Monday, 18 March 2013

Christmas Cheer

As you may have guessed, some of the projects I've written about so far are actually quite old, but I figured they were worth sharing so they made the cut. I'm just going to come out and say that today's is not a recent project; I think I'd have a hard time covering it up given the obvious theme: Christmas. I do realise that it's now March, but it was snowing last week so perhaps you can imagine it's December.

Back in 2012, we squeezed 24 people into our smallish living room for a Christmas dinner. Given that Ben and I were hosting, and are both very much into 3D printing, we decided to each design something neat for the dinner. Ben put together a nifty little OpenSCAD file that automatically generated place-names with initials, and a slot for a tealight. They were extremely well received - truth be told, I think his offering bested mine.

I decided to design and print a Christmas Centrepiece. Unless I'm designing something very simple, I'll sketch out various thoughts and plans before even opening any CAD software. These blueprints tend to be a little chaotic. Here's an example:

Once I'd settled on a theme (Christmas Tree!) and some basic dimensions, I designed a model in Google Sketchup. I tend to get quite engrossed when designing CAD files, adding unnecessary fillets and chamfers wherever possible, and more often than once have I finished a design only to spot that it's past midnight and I have yet to eat dinner. Nonetheless, I find the whole process incredibly satisfying.

I used an Arduino to control the LEDs. I've only had one for a few months and the endless possibilities still thrill me. When I look at an Arduino I feel the same way I did when I was 7 years old, standing over a 3 metre wide pile of Lego. There's also the added bonus of not having to separate components with your teeth.

I experimented with a couple of control schemes, eventually settling on a rolling fade which I found to be suitably festive. Here's the finished tree in all its dynamic glory.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Pragmatic Printing

So far the projects I've described have been fairly whimsical. This isn't a coincidence - as a person I'm pretty much entirely driven by whimsy. Today though, I'll talk about a couple of things I designed and subsequently printed that may actually have added value to my life. Not a lot, mind you. A little.

I'm not especially musical, but surprisingly I have three different musical instruments in my room. I used to play the piano (I got lessons until I could play my favourite piece from the film "The Piano", and then immediately stopped), so I have a keyboard. I occasionally tinker on a very old, warped guitar, passed down by my mother. My favourite, however, is my ukulele, which my friends gave me on my 20th birthday. The first mini project was a wall mount for this. Pretty nifty.

The second project related to my recently bought Nexus 7. I wanted a stand so it could be proudly displayed on my bedside table. I found a lot of nice looking stands on Thingiverse, however I needed something more - a wire slot so it could charge, whilst in the stand. Ground-breaking stuff. On to design. I've tried a few different CAD design programs; OpenSCAD is good if you're into coding or want the potential for very quick customisation, but for one-offs, I use SketchUp. After measuring the dimensions of the tablet and the charger, it wasn't long before I had a nice looking model.

I printed the stand in black PLA, popped in the charger cable, and we were away. Looking smooth, Nexus.

I also uploaded the file to Thingiverse here - I was really quite proud of it. A few days later, a very cool thing happened. Someone, stumbling upon my design on the web, printed one of their own. In Texas. The thought of something I designed from start to finish, sitting on a table so far away, always makes me smile.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Printing Big Things

Today I'm going to discuss big things. If you'd like to read about on little things made with a 3D printer, check out this awesome post on Richard Horne's blog.

I mentioned previously that one of the big wins of upgrading to the Prusa i3 was the significantly larger print volume. Once had I finished calibration and printed a few test objects, I became wildly concerned with the fact that I had yet to take advantage of this magical new potential for bigness. The time for another adventure on Thingiverse was nigh.

I could spend hours wandering the many hallways of creativity of that website, and have done so several times in the past. Fortunately it wasn't long before I found something that satisfied my criteria of big and cool. It was Austin's Printable Low Polygon Mask.

I printed it in White PLA, 0.3 mm layer height, with 2 perimeters and 10% infill. Printing time was 4 hours 30 minutes. If I were to print it again I'd certainly drop down to 1 perimeter and probably make it hollow - the finished mask is surprisingly heavy.

By some stroke of luck it turned out to be a perfect fit. I have no idea what to do with it mind you. Perhaps it will become a part of some future project. Maybe it needs some LEDs.

For now, Mask sits in the hat corner of my room, alongside Pikachu, Cat Hat and Red Bird. I think he looks a little out of place.