3D printing, also called additive manufacturing, is the process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. An object is created by laying down successive layers of material, usually molten plastic. Each of these layers can be seen as a thinly sliced horizontal cross-section of the eventual object. The advent of 3D printing has lowered the barrier of entry for industrial printing. What used to require machines, tools, and skilled technicians can now be accomplished by anyone with a laptop. The possibilities are both fascinating and endless. From fashion to food to medical prosthesis, the speed and affordability of 3D printers has opened up a world of possibilities across a spectrum of industries.
When we first opened the BlueFletch IoT Lab the 3D printer was our very first purchase. In the Lab we use the STL file format native to CAD software and the 3D modeling app SketchUp to create 3D model images. Creating the STL file takes an engineering mind – taking the measurements so they translate correctly is a detailed process that is easy to bungle.
As you can see from the gun above, we’ve made our fair share of mistakes! Measure twice, print once is our new mantra. There are two types of filaments typically used in 3D printing, ABS and PLA. Both ABS and PLA are known as thermoplastics because they are soft and moldable when heated and return to a solid when cooled. We tried both and experienced some warping with the ABS filament so for our printer we stick with the PLA filament. If you’re in the market for a 3D printer check to see if it uses PLA or ABS and experiment with both if you can. This handy guide explains the differences between the two filaments.
Once we’ve calibrated our measurements, we load our STL file onto a laptop dedicated to 3D printer using the printer software MatterControl.
Pinhole Camera Lens
Photography is a fun and exciting but also expensive hobby. A camera lens or accessory can often cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Our developer, Nathaniel, wanted to find out whether 3D printed camera parts could be an affordable alternative to this problem. Using the printer, he made a simple pinhole camera lens with proper lens mounting bracket. It took him about 45 minutes and $2 worth of printing material and now he’s able to create photos that other people spend much more on to achieve.
Anyone with a (green or brown) thumb can see the advantage of a self watering plant stand! This one was cool to make in the Lab because it uses two different color filaments and contrast colors. 3D printing is not a speedy process – this project took about 15 hours in total, 6.5 for the pot and 7.5 for the reservoir. It wasn’t water tight when Patrick first printed (maybe because of some settings like quality or resolution), but he found a hack to use wood glue to seal to holes and will be testing that out soon.
To protect our equipment, we’ve built several encasements for weight sensors as well as for our for a Raspberry Pi and Sigfox equipment. The first encasement we tried to print took 22 hours and somehow became fused to the printer glass. 22 hours and one glass pane wasted… As always, you never know what’s going to happen in the Lab! Our re-do took only 15 hours and came off without a hitch.
And Just For Fun…
Ben built a whistle –