Sunday, April 22, 2012

Getting Ready for the Cube - Minimizing Support

The Cube Tour Team has been working hard to share the Cube 3D printing experience with people across the country,   It's been a lot of fun following them and seeing the images and videos.

I could simply link to their page to fill space on this blog.  But, I'm assuming that if you have found this blog then you already know how to find the Cubify web site and blog.  So, while they have been busy preparing for the Cube's release, I also have been busy working to do all I can to make your first encounter with 3D printing to be a good one.

If you have owned a 3D printer before and are adding a Cube to your stable of 2D printers, I think you are going to be very pleasantly surprised by the great quality packed into a small footprint.  If you have never owned a 3D printer before, you are in for a very, very cool adventure.
Whatever your level of experience, this blog exists for YOU.

And, there are some things that we can begin to discuss before your printer arrives that I hope will enhance your experience.  So, I've been busy creating examples and samples that will demonstrate certain realities that come with 3D printing.  The first of these realities is that we can control, at least at some level, how much support materials will be required to successfully print an object.

And, the good news is that we don't have to print the object to check our designs.  We can view them inside the application that we use to create the file that the Cube uses to print our object.

First, let's look at the test design that was saved in STL format...

The test design consists of a panel through which holes of various types have been cut.  The far left hole was formed by combining a circle and a pentagon.  This was done to see if adding a bit of the pentagon shape would be enough to keep the software from determining that support is needed,

Here is the result when the STL was converted to a file that is compatible with the 3D printer's printing engine.  The software that does the conversion let's us see how the object will actually be printed.  It includes not only the object; but, the required support materials as well.

As you can see, there is only one shape and orientation that did not require some support materials.  And that shape is a 5 sided regular polygon known as a pentagon.  However, one test does not mean a definitive result.  Here is another test with smaller (3mm) holes through a thicker panel and in additional shapes.

The results for this test were a bit different.

As you can see, as is consistent with the previous test, the pentagon, pointed up, again, did not require support.  But, neither did the round hole.  If we do not want supports in round holes, we will need to check the final file before sending it to the printer.

On the other hand, the Hexagon was a bit of a shock.  I would have expected the exact opposite of this result!  The square hole needed support.  Yet, the hexagon having a flat top did NOT need a support.  Then why did the hexagon having an apex at the top need one?

It's a mystery to me.

But, I've learned to take what the 3D printer conversion software gives me... and, that is a consistent behavior for the pentagon having a peak at the top.  I can count on not needing any support for a pentagonal hole.

This is the kind of thing I hope to identify for you in order for you to have less frustration with your own designs.  Support materials are our friends.  But, they are also annoying.  If we can design to minimize the need for support, our 3D printing lives will be easier.  :)

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