Status update

Much has changed since I last posted here.

First of all, we now have total of 5 printers in our workshop; 1 Makerbot Cupcake CNC, 1 Mendel Prusa, 2 Ultimaker Originals and miniFactory (made in Finland!).

We use Ultimakers and miniFactory most, mostly daily. Prusa and Makerbot are not in working condition right now but 3 printers are more than enough for us to fill our prototyping needs.

As miniFactory has heated bed, we have been able to print with ABS once again! Print and desight quality is nice and we love that machine is actuall made of steel! With custom electronics running on Marlin firmware it’s fairly easy to use and robust.

Here is an image of the printer:

miniFactory 3D printer

In fact, we love the machine so much that we are now selling them through our company, PalonenLABS Oy. Price is moderate, 1499 eur (including 24% VAT) – which I consider quite reasonable for a high-quality machine with heated bed.

Second important thing is that we have been making translation of Cura printer software to Finnish. We are also making an Z-calibration wizard for it. We are doing close co-operation with miniFactory Ltd on this one and are hoping that soon we can have a special version of Cura, tailored specifically for miniFactory printers. Of course it will work also with other printers but for example Z-wizard will make life of miniFactory owners so much easier – no more sending G- and M-codes and calculating calibration values. What the wizard does is basically using normal G-codes and special Marlin firmware M-codes to calculate correct height of printing bed.

Here is a screenshot of that new dialog in English:
Näyttökuva 2014-2-1 kello 18.34.46

And in Finnish:

It’s working and source-code can be downloaded from our Github-fork: https://github.com/randomev/Cura. It could be useful for others with Marlin-firmware printers also.

That’s all for now – except I’ll try start a new tradition – sharing picture of recent print at the end of every post.

Here’s first one – a print that we see every morning in daily driver – our electric car dashboard display;

Untitled

Printed with pink PLA (color choise is good as a conversation starter). Display is IP65 rated CAN-display with our custom made software in it. It basically shows some important items read from our custom-made battery management system.

Well, that’s truly all for now, take care and remember to 3D print something at least once a day 🙂

 

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Candle castings with 3D printed molds

I can safely say that my son is a Super Mario fan. He plays it, reads manuals, learns english for reading more about it from Wikipedia and generally knows a lot about the game and Nintendo as a company. We have printed and designed numerous Super Mario related items in the past with our Alibre+Ultimaker combination. As his 7th birthday is nearing he wanted us to make an Super Mario related candles for the party. And not just any character but an Bomb Omb – an round “bomb” shaped figure with small feet and large eys. And on top a fuse-line acts as a candle heart 🙂

I thought this was a perfect opportunity to test some castings with candle wax/stearin. It has a melting point of 70 C so PLA should be just fine for mold. I remembered reading from Thingiverse about Openscad script that someone had generated for making molds. After a while I found it: Parametric two-part mold generator for OpenSCAD by jasonwebb. We already had designed a Bomb Omb with Tinkercad but quickly realized it was not suitable for casting because of some shapes it had. And because Tinkercad is closing, we decided to model a new Bomb Omb with Alibre. That took only about half an hour and Jasonwebb’s Openscad script worked nicely after that. After some parameter tweaking we were quite certain that we had good mold halfs. After about 4 hours print we melted few candles in a small metal pot and poured them in to the mold. I was surprised to find that all wax was”lost” very quickly after pouring. None of it stayed in the mold but none of it dropped to floor either. I wondered where did it go – quickly realizing that mold was not solid enough and that it was sucking all that wax inside of the mold. Mold was printed with 20% fill and apparently had some very small holes in the inside surface.

We then coated inner surface with 2 compound epoxy resin and after curing overnight I did a new pour today. This time it seemed to fill just ok but after opening the mold I realized that the mold was only half filled and casting was not usable. Well, it was really quick to re-melt the cast and pour again. This time I poked and stirred molten wax inside the mold with a small metal file. This seemed to help and after cooling we got a nice little Bomb Omb candle. To next pour we’ll add a proper “candle heart” to act as a fuse for this little figure.

It was a nice experiment and I’m surprised with the results – this was my first casting ever with a proper mold. Only castings I have previously done were lost foam aluminum castings many years ago. In the future I would definitely like to test proper some sand castings with 3D printed mold positives.

Here are few pictures from our first succesful cast.

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Bass drum Bag for the Ultimaker transportation

How to transport Ultimaker to events and happenings all over the world? You can find the answer from the music shop. Bass drum gigbag  is a great way to move Ultimaker from place to place. Gigbag is also soft, so it protects Ultimaker from small hits  and temperature changes. Bass drum gigbag is also big enough for a bass drum so Ultimaker fits easily. It has also few pockets  so you can also carry your tools which you need in printing process (pliers, tape etc.). 

Bag is also very easy to carry, so you can transport the Ultimaker with you in train or in bus. Also, the bag fits easily to car’s rear seat. And least but not last – soft gigbags are fairly cheap – just under 40 eur at your nearest music shop ! So now you can easily take your Ultimaker where ever you go 🙂

 

 

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3D scanners and Electric Vehicles

I’m sometimes using Microsoft Kinect to 3D modeling various Electric Vehicles. I made an short video demonstrating how the process works;

Kinect makes pretty good 3D scans and for some applications the resolution will do just fine. For more accurate scans I’m going to use line-laser with web-cam.

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It’s fun to build EV-prototypes with 3D printer in the workshop!

Recently I have been struggling to get my Electric Motorcycle conversion (eCagiva) conversion ready for the summer rides. I haven’t had the time to install new batteries 😦 So that’s the main issue right now. And course all the supporting systems need to be upgraded to the new cell-count. Also now I have proper DC/DC (300 W IP67 Sevcon) and an new IP67 3.3 kW charger.

One main system needing to be upgraded is Battery Management System or “BMS” for short. It needs 5 more BMS PCB-boards since cell count rises from 17 to 22. With that, the voltage rises also from 54,4 V (17*3,2 V) to 81,4 V (22*3,7 V). The BMS works from about 2-4.3 volts so this is not a problem. But mechanical part is. Last summer I drove with exposed BMS-circuits, they were only protected with bikes original fairing. Not an optimum solution at all !

This time I decided to make an proper case for them. Bottom from 2 mm aluminum and “glass” from some clear polycarbonate plastic. It needs to be quite a bit thinner than last version since I don’t have much extra space after new batteries. I opted for PCB-mounting rails and custom 3D printed parts for mounting them.

I made a small video explaining my current prototyping process;

It is so easy to print usable items in plastic. Many times I need some small part for my EV-conversions and usually ABS-plastic is just fine as a material. So I sit down to my computer, desing the parts and just print them. The printing time usually is not a problem at all since I can make other things while the printer is printing.

I can warmly recommend getting or building an 3D printer if you are building an EV or just prototyping something. It’s not an cost issue anymore. You can build an working 3D printer for less than just basic EV motor controller – all the parts for 3D printer cost only about 400€ (~ $550).

One thing I’m waiting is similar DIY printing capability for metal, spesifically to aluminum. That would really widen the possibilities even more. The thing is, there are already commercial metal printers out there so I guess it’s only matter of time when someone needs metal printer hard enough to build it themselfs… Until then, I make my metal bends and cutting with “ordinary” tools.

I’m also in the process of building an vacuum plastic molder. The aim is to have plastic heated with heater and then use an vacuum pump to pull soft plastic sheet on top of the mold. It would be awesome to have the ability to mold very clear and quite large plastic parts.

When I’m learning something new, I tend to read everything I can from the subject in hand and study the basic issues surronding it. And as for the plastic molding and mold-making I have noticed that deep information can be found from quite unusual places. One great book is made actually for builders of Theater Props! The book is called “The Prop Builder’s Molding & Casting Handbook” and it’s written by Thurston James. It’s a great book and many techniques explained can be directly used in building all kind of prototypes. There is an short description for vacuum molding machine and I’m using these plans as my general instructions when building the vacuum forming machine.

Here are few pictures when we were building the heater for the vacuum molder. My son is 5 years and daughter is 2 years in the picture. They are very eager to help in the workshop and it’s actually fun to build things with them 🙂

Building Vacuum Plastic Molder heater
Vacuum Plastic molder resistor

So when ever I can, I tend to read every bit of information about the subject in hand and buy the books to my workshop bookshelf. I’ll be glad that I bought them when I need just that one last piece of information / inspiration (and the workshop network is once again down)… I warmly recommend this to anyone trying to learn something new 🙂

This is once again very exciting time for me – it’s so easy these days look for a good book and just order it from Amazon.com (or from other web- bookshops). After few days, I can read it and have all that precious information  permanently stored on my bookshelf. And hopefully, eventually in my own head too – but that will certainly take a much longer time 🙂

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Building Mendel Prusa together with my son

Slowly we are building our next 3D printer, the Mendel Prusa. With my 4 years old son Väinö we had today a great time building our printer. We also took apart some stepper motors to see how they work. Somewhere during the day we also tested and modified home-made stepper controller a bit and connected an old stepper to it. The stepper in question was salvaged from an old scanner that Väinö took apart just recently. So, just normal DIY things every tinkerer does – generally just having fun while learning how things work.

I really hope that my two childs will get to know 3D printing as a valuable tool and not some futuristic sci-fi tech – but just ordinary tool among other tools. It just happens to “print”  things, but basically it isn’t so different from other tools. You need to have an idea, an vision, that you are after before you start working. You have to have basic understading how things work and what you can do with different tools and materials available.

I’m glad to see that in recent months my son has already said many times that “Hey dad, I think we could easily print that – and if we would add that and that to it, it would be even greater, then we could do this and this with it”… So here we go – it already is just a tool for him, nothing more, nothing less! This is what I like the most – the “DIY mentality” – the feeling that through experimentation and tinkering one can obtain much deeper understanding of how things really work and after that, one is free to modify the design of the object in hand.

I know I’m not certainly alone as “tinkerer dad” – I have read many great stories how many parents are doing great “DIY adventures” – by tingering and doing stuff & exploring the world together with their childrens. This seems to be the case many times in tinkerer families. I certainly hope this will last when kids grow up. But for now, I’m certainly a very happy “tinkerer dad” – almost nothing is more rewarding than to see my childs have a happy DIY-moments in their own plays.

It seems that generation after generation, we always have more and more sophisticated tools at our hands and we are capable of fabricating stuff our grand-fathers only dreamed about. I’m fairly sure that for example 3D printers will be as common as  microwave-ovens are nowdays. It seems to me that revolution has already started – who had though five years ago that even 4 year old kid can put together his own 3D-printer 🙂

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Revolution in progress

These are my notes on my journey to the wonderful world of
the DIY 3D printing.

First baby steps were taken in 2008 when I
discovered the the Reprap DIY 3D printer for the first time. After
reading and discussing on the forums a bit, the actual building
process seemed to take too much of time. Besides, back
then, I didn’t have enough actual need to
build one – it was again just “oh, that would be a nice tool to
have”-thing for me… I have build few DIY CNC machines on my workshop that served my prototyping needs quite well.

Enter year 2009. Interest in DIY electric car conversions continued to
grow in Finnish ‘EV-scene’. As I designed some prototype UI’s for our conversions, I made the first ones with my own DIY CNC machines. My goals were that only one size mill bit would be needed, and milling only from one side. Makes parts somewhat limited compared to 3D printing.

Soon after someone saw my prototypes working, I was offered an opportunity to design the casing from gound up for 3D printers and get it build with commercial 3D prototyping machines.
So, I designed something I knew would need a few extra
axes and a very small router bits if made with ordinary CNC machines. After few weeks, I got my design made with commercial 3D printers.

The result really blew my mind!

I was totally sold for the 3D printers after I got the prints to my
hand. Everything was presicely the way I had modeled and the fit
was very good – parts just snapped together…

‘This is something I need to investigate further!‘ – I thought. ‘I definitely need to have an 3D printer, ASAP…’ – So there was my actual need for 3D printer – prototyping cases for our EV conversion display-variants.

After few months of getting those first commercial 3D prints to my hand, I bought an Makerbot Cupcake CNC. I
thought that it would be the quickest way to get working DIY
printer. I was very happy with the build instructions and material
quality of the kit. Nothing I had previously seen on Open Hardware
projects. The prints were very fine too – the whole process of DIY 3D printing was much easier than I thought it would be.

After few months of learning and testing various prints
with it, I’m ready to move on to the next level. As of now, at the end
of 2010, I have started to print another 3D-printer – Reprap Mendel
Prusa. First few frame-parts are ready and assembled, few more need
some work still. Don’t get me wrong, the Cupcake has been a great
printer. It’s just that as always when I tell people about the 3D
printing revolution currently on progress, one of my base
statements is that these things can truly replicate themselfs. So
this is as much as of ‘proof of point’ as it’s an usefull tool for
me. One for home, one for workshop – that’s the way tools should be
obtained 😉

Here are few samples of my EV-related prints so far:


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