3D Printering: The Search For Better Search

There’s no question that a desktop 3D printer is at its most useful when it’s producing parts of your own design. After all, if you’ve got a machine that can produce physical objects to your exacting specifications, why not give it some? But even the most diligent CAD maven will occasionally defer to an existing design, as there’s no sense spending the time and effort creating their own model if a perfectly serviceable one is already available under an open source license.

But there’s a problem: finding these open source models is often more difficult than it should be. The fact of the matter is, the ecosystem for sharing 3D printable models is in a very sorry state. Thingiverse, the community’s de facto model repository, is antiquated and plagued with technical issues. Competitors such as Pinshape and YouMagine are certainly improvements on a technical level, but without the sheer number of models and designers that Thingiverse has, they’ve been unable to earn much mindshare. When people are looking to download 3D models, it stands to reason that the site with the most models will be the most popular.

It’s a situation that the community is going to have to address eventually. As it stands, it’s something of a minor miracle that Thingiverse still exists. Owned and operated by Makerbot, the company that once defined the desktop 3D printer but is today all but completely unknown in a market dominated by low-cost printers from the likes of Monoprice and Creality, it seems only a matter of time before the site finally goes dark. They say it’s unwise to put all of your eggs in one basket, and doubly so if the basket happens to be on fire.

So what will it take to get people to consider alternatives to Thingiverse before it’s too late? Obviously, snazzy modern web design isn’t enough to do it. Not if the underlying service operates on the same formula. To really make a dent in this space, you need a killer feature. Something that measurably improves the user experience of finding the 3D model you need in a sea of hundreds of thousands. You need to solve the search problem.

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A Power Bank For Soldering On The Go

If you have a portable gadget, the chances are you’ve probably used power banks before. What few could have predicted when these portable battery packs first started cropping up is that they would one day be used to power soldering irons. Dissatisfied with the options currently available on the market, [Franci] writes in with his own power bank specifically designed for use with his TS80 portable soldering iron.

The electronics side of this build is simple and easy to replicate, with 4 18650 Li-ion cells standard to most high-capacity power banks and an off-the-shelf Fast Charge module serving as the brains of the operation. The beauty of this project however lies in the design of the actual case, completely custom-made from scratch to be 3d printed.

Unlike most power banks, where the outputs stick out to the side and leave the connectors prone to being bumped and damaged, [Franci] engineered his case so the ports are stacked on top and facing inwards. That way, USB plugs are contained within the footprint of the power bank’s body, and therefore protected from bending or snapping off in the socket. He also gracefully provides all instructions needed to make your own, including a wiring guide and a reminder about safety when dealing with battery packs.

If you’re unfamiliar with the TS80 soldering iron, we’ve featured the younger sibling of the TS100 in a previous post. And if you think this power bank is too simple for you, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

Prusa Launches Their Own 3D Model Repository

If you own a 3D printer, you’ve heard of Thingiverse. The MakerBot-operated site has been the de facto model repository for 3D printable models since the dawn of desktop 3D printing, but over the years it’s fallen into a state of disrepair. Dated and plagued with performance issues, many in the community have been wondering how long MakerBot is still going to pay to keep the lights on. Alternatives have popped up occasionally, but so far none of them have been able to amass a large enough userbase to offer any sort of real competition.

Sorting models by print time and material required.

But that might soon change. [Josef Průša] has announced a revamped community for owners of his 3D printers which includes a brand-new model repository. While clearly geared towards owners of Prusa FDM printers (support for the new SLA printer is coming at a later date), the repository is not exclusive to them. The immense popularity of Prusa’s products, plus the fact that the repository launched with a selection of models created by well known designers, might be enough to finally give Thingiverse a run for its money. Even if it just convinces MakerBot to make some improvements to their own service, it would be a win for the community.

The pessimists out there will say a Prusa-run model database is ultimately not far off from one where MakerBot is pulling the strings; and indeed, a model repository that wasn’t tied to a particular 3D printer manufacturer would be ideal. But given the passion for open development demonstrated by [Josef] and his eponymous company, we’re willing to bet that the site is never going to keep owners of other printers from joining in on the fun.

That being said, knowing that the users of your repository have the same printer (or a variant, at least) as those providing the designs does have its benefits. It allows for some neat tricks like being able to sort designs by their estimated print time, and even offers the ability to upload and download pre-sliced GCode files in place of traditional STLs. In fact, [Josef] boasts that this is the world’s only repository for ready-to-print GCode that you can just drop onto an SD card and print.

Regular Hackaday readers will know that we’ve been rather critical of the decisions made by MakerBot over the last few years, but to be fair we aren’t exactly alone in that respect. The community desperately needs a repository for printable models that’s in somebody else’s hands, and frankly we’re thrilled with the idea it could be [Josef Průša] leading the charge. His printers might not be perfect, and they certainly aren’t cheap, but they definitely don’t fail to impress. Here’s hoping this latest venture will be the same.

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3D-Printing Wankel Engine From Mazda’s Beloved “Rotary Rocket”

Although there was briefly a company called Rotary Rocket, the term is much better known as a nickname for the Mazda RX-7 — one of the few cars that used a Wankel, or rotary, engine. If you ever wondered how these worked, why not print a model? That’s what [Engineering Explained] did. They printed a 1/3 scale model and made a video explaining and demonstrating its operation. The model itself was from Thingiverse, created by [EricThePoolBoy].

One thing we really liked about the model was the use of lights to show the different stages of combustion. Cool air intake is a blue light, hot air is red, and so on. It really helps visualize what’s happening. You can watch the video below.

If you haven’t seen a Wankel before, it is a clever design. It has very few moving parts and offers very smooth power transfer and high power to weight ratio. The downside, though, is that the engine deliberately burns oil to lubricate and seal, so it is difficult to meet emission standards and requires a lot of oil. The fuel efficiency of current designs is not very good either, especially since manufacturers will often trade fuel efficiency for better emissions.

If you’d like to read more about the Wankel, check out our earlier post (and the 165 comments attached). We also looked at — or rather through — another Wankel earlier this year.

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Hackaday Links: December 16, 2018

Microsoft is really leaning into vaporwave these days. Microsoft is giving away knit Windows sweaters to social media influencers. Is it for an ugly sweater contest? Maybe, or maybe Microsoft is capitalizing on the mid-90s AESTHETIC. Recently, Apple got back in their 90s logo game with the release of a few ‘rainbow Apple’ t-shirts. The spirit of the 90s lives on in tech culture.

Have a Hackerspace? Frack is organizing the great Inter-hackerspaces Xmas goodies swap! Since your hackerspace is filled with weird ephemera and random crap, why not box it up and send it out to another hackerspace? You’ll probably get another random box of crap in return!

Just an observation looking for commentary, but is Thingiverse slow these days? It seems really, really, really slow these days.

The Blockchain makes it to the Apple II! By far, the most interesting thing in tech right now is the blockchain, with AI, at the edge. This will get your Merkle trees tinglin’ with some AI, and 5G is where it’s at. We’re back with cylinder computing this time, and this is the greatest achievement that will synthesize brand new paradigms. Of course, if it weren’t for millennials, we’d have it already.

There’s a new portable console out there, and it’s at the top of everyone’s Christmas lists. The SouljaGame Handheld is a rebrand of what’s available on AliExpress. What makes this one different? It has Soulja Boy’s name on it. If you couldn’t get your hands on the SouljaGame Handheld, don’t worry: Post Malone Crocs are available on eBay for about $300.

Etch-a-Sketch 3D Printed With Cell Phone

Most of us have fond memories of the Etch-a-Sketch from childhood. [Potent Printables] wanted to update the designs so he 3D printed an XY carriage for a stylus that works with a cell phone drawing program. You can see the video below and the 3D model details on Thingiverse.

The design is fun all by itself, but it also gave us a few ideas. For one thing, if you motorized it you could make some pretty clever drawing toys. But there could be a more practical use, too.

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Customize All The Fan Covers You Never Knew You Needed

Do you need a fancy fan cover with precisely specified attributes, but have no desire to design one from scratch? If you answered yes (or no) then [mightynozzle] has the answer. The Customizable Fan Grill Cover is a parametric design in OpenSCAD that allows adjusting the frame style, size, and grill pattern for any fan cover one may possibly need. [mightynozzle] also went the extra mile to provide a large number of pre-made STL files for a variety of designs in a wide range of sizes, so those who don’t want to fuss with customizing can simply download and print.

Normally Thingiverse would allow customizing this model’s attributes with their built-in Customizer, but the functionality and availability of that feature is spotty. Luckily it’s always an option to download the source and do the customizing directly in OpenSCAD. For those who may be intrigued but are not sure where to start, here’s a reminder that we covered how to make a thing with OpenSCAD that demonstrates the whole process.