Entry-Level SLA Printer Gets Upgrades, Prints Better

Fused-deposition modeling (FDM) printers have the lion’s share of the 3D-printing market, with cheap, easy-to-use printers slurping up thousands of kilos of filament every year. So where’s the challenge with 3D-printing anymore? Is there any room left to tinker? [Physics Anonymous] thinks so, and has started working on what might be the next big challenge in additive manufacturing for the hobbyist: hacking cheap stereolithography (SLA) printers. To wit, this teardown of and improvements to an Anycubic Photon printer.

The Photon, available for as little as $450, has a lot going for it in the simplicity department. There’s no need to worry about filament and extruder issues, since the print is built up a layer at a time by photopolymerization of a liquid resin. And with but a single moving part – the build platform that rises up gradually from the resin tank on a stepper-driven lead screw – SLA printers don’t suffer from the accumulated errors of three separate axes. But, Anycubic made some design compromises in the motion control area to meet their price point for the Photon, leaving a perfect target for upgrades. [Physics Anonymous] added quality linear bearings to each side of the OEM vertical column and machined a carrier for the build platform. The result is better vertical positioning accuracy and decreased slop. It’s a simple fix that greatly improves print quality, with almost invisible layers.

Sadly, the Photon suffered a major, unrelated injury to its LCD screen, but it looks like [PA] will be able to recover from that. We hope so, because we find SLA printing very intriguing and would like to dive right in. But maybe we should start small first.

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How To Make Bisected Pine Cones Look Great, Step-by-Step

[Black Beard Projects] sealed some pine cones in colored resin, then cut them in half and polished them up. The results look great, but what’s really good about this project is that it clearly demonstrates the necessary steps and techniques from beginning to end. He even employs some homemade equipment, to boot.

Briefly, the process is to first bake the pine cones to remove any moisture. Then they get coated in a heat-activated resin for stabilizing, which is a process that infuses and pre-seals the pine cones for better casting results. The prepped pine cones go into molds, clear resin is mixed with coloring and poured in. The resin cures inside a pressure chamber, which helps ensure that it gets into every nook and cranny while also causing any small air bubbles introduced during mixing and pouring to shrink so small that they can’t really be seen. After that is cutting, then sanding and polishing. It’s an excellent overview of the entire process.

The video (which is embedded below) also has an outstanding depth of information in the details section. Not only is there an overview of the process and links to related information, but there’s a complete time-coded index to every action taken in the entire video. Now that’s some attention to detail.

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3D Printing With Tomography in Reverse

The 3D printers we’re most familiar with use the fused deposition process, in which hot plastic is squirted out of a nozzle, to build up parts on a layer by layer basis. We’ve also seen stereolithography printers, such as the Form 2, which use a projector and a special resin to produce parts, again in a layer-by-layer method. However, a team from the University of North Carolina were inspired by CT scanners, and came up with a novel method for producing 3D printed parts.

The process, as outlined in the team’s paper.

The technique is known as Computed Axial Lithography. The team describe the system as working like a CT scan in reverse. The 3D model geometry is created, and then a series of 2D images are created by rotating the part about the vertical axis. These 2D images are then projected into a cylindrical container of photosensitive resin, which rotates during the process. Rather than building the part out of a series of layers in the Z-axis, instead the part is built from a series of axial slices as the cylinder rotates.

The parts produced have the benefit of a smooth surface finish and are remarkably transparent. The team printed a variety of test objects, including a replica of the famous Thinker sculpture, as well as a replica of a human jaw. Particularly interesting is the capability to make prints which enclose existing objects, demonstrated with a screwdriver handle enclosing the existing steel shank.

It’s a technique which could likely be reproduced by resourceful makers, assuming the correct resin isn’t too hard to come by. The resin market is hotting up, with Prusa announcing new products at a recent Makerfaire. We’re excited to see what comes next, particularly as the high cost of resin is reduced by economies of scale. Video after the break.

[via Nature, thanks to Philip for the tip!]

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Cloning Knobs For Vintage Testing Equipment

Knobs! Shiny candy-colored knobs! The last stand of skeuomorphism is smart light switches! Everyone loves knobs, but when you’re dealing with vintage equipment with a missing knob, the odds of replacing it are slim to none. That’s what happened to [Wesley Treat] when he picked up a vintage Philco tube tester. The tester looked great, but a single knob for a rotary switch was missing. What to do? Clone some knobs! You only need some resin and a little bit of silicone.

The process of copying little bits of plastic or bakelite is fairly standard and well-tread territory. Go to Michaels or Hobby Lobby, grab some silicone and resin, make a box, put your parts down, cover them in silicone, remove the parts, then put resin in. For simple parts, and parts with flat bottoms like knobs, this works great. However, there’s something weird about the knob on this old Philco tube tester. Firstly, it doesn’t fit a standard 1/4″ shaft — it’s a bit bigger. There’s also no set screw. Instead, this knob has a stamped spring aligning it with the flat part of the D-shaft in this rotary switch. This means a copy of this knob wouldn’t be useful to anyone else, and that no other knob would work with this tube tester.

However, a bit of clever engineering would make a copy of this knob fit the existing switch. Once the resin was cured, [Wesley] drilled out the hole, then sanded a dowel down to fit into the flat of the D-shaft. It took a little kergiggering, but the knob eventually fit onto one of the rotary switches. Not bad for a few bucks in silicone and resin.

You can check out the entire build process below.

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3D Printing At The Speed Of Light

3D printers now come in all shapes and sizes, and use a range of technologies to take a raw material and turn it into a solid object. We’re most familiar with Additive Manufacturing – where the object is created layer by layer. This approach is quite useful, but has a down side of being time consuming. Two professors at the University of Michigan have figured out a way to speed this process up, big time.

They start off with a VAT additive printing approach. These work by using an ultraviolet laser to harden or cure specific areas in a vat of resin, layer by layer, until the object is complete. The resin is then drained revealing your 3D printed object. Traditionally, VAT printing has been limited to small objects because the resin needs to have a relatively low viscosity.

The clever professors at U-M were able to get around this problem by adding a second laser that keeps the resin in a liquid state. By combining a curing laser with an ‘uncuring’ laser, they’re able to use resins that are more viscous, allowing them to print more durable parts. And do so about 100 times faster than traditional printers!

Thanks to [Baldpower] for the tip!

Have Yourself a Recursive Little Christmas: Ornament That Prints Ornaments

Sure there are the occasional functional Christmas tree ornaments; we had one that plugged into the lights and was supposed to sound like a bird gently trilling its song, but was in fact so eardrum-piercing that we were forbidden from using it. But in general, ornaments are just supposed to be for looks, right? Not so fast — this 3D-printed ornament has a 3D-printer inside that prints other ornaments. One day it might just be the must-have in functional Christmas decor.

Given that [Sean Hodgins] had only a few days to work on this tree-dwelling 3D-printer, the questionable print quality and tiny print volume can be overlooked. But the fact that he got this working at all is quite a feat. We were initially surprised that he chose to build a stereolithography (SLA) printer rather than the more common fused deposition modeling (FDM) printer, but it makes sense. SLA only requires movement in the Z-axis, provided in this case by the guts of an old DVD drive. The build platform moves in and out of a tiny resin tank, the base of which has a small LCD screen whose backlight has been replaced by a bunch of UV LEDs. A Feather M0 controls the build stage height and displays pre-sliced bitmaps on the LCD, curing the resin in the tank a slice at a time.

Results were mixed, with the tiny snowflake being the best of the bunch. For a rush job, though, and one that competed with collaborating on a package-theft deterring glitter-bomb, it’s pretty impressive. Here’s hoping that this turns into a full-sized SLA build like [Sean] promises.

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These 3D Printed Supports Can Take Hard Use, Thanks to Resin Filling

Liquid two-part resins that cure into a solid are normally used for casting, and [Cuddleburrito] also found them useful to add strength and rigidity to 3D printed pillar supports. In this case, the supports are a frame for some arcade-style buttons, which must stand up to a lot of forceful mashing. Casting the part entirely out of a tough resin would require a mold, and it turns out that filling a 3D print with resin gets comparable benefits while making it easy to embed fastener hardware, if done right.

Cap design shows how the nut will be encased and the cap anchored even if the pillar is slightly underfilled with resin. The screw can be backed out after the resin cures.

Filling the inside of an object with some kind of epoxy or resin to reinforce it isn’t a new idea, but [Cuddleburrito] learned how a few small design considerations can lead to less messy and more successful results. The first is that resin can be poured with screws in place without any worry of trapping the screws in the resin, if done correctly. As long as only the threads of the screw are in the resin, they can be backed out after the resin has cured. Embedding nuts into the resin to act as fasteners becomes a much easier task when one can simply pour resin with both nut and screw in place, and remove the screw afterwards. A thin layer of a lubricant on the threads to act as a release may help, but [Cuddleburrito] didn’t seem to need any.

The second thing learned was that, for a pillar that needs a cap and embedded nut on both ends, it can be tricky to fill the object’s void with the perfect amount of required resin before capping it off. On [Cuddleburrito]’s first attempt, he underfilled and there wasn’t enough resin to capture the nut on the top lid of the pillar he was making. The way around this was to offset the nut on a riser, and design in either a witness hole or an overflow relief. A small drain hole or a safe area for runoff allows for filling things right up without an uncontrolled mess in the case of overfilling.

Something worth keeping in mind when experimenting in this area is that in general the faster a resin cures, the more it heats up in the process. It may be tempting to use something like 5 minute epoxy in a pinch, but the heat released from any nontrivial amount of it risks deforming a thin-walled 3D print in the process. For cases where resin would be overkill and the fasteners are small, don’t forget we covered the best ways to add fasteners directly to 3D printed parts.