With the publication of our Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing we learned about a growing number of hackers and makers who use the technology while on the job or just tinkering. We’ll be interviewing some of these folks to learn how they use 3D printers.
Andrew Plumb of Ottawa, ON, is a good person to start with. He’s been a contributor to open source 3D printing technology as an active MakerBot Google group and Thingiverse participant. He even owned the 9th MakerBot! Let’s find out what Andrew has to say:
JB: What fascinates you about 3D printers?
AP: Being more heavily biased toward the (electrical) engineering talents than artistic, much of what fascinates me about personal 3D printers is finally being able to make things conjured within the confines of My Brain. I code up imaginary things and make them real!
Another aspect that captivates me is the community that has grown – and continues to grow – in the various open source branches of 3D printing. Initially that community was primarily found online in the RepRap and Fab@Home parent projects. My own “formal” entry into the extended community came by way of the first batch of MakerBot Cupcake kits in 2009. At the time, being open source meant – for me – that even if it turned out to be the first, last and only batch of Cupcakes I would still have the recipe to keep it running. Four years on, the resulting hacks and upgrades keep coming from the extended community, so that logic has continued to prove itself valid. The Cupcake is dead; long live the Cupcake!
Locally, I started bringing my Cupcake out to Ottawa ModLab gatherings at ArtEngine (every 1st & 3rd Wednesdays of the month; see http://artengine.ca/community/modlab-en.php), which led to the purchase and assembly of a Batch 10 Cupcake for the space. As more people have come online in the Ottawa region with their own 3D Printers we’ve been able to hold more frequent “Intro to 3D Printing” workshops, introducing people to this mind-blowing concept. Several RepRaps have been birthed from that machine along the way as well.
3D-printed tchotchkes at the Ottawa Mini Maker Faire. Credit: Andrew Plumb
For the past three years I’ve been making the annual trip down to NYC to attend the Open Hardware Summit and World Maker Faire to bounce ideas around with others in the extended community in person. At the first in 2010, Catarina Mota and I did a live-build of a Cupcake with Frostruder attachment (donated by MakerBot) in the 3D Printer Village and raffled off the finished machine. Helping out at MakerBot’s 2011 booth gave me the opportunity to check out more of the Faire itself, however I missed being right in the thick of the enthusiasts. This year I drove down for the 2012 Faire so I could bring down my own machine (currently a MakerBot Replicator) to share my own little “ClothBot Designs” experiments; see more below. It was well worth the trip, but I had zero time to check out the rest of the Faire so I’ll have to come up with a different approach for next year’s.
JB: What difficulties and successes did you encounter while setting up your 3D printing workshop?
AP: Being more of a Mac (personal) and Linux (day-job) guy than Windows, figuring out fully-functional open source software CAD/CAM tool chains has been (and continues to be) the biggest challenge. There are *so* many different 3D file formats, solid modelling tools, CGI mesh editors and Applications, and not all of them dump out simple STL data, let alone a manifold, 3D printable mesh.
Only once you have a favourite tool chain worked out for your own designs does it start to get easier to figure out how to work with other people’s works. Relatively few have taken their designs all the way thru to 3D printed realization, so there’s a significant amount of mutual hand-holding involved, dealing with the quirks of their software modelling tool choices.
JB: Could you describe your setup? What equipment do you use, why did you chose those models, and how is it working out for you?
AP: I started off with a MakerBot Cupcake and have been actively involved in the community along the way, so I’ve stayed with the MakerBot machines and am now on my third, a dual-extruder Replicator (v1). I haven’t had as much time as I would have liked to take full advantage of dual-material or dual-colour printing capabilities but it does work; I’ve been using the pair of extruders more as a quick way to switch back and forth between filaments.
I try to source the bulk of my plastic filament from more local sources, which for me means Voxel Factory in Montreal. The tolerances aren’t as tight as those of official MakerBot filament, making the spring-loaded extruder upgrade necessary to ride over the diameter variation. When I’m printing something that needs more accurately dispensed plastic, I use my MakerBot filament; every 0.01mm counts!
JB: You often hear of 3D printers as being great for ad-hoc repairs and replacements, like printing a new gasket rather than running out and buying one. Tell us about your experiences with that sort of repair.
AP: My best household repair to date has to be the one I did for my 10yo dishwasher. The handle was an injection-molded plastic part with two little knobs that, when closed, pushed on the two 110VAC switches that turn on power to the unit. They had worn down over the years to the point where they no longer engaged. A replacement handle for my specific model of dishwasher would have cost around US$20 (+taxes+shipping), so the solution was obvious. Whip out the callipers, measure the cavity left by the injection moulding process and design & print an insert to fix the problem.
I haven’t had reason to print out any upgrades or mods for my 2012 Chevy Volt yet, but I have the service manuals handy should I get the urge.
Andrew Plumb’s 3D-printed glider is extruded onto tissue paper. Credit: Andrew Plumb
JB: Tell us about your latest 3D printed project.
AP: My latest 3D printed project has involved turning what has traditionally been a fabrication problem – getting plastic to stick to the build surface, stay stuck during the build, and still be easily removed at the end – into a feature. Over the summer leading up to World Maker Faire 2012, I had been experimenting with ways to print plastic directly on to paper and cloth substrates.
Printing on cloth was easy – I had already figured out one method last year and printed out a simple demo of a jointed finger. All you have to do is spray adhesive on the build platform, spread your cloth over it (wrinkle-free) and set your print-height such that the first layer or two of plastic gets injected well into the weave of the fabric.
This method tends to be a bit messy because of the sticky build platform, so I’m still working on a cleaner method to keep the fabric threads stationary enough to print plastic on.
Printing on paper – where you actually want to keep the paper intact – was a great deal trickier. I managed to work the kinks out of a reproducible method in the days leading up to Maker Faire, prototyped it with cardboard and demo’d it at the Faire. About a month ago I made time to document the process as an Instructables project so that others can start playing with it too.