Friday, November 22, 2013

I'm Hooked on 3D Printing

Yesterday I got a very nice delivery - the FedEx guy knocked on my door with an Afinia 3D printer. One of my upcoming releases will be a project book on SketchUp for 3D printing projects, and John Westrum from Afinia is a strong supporter of this project. So he agreed to lend me one of their printers so I could test out the projects I'm writing up. So now I'm like a kid with a new toy, and I'm obsessed!

(As as aside, I wanted to try a variety of printers for this book, and approached MakerBot and Cubify as well. No response, hmmmm.)

Anyway, I've had a small problem in my kitchen for a while, and I always thought that my first 3D printing project would a solution for this.

We never put a "real" tile backsplash behind our sink, and over time our kids have made 6" x 6" tiles at the local paint-your-own-pottery place, and we've decorated with those. And until now I used Velcro strips to attach them to the wall. But for the tiles right behind the sink, moisture gets into the Velcro, the stickiness gets lost, and the tiles fall (sometimes loudly, but they've never broken). So I wanted to create some little supports so that the tiles could just lean back against the wall.


So in SketchUp, I modeled the wall and one tile. Exact dimensions are important when doing this!

I rotated the tile 2 degrees, made its top back edge touch the wall, and moved it up 1/4".
I created a block 1/2" on all three sides.

I used the Intersect Faces tool to get the intersection edges on one side of the block.


I hid everything but the block.
I thought (mistakenly as it turns out, but it's all about trial and error) that a 1mm gap would ensure that the tile would fit better. So I used the Offset tool to create a 1 mm offset around the hole.
I cleaned up the edges, and used Push/Pull to create the groove.

I used the STL Export plugin (it's free and available in the Extension Warehouse, works with the free version of SketchUp) to save the model as an STL file. (SketchUp Pro has STL export built in.)

Setting up the printer was pretty easy, considering I've never done this before (I've seen printers in action but never used one). Here's how it looks before I got it all going. It took maybe 90 minutes to get the spool and plastic thread set up, the calibrations (nozzle height, platform height and levels) just right, and to attach the perforated board to the printing platform. 


The printer has accompanying software that reads your STL file, and has options for moving, rotating, and scaling it. So you can't make significant changes to a model here, but you can do some little things. Here's my first attempt with my support: oops - the piece moved after a few layers, making the rest of the layers sort of go all over the place.

So I raised the nozzle 1mm, made sure to heat the platform for longer (maybe I hadn't reached 90 degrees C, not sure!), and my second attempt was perfect. It took about 17 minutes to print.

The frilly-looking bits on the bottom are the model's "raft." If you print on perf board as I did (because it was included with the printer), you should use a raft, which is extra, low-density material that can easily be removed later. It means you're not printing directly on the perf board, which would probably result in the bottom surface not being entirely smooth. I was a little confused about the whole raft concept, but turns out Afinia's software adds one automatically so there's no raft-planning needed.

And this is how easily the raft is separated from the model:


You can mostly tear off the raft by hand, and more stubborn bits can be removed with a knife (I never had to use a knife).

So when I tried out this support, it was a dud. The tile didn't lean far enough (just 2 degrees, what was I thinking), and could easily fall forward.

So back to the drawing board (aka SketchUp). This time I rotated the tile 5 degrees, resulting in a longer support. I also made the whole support shorter. And I didn't offset the groove - when I had that extra 1 mm all around, the tile was able to wiggle.


Success!  The tile fits perfectly . . .


. . . and leans against the wall on its own. It also took about 17 minutes to print: it's longer but a bit shorter.


I got three plastic spools from Afinia: white, black and red. Black supports will look much better with the dark counter in my kitchen, so I switched the spools - a process that took maybe 10 minutes (mostly waiting for things to heat up). And instead of printing out just one support, I thought I'd try three, so I could make sure they'd work spaced as shown below. They did!


So I printed out five more, and here's my improved kitchen! You can't see the supports but they're there, and doing their job. What's great is that we can easily switch them out, when the kids bring home more tiles.

Here's another thing I printed out, something I found from Thingiverse, just something cute for the kids:


Stay tuned for news on the 3D printing book. Suggestions welcome!

Anyone can design anything in 3D!

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Unknown said...

I got a MakerBot through a grant from my district. We are also using SketchUp. One of my kids already made a pretty impressive boat! It is SO much fun and the kids are learning a lot! I am just starting to learn SketchUP. The kids are already ahead of me! Can't wait to hear more about your work!

Ellen said...

Bill thought this was really cool. He said it's an engineering thing and I wouldn't understand.

Jacqui said...

This is amazing, Bonnie. I am so jealous.

Unknown said...

Hi Bonnie. I just completed your advanced sketchup book and am looking forward to your 3D printing book. I have a Makerbot and just designed and printed a robotic platform. I documented it here:
I've been 3d printing for a while now so feel free to contact me if you have any questions