Monday, March 23, 2015

Getting comfortable with our 3D printers

Group of 3D enthusiasts meet on a Saturday morning at the DFL.
Having been lucky enough to have won the 3DSystems national competition for the 2 Cube 2 3D printers, we also had an Ultimaker 2 in the pipeline, so now we are the proud owners of 3 3D printers for public use.

The Cube2s are small, a little finicky and do not have a heated build plate, which makes the end product a little rougher than the outcomes rom the Ultimaker 2.

Basically, though, operating the two different kinds of 3D printers is fairly similar.

Charlotte makes sure her designs sits flat on the workspace.
The most difficulty we have had has been getting the build plates to be level and the nozzle-build plate distance optimal.

We had old friend, Kevin Osborn, from Newton, come to give us a complete overview of how the Ultimaker 2 works and give us some tips & tricks.

Amy keeps an eye on the latest project.
The LED screen in the front is the control panel for running it. Projects are loaded up from either TinkerCad or AutoDesk Inventor, through the freeware program called CURA, which actually translated the CAD image into the instructions for the 3D printer to follow.

We're planning to run some CAD classes with our volunteer instructor, Paul Harhen, and then have some open studio time eventually whereby folks can come in to try their hand at designing and printing out projects.

Costs for filament are still being discussed. We don't want to charge too much for material, but want to be able to sustain materials costs for general public use.

As Kevin speaks, Dmriti and Andrew choose interlocking shapes.
We are hoping that the attraction of making actual objects will be a draw for girls and get them excited about modeling and coding for this exciting new technology.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Visit to PAX East: Part 2: Lending Libraries and 3D Printing

One of the coolest things about PAX East from a librarian standpoint was the amount of pop up libraries. There was a Table Top Gaming Library where anyone could check out and demo a board game. There were also reserved rooms with a Free Play Console Library, Retro Console Library, and Handheld Gaming Library where anyone could check out a video game and play with their friends on provided consoles. These rooms were filled with people, so much so after the exhibit hall closed that I didn't even get a chance to get in. What about taking those old working gaming consoles from home and building retro kits to circulate at the library? Who doesn't miss playing GoldenEye for the N64 on multiplayer? Does your library host a game night for adults not just teens? Trust me the demographic at PAX East was mostly game obsessed adults 30 + yrs old.
Most libraries have board games available to play, usually in the Teen Area but when is the last time they were updated? or actually allowed to circulate at home? Highly involved board games are not cheap these days with price tags well into the $50-$100. Where else but a game store can people try out games before they buy? We have a board game night for adults one Thursday night a month here at the library. What I love most about the program is people bring their favorite games from home (in some cases, games that they finally have enough enthusiastic people to play) which is how I learned to play Kings of Tokyo, Timeline and a new favorite, Libertalia. The sheer amount of board games have exploded these days and some of that is attributed to websites like Kickstarter and the consumer 3D Printer. 
I attended an interesting PAX panel on 3D Printing and Gaming.  3D Printing will affect many aspects of production and careers not just engineers. The talk opened highlighting artists on Etsy who can design and sell their own board games with customized pieces. Even companies represented in the panel like Cool Mini or Not  3D print all their initial pieces to their tabletop games in house to check for design issues then send them to China for resin molding which saves them time and money.  This could become the industry standard. Design software companies are jumping on board as well. Nervous System designs software to generate beautiful patterns based on natural mathematic computations to use in clothing, jewelry and more. This dress is printed entirely as one piece from a 3D printer using that software. Like the Oculus, this is another field where the sky is the limit.  Stereolythographic printers like Form Labs will allow intense detail and quality with a multitude of printing materials.
A few interesting names were dropped during the presentation like MIT's Skylar Tibbits on 4D Printing and artist Cosmo Wenman who 3D prints recreations of famous sculptures from art museums. I cannot wait to see the 3D printer that will be made in the next 2 years with how quickly technology advances these days. It all begins with learning CAD software, which any library can host right now using Lynda tutorials and free programs like AutoDesk apps or Tinkercad.  Patrons of the library could use a library 3D printer to create the next successful table top game or a fashion statement.

Visiting PAX East Part 1: Oculus Booth

Growing up in a generation that has seen so much technological change in one lifetime it takes alot to impress me these days but a visit to the Oculus Booth at the PAX East Convention yesterday was well worth the ticket price. I left the demo feeling awestruck and humbled to live in such a technologically rich lifetime. Seriously, we will probably see Skynet.

If you haven't heard of the Oculus Rift, it's a stereoscopic (you can see full 360 degrees) virtual reality headset that is going to be affordable for consumers. If you signed up for the PAX East App, you were able to schedule in advance a short time with the Oculus Cresent Bay demo. After experiencing the satisfaction of cutting the 2 hour line, you were taken to a dark room with the headset, a mat to stand on, and of course someone to guide you through the process.  The demo plays highly detailed example scenes from as a beautiful Minecraft-ish meadow full of animals to a realistic Jurassic Park like scene with a T-Rex charging towards you. Anytime during the simulation you were encouraged to look all the way around you and change your position from standing to sitting etc.  Besides being able to peak at a very small section below me (which worked out so I didn't fall off the mat), the entire world was virtual. The scene that really got me was the high platform on a skyscraper overlooking a city. I literally backed up as my stomach dropped from the soaring height between me and the "ground". I found myself many times reaching out to touch and interact with the environment but there's nothing you can do during the demo.  The finale, which convinced me I could actually get into video games again, was a scene from an alien invasion where you are part of the police team trying to take them down. Bullets, glass, lasers and even a car fly all around you as you move closer and closer to the target with bullet time right out of a Wachowski brothers movie.
Samsung VR Net Gear Demo

Right now it's only available as a developer's kit for game designers (and the quite tech savvy librarians like those over at Ames Free Library in Easton where I had my first demo) to have a chance at testing/improving the tech and designing games for the Oculus.

Many big name companies are trying to create their own head sets for virtual gaming. In the Oculus booth was the Samsung VR Net Gear (another very long line to wait for) which had a controller to play a few demo games.

If there was an interest, I would love to add this to a Makerspace like Easton did. Imagine budding game developers getting a chance to come down to the library to program and later when the consumer device debuts library patrons can play what they have designed.  Libraries can certainly get on the ground floor of this awe-inspiring technological development. Buyers beware on this one though it does take alot of work to set them up and configure which Jed Phillips over in Easton can attest to. Also after the initial set up, just to demo already made games requires a very robust computer and money for games but imagine if people would wait 2 hours outside the library to demo the Oculus?


Starting a new format for Tinkering

Yesterday, we began a new format for running our Tinkering Tuesday sessions.

It's drop-in, it's open to 6th grade and up.

We have three activities with three librarians running them and people can stay with one and dig deep, or move from station to station to try things out.

This week we had our two new Cube2 3D printers with a bunch of laptops open to TinkerCad online. We started out printing some pre-designed forms we got with the printers, but the teens jumped right into  teaching themselves Tinkercad basics and turning out their own models.

We had an area devoted to Lego Mindstorm and WeDo where a group built some robotic vehicles and a Ferris Wheel.

The last area was a soldering station where people could put the Makerbot badges together. This table will change next week to a more non-electronic craft activity and we feel it might be fun to cross pollinate the high and low tech projects to see what might come of it down the road!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


We have a 3Doodler! This nifty pen is a hand held 3D printing pen, check out the possibilities.

  First, an explanation: The 3Doodler works very similarly to a hot glue gun. The plastic filament feeds in through the back, passes through a heating element, and comes out of the tip at one of two speeds, fast, and slow. The now pliable plastic comes out in a thin string which quickly cools in the air and becomes solid again. You can draw flat on a piece of paper, freehand or by tracing a stencil, or draw up and into the air to create free form 3D sculptures. It is easy to build off of your own projects as newly extruded plastic will easily bond with existing plastic. There are two types of plastic that can be used with the 3Doodler, ABS and PLA. ABS is a #7 recyclable plastic that is recommended for drawing up, bendable pieces, tracing onto paper where you want to remove it later, and welding two pieces of plastic together. PLA is a biodegradable plastic, made from corn, which is better for drawing onto surfaces where you want the plastic to stay there permanently (like fabric, paper, ceramics or metals). PLA is also moldable for a few seconds after it is released from the pen giving you more creation options. For this test I used ABS.

Now for the review: it is a lot more difficult to master than I expected (but isn’t everything?)
Pros: Extremely fun and challenging. With practice I imaging that I could become proficient and create things I can be pleased with. It is an interesting art tool that expands the options of an artist to include 3D. Practically I can see it being very useful as part of a tinkering lab. The heated plastic can be used to bond other items together which would be very useful for making small repairs or even designing an object or device. To test it out I tried three techniques; a stencil to be traced, free hand 3D drawing, and a folded paper scaffold.

This was by far the easiest technique. Using a design printed on regular printing paper I traced the design using black filament and then carefully popped it off of the paper. I then used blue filament to add some color and stability to the bird.

Free Hand
This was very difficult. I started by drawing a base and then working my way up. Even on the slow setting the plastic comes out quickly and you need to be ready. Unfortunately the machine pauses often so that it can draw in more filament and heat it making it difficult to achieve a flow of movement with the pen. I'm really not sure what I was going for with the black and red Burton-esque tree...

Origami Scaffold
This was fun. I folded a simple paper crane using lined paper and then traced it with the 3Doodler. After it had set I carefully tore away all of the paper to leave just the outline. This was very tricky. I wish I had had something to hold the crane with so that I could more easily manipulate the crane without risking burning my fingers. In case you’re wondering I had to make quite a few repairs after removing the paper. 


Cons: The pen is very bulky and to work it you must hold down one of two buttons the entire time. The device frequently has to stop to pull more filament in which leaves you hanging in midair waiting for more plastic to come out. This makes flow a real issue and can sometimes really mess with your design. The tip that is included with the 3Doodler is very narrow resulting in a very thin string of plastic to work with. It is very difficult to make a smooth line but I imagine that with practice this could get easier. 

Conclusion: A very fun and useful addition to any tinkering lab, but no substitute for a 3D printer. I look forward to more testing and would love to play around with some of the other tips available for the pen.