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3D Printing

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xo images.jpg

GE Ventures has previously worked with Xometry and recently gave them $23 million in funding. Xometry is an online platform that provides pricing, time leads, and feedback for manufacturers (Photo from Xometry)


When online shopping started over 20 years ago, no one could’ve imagined half the things you can buy online: cars, houses, groceries, and furniture. But buying products and parts online isn’t so easy for manufacturers. The process is long and arduous involving a lot of bidding and losing precious time. Xometry is a new software program looking to take the pain out of buying parts.



A sample of what the website looks like (Photo from Xometry)


Xometry is a software platform that offers on-demand manufacturing to a wide customer base. Some of their biggest customers come from aerospace, automotive, defense, medical, technology, and telecommunications industries. The platform offers on-time and efficient service by using industrial 3D printing technology to make the parts. And unlike standard industrial machines, this process offers parts in many different materials, including nylon, ABS, ULTEM, and aluminum alloy.


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Some of the infill 3D printing options Xometry offers. That 100% fill looks nice! (Photo from Xometry)


So how does it work? Think of Xometry as Amazon mixed with Uber for manufacturers. Orders are placed through the company’s website, which offers pricing, times, and feedback. This makes a previous time-intensive process, simple since connects small to medium sized manufacturers to their customers in various industries.


This is where Xometry acts as a “network orchestrator” to connect manufacturers to their customer base. All customers have to do is upload a 3D file and place your order. The service is already doing pretty well on its own. Their network has grown with over 4000 customers and manufacturing partners in 35 states. Now it’s about to get bigger with some help from GE Ventures.


Recently, Xometry scored $23 million in funding from GE and other investors, like Highland Capital Partners. Ralph Taylor-Smith, managing director of Advanced Manufacturing at GE, believes this new partnership will “transform American manufacturing.” GE’s been interested in the company for years since they’ve used their services and found themselves impressed with the result.



Xometry offers a wide variety of materials for their parts (Photo from Xometry)


Any company that’s interested can easily sign up for free without worrying about bidding for jobs. Rather, partners get notifications when orders that fit their capabilities get placed. They can also get access to pricing and lead time 24/7. Hopefully, this new service will make it easier for companies to finish their jobs faster and more efficiently.


This all might sound like a commercial, it isn't. I am always looking for printing services. Shapeways, and similar sites, have room for competition. And that means more options for us makers.



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gyroid graphene.jpg

MIT has come up with a structure using just carbon which is ten times the strength of steel, but only 5% of its density. Lighter than air, 3D graphene structures could take engineering and design by storm. A 3-D printed model of gyroid graphene (via MIT &


Steel has thus far been the gold standard for construction materials. Steel is strong, resists compression and stretching, and supports heavy weight. What if it were possible to build with materials even stronger than steel, but with only a fraction of its weight?


This is just what engineers at MIT have been working on for years, and recently, they have created a material which does exactly that.


Graphene, made entirely of carbon, is like a piece of paper-it’s two-dimensional. Much like the graphite in a pencil or the diamond in a ring, the strength and functionality of graphene lay in the way the carbon atoms are arranged. Graphite has one arrangement of carbon, whereas diamond has another. What the MIT researchers did was simply take the two-dimensional, paper-like arrangement of graphene and rearrange it into coiling shapes.


Those coils are what give the new graphene its incredible strength and lightness.


The coils are also known as gyroids, a term coined by NASA scientist Alan Schoen back in the 1970’s. Gyroids have no planar symmetry; they are bendy, twisty shapes that increase the flexibility and strength of any given material, and as it turns out, are remarkably abundant in the natural world. Viruses, the DNA double helix, and proteins are some examples of gyroids. So, what happens when gyroid models are used to make life-size, man-made materials? Things get stronger and lighter than ever before.


Using compression tests, the material demonstrated resistance to compression ten times greater than that of steel, presently the gold standard for engineering and construction materials. Unlike steel, however, graphene is incredibly light. It has less than 5 % the density of steel, making it much lighter, almost bouncy.


The graphene models used in MIT’s compression tests were made using 3-D printers. It is not yet possible to produce graphene for industry uses with current technology. There just aren’t enough 3-D printers in the world to make such complex materials to scale.


That may be the next design conundrum for MIT-how to make graphene available to the industries it would benefit the most. In the meantime, that this material exists means exciting things may be ahead for many industries.



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Chemists at MIT have found a way to add new polymers to things already printed, which allows them to create more complex objects that have different chemical and mechanical properties. Blue LED light is used to add monomers to an existing polymer chain resulting in growth. (via MIT)


Research funded by the National Science Foundation helped MIT researchers discover a way to add to, and alter 3-D printed objects after they’ve been printed. Until this advancement, objects that were 3-D printed were “dead” upon completion, meaning that polymer chains in the printed object could not be extended upon. As described by Anne Trafton of the MIT News Office, this new technique enables 3-D printing technology to, “...add new polymers that alter the materials’ chemical composition and mechanical properties”, and also, “...fuse two or more printed objects together to form more complex structures.” This technological development appears to have opened a door for further creativity and complexity in 3-D printing.


In 2013, these researchers tried using ultraviolet light to add new features to 3-D printed materials. Trafton describes this process when she writes, “... the researchers used ultraviolet light to break apart the polymers at certain points, creating very reactive molecules called free radicals.” She goes on to explain that these free radicals bind to new monomers from a solution surrounding the object that incorporates the monomers the original material. Ultimately this approach was unsuccessful in that it was damaging to the material and generally uncontrollable due to the reactivity of the free radicals.


Recently though, the researchers have designed polymers that are reactivated by light due to the chemical groups, known as TTCs, within them. Trafton describes these polymers as acting like “a folded up accordion”, and when the blue light from an LED hits the catalyst, new monomers attach to the TTCs, causing them to expand. As the new monomers are distributed into the structure uniformly, they inevitably change the material properties of the printed object.


According to Trafton, the researchers have demonstrated that they can insert monomers that, “...alter a material’s mechanical properties, such as stiffness, and its chemical properties, including hydrophobicity (affinity for water)” and, “...make materials swell and contract in response to temperature…”. Although these innovations are promising, there is a single, but a significant limitation in that this technique’s organic catalyst requires an oxygen-free environment. So, the researchers march onward, and Trafton reports that they are testing other catalysts that work for similar polymerizations in the presence of oxygen.


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Filafab-pro-350-ex-3DHUB.gr_.jpgPossibly the biggest growing technologie today is the 3D printer, this is partly due to its decreasing cost. This drop in cost of 3D printers is largely due to the standardization of the technology as more printers use the same base technologies. The cost of filament however, whether standard or exotic, still remain relatively high.


D3D Innovations has been working to change this. Their filament fabricators allow anyone to create their own filament using various plastics, combinations and fillers. While the Filafab is meant for plastic “beads” the Filafab has had no issue working with plastic regrind from recycling plants.



HDPE regrind and ABS pellets



Unboxing the Filafab, even with its weight, wasn't a difficult task. Upon opening the box you are presented with a small cardboard tray that holds the accessories. These include two nozzle adapters, three nozzles, a nozzle protector and a region specific power cord.


Filafab accessories


Once the accessory tray has been removed the Filafab is visible although covered evenly with packing peanuts. After scooping out the the peanuts (which incidentally could be turned into filament) it is a simple matter to lift the Filafab directly up and out of the box. Its nice to know that even a relatively small detail such as unpacking the unit was considered by the D3D Innovations team in order to make this step a simple one.


User Interface / First Impressions

The interface and controls on the Filafab are well organised. The side of the unit that faces the user has most of the controls. These include switches for the heating element and auger motor that moves the plastic forward into the extruder. Below and to the left of the motor on/off switches is the temperature controller. The controller uses a feedback loop to maintain the temperature within a tight tolerance (1 °C ~ 2 °C ). There is also the ability to add a few setpoints so that commonly used temperatures can be easily recalled. There is no setup necessary for the controller other than choosing the temperature. If however you would like to make changes to some of the control setting this is possible through the controllers menu.


An important and very encouraging addition is an emergency e-stop switch. While it may be argued this is not needed, the reality is, the power behind the motor is quite large, and the speed at which something could potentially go wrong for a careless user is fast. The e-stop once pressed instantly shutdown the machine preventing anything from getting further out of control.


The two concerns that were noted with this current version of the Filafab is the placement of the power cable and the placement of the auger speed knob. The power cable is currently on the same side as the control panel and in some regards hides the master power switch.



Filafab control panel and power cord


This makes connecting power akward, instead of connecting in a location that would be less intrusive such as the back, the cord comes out towards the user. The placement of the speed knob on the back of the unit next to the motor on the opposite side from the other controls is also awkward. In response to this issue, it was explained, the Filafab 350 EX is an adaptation from its previous version. The current placement allowed for easy modification and extension of capabilities without doing an extensive redesign. I have been informed that both of these issues have been remedied in the next version of the Filafab. I will update with pictures and information when I receive them.

Initial Setup

Once unpacked and powered up the Filafab is ready to be used. The only prerequisite is to know the temperature at which your plastic begins to flow. This may be simple for some plastics (melting point) but for others it gets a bit more difficult (plastics that have a glass transition point).


This glass transition point is where some plastics get soft and lose their brittleness. While this may sound like the point you are looking for, this is where the material starts to become more forgiving when bent or hammered. The actual flow point may be tens of degrees celsius higher than this.


Once that temperature has been selected and the temperature controller has been set there is little to do. On my unit, which has an older version of the power supply, it took ~15 minutes to reach 180 ℃ and ~25 to reach 200 ℃.


Temperature vs time for current Filafab


The current version and soon to be improved power supplies provide more power. The temperature curve with the new power supply show a drastic improvement. The test below was done starting from a temperature of ~11 ℃ with the housing removed reducing its heating efficiency. Yet even in this setup and with the temperature set to 250 ℃ it takes only slightly more than 20 minutes to reach a stable temperature (249.8 ℃).


Temperature vs time for new Filafab


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Temperature test setup for new Filafab


Once reached the ability of the power supply to provide enough power to maintain the desired setpoint is clearly not an issue.


Filament Production

Producing filament takes a bit more practice than the initial setup of the unit. It does, however, not take that much time and any material used during your trials can be reused. There are a few factors that dictate the final outcome of the filament being extruded. First is the temperature to which the extruder is heated. Second is the rate at which the material is passed through the extruder. Thirdly is the diameter of the extruder nozzle. And lastly is the distance to the point where the filament rest in conjunction with the ambient temperature.


The easier of the variables to get right are the temperature of the extruder and speed at which the auger turns. These two, although controlled separately, amount to the same factor, too what temperature the plastic is heated before it exits the extruder. This is definitely not the place to go into the details but it amounts to the longer the plastic remains in the extruder the closer to the set temperature the plastic will reach.


The extruder nozzle works with the distance to the point at which the filament “rests” as well as with the ambient temperature. This is because to achieve the final diameter the extruded plastic needs to be pulled. If there is no winding mechanism then the plastic coils on the floor or table below. The time it takes the plastic to cool versus the duration for which the filament is stretched for will give the final diameter.


Therefore although there are five variables in the extruding process and they may be grouped as the first two and the last three. In reality the variables met earlier in the extruding process affect the later variables and in the end all the variables affect the final product. The Filafab team is also working to produce some guidelines for different materials to help users get the best output from their units.


Filament Production Method and Outcome

In my tests I used both ABS and HDPE. As I do not have a winding mechanism, I tried two other methods for spooling filament. The first method was hand winding. This allowed me to better understand how distance between the extruding nozzle and the winding spool affects the diameter and consistency of the filament. While I did consider briefly constructing my own basic winder (stepper motor and speed controller) this was not needed for the testing I was conducting. The second method was allowing the filament to spool on the floor. While this took a bit more trial and error it is definitely doable. The hardest part here was setting the height above the floor to achieve a nice even diameter.


During the hand winding test an old spool was used to wind the filament. After playing round for maybe an 10 - 20 minutes the consistency and evenness of the filament was impressive. To the bare eye the diameter of the full extruded length appeared consist and even. Using a caliper the diameter ranged between 2.21 mm - 2.49 mm which is well within the tolerance of most if not all 3D printers. That being said, the samples from Filafab I received had much tighter tolerances easily beating the mentioned tolerance by D3D Innovations of +/-0.05mm using a winder. One sample had a diameter between 2.83mm - 2.90mm and the second sample between  2.63 - 2.69mm. Even without a winder the Filafab team has seen better tolerances than I did, but then they probably spent more than 30 minutes perfecting their technique.


I conducted two tests of floor spooling. The first was an even speed and used ABS the second was as fast as I could get the auger to push out filament using HDPE. While the ABS produced a nice usable filament the HDPE seemed to have some issues. I believe the issue was partially related to my choice of temperature. As previously mentioned the speed and temperature are tightly coupled. When I increased the speed to be as fast as possible I should have also increased the temperature. Since this wasn't done, my filament had some unmelted regrind mixed in. Another difference between the HDPE and ABS test was the nozzle used. The HDPE had the smaller nozzle making extruding more difficult and allowed the filament to stretch to a thinner diameter. The ABS had a larger nozzle which just seemed to allow for a more consistent filament to be extruded.


The goal of the speed test with HDPE, while it did have its issues (incorrect temperature and smaller nozzle size) was to try and understand what output could be expected from the Filafab. For this test a set amount of regrind was weighed out and put into the hopper. The plastic was than left to extrude for a considerable amount of time and the remaining regrind was then weighed. Taking the difference of the initial weight and the final weight an approximate value was reached for the amount of regrind extruded. The starting weight selected was 500g. After extruding for ~2.5 hours, ~300g of filament had been extruded.


While this value appears low there are a few factors that must be remembered and taken into account. Firstly had the temperature been set correctly (20℃ - 30℃ hotter) the output would have been increased. Secondly, a small nozzle was used, impeding the rate of production. A larger nozzle along with an increased drop height to achieve the desired diameter (this was not done and the diameter was not important for this test) the rate of production would have been increased. Also, 500g is a decent amount of filament, with the Filafab running pretty much by itself, leaving it in a room for a day while it spits out a reel of filament, is not an issue. Overall my feeling is the Filafab could have doubled, if not tripled my output if the variables had been set correctly.


Power consumption and True Cost

As part of my review and something that has become increasingly important in my reviews is a look at power consumption. While my test was done with the older power supply, it is still representative of the overall power consumption. This assumption is made because the temperatures used in extruding were less than or equal to 200 ℃, well within the power supply’s capable range.


Over the relatively short test of 85 minutes, 30 of which was to get to temperature and 35 for extruding, ~219 watts were consumed. Of these ~219 W only 99.12W were used for extruding.


Temperature and power consumption vs time


The cost of the plastic used was mid priced at ~30¢ per pound (HDPE) or 66.14¢ per kilogram. The expensive plastics (nylon) are ~60¢ per pound or ~$1.32 per kilogram. Adding the cost of the plastic used with that of the energy needed to extrude the plastic gives the true cost of the filament. Using a rate of 18¢ per kiloWatt and 67¢ per kilogram of plastic one reel of filament would cost ~$2.77. This is using an unrealistic number of 8 hours to extrude one kilogram (if setup correctly this should be a third or even less). Even with the extra long extruding time and high electricity costs it is still approximately 12.5 times cheaper than purchasing a commercial reel of filament. This would amount to ~77 (cheap) reels of filament before the (top of the line) Filafab pays for itself (38 reels to cover the cost of the cheapest Filafab). If you were to use anything remotely specialised or for a non standard printer then the number of reels needed drops pretty quickly (makerbot…).


Engineering design

The design and manufacturing of the Filafab is well thought out. At no point during my use and testing of the Filafab did I feel the need to be gentle. The unit is sturdy and solidly built. The few drawbacks mentioned above, while slightly detracting from the overall user experience, are not a major issue. One very slight issue not mentioned above is the design of the hopper. Currently if you plan to changing between materials often, the space under the auger in the hopper catches some material. The material that gets stick can become mixed with a different plastic producing an unwanted blend. A simple remedy is to tilt the machine to its side and brush the remaining plastic out.


Because the design team has been working closely with their customers and listening to both their ideas and concerns these issues have been resolved. In the next iteration of the Filafab (available February) all the concerns raised so far have been designed out and corrected.



Original auger guard inside the hopper


The new hopper - auger assembly is apparently made from a single piece of metal. Either that or the guard is bolted to another piece of metal that prevents plastic from getting stuck under the auger shaft. A 3D CAD rendering can be seen in the image below, it may also be seen in the temperature test set image above.



New auger guard with integrated material feeder


Changing nozzles is also a relatively simple matter. While the machine is still warm (NOT hot) use a wrench to unscrew the currently attached nozzle and attach the new size. When the nozzle is warm to the touch you can try pull out the existing material to clean it out.


The user manual suggests regreasing the main bearing every 40 hours of use or so. For this a T25 screwdriver is needed. While slightly inconvenient, the T25 allows for the Filafab to be used in a general setting without worrying someone may open the unit to “fix” something.


The heating block is heated by multiple heating elements distributed around the heating block to ensure even and adequate heating of the auger and nozzle. A thermocouple is inserted in the block and well shielded to ensure an accurate reading and prevent noise in the measurement. All the wires are well insulated and the auger shaft itself is thermally insulated to increase heating efficiency.



Heating block with temperature sensor (metal braided cable) and heating elements (red insulated wires)


What I have taken away from the Filafab team is their desire to constantly improve as well as keep the product as open as possible. The ability to use the filafab with any printer or winder, not locking a user to any one specific product is a huge plus and something the team has been working to maintain. The ability should the user decide to modify their unit (at home) in some way to make their use simpler or to provide other uses is also available with full mechanical schematics available.



The degree with which the the design team has taken safety into account is quite impressive. The implementation of an auger guard preventing fingers or other foreign object from entering the auger is important. During my testing I did remove the guard to allow for larger regrind to be used but this will become more difficult in the future. The increased difficulty can be seen from the next iteration of the auger guard/feeder. Due to bolts coming from the bottom, removal of the auger guard will be a lot more involved. While this may be frustrating, after experiencing the sharpness of the auger and the power behind its motor first hand, this is a positive and beneficial decision.


The inclusion of an estop was done solely for added safety. The possibility of something getting past the auger guard is very small. Yet even with this small chance the decision was made to add an estopt.


Also the provided nozzle guard to prevent users from accidentally coming in contact with the heated nozzle is useful. While again not strictly needed this is included to provide that one extra layer of safety and prevent possible injury.


An often overlooked safety concern is operating sound levels. If a piece of equipment produces excessive noise for long periods this can have a detrimental effect. The measured sound levels of the Filafab are within normal environment levels. While it is a constant hum and I would not necessarily want it on the edge of my desk while I am working, it's not over bearing. Using an uncalibrated app on my phone the average value measured was 56 dB. From what I can determine this is the volume of a normal conversation or slightly louder.



Sound level profile for 30 seconds


Conclusion & Moving forward

Overall the Filafab is one well made easy to use extruder. The well thought out design makes getting the Filafab up and running an easy task. The over designed mechanics and housing gives me confidence in the longevity and resilience of the unit to wear and abuse. The careful design and respect for safety would make me confident using such a machine in any maker or educational setting.


Having spent some time playing with the Filafab 350 EX and understanding the various aspects of the current version I am looking forward to the next iteration. The improved user experience, heating curve and other improvements by the Filafab team are things I am looking forward to test and experience.





Original blog entry here:

Create Your Own Affordable, Specialized and Creative Filament With the Filafab

More pictures here:

The Embedded Shack

Upcoming reviews and info here:


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A new software developed at MIT enables laypeople to 3D print prototypes of their own design. Much like traditional image editing software, Foundry lets you edit designs, with the added twist that they can be printed 3 dimensionally using up to 10 different kinds of materials (via MIT)


Printing 3 dimensional designs has been around for awhile, but the materials used have often been limiting. Most 3D printers can only print using one kind of material as well.  A lot of good designs end up being pretty limited, due to the constraints of the printer and the design ability of the user.  Printing objects with multiple materials has presented a big hurdle as well, due to the nature of the materials and the time required to functionally put them together. After spending days working on a design, engineers would often discover it wasn’t really a feasible prototype.


Enter MIT’s MultiFab. Based out of the university’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, a team of researchers has launched a software and printing system which allows people with limited programming ability to print their own multiple-material  prototypes. Much like image editing software lets you make all kinds of fanciful pictures, Foundry enables you to make them a reality. How does it work? You design your prototype on the software, which has various parameters and possible materials that can be incorporated into the object. The software communicates with the printing system, and your image, edited in Foundry, is brought to life.

How nice are the designs? Currently the resolution is 40 microns, just under half the width of a strand of human hair.


In addtition, the 3-D printer designed by the team is self-correcting. The machine vision detects errors made while  printing and is able to fix them, without human input. The printers also self-calibrate. These processes historically took time and skill to get just right, so this system frees you to focus more on actual design.

Unlike traditional 3D printers, which squirt material through an extruder, the ones in use at MultiFab print more like an office printer, with an inkjet squirting tiny dots onto a surface. This lets you make complex, tiny layers of material throughout the printing process.


The team has already used Foundry and the 3D printers to make smartphone cases and diode casings. They predict that this is just the tip of the iceberg. The 3D printing system they made cost just $7,000, which is easily affordable by many companies and universities. With more people able to make progressively complex objects, they may be right.



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The organ on chip has integrated sensors that allow scientists to test synthetic tissue instead of testing on animals. This organ on chip gets us one step closer to synthetic organs (via Harvard)


It’s easy to forget the importance of organ donors. Truth is there are still people waiting on long lists looking for their chance at survival. If everyone committed to being a donor, there may be chance for everyone waiting, but people are free to not be a donor and that’s just fine. But lately the medical field has been working to create organs via 3D printer. It’s a difficult feat, but a team of researchers at Harvard University did it. They created the first organ on a chip entirely made with 3D printing.


So what does organ on chip mean anyway? These are devices that imitate the structure and function of native tissue. The chip was built by a fully automated manufacturing method and is equipped with integrated sensors, which allow scientists to test synthetic tissues during long and short term studies. This way, they won’t have to test them on animals. Thanks to this, the researchers create micophysiological systems that have the build and functions of hearts, lungs, tongues, and intestines. Currently, they’re working on a heart on a chip and have developed six different inks that integrated soft strains with the tissue.


According to the researchers, this new development allows them to change and enhance the design of the system. They also to use this new approach for research involving in vitro tissue engineering, drug screening, and toxicology.


This development may get us one step closer to synthetic replacements for human organs. But with everything that sounds too good to be true, there’s a downside: the cost. It takes a lot of work and money to create the organ on chip devices as well as collecting the data from them. For the time being, the devices are built in spotless rooms using a complicated lithographic process. Researchers collect the data using microscopes or high speed cameras. So don’t expect to see these in hospitals just yet. There’s still a lot of testing researchers have to do.


Right now, researchers are testing the efficiency of the organ by studying the MPS drug responses and development of cardiac tissue made from stem cells. This is not just a huge development in synthetic organs, but in collecting data related to the field. Thanks to the integrated sensors in the organ on chip devices, researchers can gather data more effectively, which can lead to new solutions for challenges faced by the medical field.



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A new kind of 3D printing uses flexible polymers that can change shape depending on temperature. Image: A 3D flower changes shape due to changes in temperature. (via MIT)


Making useful things with three dimensional printers has been changing a lot of design and manufacturing processes in recent years. There was the kid who made his own braces, and even 3D printed shoes given as awards at a recent athletic event. All of these objects, however, are rigid: they stay the same after the printer makes them. But recently a team of researchers have developed a technique that allows printable objects to change shape. Currently under development at MIT, microstereolithography allows 3D printers to make very precise shapes in very small sizes out of bendable materials.


When heated to within a certain temperature range, these materials ‘bounce back’ to their original shapes. And they can be very, very tiny-one prototype had the thickness of a human hair.


How do you make a tiny bendable flower? Thus far, the process is akin to using a tiny camera to scale an image down to size, then chopping the image up into different layers, like different levels of parfait. The sliced up images are then connected to a printer through a series of beams.


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The specific polymers used to make the product bendable are mixed during printing, using rays of ultraviolet light to catalyze the reaction. Making a tiny flower that can unfold is thus a combination of two different systems: creating a series of two dimensional images from a single three dimensional shape, and mixing polymers as the image is printed.




What kind of polymers have been used? So far, pretty typical plastics-industry molecules have been used to make the bendable Eiffel Tower and flowery shapes in miniature. Because they’re used so much already, the chemistry is pretty basic: just add polymers with known elastic properties together. Scaling the process down even further could expand the applications.


Imagine taking a drug that was so specific it would only work at certain body temperatures, or tiny implantation devices for surgical procedures. Imagine being able to print single molecules. Making small things has never had such huge implications.


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So I recently was allowed to play with a 3D printer for the first time (fashionably late to the party, I know), and I ran into a little bit of a problem, what modeling software should I use. I was going to do a once off design but for my employer so It needs to be free, actually free, not this "free until you try to print something" rubbish.


What I want to make is a small enclosure for a proof of concept product I created. I have no experience with big commercial CAD packages like Pro Engineer or Solid Works. My entire modeling experience is that I used Sketch up and blender for a while about 5 years ago.


A quick googling brought me to a list of 3D software, from there I grabbed 4 most likely candidates from the free list:



First ImpressionHaving used SketchUp before and loving it's simplicity and power I was excited to download it and get started, see what's changed over the few years since I looked at  it last.A browser based CAD is quite an eye opener, the powerful design computers of only a few years ago now replicated in a FireFox tab with no install. I was worried that our slow internet would cause trouble for something like this.Another browser based CAD this one purposefully created for use with 3D printers.This definitely looks like the most professional option. "Under heavy development" warning on the download page tells me that if I find a bug I should let them know.
getting startedOff to the down load page, "I plan to use SketchUp for" oh dear, as that statement suggests it is not really fully free. TKO you are out.With the tutorials all watched, I an ready to start building my box but it soon becomes apparent that: either the tutorials did not give me the tools to get up and running quickly, or the design philosophy does not match up with the way I think. Either way after about an hour of painfully placing blocks and still not getting that "oh that's how they want me to do it" feeling I decided to give the next option a try. Enter Tinker CAD, the tutorials are interactive so I had a feel for every majour function before starting. I quickly drew up my enclosure, in fact from opening the web page to copying it to the SD card took less time than the actual printing.It was a particularly bad internet day for us and so by the time this had finished it 228 mb download I was already very happy with the Tinker CAD progress I had made, so unfortunately free CAD was not given a fair trial.
The winnerAs far as small printed parts go I do not thing that you can beat this program, I was staggered by how easy it was to pick up and get every thing I needed done, including counter sinks for screws. The only problem I had was that there is only one option for text font, that is it, I was left wanting nothing else.
RetrospectI was really bleak that I could not use SketchUp, I know there is a free trial of the pro version but still not for me.I was very disappointed in 3D tin the geometry transformations in the tutorial look very powerful but it feels like they have focused too much on the complex functions and not enough on the simple ones, or maybe the tutorials just need a revamp.YES, I like it a lot, for larger projects (though these would probably be more complex that your average printer can handle) I am not sure how well it will scale, but I would definitely give it a fare shot at them.After the smoke cleared ( yes the post-coital cigarette of TinkerCAD) I installed and opened FreeCAD and was overwhelmed with the functionality. After a few deep breaths I dived in and it is really amazing incredibly powerful and well thought out. For this enclosure project I feel like it would have taken longer to get the model out but only because there is more to learn here. It is really like bringing a tank to a fist fight, sure its difficult to shoot the bugger as he runs around you, but you will do a great deal better than a skinhead in a tank war.


So there it is if you are new to modeling and you want to do some 3D printing TinkerCAD is hard too beat. If you are comfortable with big CAD packages or you want to learn to model something complex but you do not want to pay for it FreeCAD is a great place to start, there are active forums with helpful users to get you unstuck or show you quicker ways to get something done.


That all Folks.

3D Printing will be available at various UPS Store locations (Photo via Fast Radius & UPS)


Ever wanted something 3D printed but don't have the money to shell out for a GOOD in home machine? Or maybe there are no 3D printing services close by (like a hackerspace or some person with a printer)? With this technology on the rise, it's in-demand and UPS is here to answer the call. The delivery company recently announced plans to launch a full-scale on-demand 3D printing manufacturing network. The service will be made available in more than 60 UPS Store locations around the U.S. Starting this year and rolling into 2017.


For this new service, UPS teamed up with the On Demand Production Platform and 3D printing factory from Fast Radius, which is a provider of on-demand part manufacturing. In addition to this, the company will also collaborate with SAP for an end-to-end industrial offering that mixes SAP's supply chain offerings with UPS' on-demand manufacturing solution and global logistics network to make the process simpler. SAP and UPS teaming up also allows for manufacturing companies of different sizes to access on-demand features easily.


“UPS is a leader in bringing industrial-strength 3D printing to reality. By building this disruptive technology into our supply chain models, we also bring new value to our manufacturing customers of all sizes,” said Stan Deans, president, UPS Global Distribution & Logistics. “Additive manufacturing technology is still developing rapidly so ‘manufacturing as a service’ is a smart approach for many companies.”


So how does it work? Users visit the Fast Radius website to put in 3D printing orders, which will then be transferred to the closest 3D manufacturing or UPS Store based on the speed, geography, and product quality needed. Depending on the size of the order, some can be completed and shipped out the same day. If you're not in the U.S. There's no problem. The company said they'll take global orders as well. The new service will have big benefits for businesses looking to utilize 3D printing including, manufacturers who want to reduce inventory for slow moving parts, high quality rapid prototypes delivered quickly, and cutting down costs for manufacturers with short production runs.


Though many may not know it The UPS Store has been offering 3D printing services in certain locations since 2013, but not on such a wide scale. This made them the first retailer to make 3D printing service available in store. “Connecting all The UPS Store locations into a larger network provides more opportunity for new customers to access our printers and gives customers added flexibility to match their requirements with the appropriate UPS location,” said Daniel Remba, Small Business Technology Leader for The UPS Store, Inc.


With UPS getting in on the 3D printing game it should be no time til we see other retailers like Office Depot, FedEx, and even Kinkos offering their own services. The more accessible the technology is, the better.


If you don't know, I 3D printed a Spherical Raspberry Pi Case in a past project. I could have used a local option.


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This project introduces some tips to make a flexible but robust non-flat surface and some other common issues, explaining a possible solution through the making of a smartphone cover full 3D printed.


The object

First of all the finished object.


The creation shown in the making of video required four main steps and some experiments:

  1. Taking the model dimensions
  2. Designing the CAD model
  3. 3D printing the components
  4. Assembling the components


Calculating the model dimensions

Finding some difficulties to buy an original cover fast and at a cheap price I decided to take the measures directly on the LG G4 smartphone.

TIP #1 : When you should measure a real object to make something 3D printed consider that it is a good practice to exceed your dimensions of about 0.1mm This is just the excess that you find when - also in the case of a perfect 3D printed object - you will use some kind of support when printing. This depends on the kind of object you measure but the suggested value is always the worth to take in account. When printing holes that will host screws (e.g. Allen screws, not conical Parker) a minimal extra amount of material is present in the holes at the end of the printing process. So if the screw is 4 mm you should design the holes 4.1mm You will see that the screw will fit perfectly without problems and you save a lot of time to complete the printed object with hand tools.

When a magnet is positioned in a specific point The smartphone screen changes showing a round watch giving access to a minimal number of easy apps. Making some experiments a 3mm x 1mm Neodimium magnet is sufficient to generate the screen switch effect but should be positioned very precisely. Also in this case the exact position has been acquired manually to design a hole in the cover bottom side at the right point. The following image shows the final result with the magnet embedded in the bottom part of the cover (the side in contact with the screen).


Two sides, two colors

Making a flexible and robust plastic cover in two different colours sounds nice, yes? But this choice has a reason. This is the case when we convert a limit of the 3D printer in a good aesthetic effect. The following tip can be applied to almost all the cases when this is generalised issue will occur.

TIP #2: To successfully produce a well done and robust 3D printed object a support is needed.

This extra plastic thin filament is generated by the slicer (depends on the user settings) making possible the creation of objects else impossible to 3D print. Unfortunately it is very difficult that after removing the support from the finished object things remain perfect as we can read here and there... As a matter of fact the printed side in contact with the support is very difficult to make clean and neat.

When designing an object for 3D printing and important factor to take in account is the need of a support extra filament: it is better to create the entire object in two parts or more to be joined in the final assembly than accepting the compromise of a bad refined surface.

This is the case where a better result in the printing phase is decided during the design.

The cover should follow the smartphone screen form factor: not a planar surface but a slightly curved one. The next images shows how the support printing process has been done:

20160521_143125~2.jpg 20160521_143257~2.jpg

20160521_151909~2.jpg 20160521_160502.jpg

Also after a very accurate removal of the support material this side remains with rough surface. IN our case the solution was to make a couple of 1mm thick slices - better in two different colours - printed with support one to the opposite side of the other. Assembling the two components the rough surfaces remain internal and are no longer visible. The following group of images shows the second part of the cover, printed with described method. The last image shows the dark side of the printed element after the support removal: As you can see it is rough and few refined than the opposite side.

20160522_120338.jpg 20160522_131507.jpg

20160522_135832.jpg 20160522_121140.jpg

Object design and components positioning

With the right dimensions of the parts and the cutting positions written down the 3D model has been designed using Rhino 4. The CAD choice depends most on the everyone personal experience and preferences: the best application in this case is always the one we know better. It is important to use a CAD program supporting the 3D model export in STL format ready for the slicing algorithm.

Cover V2.png Cover V2-3.png

Note the images above: the first shows the assembled object, while the second shows the components correctly positioned to be exported in STL format

TIP #3: Based on my personal experience I consider a best practice before trying to print a 3D model to setup it assembled on the CAD as it should really be. This is a useful method do debug the design being reasonably sure that the finished parts, when printed, fit as expected and we have not forgot some important detail in the model. The further step is orienting the component(s) aligned to the x-y plane at 0,0 coordinates. When the STL file has been loaded in the 3D printer application it is again possible to reorient it, rotate, mirror etc. but what happens if you forget to apply the right transformation? Better to prepare it in the CAD environment.

Setting the printing parameters

When all is ready we can finally slice the object(s) and print them. As many users know very well setting the 3D printer parameters is not always so obvious and it is almost impossible to apply the same setup to all the objects we create. Settings depends on the form, the usage, the nozzle diameter, the material and more and more. It is almost impossible to analyse all the parameters in a single article but the very important aspect is to focus what are the most influencing settings to reach the best result with a certain object. Depending on the object mechanical characteristics and shape these key settings may differ a lot.

20160522_140203.jpg 20160522_140155.jpg

The above images shows the assembled object with a correct (Is really correct? Anything is subject to further perfection) printer settings.

TIP #4: On top of our consideration any suggestion is always conditioned by the kind of filament we use; PLA has different rendering behaviour than ABS, Nylon etc.

Despite the settings strictly related to the filament quality (some colour filament have different behaviour than white or black, also of the same material) there are some general considerations that it is the worth to consider.

Printing thick surfaces we need to reach good reliability and flexibility. We should consider the thickness of the material in terms of printing layers. To get a good result with a 1mm thick object we should print a reasonable number of slices: it is a best practice adopting - when possible - a nozzle diameter 0.3mm or less for a good precision. Another good suggestion is to apply a 100% internal fill. Maybe the printing process will be slower but this gains in material consistence. For the same reason it is strongly suggested to slice 0.1 mm layers: we can count on 10 layers for the better robustness also for thick surfaces.

A last note: don't be too worried to print slow; 60-70 mm/sec with a well calibrated printer can be easily supported making a compact solid object.

For further references

3D Printed Super-Lightweight Interactive LG G4 Smartphone Cover

This motorcycle looks like it comes from another planet (image via APWorks)


3D printing can do a lot things from making clothes to making food. Now, thanks to the efforts of APWorks, it can make motorcycles. The Light Rider isn't the average hog you'll find riding down the freeway. For one, it looks like something out of the Alien franchise with its hollow, skeleton like design. It's also probably the world's lightest motorcycle weighing only 77 pounds. As mentioned, the bike was created by Airbus subsidiary APWorks and they used 3D printing to create it, but they didn't use plastic. Instead they got its odd shape by thousands of thin metal layers produced in a bed of metal powder. The entire frame is made out of Scalmalloy, which is aircraft grade aluminum. It's supposed to offer the strength of titanium, ensuring the bike is light, yet strong.


“APWorks used an algorithm to develop the Light Rider’s optimized structure to keep weight at a minimum while ensuring the motorcycle’s frame was strong enough to handle the weight loads and stresses of everyday driving scenarios. The result: a motorcycle that looks more like an organic exoskeleton than a machine. That was a very deliberate design goal for APWorks, which programmed the algorithm to use bionic structures and natural growth processes and patterns as the basis for developing a strong but lightweight structure.”  




It's the 3D printing is what allows the bike to get its unique geometrical design. APWorks says the design is meant to be aerodynamic as a way to give the bike “superb stiffness and guarantees optimal use of material.” The bike is also meant to be environment friendly since it's electric. The Light Rider has a 6kW electric motor that can accelerate the bike up to 130 Nm torques. That's 37 miles per charge. The motorcycle can reach top speeds of 80 km/h (50 mph). It accelerates from 0 to 45 km/h (28mph) in three seconds. The oddball frame only weighs 13 pounds, which is roughly 30 percent less than most existing electric bikes. Can you imagine, a motorcycle you can actually pick up?


"With the Light Rider we at APWorks demonstrate our vision of future urban mobility", says engineer Stefanus Stahl. "We have used our know how of optimization and manufacturing, to create means of transportation, that match our expectations,” explains APWorks's Niels Grafen.


Believe it or not, The Light Rider is actually available for sale, but you can't find them at your local Harley Davidson dealer. Rather APWorks is slowly rolling out the new motorcycle and is planning to build 50 units with a price tag of $56,100 apiece. Those who are interested can pre-order The Light Rider on the bike's website. It's definitely one of the most unique looking motorcycles on the market, but it is a hefty price to pay for something that looks like no other bike on the road. If this goes well, maybe it won't before long until we see big motorcycle companies like Harley Davidson and Yamaha start making their own 3D printed bikes.



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MP3 Player Amplifier

Posted by dougw Top Member Apr 24, 2016

I seem to often have a need to test small speakers, but audio sources these days tend to expect the speakers to have their own amplifier built-in. Rather than always having to hijack some other system and rig up appropriate amplifiers and wiring I decided to make a small test device that can directly drive speakers as low as 4 ohms. Originally, I was just going to build an amplifier, but I found an MP3 player with built-in amp for a ridiculous price of $1.78 with free shipping so this is what I built....


MP3 Player

MP3 Player Lid

MP3 Player Chassis

The idea to make yafrd (yet another filament roll dispenser) originates trying to 3D Print some of these useful support available on internet. Unfortunately I too frequently find objects (and not only in this case) that "in theory" will work perfectly but then when having the components in your hands arises mechanical issues making them almost useless or very difficult to use or build.


Some of the tools I tried was too complex, other was too expansive and in some cases requiring components that was not worthy.

The idea of a filament support like the one shown in the image above was attracting for several reasons, first of all the very small size. With a similar design I found a project using bearings and a complex format for the rotating parts to be considered just an inspiring idea.

I note a curious fact in many projects published ready for download and print on specific sites; one for all  Exploring the tons of project you can find on this site it is frequent to find very good ideas with incomplete parts, as well as projects granted to work by the author but without any image of the final result.

Project aims

Thus, I decided to create one the minimal needs requested to satisfy the reliability was the following:

  • Easy and not too much time-consuming components
  • As less components as possible
  • Easy to use in different conditions, including to be fixed
  • Very few external components needed
  • Robust and durable


The design

The following images shows the CAD parts (designed with Rhino 3D v. 4)

SH-3D03.png SH-3D01.png


The spool is placed on a couple of modules and every module has two wheels that should rotate freely keeping the filament roll in place. To make easy the 3D printing of every wheel it is compound of three pieces assembled as shown in the image below.


Remain two mechanical problems to solve without using a couple of bearing every wheel, redundant for the scope of this tool. The first problem is the screw that should be closed firmly but should not block the rotation and the second is that locking the Allen screw the support should not be deformed. The solution adopted is a double-axis on every wheel, as shown in the following quoted design.

Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 16.46.42.png

The internal axis (the red one in the design) has an internal diameter of about 4 mm that remain fixed by the Allen screw. The compound wheel has an internal diameter that is about 0.6 mm wider than the internal axis so that the wheel can rotate freely. The compound wheel is also 1 mm shortest than the internal axis (respectively 11 mm and 12 mm) When the screw is locked the external border remain fixed to the internal axis and the drive wheels can freely rotate.

The assembly parts

The following images shows the components to assemble the tool. As you can see, two M4 10 mm Allen screws and two nuts are needed to keep together the wheels. Optionally the four holes on the base support can be used to fix the couple of rotating supports on a base.

IMG_20160409_175255.jpg IMG_20160409_194853.jpg

IMG_20160409_195017.jpg IMG_20160409_195433.jpg

The tools in use

The following images show how the support is kept in place and how it works.



The fully assembled product or the assembly kit is also available on

See also the Instructable 3D Printer Filament Spooler Support Assembly Guide


Curios 3D printed sun clock

Posted by gihu Apr 17, 2016

Hi all,


I just wanted to share with you something that I have recently seen, despite of probably many of you have seen it before...

It is a digital-style sun clock, here is the link


For sure there are in this community people who can improve it !!


3D Printed Phaser

Posted by dougw Top Member Apr 16, 2016

3D printers are great for printing iconic props from the movies. Here is my version of a Star Trek phaser:

If you need the file, let me know.

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