Archive for the ‘Digital Design’ Category

Calendar Update: MakerBot Education @ Tekserve

There’s one week left to sign up for our third class in the “How to MakerBot” series at Tekserve in Manhattan. Liz Arum, our education specialist, will be leading the class.

This class is focused on the program modeling program Blender. In order to participate, those attending the class should take some time to download the following programs before class:


And then you should bring that computer, a 3-button mouse, and a desire to learn some awesome stuff about 3D modeling and MakerBotting!

RSVP now to reserve your spot! You can view the invitation here.

Tekserve – Seminar Room
119 W 23rd Street
NY, NY 10011

Thursday, May 10; 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.


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Joinery – Not just for lasercutters any more

Joinery - Not just for lasercutters any more

Joinery - Not just for lasercutters any more

The Make Blog recent posted about CNC panel joinery techniques.  However, there’s no reason these really amazing assembly techniques should be relegated to just CNC cutting machines.  Any of these techniques could be easily applied to 3D printing to create objects that can be assembled without any tools or hardware.  Some of my favorite things to 3D print of all time are multi-part pieces that can be hand assembled.  There’s the dinosaur, the spider, the 27-to-1 gear ratio crank, and Tony Buser’s Toy Robot Toolkit.

Of course, having a 3D printer at your disposal means you don’t need to use joinery to create a 90 degree angle or a corner like those pictured above.  Even so, there’s no reason why one couldn’t use those same techniques to connect larger, more complex, 3D parts.  I would love to see an OpenSCAD library of joinery – little cutouts and tabs that could just be dropped into a design to make it snap-slide-slot together.

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Autodesk’s Inventor Fusion Preview Available For Windows And Mac

From Fabbaloo:

Autodesk is previewing its Inventor Fusion software, which “unites direct and parametric workflows within a single digital model created in Autodesk Inventor.”

Here are the updates touted in the press release:

Surfacing support! Users can now work seamlessly between solids and surfaces, expanding their confidence and capabilities to tackle design changes. By enhancing the existing translators to read surface data and adding new Parasolid, Rhino, IGES and AliasDesign .wire file import capabilities user have access to an even larger number of design formats.
Simplification wizard. Simulation users now have one button simplification of designs. This makes simplifying common geometry fast and easy and ensures that mesh and solves times are as fast as possible.
Ease of use improvements. New marking menus, sketch ease of use and modeling ease of use, make this release of Inventor Fusion the easiest to use yet. Did we mention it was easy?

Well that sounds fun. I downloaded Inventor Fusion for myself, and there’s just a brief questionnaire to fill out beforehand. If you’re looking for a great 3D modeling option, give it a try. But act now, since the previews will expire.

— The Microsoft Windows compatible technology preview executable expires on April 1, 2013.
— The Apple OS X compatible version of the technology preview expires on January 1, 2013.

Hey Mac users, see that? You can use this Autodesk program!


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Notepad++, the ONLY way to OpenSCAD

Worthless Dice by blarbles

Worthless Dice by blarbles

Now, don’t get me wrong – I love me my OpenSCAD.  While it’s an amazing and powerful tool for 3D modeling, the text editor is not as full featured as one would want.  Thankfully, Thingiverse citizen justblair has put together a short tutorial on how to use the text editor of your choice with OpenSCAD for the best of both worlds – a full featured text editor and an awesome 3D modeling program.

Justblair recommends my personal pick for a text editor, the free, open source, and very feature rich Notepad++.  (I prefer the version). 1  The process basically involves changing a few settings so that OpenSCAD will immediately re-compile the current objects from a file being edited, whenever that file is saved.

The process is really easy and very worthwhile.  Being able to find/replace and perform regex searches make designing in OpenSCAD so much easier.

Error - could not find Thing 15363.
  1. See a pattern? []
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OpenSCAD Intermediates: How to Make Organic Shapes

In this OpenSCAD tutorial series we’ve covered the basics of the OpenSCAD interface, how to make 2D forms, how to make some basic 3D forms, how to position those forms in 3D space, the different ways to combine forms, how to create mashups of one or more existing STL’s and OpenSCAD forms, how to use modules to reuse your code to make your life easier, how to extrude flat 2D forms into 3D forms, and how to fix design problems.  Although I described a few of the last tutorials as “intermediate” levels, that’s really only because you learned the basics so quickly from the first few tutorials.

Today I’d like to show you how easy it is to make some neat organic looking forms with OpenSCAD.  The secret behind doing so are two functions, “hull” and “minkowski.”  Let’s learn a little bit about what each of these functions do and try out some code.  More, after the break!

Read the rest of this entry »

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Paper Modelling

Paper Folding Models by aubenc

Paper Folding Models by aubenc

The recent news of a process for creating balloons of any shape using 3D printed molds and sophisticated balloon deflating modelling, reminded me of two really cool ways for creating paper models.

First is TreeMaker by Robert Lang, an engineer and world-renowned origami master.  Lang’s free and open source program lets the user specify the number and ratio of major “flaps” and it designs a base that should collapse into a model with that number and ratio of flaps.  When folding an octopus, one uses a base with 9 flaps – 8 equal flaps for the eight legs and 1 shorter flap that forms the head.  A giraffe would probably use five really long flaps (for the legs and neck) and one very short one (for the tail).

The second is a type of software that assists with creating papercraft models by exploding a 3D model into a flat pattern that, when cut out and assembled using glue and tabs, would create a physical paper version of the 3D model.  There are several different programs that do this, but I’m not aware of any that are free or open source. 1

If you know of any versions that are either free or open source – please share!

Error - could not find Thing 16209.
  1. The wikipedia article provides several suggestions and links if you’re interested. []
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Sketch Or SketchUp, A Summary

There was a really nice set of responses to a post last week about sketching. Basically, I asked whether blog readers and MakerBot operators were accustomed to sketching their designs from the very beginning or using CAD tools to 3D model a design from the get go.

I just thought the responses deserved a quick recap, especially because they underscore the point that there is no right answer. As someone who jumped into this company with no background in 3D printing or any other hardware hacking, I have been continually surprised how accessible the concepts are. I think it’s nice to point out that those of you who do such great work all also have varying processes — so the results aren’t just individualized, the process is too.

The star of today’s episode of MakerBot TV, Kacie Hultgren (aka PrettySmallThings), said that the sketching stage is often absent from her work; not because she eschews pencil and paper, but because much of what she does comes from photographs. It’s pre-sketched, in a way.

Emmett, whose Things number among the most notable contributions in the Thingiverse, similarly doesn’t sketch much. But in his case, it’s because his “imagination works in 3D already.” Communicating an idea to someone else, however, deserves a sketch. Renee  not only sketches, but cleans that sketch up in Illustrator before bringing it into a modeling environment.

The creator of MakerBot mascot R.Maker (pictured above), ErikJDurwoodII, said he sketches to lend some purpose to the CAD process, even if that sketch will change over time, and Gregg Wygonik also uses sketching to make sure the computer phase doesn’t include avoidable elements that cause discouragement. (Visit Gregg’s Thingiverse page here.)

Stephen Holmes, who writes for Develop3D, pinged us on twitter with a really relevant article showing yet another mindset: 3D sketching. The people at the UK product design consultancy 3form Design (3fD) do specifically leave pencil and paper sketching out of their process. Founder Austen Miller argues that the “reverse engineering” required to take a designers sketch on paper into the domain of the engineer can cause the loss of original design intentions. Instead, the groups designers start in SolidWorks.

Echoing what our commenters said:

Miller doesn’t succumb to the argument that by jumping straight into CAD stifles creativity. In his opinion, just like pen and paper, CAD is a tool and depends whose hand it’s in as to the end result. “Creativity should not be measured by the medium we choose but how successful we can be with it…”

Thanks, all, for the input!


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How to Program a Robot Parent

ParentBots and their Robot Masters, living in harmony

ParentBots and their Robot Masters, living in harmony

Dr. Techniko recently posted a really great way to introduce kids to programming.  By having the children’s parents act like the robots and giving the children a “Robot Language Dictionary” of simple action commands, the children can write down instructions for their robots to carry out.  This is a fantastic way to teach kids planning, creative and logical thinking, and problem solving.  One of the amazing things about Dr. Techniko’s write-up is his descriptions of how the children will naturally develop and discovery certain programming practices such as parametrization, composition, abstraction, and testing all on their own!

If you want to try this out for yourself, Dr. Techniko has made the instructions and entire “Robot Language Dictionary” free to download!

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Sketch Or SketchUp; Where Do Your Ideas Start?

Sketch of "Yagi antenna decoupling saddle" by Mjolnir

An interesting post just crossed my screen that I think our designer/tinkerer (and/or designer-tinkerer) readers would probably be able to shed more light on than me.

Dr. James Self wrote at Core77 about his doctoral research into the different processes industrial designers use to move from concept to object. When is a sketch appropriate and when does someone use a computer in the very early stages of conceptualizing?

Basically, it varies.

Findings indicate that sketching continues to underpin design activity. Professional experience also influences the use of sketching in support of design activity. Less experienced design students tend to lack confidence in their sketch ability and they find the dynamic, unconstrained medium at odds with an approach to design activity that errs towards fixation and attachment to concept.

As part of my research I visited practicing designers at their places of work and interviewed them about their use of design tools. Interestingly, the designers often juxtaposed the affordance of sketching against the limitations of 3D CAD tools. Like many in design education, practitioners stressed the explorative, divergent affordance of sketching over the more constrained convergent nature of CAD. Of course they understood the value of CAD, but spoke of a concern for the ways it may limit student creativity, ‘a student’s design being too influenced by the constraints of this or that software.’

There is more in the piece regarding the timeline for introducing design tools to students. I’m curious, though: how do MakerBot operators use design tools? Many of our operators are not designers at all, and perhaps not so great with drawing. Turns out, they’re not alone; neither are many of our in-house designers.

I just popped by our design studio to find out how our team works, and it seems the answer is: everybody’s different. Some of them sketch everything before diving into any CAD work, while Michael Curry, our Design Superstar, does the “sketching” in his head, because, simply, he sucks at drawing. When he does draw, it’s to test a mechanical idea, to run a structural experiment in 2D.

So what about you? Do you sketch before you SketchUp? Is the idea of drawing something a little too free-form for you, or conversely is CAD too complex to the point of inhibiting an idea?

I’d love to know your process. If you’ve got something to say, perhaps there’s room for your advice on this very blog. So chime in!

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Autodesk wants you to know how to print your 123d models on your MakerBot!

YouTube Preview Image

Autodesk 123d is one of many freely-available apps that new MakerBot users might consider learning.  And unlike some other programs we love, it looks like Autodesk wants it to be easy to print your models on a MakerBot.  In fact, they want it so much that they’ve just posted the above video on their youtube channel.

It’s a bit long (over 9 minutes) but put it on your list for when you’re woodshedding your 3d-modeling chops.  While it’s specifically aimed at the Thing-O-Matic, most of what they’re saying should transfer to the Replicator.  Just model for a larger build area!

123d is a bit different from other modeling programs, and might be a bit counter-intuitive if you’re used to one of the others.  However, their youtube channel has a number of tutorials and there are some neat things about the project (like an iPad app and a photo-to-model program.)

If you’re looking to pick up some 3d modeling skills while you’re waiting for your Replicator, this is one of many great programs to learn!

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