3D Printering: When an STL File is Not Quite Right

STL files are everywhere. When there’s something to 3D print, it’s probably going to be an STL. Which, as long as the model is good just as it is, is no trouble at all. But sooner or later there will be a model that isn’t quite right in some way and suddenly project progress hits a snag.

When models interface with other physical things, those other components may not always be exactly as the designer expected. Being mindful about such potential inconsistencies during the design phase can help prevent problems, but it’s not always avoidable. The reason it’s a problem is because an STL file represents a solid model as a finished unit; it is not really intended to be rolled back into CAD programs for additional design changes.

STL files can be edited, but just like re-modeling a component from scratch, it can be a tricky process for those who don’t live and breathe this stuff. I’ll describe a few common issues related to STLs that can hold up getting that new project together, along with ways to deal with them. Thanks to 3D printing becoming much more commonplace, basic tools are within reach of even the least CAD-aware among us.

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Parametric Hinges with Tinkercad

Simple tools are great, but sometimes it is most convenient to just use something easy, and since it gets the work done, you don’t try out some of the other features. Tinkercad is a great example of that kind of program. It is actually quite powerful, but many people just use it in the simplest way possible. [Chuck] noticed a video about making a 3D-printed hinge using Tinkercad and in that video [Nerys] manually placed a bunch of hinges using cut and paste along with the arrow keys for positioning. While it worked, it wasn’t the most elegant way to do it, so [Chuck] made a video showing how to do it parametrically. You can see that video below, along with the original hinge video.

There are really two major techniques [Chuck] shows. First, he adds the necessary pieces to create the hinges to the Tinkercad toolbox. That makes it really simple to add them to any of your future designs. Second, he uses a combination of numeric parameters and duplication to quickly and precisely place the hinge components across another object — in this case a Batman logo.

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“The Cow Jumped Over The Moon”

[Ash] built Moo-Bot, a robot cow scarecrow to enter the competition at a local scarecrow festival. We’re not sure if Moo-bot will win the competition, but it sure is a winning hack for us. [Ash]’s blog is peppered with delightful prose and tons of pictures, making this an easy to build project for anyone with access to basic carpentry and electronics tools. One of the festival’s theme was “Out of this World” for space and sci-fi scarecrows. When [Ash] heard his 3-year old son sing “hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle…”, he immediately thought of building a cow jumping over the moon scarecrow. And since he had not seen any interactive scarecrows at earlier festivals, he decided to give his jumping cow a lively character.

Construction of the Moo-Bot is broken up in to three parts. The skeleton is built from lumber slabs and planks. The insides are then gutted with all of the electronics. Finally, the whole cow is skinned using sheet metal and finished off with greebles to add detailing such as ears, legs, spots and nostrils. And since it is installed in the open, its skin also doubles up to help Moo-bot stay dry on the insides when it rains. To make Moo-Bot easy to transport from barn to launchpad, it’s broken up in to three modules — the body, the head and the mounting post with the moon.

Moo-Bot has an Arduino brain which wakes up when the push button on its mouth is pressed. Its two OLED screen eyes open up, and the MP3 player sends bovine sounding audio clips to a large sound box. The Arduino also triggers some lights around the Moon. Juice for running the whole show comes from a bank of eight, large type “D” cells wired to provide 6 V — enough to keep Moo-Bot fed for at least a couple of months.

Check out the video after the break to hear Moo-bot tell some cow jokes – it’s pretty funny. We’re rooting for it to win the competition — Go Moo-bot.

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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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Tinkercad does Arduino

If you’ve done 3D printing, you’ve probably at least heard of Tinkercad. This popular CAD package runs in your browser and was rescued from oblivion by Autodesk a few years ago. [Chuck] recently did a video about a new Tinkercad feature: building and simulating virtual Arduino circuits. You can watch it below.

There are a variety of components you can add to your design. You’ll find an integrated code editor and a debugger. You can even get to the serial monitor, all in your browser with no actual Arduino hardware. You can also build simple circuits that don’t use an Arduino, although the component selection is somewhat limited.

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Making Laser Cutter Designs Work in a 3D Printer

The main mechanical tools in a hacker’s shop used to be a drill press and a lathe. Maybe a CNC mill, if you were lucky. Laser cutters are still a rare tool to find in a personal shop, but today’s hackers increasingly have access to 3D printers. What happens when you have a design for a laser cutter (2D parts) but only have access to a 3D printer? You punt.

[DIY3DTECH] has a two-part video on taking a 2D design (in an SVG file) and bringing it into TinkerCad. At that point, he assembles the part in software and creates a printable object. You can see the videos below.

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3D Printed Rockets are a Gas

We’ve probably all made matchstick rockets as kids. And around here anything that even vaguely looks like a rocket will get some imaginary flight time. But [austiwawa] is making some really cool 3D printed rockets that use common CO2 cartridges as a propellant. You can see them in action in the video below.

You might think just sticking a CO2 cylinder in a 3D printed jacket isn’t such a big deal, but [austiwawa] really went the extra mile. He read up on how to make the rocket stable (by manipulating the center of gravity versus the center of pressure) and explains what he had to do to get the rockets flying like you’d expect.

In addition, the launch tube is pretty interesting. A 3D printed part holds a sharp point and a spring. You lock the spring and when released it punches a clean hole in the propellant casing. The actual tube is a long piece of PVC pipe. From the video, it looks like these little rockets fly pretty high.

Judging from the video, the rocket body and launcher came from TinkerCAD. The way [austiwawa] put the fins on was both simple and clever.

Of course, you could also use Coke and propane, if you like. We’ve also seen some pretty cool setups with compressed air. Check out the rockets in action after the break,

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