LEGO Prototyping with Tinkercad’s Brick Mode

[Andrew Sink] made a brief video demonstrating how he imported an STL of the well-known 3D Benchy tugboat model, and instead of sending it to a 3D printer used the Brick Mode feature to make a physical copy out of LEGO bricks in an eye-aching kaleidoscope of colors.

For those of you who haven’t used Tinkercad lately, Brick Mode allows you to represent a model as LEGO bricks at various scales. You model something as usual (or import a model) and by pushing a single button, render it in LEGO as accurately as can be done with standard bricks.

In addition, [Andrew] shows how the “Layers” feature can be used as a makeshift assembly guide for the model, albeit with a couple of quirks that he explains in the video embedded below.

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Polyurethane, Meet 3D Printing

3D printing makes prototyping wonderful. But what do you do when your plastics of choice just aren’t strong enough? For [Michael Memeteau], the answer was to combine the strength of a vacuum-poured polyurethane part with the ease of 3D-printed molds. The write-up is a fantastic walk through of a particular problem and all of the false steps along the way to a solution.

The prototype is a connected scale for LPG canisters, so the frame would have to support 80 kg and survive an outdoor environment. Lego or MDF lattice were considered and abandoned as options early on. 3D printing at 100% infill might have worked, but because of the frame’s size, it would have to be assembled in pieces and took far too long anyway.

The next approach was to make a mold with the 3D printer and pour the chosen polyurethane resin in, but a simple hollow mold didn’t work because the polyurethane heats as it cures. The combined weight and heat deformed the PLA mold. Worse, their polyurethane of choice was viscous and cured too quickly.

The solution, in the end, was a PET filament that deforms less with heat, clever choice of internal support structures to hold the stress in while being permeable, and finally pouring the polyurethane in a vacuum bag to help it fill and degas. The 3D-printed hull is part of the final product, but the strength comes from the polyurethane.

Mold-making is one of the killer apps of 3D printing. We’ve seen 3D prints used as molds for spin-casting hollow parts, and used as a sacrificial shell for otherwise epoxy parts. But for really complex shapes, strength, and ease of fabrication, we have to say that [Michael]’s approach looks promising.

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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Let’s Prototype! This Filament End Needs 80 Decibels

Reaching the end of a spool of filament when 3D printing is inevitable. The result ranges from minor annoyance to ruined print. Recently, I needed to print a number of large jobs that used just over half a spool of plastic each. Unwilling to start every print with a fresh spool (and shelve a 60% used one afterward), I had a problem to solve. What my 3D printer needed was filament monitor, or at least that’s what I thought.

After reviewing some projects and aftermarket options, I ended up making my own. Like most prototypes, it wasn’t an instant success, but that’s fine. One of the goals of prototyping is not only to validate that the problems you’re solving are the same ones you think exist, but also to force other problems and issues you may not have considered to the surface. Failure is only a waste if nothing is learned, and the faster and cheaper that learning happens, the better.

Sensible design steps also help minimize waste, so I started by looking at what kind of solutions already existed.

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3D Printing Makes Electronics A Snap

For just about as long as there have been electronics, there’s been a search for a way to let students and hobbyists build projects without a lot of effort. A board with Fahnestock clips was probably the first attempt. Today, it is more often the ubiquitous solderless breadboard. In between, we’ve seen copper pipe pieces and rubber bands, components mounted on magnets that hold them and make connections, and other even less probable schemes. A few years back, a new method appeared: Snap Circuits. The name almost says it all. A baseboard has mounting holes for different components. All the components make their electrical connections and mechanical connections through a common snap like you might find on clothing. Even the wires are little segments with snaps at both ends.

One problem with any system like this is how to integrate custom components. Of course, with the snaps, that’s not very hard, but [Chuck Hellebuyck] got creative with TinkerCad and worked out how to 3D print custom modules for the system. You can see his video, below.

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Electronic Prototyping with a 3D Printer

It would be nice if your 3D printer could spit out PC boards. There’s been lots of work done to make that happen, mostly centered on depositing conductive material, although we’ve been surprised no one has worked out how to just 3D print a plastic resist mask.

We recently found a GitHub group for [PCBPrints] which has small modules that would be useful in prototyping and breadboarding. They are really just carriers that create plug in modules for switches, LEDs, and the like. It looks like this is a aggregated list of other GitHub projects that realize these designs. The group is in Spanish, but Google Translate is your friend, as usual. You can see a video of one of the button modules in action, below.

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Akiba: Shenzhen in 30 Minutes

Multi-talented hacker extraordinaire and electrical engineer [Akiba] is based in Japan, and this makes it just a hop, skip, and a jump over to Shenzhen, China, the hardware capital of the world. He’s led a number of manufacturing tours aimed at acquainting hackers with the resources there, and now he’s giving you the benefit of his experience in a 30-minute video. It’s great.

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