They’re Putting Soy In Your Wires, Man

I’ve got a friend who tells me at every opportunity that soy is the downfall of humanity. Whatever ails us as a society, it’s the soy beans that did it. They increase violent tendencies, they make us fat and lazy, they run farmers out of business, and so on. He laments at how hard it is to find food that doesn’t include soy in some capacity, and for a while was resigned to eating nothing but chicken hot dogs and bags of frozen peas; anything else had unacceptable levels of the “Devil’s Bean”. Overall he’s a really great guy, kind of person who could fix anything with a roll of duct tape and a trip to the scrap pile, but you might think twice if he invites you over for dinner.

A column of soy soldiers stand at the ready.

So when he recently told me about all the trouble people are having with soy-based electrical wiring, I thought it was just the latest conspiracy theory to join his usual stories. I told him it didn’t make any sense, there’s no way somebody managed to develop a reliable soy-derived conductor. “No, no,” he says, “not the conductor. They are making the insulation out of soy, and animals are chewing through it.”

Now that’s a bit different. I was already well aware of the growing popularity of bioplastics: the PLA used in desktop 3D printers is one such example, generally derived from corn. It certainly wasn’t unreasonable to think somebody had tried to make “green” electrical wiring by using a bioplastic insulation. While I wasn’t about to sit down to a hot bag of peas for dinner, I had to admit that maybe in this case his claims deserved a look.

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Print a Sacrificial Magnet Square

Here’s your quick and dirty hack for the day. Sometimes you just need something that will work for what you’re trying to do, and you don’t want to go through the motions of doing what’s prescribed. When this happens, it’s a cheap, disposable tool that fits the bill. No, we’re not talking about Harbor Freight—we mean those need-driven tools you make yourself that get the job done without fuss. If you’re really lucky, you can use them a couple of times before they break.

This is one of those tools. [Jake’s Workshop] wanted to be able to quickly tack a corner weld without getting out the clamps, so he thought, why not print some magnet squares? [Jake] hollowed out the triangle to save filament, but this also gives it a nice advantage over store-bought magnet squares: instead of grasping and pulling it off,  you can hook your finger through it and then hang it on the pegboard for next time.

[Jake] got lucky with the pocket sizes and was able to press fit the magnets in place, but it would be worth it to add a drop of CA glue to help with strain. He seems to have forgotten to upload the files for his various styles, but a hollow triangle with chamfers and magnet pockets should be easy enough to replicate in OpenSCAD or  SolidWorks, which he used in the video below.

There’s something special about a cheap tool you make yourself. Even though you know it won’t last forever, it’s just more meaningful than some cheap, rage-inducing tchotchke or assemblage from a place where the air is ~85% offgasses. We love necessity-driven self-built tools around here so much that we gave them their own Hacklet.

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Using Nanotubes to Strengthen 3D Prints

3D printing has brought the production of plastic parts to the desktops and workshops of makers the world over, primarily through the use of FDM technology. The problem this method is that when squirting layers of hot plastic out to create a part, the subsequent vertical layers don’t adhere particularly well to each other, leading to poor strength and delamination problems. However, carbon nanotubes may hold some promise in solving this issue.

A useful property of carbon nanotubes is that they can be heated with microwave energy. Taking advantage of this, researchers coated PLA filament in a polymer film containing carbon nanotubes. As the layers of the print are laid down, the nanotubes are primarily located at the interface between the vertical layers. By using microwaves to heat the nanotubes, this allows the print to be locally heated at the interface between layers, essentially welding the layers together. As far as results are concerned, the team reports an impressive 275% improvement in fracture strength over traditionally printed parts.

The research paper is freely available, which we always like to see. There’s other methods to improve your print strength, too – you could always try annealing your printed parts.

[Thanks 𐂀[d] 𐂅 for the tip]

Annealing Plastic For Stronger Prints

Much fuss has been made over the strength of 3D printed parts. These parts are obviously stronger in one direction than another, and post processing can increase that strength. What we’re lacking is real data. Luckily, [Justin Lam] has just the thing for us: he’s tested annealed printed plastics, and the results are encouraging.

The current research of annealing 3D printed parts is a lot like metallurgy. If you put a printed part under low heat — below the plastic’s glass transition temperature — larger crystals of plastic are formed. This research is direct from the Society of Plastics Engineers, and we’re assuming they know more about material science than your average joe. These findings measured the crystallinity of a sample in relation to both heat and time, and the results were promising. Plastic parts annealed at a lower temperature can attain the same crystallinity, and therefore the same strength, if they’re annealed for a longer time. The solution is simple: low and slow is the best way to do this, which sounds a lot like sous vide.

A while back, [Justin] built a sous vide controller for the latest cooking fad. The idea behind a sous vide controller is to heat food in a water bath at a lower temperature, but for a longer time. The result here is the most tender steaks you’ll ever have, and also stronger 3D printed parts. In his test, [Justin] printed several rectangular samples of PLA, set the temperature to 70°C, and walked away for a few hours. The samples annealed in the water bath were either cooled quickly or slowly. The test protocol also included measuring the strength in relation to layer height. The test jig consisted of a bathroom scale, a drill press, and a slot head screwdriver bit.

Although the test protocol is slightly questionable, the results are clear: annealing works, but only if the part is printed at a low layer height. However, parts with larger layer heights had a higher maximum stress. Is this helpful for the home prototyper? That depends. The consensus seems to be that if you’re at the mechanical limits of a 3D printed part, you might want to think about more traditional manufacturing. That’s just common sense, but there’s always room to push the envelope of 3D printing.

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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Digital Clock Goes with the Grain

This good-looking clock appears to be made out of a block of wood with LED digits floating underneath. In reality, it is a block of PLA plastic covered with wood veneer (well, [androkavo] calls it veneer, but we think it might just be a contact paper or vinyl with a wood pattern). It makes for a striking effect, and we can think of other projects that might make use of the technique, especially since the wood surface looks much more finished than the usual 3D-printed part.

You can see a video of the clock in operation below. The clock circuit itself is nothing exceptional. Just a MAX7218 LED driver and a display along with an STM32 ARM processor. The clock has a DHT22 temperature and humidity sensor, as well as a speaker for an alarm.

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Customize Your Ratios with a 3D-Printed Gearbox

Small DC motors are easy to find — you can harvest dozens from old printers and copiers. You might even get a few with decent gearboxes too. But will you get exactly the motor with exactly the gearing your project needs? Unlikely, but you can always just print a gearbox to get exactly what you need.

There’s nothing fancy about [fortzero]’s gearboxes. The motors are junk bin specials, and the gears are all simple spur gears 3D-printed from PLA. There are four gears in the train, each with a 2:1 reduction, giving a 16:1 overall ratio. The gears ride on brass shafts that are press-fit into the housing, and there’s not a bearing in sight — just a few washers to keep the gears spaced apart and plenty of grease. Despite the simplicity, the gearboxes turned out to be pretty capable, lifting a 3.5 kg load. The design files are available and should make it easy for you to get just the ratio you want for the motor you have.

Of course more complicated gearboxes are possible with a 3D printer, including a split-harmonic planetary gear, or a strain wave gear using a timing belt. No 3D printer? No problem! Just build a LEGO gearbox.

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