Over the last 18 months or so I’ve been stripping back FDM 3D printing to its basics, experimenting with a variety of materials, composites and patterns designed to be printed flat and assembled into more complex 3D forms. Why?
Well there are many reasons why you might want to use a 3D printer to create relatively flat forms: firstly, as anyone who has used a 3D printer would know, the process is extremely slow. The less vertical height you need to print the faster your part will be completed (generally). Secondly, most accessible 3D printers have a very small build volume, and often you want to 3D print something huge. By 3D printing a lot of smaller, flat parts and assembling them later, you can create a large 3D printed object on a small machine (for example check out the full length inBloom Dress by XYZ Workshop which was assembled out of 191 smaller panels).
This type of 3D printing has actually been called 2.5D printing, since it is essentially the production of 2D geometry that is extruded in a single direction. No fancy lattice structures or compound curves here! Below are some examples I’ve printed over the years, and while some of them like the mesostructure (centre) may look complex, the geometry can be described by a single 2D drawing and extrusion (Z) dimension.
What I’ve learned is that when you are 2.5D printing often thin geometries, optimising the dimensions of the geometry for the specific capabilities of your FDM machine are critical. In fact, just a 0.1mm change in the thickness of a wall can reduce your print time by ~50%, which is a huge time saving. Knowing what these “magic” wall thickness settings are is powerful, and also very simple when you understand the logic.
This information has now been published in a book chapter titled “Designing Thin 2.5D Parts Optimized for Fused Deposition Modeling,” and provides several equations you can use to quickly calculate the optimum dimensions you should use if you want to 2.5D print (or even 3D print) as quickly as possible with maximum accuracy. Below is a visual graph that can be used to select the optimum wall thickness settings when 3D printing with a 0.4mm nozzle, and also shows the effect STL resolution can have. Full details about this graph can be found in the book, however the short version is that you want to be designing thin wall features using dimensions that fall inside the black boxed (or dashed) regions. So, for example if you will be using a 0.8mm printed wall thickness (representing 2×0.4mm extrusions in your slicer), the optimum dimensions to design with in CAD are 0.5-0.8mm, 1.3-1.6mm, or 2.0-2.3mm. Anything outside of these dimensions will require some level of infill structure which takes longer to print, and can result in a more messy part.
For a part similar to the mesostructure earlier, we calculated that simply adding 0.1mm of thickness to the design from 1.2mmm up to 1.3mm would decrease print time by 38% – yes, it sounds counter-intuitive, but adding material can actually reduce print time!
Designing for additive manufacturing (DfAM) is a very important research area, and it is knowledge like this that I hope can be implemented by designers, manufacturers and others involved in 3D printing. If you want to learn more about 2.5D printing, and the equations you can use to calculate the “optimized zones” for your own 3D printer, please check out my chapter which can be purchased with a 40% discount using my author code “IGI40,” or if you are at a university you may find you already have access through your library subscriptions.
We’ve all experienced that wobbly table at a cafe and struggled to wedge coasters and napkins under the legs to balance it out. This is where you need a shim, a small wedge that can fill the gap and ensure your drinks don’t go flying. Shim is also fun to say, quick to 3D print, and a good test of your print settings due to the top surface exhibiting the stair-stepped effect.
There are many designs available on popular 3D printing file websites, but I just wanted one that was a useful size (easy to carry with you in a small bag) and that said what it was. So here it is, Shim the shim! You can download it for free on Thingiverse, Pinshape, Cults or MyMiniFactory. Alternatively you can follow the basic outline of the design process below to make your own from scratch in your favourite CAD software. It’s similar to some of my previous designs including an “edditive” desk logo which might give you some inspiration for different ways to use text in 3D.
Shim was designed in Solidworks by using the text tool on the top sketch plane. The key is to squish all of the text together so that the letters intersect, meaning they will 3D print together as a single object (in Solidworks you can simply change the spacing of text within the text tool). The text was then extruded 10mm, creating solid geometry. All you need to do to create the wedge shape is then slice a triangular portion off the top, which in Solidworks uses the extruded cut tool. Save to STL and 3D print, it couldn’t be much simpler!
This is a nice quick 3D print and could easily be used as a keyring or give-away item, especially if you design your own. Enjoy, share and print!
This is a post about my new favourite toy – the EinScan Pro 2X Plus 3D scanner from Shining 3D. Why? Because it allows you to turn any object into a 3D model! And I can tell you upfront, it works REALLY well!
This is not the first 3D scanner from Shining 3D, which is a good sign that both their hardware and software has had time to mature. The EinScan Pro 2X Plus is brand new to the market, which means there are not many reviews at the time I’m writing, although you can find a brief overview from 3D Scan Expert and will no doubt see a full review from him in the near future. I’m not a 3D scanning expert, so am not going to dive into all the details here. I have used several scanners in the past and written a few posts, but this is the first that I have full access and control over and am currently using on a daily basis.
Enough with the introductions. One of my first experiments has been to 3D scan some challenging organic forms, including some shells which I picked up from the beach. The top photo shows one of these shells being scanned (we have the “Industrial Pack” turntable and “Colour Pack” upgrades for the scanner). The process is straight forward in the accompanying EXScan Pro software – a few basic settings about the detail you’d like to capture and press go. The turntable and scanner do the rest, and you can see the points being captured in real-time on screen. There is a bit of cleanup after the first scan to remove any points that aren’t needed (e.g. you can see in the photo some points around the perimeter where the scanner picked up an edge of the turntable), at which point you have your first scan.
This could be all the detail you need depending on your application; however, all you have is an outside collection of points, with no detail about the inside of the shell. So I then flipped the shell over and performed a second scan. The only difference from the previous step is that now there are 2 scans. Amazingly the software is proving quite intelligent at automatically aligning multiple scans, finding common points and bringing them all together. This doesn’t always work, and there is an option to manually align 2 scans by selecting 3 common points in each. I must admit the interface for this process is quite painful to use at the moment, so it’s always great when the software automatically does this. Overall the software is very basic, you really don’t have a lot of control – which can be both a blessing and a curse. You certainly can’t perform any sort of editing actions other than selecting and deleting points.
The final step is to turn all of the points (aka. point cloud) into a mesh suitable for 3D CAD software, or 3D printing. There is an option to create a watertight mesh, letting the software automatically fill any holes in the model. For this shell scan I only had very minor gaps which were nicely cleaned up and blended into the mesh. However, I have found with some other scans that if holes are quite large, or there are some messy overlaps in scan data, the software will produce some weird results – best to keep scanning to capture as much data as possible before creating a mesh, once you get to this step there is no turning back.
Best of all, being a watertight mesh, the file can be immediately used for 3D printing. But why simply replicate a shell? I always see large shells as decorator items in stores retailing for hundreds of dollars – and now I can 3D print them for a fraction of the price. This one was scaled up 500% and printed on a Wanhao Duplicator D9/500 – which is still working somewhat consistently after my previous post and firmware upgrades. I decided to print it in an upright orientation so that the 0.5mm layers are similar to the layers naturally occurring in the shell. Even though the print quality is still quite rough, I think this only adds to the natural effect.
The shell has been saved as a .obj file, meaning that it has all the colour information along with the geometry that would normally be a .stl file. I have shared this on Sketchfab so that you can have a closer look at the mesh in 3D using the above viewer. I think it’s a really great result, and hopefully you can see why I have called this my new favourite toy. It really does open up new opportunities (perhaps you’ve already seen some new experiments if you follow me on Instagram). Stay tuned, I’m sure there’ll be plenty more posts that involve 3D scanning and 3D printing in the future.
If you’re into 3D printing like me, chances are you’ve already 3D printed chainmail and been excited by the ability to produce something that is made of multiple parts already assembled and ready to go. If you’re new to 3D printing, what you might not realise is that because you are printing objects in small layer increments, you can print these layers in such a way that different pieces become trapped within each other as the print progresses, permanently assembling them together. This means that something like chainmail, which has been hand assembled for thousands of years one link at a time, can now be printed with all the links in place.
One of the most popular examples in recent years has been from well known designer Agustin Flowalistik, whose unique design of chainmail has been downloaded over 100k times already on Thingiverse! Click here to download the file for yourself and add to this growing number. After one of my previous posts about the new Wanhao Duplicator D9/500 printer, I wanted to see how it would handle the intricate geometry, however, at 200% the scale. Go big or go home!
Well, as you can see from the photos it worked quite nicely. With the large 0.8mm nozzle the layers certainly look rough and messy – this print isn’t going to win any awards for being pretty. But it worked, and on this sketchy 3D printer that’s the most important thing at the moment. One of the nicest things was peeling it off the magnetic flexible build plate of the D9, which you can see in the first picture above – no hacking away with a spatula which is one of the positives of the printer. The links freely move and because of the large size, the chainmail has quite an industrial feel about it. Very satisfying.
So I think I can chalk this one up as a win on the Wanhao D9, which I think brings my score up to about 2 wins, and too many failures to count… Not great but after a firmware update I hope there will be some more wins to come.