It does, you know. You just have to get it hot enough.

Monday, January 17, 2011

experimenting with a shapeways store

I’m starting to experiment with a shapeways store.

Currently there’s just an antenna mount of interest only amateur radio people, but I’m working on a few more items on the store that I am prototyping with my Makerbot Cupcake before uploading to Shapeways.

posted by jet at 22:21  

Sunday, December 19, 2010

“So why would someone own a 3D printer…

…or be glad that their neighbor did?”

Recently I picked up a Barnes and Noble NOOKColor. It’s an Android-based, e-reader/tablet with a good web browser and PDF display package. I don’t plan on buying many e-books (I prefer paper), but having something bigger than a phone and smaller than a laptop that can display a PDF or browse a “howto” site while I’m in the studio is seriously useful.

Except for one slight problem.

Like most tablets/e-readers, it’s meant to be hand-held and not parked on a bench. If I lay it flat on my bench it’s hard to read, and while it was amusing to have my hand model hold it, that didn’t work well either.

So after a frustrating day of trying to use it to browse instructions on some MakerBot mods…


… a trivial NOOKColor holder.

posted by jet at 20:54  

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Latest Design/Digifab Experiment: From Cupcake to Shapeways

[This is going to get a bit nerdy, but don’t worry, I save the hardcore stuff for my nerd blog.]

I had an idea recently for a different way of making ground plane antennas for the 2M band. Don’t worry about what they actually are, suffice it to say that they occupy a lot of volume and are a pain to transport. Imagine a pyramid made out of four 60cm coathangers with another 60cm coathanger coming out the top of the pyramid and you’ve got a typical ground plane antenna. On the other hand, they’re cheap, easy to build and can be tuned/adjusted with the SWR meter in a decent VHF radio.

(Ok, that’s pretty much all the geek stuff out of the way. See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?)

So here’s the problem. What if you want to toss a ground plane antenna in the back of your car, carry it somewhere on your bicycle, or have it as part of an emergency “go bag”? Are you really going to cart around a delicate bit of metal sculpture that occupies a rectangle a half-meter on each side and a meter tall? No, you aren’t.

This became a problem with an interesting combination of design and fabrication: How I could make it easier to transport and store but still be easy to set up and function correctly as an antenna? The idea of making it fold up seemed like the most obvious solution, but folding means moving parts which means more chance of coming apart. However, most people use this sort of antenna in a fixed location, often inside an attic or outside resting on a flat surface. At worst it might be used outside in windy situation and I’m thinking about a second version for that sort of environment. I started my process with the traditional sketching but instead of making foamcore models I decided to fire up the MakerBot Cupcake I built last winter and start out with ABS prototypes.

Total time spent modeling and printing each iteration was about an hour, and it was easy to fit that in at night after dinner over a few nights. The first few didn’t work very well but I quickly hit one that did work and that was a relatively simple piece of plastic. (Ok, it worked better after a bit of filing and sanding, but it worked.) Within a few minutes I’d bent and cut some welding rod, soldered a stick of it to an adapter, tweaked the resonance a bit, and I had a working antenna for not very much money.

The problem quickly became “How do I share this with other amateur radio operators?” Sure, I posted the STL on Thingiverse, but you have to own or know someone with a 3D printer for that to be of any use.

I think the answer is going to be Shapeways. I’ve ordered printed items from them in the past and while they aren’t cheap, they have wonderful print quality and ship worldwide. I’ve started the process of setting up a store there and in the spirit of Amateur Radio will offer my antenna mount for minimal markup.

In a few months we’ll see how this experiment worked: Can a design concept prototyped on a hobby 3D printer be turned around and sold for a small profit by a commercial fabrication shop? What are the unexpected surprises or hidden gotchas that need to be solved for this to be more than a hobby and instead a viable business model?

posted by jet at 22:34  

Friday, March 26, 2010

Documenting Design

On my recent trip to Japan I took my hand-me-down-but-new-to-me DSLR with the intent of documenting my trip and stuffing my swipe file to the brim. I didn’t take my video camera because it was too bulky and required too much attention: tapes that have to be managed, batteries to be charged and swapped, etc. Once I got there I quickly regretted not bringing the video camera and picked up a pocket-sized HD video camera, a Sony HDR-TGV5.

The DSLR is a great tool for documenting 2d and 3d design, but for 4d design you really need something that can capture video. (It’s true that some DSLRs now capture stunning video, but only for short durations and quantities and you’re still lugging around a full-size camera.) My “should have brought the video camera” regret kicked in as soon as I started experiencing how differently Japanese people interact with technology and their environment. Sure, I could take lots of photos and copious notes, but those aren’t nearly as good as 10-15 seconds of video.

It’s not just recording video that’s important, it’s being able to record video conveniently, in high quality, then easily move the video off the camera. With my full-size, miniDV video camera it’s pretty much impossible to take quick snippets of video given the overhead of getting it in/out of the case, turning it on, etc. On the other hand, the TGV5 is small and light enough that I can carry it in my pocket and within a few seconds have it out and recording video. (It’s even faster than getting my Droid out and recording.) Cheap/free software makes it trivial to take a 10-20 second clip, trim it if needed, then “Save As” for Flickr or Vimeo.

As an experiment I’m starting to document design — especially 4d design — using only short video clips. I’ve posted a couple of short clips to a new flickr set, “Japan + Design” which I’ll be filling with video and still clips as I get around to processing the backlog of photos.

There’s no chance of my getting rid of the DSLR any time soon as there’s no substitute for huge glass when it comes to taking good photos. However, I have stopped lugging it around unless I’m intentionally on a trip to take hiqh quality photos as the TGV5 is becoming my “go to” camera for documentation and swipe files.

posted by jet at 13:12  

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Are You Ready to Own A MakerBot Cupcake?

Which is a different question than, “Is the MakerBot Cupcake the right 3d printer for you?”

If you have the budget to buy a production-ready 3D printer, you probably shouldn’t be looking at a MakerBot. Production systems have better resolution, support contracts, schmancy STL conversion software and all sorts of other niceties. The MakerBot Cupcake is not a Stratasys, you’re not just going to plug it in and be cranking out pretty models a few hours later.

However, if you don’t have a huge budget and you’re willing to spend time debugging, tweaking, and generally getting your hands dirty; if you’re ok with the smell of ABS fumes, the stepper motor “songs“, and tending to an occasionally fussy machine that will botch a part for no obvious reason; and if you enjoy hacking and iterative exploration of technology, then maybe you’re the right sort of person to put together a MakerBot Cupcake or other reprap-based 3D printer.

Home scale fabrication is the domain of garage-carpenters and basement-machinists, the MakerBot doesn’t replace either. To some extent, building and running a MakerBot requires some of these related skills. Do you have a feel for how tight you can turn a bolt holding two pieces of wood together before it snaps the wood? Do you know how to shorten a screw with a hacksaw and keep the threads clean? You already own a multimeter, do you have a thermistor probe as well? How are you at diagnosing a wiring problem in a stepper motor?

Of the various reprap-related projects, MakerBot Cupcake is pretty clearly the easiest to put together. I got mine up and running without much fuss, but I’ve been building things from kits or fabbing things from raw materials for many years. I still needed help from the MakerBot mailing list to sort out a couple of minor problems and I’ve been able to help a couple of other people with their problems.

If you’re primarily a designer, there’s a reason you should consider taking the plunge even if you think you aren’t the sort of person who is ready to build their own 3D printer: self-education.

I’ve learned a lot about fabrication working in the opensource 3D printing world that I was never exposed to using commercial systems. Learning how to use Blender to create models has been painful at times, but I find myself liking it more than Solidworks for simple projects. I’ve learned about bad STL code, the relationships between temperature and speed when laying down plastic, and more about the physical properties of ABS than I ever thought I would need to know. Assembling the MakerBot from parts exposed me to a few neat tricks you can use to make 3D objects out of sheets of acrylic, and some new joining techniques for thin surfaces.

This new knowledge is also helping my ongoing education as a designer. Now that I know some of the printing capabilities, I can change my sketching and ideation process to work around limitations or integrate limitations of the printer. I’ve also rediscovered the old metalworking path of designing a mold to create a basic shape that is finished on machine tools, but instead I’m printing 3D plastic that I can finish using hand tools or machine tools.

It hasn’t been the easiest tool I’ve learned to use, but building and using the MakerBot might be the “funnest” tool I’ve learned to use in recent years.

Technorati Tags: , ,

posted by jet at 13:19  
« Previous PageNext Page »

Powered by WordPress