Using a 3D printer to refine a design

Creating isn’t always a one-shot process.

When I first conceived my 3D filament sizing set up, the bent piece of metal through which the filament ran to ensure there were no lumps that could jam the 3D printer seemed a simple yet elegant solution.

After using it for a while – and catching my coat on it, as you’ll hear about in the video – I realized there was a better way ….

This video explains what I came up with and how I used my 3D printer to create, then refine the design:

‘Novelty’ 3D-printing filament has real applications

3D-printing ColorFabb ngen_flex-rubber filamentNot everything I create on my 3D printers is artwork. I’ve written before about using my CAD software and 3D printing other things – it’s super handy for making parts as well as other items simply for fun.

That includes the cool design I came up with for a Farkle board.

As with most things, after I used the farkle board, I began to see some ways to improve the design. PLA resin creates a hard, stiff surface, so I added a padded bed to the first boards I printed.

That helped, but I wondered if I could eliminate the need for the padding while still getting a quiet, controlled throw of the dice by printing the design in rubber.

Fortunately, the Dutch filament maker ColorFabb offers a rubber filament called NGen_FLEX (usually called “Ninjaflex”) in 3 millimeter, perfect for my 8-foot-tall Gigante 3D printer ….

3D printed rubber farkle board - Kevin CaronThe print went remarkably smoothly. Most important for a piece with such a big footprint, the filament stuck to the print tray beautifully.

The only oddity was lots rubber “boogers” throughout the print. I think they were caused because, as often happens, the print head made some odd passes, repeatedly printing non-existent corners of the board before going around. That certainly contributed some of the slubs.

The aberrations were easy to cut off with my flush cutters, though – those little cutters are a truly handy tool to have around when 3D printing!

I found some purple dice with white dots, making it look like I’d actually thought through the color scheme – LOL.

Before we knew it, we were playing Farkle with a surprisingly quiet board that had just the right amount of bounce.

Of course, now that I have a little experience with this filament, I’m dreaming about what I can do it with it artistically ….

Surprises selling 3D-printed sculpture

Three of my large format 3D-printed sculptures at Vision Gallery - Kevin CaronI got great news this week when a check arrived from one of my retailers, Vision Gallery in Chandler, Arizona.

Vision has been carrying my work for a while, and for the past many months they have displayed the largest collection of my 3D-printed sculpture outside of a special show I did this past February. With glass walls on three exposures, the gallery is the perfect place for 3D-printed sculpture, especially light-hungry translucent pieces.

I wasn’t surprised that the sculpture they sold this month was Lemon Drop (shown on next page), a particularly luscious piece printed in translucent yellow PLA filament. Of all the translucents I’ve used thus far, the yellow is by far the most beautiful. It seems to capture and reflect the light.

The blue translucent is downright cold, although still beautiful, while the red tends to glow. The purple is more subtle, as evidenced in Josephine, a sculpture I recently completed that is on display at Vision Gallery. I love the emails I get from the gallery manager, who keeps snapping and sending photos of the sculptures as the light moves across the sky. She’ll write such reports as “Miss Josephine looks particularly sultry today.” That’s music to my ears: it means the art is as alive for her as it is for me.

What has surprised me, though, is who is buying my 3D-printed sculptures ….

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Stick this! Adhering a 3D print is key during printing

3d printing-lifted corner - Kevin CaronOne of the challenges of 3D printing that I think – knock on wood – I’ve finally worked through is adherence to the print tray.

There’s nothing more frustrating than having a 3D print come loose from the tray while a print is underway, and it’s something that’s happened to me far more times than I even like to think about.

The Cerberus 3D Gigante’s large format prints are particularly prone to this problem – I have a few large prints the corners of which have “flipped up” slightly because they cooled faster than the rest of the print. See an example to the right – fortunately in this case, it works with the concept and theme of the sculpture!

Sometimes, though, a lifted corner ruins the print altogether.

Other times, on any of my printers, a 3D print simply comes loose from the print tray – then it’s game over.

But I’ve learned a few things and updated some to improve my quality and finish rate ….

 

My 3D Systems CubeX came with some sticky stuff that I used on that 3D printer until I got my Cerberus 3D machines, when I learned about using hairspray. Yes, hairspray. (I’m sure they wonder at the grocery store when I buy three or four cans of Suave Extreme Hold hairspray. I just smile.)

Suave Extra Hold Hair Spray - 3D printingI still use hairspray – more on that in a moment – but I’ve gotten away from using blue tape. That was the other trick I learned when I got my Gigante. I’d apply painters’ blue tape – the kind that is supposed to release easily – to the print tray, pressing down just as hard as I could. It worked sometimes, but not always. Also, not all blue tape is created equally, apparently.

I don’t like the blue tape because

  1. It is hard to get off the tray
  2. It’s especially difficult to get off the sculptures
  3. It doesn’t always seem to work.

What seems to work best is a heated tray. That’s why I added one to my CubeX and another to the Gigante. 3D prints adhere much better with heat! I don’t think I’ve had a problem with large format prints lifting up since I installed the heated tray on the Gigante.

Of course, you don’t just use heat. Before I start a 3D print, I also clean the print tray well, then spray it liberally with hairspray before I start printing.

Of all the challenges with 3D printing, I think – THINK – I have this one licked.

What I don’t need to do when 3D printing

Artist Kevin Caron standing beside his Gigante 3D printerDuring my recent art show when I had my Cerberus 3D Gigante 3D printer running, several visitors asked whether I just pushed “go” and walked away while printing.

After I finished laughing, I’d explain that running this printer is like having a 3-year-old. You can never entirely take your eye off of it, and sometimes it requires extra care, other times it needs discipline. (I haven’t spanked yet, but I’ve sure thought about it.)

All of that is to say there is plenty to think about when a print is under way.

A few months ago, my business manager asked me if it would make sense to keep a log of my prints. For instance, she thought maybe I could note when I started the print, when I changed spools, etc. I could even track when I turned on the fan, what speed I was running at for how long, and other such details.

“That’s probably the last thing I want to do!” I replied ….

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Aesthetic tweaking with 3D-printed designs

Daisy Mae, a 3D printed fine art sculpture by Kevin CaronWorking with my 3D-printed sculptures requires a balance of aesthetic and technical considerations. In the big picture, that’s not all that unlike working with metal, but the way I do it is definitely different in each medium.

Take my latest 3D-printed sculpture, Daisy Mae (right).

As usual, I began playing with forms in CAD, this time in Rhino. It took a couple of tries to get it to print properly – there were some hiccups with adherence to the print tray (I really need to clean it better before trying to print!) – but it was a pretty painless 3D print, and boy, do I love this yellow translucent filament!

With the print came a couple of surprises, as is so often true. One surprise was great, one less than great – more on both of these in a moment.

So clearly, I need to make some tweaks to the design…

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Test driving a new – old – host program on a big 3D print

Pronterface screen, 3D printing - Kevin Caron's 3D printing blogDealing with sudden, inexplicable fails got me to try some new things. I don’t know which, if any, are related to why my Cerberus 3D Gigante 3D printer just stopped cold without apparent reason, but it sent me back to play with a host program I’d only used once or twice before.

In fact, when my 3D printing guru suggested I use Pronterface instead of Repetier, which we thought might be the problem, I remembered I had a version of it. It was old, so the first thing I did was download the latest version of this venerable – well, for 3D printing! – host program.

Pronterface is apparently one of the most common interfaces used by 3D printer software. It can move and home all 3 axes independently, as well as offering a temperature graph, extrude and retract buttons, a window showing the current layer’s tool path, and a window to enter G-code. Some users complain that it’s too basic or don’t like the program’s look and feel, but it seems very clean and easy to use to me.

The big question is whether and how it works ….

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3D printing jewelry adds color & and complexity

BackFlip 3D printed earrings - Kevin CaronOne of the many things 3D printing has allowed me to do is make jewelry.

I’ve always loved jewelry – my wife likes to brag that I had her favorite jewelry store on my speed dial (which is true) – but I could never work that small in metal.

But suddenly, with 3D printing, I am able to create beautiful jewelry – and open a whole new side of my business.

Some of my designs are smaller reproductions of large sculptures – more on that in a moment – while others are original designs for the jewelry that I just may create in full-size metal sculptures someday.

Like most things, though, creating a jewelry line is not as simple as it may seem, and certainly not as simple as I thought it’d be!

For instance, none of my three 3D printers is able to print in small enough resolution to reproduce my designs as earrings or necklaces. There are other aspects of the learning curve to create jewelry, too ….

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3D Printing Mystery Continues…

Troubleshooting - Kevin CaronWouldn’t it be awesome if things just worked?

Yeah, they do sometimes, but especially in these early days of 3D printing, there are so many variables and things change so quickly that it seems there are myriad things that can and do go wrong.

Lately I’ve been battling a problem with both of my deltabot 3D printers, and I still haven’t figured out what is causing it.

The result is ugly: they just stop printing. For no apparent reason. Everything is going well, and then the hotend just stops moving.

Aaaargh!

I can’t just give up – it isn’t in my nature.

So I’ve been doing what I always do when troubleshooting any problem ….

I work through a process of elimination, testing and ruling out various possibilities.

Here’s what I’ve done thus far:

  1. Confirmed that it isn’t on just one 3D printer. It seems that I’m having the same problem with both deltabots.
  2. Confirmed that it isn’t Windows 10. That’s because it’s also happening on a computer that is running Windows 7. If it were just Windows 10, that’d be one thing, but the other computer hasn’t had an update in years and ran just fine.
  3. Confirmed that it isn’t the host program. I’m having the problem with both Repetier – two different versions of it – and Simplify. I’ve checked Simplify’s log and see it says the firmware is unresponsive, which brought me to my latest hunch (below).
  4. Removed the host program from the equation altogether. I put the file directly into the Gigante (yes, I used a ladder to do it). Same problem.
  5. Confirmed that it isn’t a power problem. One of the computers is plugged directly into the wall, while the other runs through an uninterrupted power supply.
  6. Ruled out the file itself. This has happened with several files, so it isn’t the design.
  7. Made sure it isn’t a filament bulge problem. It’s happened with various filaments, including two different diameters (3 millimeter and 1.75).
  8. Noted that it has happened shortly after the print started and just before it finished. If it were related to the file length, you’d think that would be more consistent.

At this point, I’m thinking it might be the controller board. I believe both 3D printers have Smoothie boards, so that might be it.

So I’ll just keep poking around on forums, talking to people, consulting my expert, and eliminating problems, hoping that one of them is the solution that gets me back up and 3D printing again.

And if this is just a test of my patience, I hope I have already passed!

 

What do you do with a failed 3D print?

endtable-croppedAnyone who works with 3D printing – other than on the very high end – has likely pondered what to do with prints that don’t make it.

Early on, I asked it a lot. Between hardware, software and filament problems, I had a lot of fails.

Often a fail is unsalvageable. I mean, really, what can anyone do with a rat’s nest of filament?! (Maybe find a homeless rat?)

My hope is that the Protocycler will finally be completed. I invested in this Indiegogo-fueled project that grinds up old filament so it can be reconstituted to fresh filament, but at this point it seems like it’s still a pipe dream. (And I’m now really reluctant to invest in any crowdsourced project without a lot of scrutiny!)

But some failed projects got far enough that a little imagination might lead to something worthwhile. Take for instance, the print that failed after more than two days of printing (right) because of a power outage ….

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