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Some links about me. Many of my 3D designs are free. I also post on Google+ and in another blog, oz4.us
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Sunday, November 23, 2014

How to use Openscad (4): children and advanced topics

Part 4/5: children, factorized placement and chained hulls

Yes, it was made with Openscad and it is parametric!
(extreme collaborative work, picture by N.Goodger)
Previously in this tutorial for the Openscad CAD software, we talked only about modules that behaved as shapes.

A powerful and often ignored feature of Openscad is that modules can also behave as if they were operators, exactly like the translate()or color() operators. They do not create shapes on their own, but they modify the subsequent commands.

In Openscad, it is possible through the use of children. But first, let us create and discuss a bit about a common-case example.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

How to use Openscad (3): iterations, extrusions and more modularity!

Part 3/5: iteration, extrusion and useful parametrized CSG techniques

Repeating shapes

As we saw in the previous article, repeating a shape by copy/pasting its Openscad definition is a bad practice. It increases the risk of mistakes just because of the slight changes that have to be made on each of the copies. And any "regularity" should be factorized: let the computer do our work!

The former way we built a (partially) rounded cube. Four copy/pastes? Boo!

See how the four columns really are all the same cylinder, where only the position changes? This is where we can and we should use loops instead. And once again there are different ways to do so.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Fortune 500 teller? 3D printing trends, reports, analyses and business intelligence...

Are the "high-level strategically analyzed reports" worth something?

Hey, could my blog be so informative? :)

I am regularly contacted, mostly on linkedIn, by experts that seek data. The last time it was for a company that compiles data and trends "for the Fortune 500 companies". Which does not excite me more than that, and here is why.

Such data are usually sold at an incredible price to managers that think they would get a better clue at the market, with the idea that they would be more profitable. But there are two traps here.

The first one is: am I really enough of an expert to give clues to Fortune 500 companies? I am mostly an iconoclast, e.g. when I say not to invest in Makerbot at all (neither as a customer nor as an investor, but I have a full-length analysis why I say so), or when I explain why, imho, "pro/expensive" FDM printers are almost a scam nowadays. OK, I may be better than a monkey and provide a few useful reviews (e.g. materials for artists, or what cannot be 3D printed...). But still, asking my opinion on the market trends could cast a doubt on the forthcoming corresponding report. Oh, well, may be they also want data from makers -- why not after all.

As a manager, do you really need accurate trends and data?
Or do you need only the feeling that you have some?
Secondly and as importantly, the reviews are most often never used in reality. Once bought, they are dropped on the desk of a subordinate in the company, with the advice to get some insight from the document. The underlying idea is: since it is expensive it must be valuable...

Thursday, September 11, 2014

How to use Openscad (2): variables and modules for parametric designs

Part 2/5: Variable and parametric design

The previous part addressed the basics of Openscad. It relied mostly on "immediate values": we were providing dimensions as explicit numbers. If you want to tweak the design dimensions, then you need to parse the scad source code and fix the numbers all everywhere.

In fact "hard coded" numbers must be avoided. As opposed to "static" designs, parametric designs give the flexibility to tune the numbers very efficiently at one place only. The good point is that Openscad is one of the best tool to do so.

A larger mug by using the scale operator (from the "basic" tutorial).
This is still not parametric, as numbers are hard-coded (a bad practice).
See how the numbers in our mug design above depends on each other? If the cube is to be made taller for any reason, then the intersecting sphere and hollow cylinder must be tuned accordingly in the source code. And this is exactly something a computer can do better than us.

So let us first convert this design to a parametric version, i.e. a design that can be tweaked with a small set of parameters that all have a clear role (width, height and so).

How to use Openscad (1), tricks and tips to design a parametric 3D object

Part 1/5: Introduction to constructive solid geometry with Openscad

Some technical and non-technical people keep asking me how I create new designs. As often, after a few personal replies, I end up heading to the blog to share the answer as they keep asking for more.

Also, I long wanted to write a pragmatic and step-by-step introduction, howto and tutorial to Openscad. The idea is to help people even with no programming skills (mostly in this part) and to bring newcomers to a point that they can design their own 3D objects (part two). Interestingly, Vicariously, Openscad is very interesting to get a glimpse at what programming is because you get an immediate, visual feedback of your actions (even my mother, a former history teacher, was eventually able to get a clue at what my job was about). Once understood these concepts, it may be much easier to move to other languages.

Now, if only a few readers become "designers" by reading this I will be quite happy. If some people realize that programming is not that obscure I will be happy also. Meanwhile, I will have given a detailed answer to my friends and contacts!

A non-obvious GoPro mount of mine, that is fully customizable thanks to Openscad.
It looks complex, but it is still exclusively made of spheres, cylinders, and cubes with a few basic "joints".
A forthcoming last part will deal with the complex features of Openscad. This one is for people that either learn fast or for those that are already proficient with the usual features of Openscad.
  1. Introduction to constructive solid geometry with OpenSCAD
  2. Variables and modules for parametric designs
  3. Iteration, extrusion and useful parametrized CSG techniques
  4. Children, factorized placement and chained hulls

So first, what is Openscad? Within the CAD family, it is a 3D modeler: a software that helps you to create 3D objects. There are many such tools, but this one is used extensively in the 3D printing community, not only because it is free but because is it really efficient for some kind of objects.

It may or may not suit your mind, but with time I am able to "see" the shape I describe, not as text but directly as shapes. I guess it depends on people, but I am sure there are people that are not programmers that can think alike. And if you are already a programmer with no industrial goal then you really should give it a try. It will be a breeze to use up to a productive level, especially if you do not want to invest time in a new and hellish interactive user interface!

The official manual is OK but it does not really work as an introduction. The navigation is also sometimes difficult to the point google is more useful. There is a nice raw cheat sheet also but it has no link to the respective functions (what a pity!) (update: it does now!). In any case, these fail to help to learn Openscad quickly in my humble opinion.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Home made filament drying box

How to make a simple dehydrator (drying box) with a solar vacuum tube

A short and probably overkill post for a passive and zero carbon footprint drying box (not counting the required one to make the tube).

I use a spare, high tech and powerful vacuum solar tube, but it is easy to make something with a copper or steel tube painted in black, around which you slide larger transparent plastic bottles. Such insulation is required to avoid the ambient air temperature from cooling your own heated air.

The second required item is a brand used low-tech cardboard box.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

E3D v6 hot end: ideas and assembly tricks

Assembled E3D v6 with a few particularities
You may remember that I wrote broadly about hot ends in an another post, but this short new one is specifically about the sixth revision of the E3D family (E3Dv6).

This is probably the best hot end on the market right now (in my opinion -- and I did not check them all). It is not cheap, hence expensive as all the good quality hot ends. But this is a critical part where you cannot really lose money if you value your time...

However there are still some room for some improvements. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Materials for artists: 3D printing wood, chalk, and eventually metal with bronze

Important materials for artists

An amazing door knocker by Sonia Verdu
(rust comes from post-processed glued iron dust)
Still today, the visual quality of 3D printed objects is far from perfect. Of course, a stringy or bumpy surface does not mean the part will not work: you can get a visibly ugly part that still works well enough as a mechanical connector for example. But an artist will certainly not like it.

This post tries to list the main filaments that artists would look for first. Many other filaments are listed in a former post about materials that can be printed (without artistic consideration).

It also talks about the brand new bronzeFill filament from ColorFabb. Yes, it does contain bronze. No, we are not yet printing metal really. But certainly it is a major and very welcome addition to the list of interesting materials to 3D print.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Four in the morning. Just had a few tweaks to finish my upgrade...

Eventually "implemented" my upgrade! I certainly did not think it would take me so long, but once you start to sort the mess that's below a 3D printer you just can spend days on it! There is a brief list after the break.

I am sure a lot of 3D printer owners share the "two minutes into two hours" syndrome.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Why you should not buy Makerbot 3D printers!

Avoid Makerbot and its 3D printers, they are both wrong.

Really! And there are many reasons not to buy: cost, reliability, human values, innovation and so.

I endorse even less Makerbot business
than I already trusted their products !
But enough is enough, this time I say why.
Seriously, Makerbot Industries care more about money than 3D printers. They so badly want your money that they start using dirty business practices. As a client, their overall strategy is simple: you will increasingly pay more to get less. The quality of the product does not count as long as they keep selling it through marketing tricks.

Update (nov. 2014): eventually, well-known resellers of 3D printers like imakr even stopped selling them because of after sale burden and heavy customer negative feedback.

Update (april 2016): interestingly, this post still holds. Makerbot just moved its production to China. A few arguments may be outdated though, so read carefully.

Do not think this is a biased joke, neither only a maker's rant (as formerly). I really want to warn would-be customers that they should not buy. And I want to try and stay objective.

But beside this, Makerbot brutal business strategy makes all this clear beyond doubt. I cannot think of any other motive than greed, or may be also for the inflating ego of Bre Pettis, its director. By the way, 3D printing certainly never was invented by Makerbot -- this is pure usurpation. Please do not fall in the trap of old and dirty business practices.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The businessman and the maker

The Businessman and the Maker

Businessman v.s. Maker (although Dilbert is certainly not a maker!)
At Fabcon 2014 3D print fair (my feedback is here), I gave a speech entitled "Make it yourself: it can be better than what the industry sells you!".

It was insipred by this former post on the same vein, which rang a bell in Florian Horsh head (so much he very kindly invited me).

3D print fair at Fabcon 2014: feelings and people

Fabcon 2014 - was worth 2575 kilometers and 31 hours on a motorbike!

So I was kindly offered to give the closing talk of the 2014 edition of Fabcon 3.D in Erfurt, Germany.

My talk is now available online as slides, and also as a youtube video (for some unknown reason I cannot embed it here).

Note that I added a short separate post that resumes it, with a few new ideas: The businessman and the maker. This one is about the people and projects I met there.

My spoken English should definitely be improved (and I was half sick half exhausted), but it will spare you pushes on the space bar for the next slide, and more importantly, you still get details in the 25 minutes not-so-lively speech. My apologies, as it was the first time I spoke in public for years (back to my time at the long-gone Palm company, and more significantly during my PhD, huh, 14 year ago!). Please read ahead.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Quick comparison: pro versus low cost FDM 3D printers

Are so-called "professional" entry-level 3D FDM printers worth their price?

A LinkedIn user in my network asked for more data when I said that "low cost" FDM printers could compare favorably to "professional" (and expensive) printers. Sure, it is a bold statement, and it does not hold for every of the many "levels of quality", as there are just too numerous. But let me get into more details.
In my opinion, an Ultimaker rev. 2 (~2K€) compares very nicely to a Stratasys UPrint-Se (~23K€)
I certainly do not want to say the "pro" printers are crappy, nor that any brand is crappier than the other, but I had the chance to compare my Ultimaker prints with a "professional" Stratasys entry-level printer (i.e. 1200€ versus 23K€). The outcome is that I just would never swap the two even if I was offered the "pro" one for free! Huh.

Now I am a power tinkerer, I know how to print, I prototype the printer itself, and I cherish freedom, but I tried to keep this bias out of the following arguments.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Thoughts and hints around hot ends

This post finally documents ideas and hints I had during the design of two hot ends I made last year.
My extremely small "cheesy hot end" (all-metal and actively-cooled), here with an Ultimaker printed support.
This hot end was very easy to make (only used basic tools) and also because the barrel is quite short.
At the time I already had ordered an E3D hot end, but the lead time was so big that I decided to give it try myself. Actually, since I attached it with this tiny E3D support on my Ultimaker, I almost never swapped my hot ends anymore because it is just so reliable... The only drawback is that the efficient heatsink could be made almost half the size for more Z space, less vibrations and less weight (hence my smaller, low cost --and low quality-- copycat by the way, see below). And it does not mean I stop thinking ;)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Features and improvements for a would-be homemade Ultimaker 3D printer

How would I re-design the original Ultimaker?

Quite some changes on the back of
my Ultimaker Original (aka v.1)!
The Ultimaker 1 (aka Original) is a well-built printer. It is probably one of the oldest and still best designs as proved by its incredible longevity.

I bought mine two years ago and, still, I feel quite confident that it would compare favorably in many aspects against a 30K€ FDM printer that a client bought last month. Is Stratasys really serious with this beast? May be there are better properties (eg. less warp due to fully enclosed?) But it also features a smaller build volume, a ridiculously limited and exceedingly expensive printing set of material. They also solved warping ABS by printing on... ABS beds (just try to remove it now when you forgot the in-between support!). You bet they bought Makerbot: overpriced "serious business" printers ought to be past, crappy obsolete printers. Too bad they are polluting MKI with greedy business practices though, and not the opposite.

OK, back to our subject. The "UM1" is one of the few printers you can take around you and which will keep printing very reliably without the need for re-calibration. It is also the only one I still blindly recommend... once the user knows that it is not that trivial to 3D print something. The new UM version is probably better in this regard, but it loses some "hackability" that I am fond of...

Still, the Ultimaker printers are big and they sometimes do not suit all my needs. If I was to re-design a clone, there are a few cosmetic but also structural modifications I would make, especially to the original design. Actually, many of my designs are all about improving the printer. Time to summarize what I did and what I would like to do!

Fixing Cura broken linux packages (slicing fails silently)

How to build Cura's slicer "SteamEngine" from scratch

Cura releases for Linux are often broken, probably because the author better implements features than packages (which is a good thing!) and because supporting Windows and MacOS is already painful enough ;)

One of the last issues kept happening due to the linux package made only for 64 bit architectures, which is stated nowhere and not checked during installation. So slicing cannot run when your PC is running a 32 bit linux OS. The easiest fix is to rebuild the slicer, which is a piece of cake compared to 3D printing!

Update (jan, 2014): full instructions on how to build Cura from scratch (see the last chapter).

Friday, January 17, 2014

How to 3D print nylon and trimmer line reliably: do not dry it too much and glue your bed!

How to 3D print Nylon reliably, cleanly and hassle-free.

A well-printed and robust dual-head Nylon mount (check it here).

Nylon is flexible, slippery and incredibly tough when it is printed correctly.

For me, it is a cheap and very useful material to 3D print. It is my best choice whenever PLA is not possible, and the very reason I never use ABS (more about the materials in this post).

But the nice properties of Nylon are the ones that precisely make it difficult to print ! By the way, Nylon also produces toxic fumes when heated, just like ABS, so it better be used in well-ventilated rooms.

I tried many known and unknown techniques to print reliably, and it is time I share my experience because I am happy with what I found.  Read on for more!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Fixes and howto for the DIY Fabscan 3D scanner

The fabscan is cheap... but it can be made to work.
For my curiosity, I bought a DIY "Fabscan" to try scanning small objects cheaply.

Update (2016): this post is very old. Many bugs were fixed since and I was told most of the improvements I list below were made in between. So make sure to get the latest software and doc from the official website, even before reading. And better even: the project is still active!

And it proved to be cheap, in all the possible ways.
In my opinion, the most annoying thing was the totally unusuable FabScan Ubuntu Live CD software.

This post is mostly about how to get it to produce an STL with the Ubuntu Live USB distribution specifically made for the fabscan.