catalyst to selectively carve high-aspect-ratio features in silicon. After blasting at a silver-coated silicon wafer with a laser, he noticed the ablation pits were very smooth and uniform after etching. This led him to several hypotheses about what was going on, all of which he was able to test.

The experiments themselves are pretty interesting, but what’s really cool is that [Zach] realized the smooth hemispherical pits in the silicon could act as a mold for an array of microscopic convex lenses. He was able to deposit a small amount of clear silicone resin into the mold by spin-coating, and (eventually) transfer the microlens array to a glass slide. The lenses are impressively small — hundreds of them over only a couple hundred square microns — and pretty well-formed. There’s always room for improvement, of course, but for an initial attempt based on a serendipitous finding, we’d call it a win. As for what good these lenses are, your guess is as good as ours. But novel processes like these tend to find a way to be useful, and the fact that this is coming out of a home lab doesn’t change that fact.

We find this kind of micro-fabrication fascinating. Whether it’s making OLED displays, micro-machining glass with plasma, or even rolling your own semiconductors, we can’t get enough of this stuff.

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Solid Tips For Casting Colored Silicone Tires

For people who work with wheeled robots or RC vehicles, sooner or later one gets interested in making custom tires instead of dealing with whatever is available off the shelf. [concreted0g]’s preferred method is to design and 3D print wheel hubs, then cast some custom silicone tires to fit over them. Of course, the devil is in the details and this process can be a bit messy, so he’s shared useful tips on how to get reliable results with simple materials.

The casting material is cheap silicone caulking from a hardware store, and color can be added with a small amount of cheap acrylic paint. A few drops of glycerin added to the silicone thins it out slightly and helps it flow into a mold better. Mix well (the paint will also serve as a visual indicator of how well it is mixed), then scoop the mixture into the mold while trying to avoid creating air pockets. If your mold is in two pieces, assemble the mold and remove any overflow, then let it sit undisturbed for at least several hours while it cures.

Mounting the resulting tire to a wheel hub can be done with a thin film of super glue, which seems to work perfectly well for small tires and is easy to apply.

The rules are going to be a bit different for big objects. We know that silicone caulking can have difficulty fully curing when it’s applied thickly, especially when sealed into a mold with little to no airflow. In such cases, adding cornstarch (in about a 5:1 ratio of silicone to cornstarch by volume) is all that it takes to cure even thick wads of goop in less than an hour. Stirring cornstarch in tends to introduce more air bubbles into the mixture, but for larger pieces that can be an acceptable tradeoff. Cheap silicone caulking is versatile stuff, one just needs to know what to expect, and take a few steps to deal with the messiness.

Need something tougher? Maybe check out using slices of automotive silicone hose for robot wheels to get something that works just as well, but is a lot more durable.

Making Silicone Molds – Big Ones!

If you’ve got one of something and you want more, duplicating it with a silicone mold can be a great way to go. This is applicable to 3D printing something you need many copies of, and a whole variety of other usecases. [Eric Strebel] prides himself on his abilities in this area, and has put out a guide to producing very large silicone molds in a simple and reliable manner.

The overarching process is simple, but followed properly, it produces great results. [Eric] starts by building a mold box out of wood, coated in shellac to ensure it doesn’t stick to the silicone. The master part is then stuck to the base, surrounded by a lasercut cardboard strip which acts as a seal and key. Once properly degassed silicone is poured in and cured, the second half can be made. The mold is flipped in the mold box, the seal key removed,  and release agent applied to the silicone surfaces. With another pour and cure, the mold is ready for casting new parts.

While simple, if the correct equipment isn’t used or steps skipped, you’ll end up with a useless mold full of air bubbles or surface irregularities. It’s useful to see just what it takes to get a mold of such scale (13″ x 19″!) completed without flaws. We’ve featured [Eric]’s work before, such as his fine detail improvements on the Apple Pencil. Video after the break.

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DIY Injection Molding Press

While 3D printing has now become easily accessible and cheap, there are still several use cases where you need the advantages offered by injection molding, even for small batch runs. Professional small-batch injection molding can be pretty expensive, and buying a manual machine can cost quite a bit. Of course, there are a number of DIY injection molding projects to choose from, but they usually involve a fair amount of tools and labour. [Bolzbrain] wanted to bypass all of the heavy cutting, welding and frame assembly work, so he’s built himself a DIY Injection Molding Press for cheap using an off the shelf, six ton hydraulic press. At final count, he ended up spending about €150 for the machine and another €120 for tools to build the machine. He also managed to locate a cheap, local CNC service that gave him a good deal on machining the Dies. But of course you can’t put a price on the lessons learnt and the satisfaction of having built it by hand.

Choosing the hydraulic press is a great idea as it provides the high pressure needed for the job without the operator having to exert a lot of effort, which is a big drawback with some of the other DIY machines. As a bonus, the structural frame is quite sturdy and well suited for this purpose. The other main part of such a machine is the heated injection block and there are several different ways of doing it. After some amount of studying probable solutions, he decided to build a heated aluminium block through which the plastic granules can be rammed using the hydraulic piston. Heating is provided by a pair of 500W heaters and a type ‘k’ thermocouple does temperature sensing. An industrial PID controller adjusts the block temperature via a solid state relay. Overall, the electrical and mechanical layout cannot get any simpler.

[Bolzbrain] did a great job of documenting his build over a series of videos and more wizened hackers watching them will squirm in their seats spotting the numerous fails. He bought the cheapest pedestal drill machine that he could buy and watching the drill struggle while making a 26mm hole in the aluminium block is quite jarring.

The electrical wiring has a lot of scope for improvement – with 220V AC heaters, exposed wiring and jury rigged panel held up with a pair of clamps. Installing and removing the die is a task and requires a lot of fiddling with several C-clamps — something which needs to be repeated for every shot. Maybe toggle clamps could help him to ease die fixing and removal. Once he figures out about mold release agents and wall draft angles, he won’t have to struggle trying to remove the molded article from the die. Then there’s the issue of proper runner design so that the thermo-plastic can quickly fill the mold cavity completely without any pockets.

But in the end, all that matters is that he is getting reasonably good molded parts for his purposes. With more tweaking and incremental improvements, we’re sure he’ll get better results. The video after the break is a short overview of his build, but the project page has a series of detailed videos covering all aspects of the project. And if you’d like to get an introduction to desktop injection molding, check out “Benchtop Injection Molding for the Home Gamer

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3D Printing Paper — Sort Of

There are only a few truly ancient engineered materials, and among the oldest is paper. Traditionally, paper is flat and can be bent into shapes. However, paper can be molded into for example packing material or egg cartons. [XYZAidan]  has a process that can recycle paper into 3D cardboard-like objects. You need a 3D printer, but it doesn’t actually print the paper. Instead, you use the printer to create a mold that can form paper pulp you make out of recycled paper and a blender.

[Aidan] provides seven different molds ranging from a desk tray and a dish to simple cubes and coasters. The molds are made in three parts to assist in removing the finished product.

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A Trove Of Cosplay Prop Making Tutorials And Blueprints

[CutTransformGlue] recently posted a build video for “Making Rey’s Star Wars Blaster“, embedded after the break. The construction uses layered MDF sheets to build up the blaster, and it’s a treat to see it taking shape, ending with an amazing paint job. It’s a good way to learn about the techniques used to bring such props to life and help you hone your skills. But digging deeper led us down an awesome rabbit hole.

[CutTransformGlue] got plans for Rey’s Blaster from the Punished Props Academy – a prop and costume making team from Seattle committed to “transforming passionate fans into confident, skillful makers”. These folks have built a wide variety of projects ranging from guns, weapons, costumes, props and more, and are obviously extremely skilled at what they do. But they aren’t keeping those skills to themselves and in a series of posts and videos they are sharing with us such varied skills as Foamsmithing (gotta love that coinage), Molding, Casting, Painting, 3D printing, Vacuum Forming and electronics. If you’d like more information about supplies, check out the Tools and Materials section. And if all of this has given you the itch to build a Skyrim Wuuthrad or a Halo4 Sniper Rifle, head over to the amazing Free Blueprints section for a treasure chest full of downloads.

Like we said earlier, if building such stuff is your thing, it’s a rabbit hole from which you’ll find it extremely difficult to extract yourself. Have fun.

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Damaged Power Cord Repaired With Shop-Made Mold

We’ve likely all seen a power tool with a less-than-functional strain relief at one end of the power cord or the other. Fixing the plug end is easy, but at the tool end things are a little harder and often not worth the effort compared to the price of just replacing the tool. There’s no obsolescence like built-in obsolescence.

But in the land of Festo, that high-quality but exorbitantly priced brand of premium tools, the normal cost-benefit relationship of repairs is skewed. That’s what led [Mark Presling] to custom mold a new strain relief for a broken Festool cord. The dodgy tool is an orbital sander with Festool’s interchangeable “Plug It” type power cord, which could have been replaced for the princely sum of $65. Rather than suffer that disgrace, [Mark] built a mold for a new strain relief from two pieces of aluminum. The mold fits around the cord once it has been slathered with Sugru, a moldable adhesive compound. The video below shows the mold build, which has some interesting tips for the lathe, and the molding process itself. The Sugru was a little touchy about curing, but in the end the new strain relief looks almost like an original part.

Hats off to [Presser] for not taking the easy way out, and for showing off some techniques that could really help around the shop. We suppose the mold could have been 3D-printed rather than machined; after all, we’ve seen such molds before, and that 3D-printed dies can be robust enough to punch metal parts.

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