3D Printing In Custom PLA With A TPU Core

[Stefan] from CNC Kitchen explored an unusual approach to a multi-material print by making custom PLA filament with a TPU core to make it super-tough. TPU is a flexible filament whereas PLA is hard almost to the point of being brittle. The combo results in a filament with some unusual properties, inviting some thoughts about what else is possible.

Cross-section of 3D print using white PLA with a red TPU core.

[Stefan]’s video covers a few different filament experiments, but if you’d like to see the TPU-PLA composite you can skip ahead to 18:15. He first creates the composite filament by printing an oversized version on a 3D printer, then re-forming it by running it through a Recreator to resize it down to 1.75 mm.

We have seen this technique of printing custom filaments before, which is useful to create DIY multi-color filaments in small quantities right on a 3D printer’s print bed with no special equipment required. This is an effective method but results in filament with a hexagonal profile, which works but isn’t really ideal. By printing his custom composite at 4 mm diameter then resizing the filament down to 1.75 mm, [Stefan] was able to improve overall printability.

That being said, TPU and PLA have very different characteristics and don’t like to adhere to one another so the process was pretty fiddly. TPU-cored PLA might be troublesome and uncooperative to make, but it can be done with some patience and fairly simple equipment.

Despite the difficulties, test prints were pretty interesting. PLA toughness was roughly doubled and under magnification one can see a lattice of TPU strands throughout the prints which are unlike anything else. Check it out in the video, embedded below.

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Recreating The Pop Ball

Those who were kids in the 80s may remember a sweet little toy called the Pop Ball. A simple rubber hemisphere, this rubber cup could be turned inside out and thrown on the ground, where it would hit and bounce sky high whilst knocking itself right side out. The black ones worked particularly well, and were the first to be banned from [electrosync]’s school along with yo-yos, slap bracelets, and any number of toys that eventually became weaponized by enterprising children.

An industrial Vegemite injection-molded version that only kind of worked.

You can still find Pop Balls today, but they don’t work nearly as well as they did originally because of a lower Shore hardness in the rubber. Naturally, as an adult with futuristic toys at hand, [electrosync] just had to try re-creating the ’80s version. But it wasn’t easy.

They started by studying the patents and anything else they could find. They even managed to get a hold of Peter Fish, the original creator of the Pop Ball, to get some questions answered about the things. According to Peter, the black Pop Ball was made from recycled rubber and worked almost too well. Peter sent [electrosync] an old-stock Pop Ball, which they used to modify their CAD design.

It’s easy to root for [electrosync] throughout this journey, which consists of many failed prints and injection molding attempts. At last, they are able to at least recreate the snap of the modern Pop Ball once they finally found the right filament — the extremely elastic Recreus Filaflex 60A TPU. Of course, it wasn’t all lollipops and rainbows from there, because the filament is notoriously difficult to print with, but [electrosync] made it work. Check it out after the break.

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This Is The Future Of Waste Management

Many of us have been asking for some time now “where are our robot servants?” We were promised this dream life of leisure and luxury, but we’re still waiting. Modern life is a very wasteful one, with items delivered to our doors with the click of a mouse, but the disposal of the packaging is still a manual affair. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to summon a robot to take the rubbish to the recycling, ideally have it fetch a beer at the same time? [James Bruton] shares this dream, and with his extensive robotics skillset, came up with the perfect solution; behold the Binbot 9000. (Video, embedded below the break)

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DIY Self-Assembling 4D Printing

A 4D printed object is like a 3D printed object, but it changes shape or self-assembles when its environment changes. [Teaching Tech] has been reading about this technology and decided to try to replicate it using his conventional 3D printer.

His attempts to make a joint that changes when submerged in the water looked at several options: material that can absorb water, material that expands with temperature, and — the selected option — a dissolvable locking mechanism. Essentially, a hinge is held open by a water-soluble lock. When water dissolves the lock, the hinge can spring to its natural position.

Like most experiments, this one had a few false starts. But you always learn something each time. The final design had a TPU hinge and spring with PLA structural beams. The TPU required flat printing, so various pieces have to be rotatable so they can be placed in their final orientation after printing.

Usually, multi-material setups are for printing different colors of the same kind of plastic, it’s possible to use different plastics, but it can be tricky. As a compromise, [Teaching Tech] did one print using PLA and TPU, but printed the PVA locks in a separate pass and installed them on the print at the end. The first finished 4D print wasn’t entirely successful. The hot water slowly dissolved the PVA, but it also deformed the PLA. A redesign of the lock made a big difference.

We aren’t sure this is practical yet, but we are sure someone has a need for this technique and it could be made very practical with a little work. The last time we saw 4D printing, there were magnets involved. We think this is an exciting time where people aren’t just trying to get conventional printing to work well, but are pushing the envelope with new techniques like conical slicing, for example.

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Empty Spools Make Useful Tools, Like Counters

What’s the deal with getting things done? There’s a Seinfeld anecdote that boils down to this: get a calendar, do a thing, and make a big X on each day that you do the thing. Pretty soon, you’ll thirst for chains of Xs, then you’ll want to black out the month. It’s solid advice.

[3D Printy] likes streaks as well, and made several resolutions at the beginning of 2022. As the first of 30 videos to be made throughout the year, they featured this giant 3D printed counting mechanism (video, embedded below) that uses empty filament spools, some 3D prints, and not much else. These are all Hatchbox spools, and it won’t work for every type, but the design should scale up and down to fit other flavors.

This isn’t [3D Printy]’s first counter rodeo — he’s made several more normal-sized ones and perfected a clever carryover mechanism in the process, which is of course open-source. So each spool represents a single digit, and there are printed parts in the core that make the count carry over to the next spool. Whereas the early counters used threaded rod, this giant version rides on 2.5 mm smooth rod, so the spools can slide apart easily. But how does everything stay together? A giant elastic band made of TPU filament, of course — because the answer is always in the room.

Check out the video after the break, and stay for the 900%-sped-up assembly at the end.

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3D Printed Strain-Wave Gearbox Turns Up The Torque

3D printers are good for a lot of things, but making parts for power transmission doesn’t seem to be one of them. Oh sure, some light-duty gears and timing belt sprockets will work just fine when printed, but oftentimes squooshed plastic parts are just too compliant for serious power transmission use.

But that’s not a hard and fast rule. In fact, this 3D-printed strain-wave transmission relies on the flexibility of printed parts to work its torque amplification magic. In case you haven’t been briefed, strain-wave gearing uses a flexible externally toothed spline nested inside an internally toothed stationary gear. Inside the flexible spline is a wave generator, which is just a symmetrical cam that deforms the spline so that it engages with the outside gear. The result is a high ratio gear train that really beefs up the torque applied to the wave generator.

It took a couple of prototypes for [Brian Bocken] to dial in his version of the strain-wave drive. The PLA he used for the flexible spline worked, but wasn’t going to be good for the long haul. A second version using TPU proved better, but improvements to the motor mount were needed. The final version proved to pack a punch in the torque department, enough to move a car. Check it out in the video below.

Strain-wave gears have a lot of applications, especially in robotic arms and legs — very compact versions with the motor built right in would be great here. If you’re having trouble visualizing how they work, maybe a Lego version will clear things up.

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Tame Your Flexible Filaments With This Belt-Drive Extruder

[Proper Printing] clearly enjoys pushing the boundaries of 3D printed materials, and sometimes this requires building custom 3D printers or at least the business end of them. Flexible filaments can be a bit of a pain to deal with, simply because most extruders are designed to push the filament into the hot end with a simple hobbed bolt (or pinch roller setup) and only work reliably due the rigidity of the plastic itself. Once you go flexible, the rigidity is reduced and the filament often deflects sideways and the extruder jams. The longer the filament path leading to the hotend, the harder it gets.  The dual belt drive extruder (they’re calling it ‘proper extruder’) grips the filament on two sides with a pair of supported belts, guiding it into the hotend without allowing it to deflect sideways. The extruder body and gears were resin printed (but, we checked — the design is suitable for FDM printing as well) proving that resin printing on modern printers, does indeed maintain adequate dimensional accuracy allowing the building of mechanisms, despite the naysayers! Continue reading “Tame Your Flexible Filaments With This Belt-Drive Extruder”