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MakerBot Hands-on

Wisconsin in Sketchup
Wisconsin in Sketchup

After seeing the blog post about the United States Electoral Vote Map, I decided I needed to print out a 3D version of Wisconsin. So I grabbed one of the Sketchup files from Thingiverse and deleted every state except the one I live in. (Which, you know, happens to be Wisconsin.)

Wisconsin in ReplicatorG
Wisconsin in ReplicatorG

Once I had our dear state all on its own, I used this “Sketchup to DXF or STL” plugin (download skp_to_dxf.rb) to export it as an STL file so that I could load it into ReplicatorG.

Yeah, I know it’s tiny. But since everything up until now was the easy part, and the actual controlling of the MakerBot and the print process was the (supposedly) difficult part, I decided to start small. Here’s where it gets hard.

See, last week when I had my first MakerBot Adventure, Drew (the owner/operator and fellow Milwaukee Makerspace member) did all the hard work, while I just handed him a file. This time, he wasn’t around, nor was the laptop that normally connects to the MakerBot, so I was on my own.

I wish I could say skimming this wiki page titled How To Print revealed the secrets to the MakerBot universe, but it took a whole bunch of wiki pages, and some Google Groups messages, and some random searching based on error codes, and at some point, I got it mostly figured out. Mostly. (I also had to remember that I was using a Cupcake and not a Thing-O-Matic, as they have a few differences.)

ReplicatorG Control Panel
ReplicatorG Control Panel

Ah, the Control Panel… where the magic happens! Or should happen. Or something. All that digging around on wiki pages provided me with just enough info to be dangerous here, and put in some values I thought would work. The one thing Drew said was “As long as you don’t drive the extruder head into the platform, you should be good.” That was enough to scare me into being overly cautious, and my first attempts obviously had the head too high. The other issue was, the feed rate of the filament was zero. I tried really hard not to force things, but eventually applying more pressure got the filament moving. (Thanks Royce!)

One thing I noticed about the Control Panel is that the settings did not seem to stick, and I had to enter them over and over again. (Which is why I’m posting it here.) Besides that, ReplicatorG was fairly easy to use. I’m still not sure how to determine the size of the thing being printed, but I’ll work on that.

So at this point, I had the extruder head down low enough, plastic was flowing, and the platform was moving. That’s right folks… I was 3D printing!!!

And how did it turn out, you may be asking? Well, here’s some amazing images of my first “all on my own” 3D print.

Wisconsin [3D]
Wisconsin (with quarter, for scale)

Yeah, like I said… it’s tiny. No matter. I’ve made it this far… Now on to bigger and better things.

View the super large photo, or the alternate, at Flickr.)

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3D Modeling Applications

3D Modeling Applications

Well, the time has come… For years I ignored the third dimension, working only in 2D. Even then, I typically favored raster graphics in Photoshop over vector graphics in the likes of Illustrator. Of course the Egg-Bot brought with it the need to dig into Inkscape, and I’ve done well enough there, finding it useful enough for my vector-based tasks… but now comes…. 3D!!!

Now that I’ve got access to a MakerBot, I have this need to deal with 3D modeling software, starting out with converting formats, and eventually designing things on my own, and actually output STL files. So begins my journey, and a look at some of my options:

3DTin
I mentioned 3DTin.com in my last MakerBot post, and while it’s a great way to get started and have something usable in less than 10 minutes, I don’t know that it will be a serious tool for what I’d like to do. It seems to have no concept of converting formats. It’s still a great (although limited) tool, for what it is…

Google Sketchup
Our pals at Google have Sketchup (the free version) which seems pretty darn popular, and thanks to a few awesome plugins, I’ve been able to import and export STL files. (I haven’t tested the printing of any yet, but that will happen soon.) Sketchup confuses me. I should probably spend some time with a tutorial and figure it out. Is the free version limited? I know that they took out the ability to export DXF files in the latest version, and to get that back you’re expected to buy the pro version for $495. Yikes!

Blender
I must say, that without a doubt, Blender is one of the most confusing pieces of software I’ve ever used, and I’ve used Windows… at a large corporation even! I know Blender is powerful, and in the hands of @knellotron or another skilled operator, great things can be done. But even just trying to import and export a file was too difficult. The “File” menu kept disappearing!

123D
From the folks at Autodesk comes 123D. Windows only. I won’t even look at it unless they create a Mac OS X version.

OpenSCAD
Well, there’s always OpenSCAD, the “Programmers Solid 3D CAD Modeller.” But it’s all codey and programmey, and not visual, which may be cool for some things, but it’s probably not the best to start out with…

I even went so far as to fire up Processing and write code to output STL files via the unlekkerLib library, which is outdated anyway and I should be looking at the ModelBuilder library. Argh…..

So that leaves me with a “???” which should be obvious is a question to you: What do I do?

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A MakerBot Adventure

Drew's MakerBot
Drew’s MakerBot

We had a great demo at the Milwaukee Makerspace last week when Drew demoed his MakerBot Cupcake, and if you don’t know by now, the MakerBot is an affordable 3D printer that squirts out hot plastic based on 3D design files you feed it. If you’re not much of a 3D designer, you can browse Thingiverse for some good stuff.

Holder
Holder in 3DTin

Our old pal Pehr was also there, and he brought his MakerBot too, and when we were talking about 3D design software he said “Just go to 3DTin.com” and then we did…

The interface was a bit confusing at first, though admittedly I’ve never been able to get very far with 3D software. I did manage to design this thing I’ve called a holder.

Holder
Exporting Holder from 3DTin

Once I was done with the design, I was able to export it as an .stl file to my desktop. (There are other export options as well.)

3DTin itself is a simple to use 3D design application that runs completely in a browser. You can use it for free, or for $4.99 you can pay for the “premium” version, which gives you a few more features and hides the ads. I can see playing with this a bit more, or even having the kids give it a try. Meanwhile, I still need to dig into tools like Sketchup, or maybe Blender.

Holder
Holder in ReplicatorG

After exporting an .stl file, I loaded it into ReplicatorG to take a look at it. Once in ReplicatorG you can scale, rotate, and move the object as desired. Once I had it centered and scaled properly, I saved the file to an SD card and handed it to Drew to stick into the MakerBot. (As I understand it, you can also just print directly to the MakerBot via USB cable.)

Holder (raw)
Holder (fresh from the MakerBot)

Once the holder was complete, it looked like this. You can see the strands still in place left from the printing process. These are from the print head moving between the two sides.

Holder (clean)
Holder (cleaned up)

Here’s what the holder looked like after I trimmed off the strands with an X-ACTO knife. This is obviously a simple object, but so far the process of designing it and printing it was well under an hour.

Holder (close-up)
Holder (close-up)

Here’s a close up showing the strands from printing. Commercial 3D printer have much higher resolution, so you don’t really see these lines in the objects they create. Supposedly the MakerBot can be tweaked to run slower for better resolution, but for many purposes, this is still good, and pretty darn impressive.

I’ve got some idea for other things I’d like to design, but for now, you can grab this Holder from 3DTin, and while I had no clue what it would be good for when I designed it, it does seem to work to hold an iPhone in landscape mode, or even as a business card holder.

Big thanks to Drew for the demo and the help in getting started on the MakerBot. I can’t wait to get some serious time with it at the Makerspace.

Oh, it sounds like we’ll also have some good 3D printer action at BarCampMilwaukee6 if you want to come and check it out.

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Processing: Roto Petey

Roto Petey

Today’s Processing sketch isn’t really mine… It’s from the extrusion example on processing.org. It’s a cool demo showing how brightness of an image can map to height in 3D.

I took the code and put my own image into it. The image is from my profile pic, cropped a bit and posterized to 5 levels of grey.

See it in action here!

This demo uses straight-up Java, not Javascript, because Processing.js doesn’t yet support all of what Processing does. (I was hoping to make a video of this but I’m having issues with the Processing MovieMaker code.)

Regular Petey

I find it useful to take code that someone else wrote, and start tweaking things, changing the values, etc. to see the outcome. I still find this code just a little confusing, but I’ll keep hacking at it to see what I can learn from it, and hope I can come up with something original myself.

/*
 * 20110507.pde
 */

PImage extrude;
int[][] values;
float angle = 0;

void setup() {
  size(800, 600, P3D);
  extrude = loadImage("pete.jpg");
  extrude.loadPixels();
  values = new int[extrude.width][extrude.height];
  for (int y = 0; y < extrude.height; y++) {
    for (int x = 0; x < extrude.width; x++) {
      color pixel = extrude.get(x, y);
      values[x][y] = int(brightness(pixel));
    }
  }
}

void draw() {
  background(0);
  angle += 0.01;

  translate(width/2, 0, -128);
  rotateY(angle);  
  translate(-extrude.width/2, 200, -180);
  
  for (int y = 0; y < extrude.height; y++) {
    for (int x = 0; x < extrude.width; x++) {
      stroke(values[x][y]);
      point(x, y, -values[x][y]);
    }
  }

}
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Thingiverse

Thingiverse

OK, so you’ve got your 3D printer, or your laser cutter, or your CNC machine (or even your Egg-Bot) up and running… but you need some files to feed these things… where do you go? Thingiverse… that’s where.

I’ve finally got around to putting some of my Egg-Bot SVG files up there. I’ve currently got the Jolly Roger and the Milwaukee Makerspace logo (stippled edition.)

You can check on the newest things being added (or follow @thingiverse on Twitter) and you can find awesome things, like this quickmount plate which matches the one we have at work! Or perhaps you need a hinge, or a coathook, or a whistle.

You can also keep an eye on the blog or the featured things, but really, the most important thing to do is to share, share, share…