Thursday, May 04, 2017

What I'm 3D Printing Today

First off, I want to thank all my new followers and visitors. Please mention me to your friends - the opportunity to get in on the giveaway is open until the 16th of May. That's still 12 days off, so May the Forth be with you!

The 3D printer at my office was not in use today, so I looked through my backlog of things I wanted to get printed and found something - card trays for Viticulture.

Viticulture has four decks of mini cards (five if you play with the Structures expansion from Tuscany). While it is certainly not a requirement, having five draw piles and discard piles makes me a little nuts. This should solve my OCD issues with this particular issue. I downloaded the shape file for the rack, set it up in the Slic3r software and started printing!

MakerGear M2 in action!
Now, if what I just said doesn't make much sense, or if you are wondering about the color that appears to be printing (grey) vs the colored trays from the picture above, let me explain. 

In order for you to print something on a 3D printer, you first have to start with a model. The model is built using 3D modeling software - there are lots of choices from the simpler free stuff to the complicated (and expensive) pro kind of software that you could use to render a 3D animated feature. I personally have very little ability to work in this space and simply look around the internet for models that others have created. I can work with some of the software well enough to make small edits to their creations, but don't typically have the patience nor ability to create my own from scratch. Today's print comes from which is where I find the majority of the things I've printed. You can find it here.

After you have the file for the model, you have to run it through another piece of software that takes the model and slices it horizontally into layers and turns those into instructions for the 3D printer. I use a piece of software called Slic3r. It has all the settings for my particular printer, and the instruction set is always customizable if I need to change the infill or slow things down for intricate details. Why is this step required? Well, the way this kind of 3D printer works is that a spool of material is fed into a heating element and extruded in a very thin layer - think about it like a tube of toothpaste being squeezed out in a very controlled manner. As the plastic is laid out, it cools and hardens. After each layer is laid out, the bed of the printer drops down (a fraction of a millimeter)  enough for the next layer to be printed out on top of it. The slicing software is simply creating the instruction set for the printer - move from coordinate (10,10) to (10,100) laying out X amount of material along the way; move to (20,100) without extruding; etc

After turning everything on and warming up the printer (literally, you have to heat up the surface that will be printed on and the extrusion head), you load up the sliced model in the printing software and watch it work. The software indicated that my print would take an estimated 4 hours. Yep, this is not a fast process. 

Sorry for the blur, it was moving the whole time.
This is about halfway through the print - 2 hours in

The filament (plastic material) that I used for these two stands was grey. You can get any number of different colors of material - I simply used what we had already setup. We don't have green, yellow, purple, blue and orange filaments here at my office anyway, so I'll end up spray painting the racks when they are all done.

So that's it! Of course, there was a bit of effort when we first got the printer to figure out the procedures so that we got decent prints. There are a handful of little things that you have to do to get the best results and even then, not all models work well with this kind of printer (I'll explain that another time). Today I'm printing two racks. I might start another two and finish the last one tomorrow. Ten hours isn't bad for 5 racks (it isn't exactly fast enough to want to do this as a commercial venture either though).

No comments: