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Makerbotted clips under test on San Francisco Bay Bridge!

I’ve previously posted about my work on scanning a bridge cable and designing an LED attachment clip for the Bay Lights project. Well, last week we put up a test strand of LEDs, using Makerbotted clips! The idea is to test the clips for strength and resistance to weathering, before moving ahead with the full scale installation!

LED lights being installed

It’s been really interesting designing this, using the Makerbot has allowed multiple iterations of the design really quickly. As you can see in the following picture, the clip protects the main LED data cable from stress, and anchors the LED nodes firmly on the cable.

Close-up of a clip in use

By using silver plastic, the clips are basically invisible once installed.

The test strand of LEDs, all in place

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MakerBot At Work: Making Clips To Attach LEDs To The San Francisco Bay Bridge

Last week I posted on the process of scanning one of the cables of the Bay Bridge, in preparation for designing an LED attachment strategy for the Bay Lights project. Here’s a bit more info on what we came up with.

bay bridge clip

Bay Bridge LED attachment clip test

The brief is to attach strings of high-intensity Philips outdoor LEDs to the vertical suspension cables of the bridge. Initially, the thought was to just zip tie them into place, but Philips engineers pointed out that this would damage the data and power cables. Ideally we would also come up with a solution that simplifies the work of the installation crews, by allowing for easy positioning and assembly.

A first step was to design a clip that would allow attaching pre-existing rails to the cables, and have the LEDs latch into the rail. However, this would have been expensive and unsightly. I had the idea to just use the clips to go directly onto the suspension cable. I was also able to add side channels for the extension cables that go to other segments of the LED cable. (The extension cable is the thick black one on the side). The clip is designed to clip securely to the data cable, and to guide the zip tie into the right position.

The plan is to test a strand of LEDs on the bridge this week, using 55 clips printed on a Makerbot (!). If all goes well, then we need another 25,000 of the things…

Here’s a video that describes the process in a bit more detail:

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MakerBot At Work: Scanning And Printing Bay Bridge Cables

I’ve  been working on a strategy for physically attaching the lights for the Bay Lights Project in San Francisco, and we needed a section of the bridge suspension cable to test things. Chopping out a section from the bridge is naturally out of the question, but fortunately we have some really cool tools at our disposal.

Our team went on to the bridge, and photographed the cable from all sides. Using 123D Catch, I made a 3D model, and then printed out a section. Presto, we’re all set, with an accurate model of a section of cable!

Bay Lights Team

The intrepid Bay Lights lighting team on-site

This short video shows how easy it was to generate the 3D model and print it. The scan needed only minor automatic repairs using Netfabb Studio Basic, and printed really easily.

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I’ll be posting more details of the lighting solution as it develops. Very excited that having a MakerBot made it possible to set up a realistic prototyping setup for this project in a way that would have been almost inconceivable just a few years ago.

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Dinobots (or Makersaurus?): getting skulls to print right

One of the most interesting challenges faced in 3D printing is creating facsimiles of real-world objects, things that have not been designed according to design rules that make them easier to print. Animal skulls, and in particular dinosaur skulls, are a great example: full of complex organic shapes, extreme overhangs and bridges, and thin shells. I’ve been learning a lot about printing these, and thought I could share what I have learned.

Three reptilian skulls

I was inspired by the dinosaur skull posted on Thingiverse and set out to look for more. The Digimorph project at the University of Texas has some dinosaurs, but the STL files are not posted.  However, Artect, a company that makes 3D scanners, has posted a very nice high-resolution STL file of a Tarbosaurus skull, on their 3D model download page. It’s the first model listed on the page.  I sliced it in Netfabb, and have posted the sliced files on Thingiverse.

Keep reading for some tips on how to print this object, and other complex organic shapes!

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GE Air Show – the Grand Finale

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If you’ve been following the GE Air Show on Facebook, you might be interested in the Grand Finale, posted above. Tons of new models, and as always, funny animation.

All the models shown will make their way to the GE page on Thingiverse shortly, so keep an eye out.

It was really fun to work on this. The teams from Impact Media and Evolution Bureau were smart, creative, talented and great to work with. I’d like to highlight the participation of Gabriel Bentley from Impact Media, who basically taught himself Sketchup and Makerbot operations in the space of weeks, and was running a one-man model airplane factory by the end of the project.

Also, one more thing: the observant amongst you may have noticed that there was never a Week 2 video. Well, fret no more – that footage was discovered, and is posted below:

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Helicopter hi-jinks at the GE Air Show

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Another video from the GE Air Show project, this time featuring helicopters. The client (GE) has discovered what most of us already know: that watching a Makerbot print is hypnotic! The creative direction has been to emphasize the design and print process, so you’ll be seeing more timelapse takes of the print.

This is likely to be the penultimate video of the project: they are taking submissions for the grand finale right now on the Facebook page.

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The fun continues at the GE Air Show, now with classic planes

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The GE Air Show continues, with a third episode of user-submitted designs featuring classic airplanes. As always, the printable files can be found on the GE Thingiverse page.

It’s a challenge to respond quickly to user submissions: the list of ideas is received on Sunday evening, and then the team works on it during Monday and Tuesday, starting to print on Monday afternoons. After that, the production crew puts together the video and it is usually online by Thursday or Friday. In order to work so fast, the team is using a number of techniques: some models are made in OpenSCAD, others in Sketchup and and other tools from scratch, and some are based on models from the Sketchup 3D warehouse. Netfabb is useful for slicing a model into different parts. After a few weeks of doing this, we’ve now evolved a series of useful tools and techniques, building up common part libraries (eg. for propellers) and a streamlined workflow for making objects printable (ie. almost everything is designed to print in sections, in order to avoid overhangs and support material).

A question that has come up a few times is “what is GE doing on Thingiverse?”  The answer is, a lot of things:

  • Demonstrating support for innovative new companies and technologies, such as Makerbot and 3D printing
  • Connecting with the community of makers, innovators and DIYers
  • Learning about social media, and the kinds of things that will engage social media users (the number of “likes” on the GE Facebook page has gone from 15,000 to more than 90,000 since the Airshow started!)
  • Experimenting with very fast turnaround marketing, highly responsive to users (this project involves doing in less than a week what would usually take months, and doing it repeatedly)

The exciting thing about this is that it is an experiment, everyone (including GE) is learning as it goes along. Suggestions and contributions are most welcome, via the GE Facebook page, or comments on the Thingiverse page.

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GE Air Show – a miniature air show of the imagination full of user-submitted designs, printed on a Makerbot!

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I’ve been working on an exciting project lately: the GE Air Show. The idea is to get people to submit models, sketches, concepts or ideas for weird and wonderful flying machines, print them on a Makerbot, and then have them star in a video set in a miniature air show of the imagination. At the end of the month we’re hoping to have the airport crowded with all kinds of aircraft – so please submit your ideas.

We’re looking for submissions regardless of 3D design skills: you can submit sketches, mockups or just your brilliant idea to, and you can check out other comments and submissions at The models that are being built will be listed on the GE page at Thingiverse,, so keep checking back for updates.

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I’ve been working together with Andrew Rutter on building the Makerbots, and getting 3D models ready for printing. It’s been very interesting so far: both Thing-O-Matics were up and running within a day – in fact, one of them was put together in only three and half hours! The new cartridge-based extruder is much simpler to assemble, and the Thing-O-Matic can certainly produce great results with a lot less tuning than was required for previous models.

This project is interesting because it highlights how quickly you can go from a concept to a physical object through 3D printing. By offering to model sketches or ideas that people have sent in, it makes it possible for people unfamiliar with 3D design to see their ideas made real. A lot of requests are for models of existing aircraft, but we’d really like for people to submit ideas for original and fanciful designs.

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Printing complex organic shapes with a Makerbot

UPDATE: Anna Galovich has been generous enough to translate this fantastic blog post into Estonian. You can find the translation right here.

For a recent project, I had to print this awesome crocodile skull from the University of Texas Digimorph project. At first it looked daunting, but it turned out to be surprisingly easy to print. I really like this print because it is a complex organic shape, and it is really impressive that it came from a Makerbot.

Crocodile skull, printed on a Makerbot

I used Netfabb Studio and ReplicatorG to prepare for print. I’m not posting the print-ready files because a) not sure if UT will let me and b) the following process is easy and you will learn a lot. I basically used Netfabb Studio to re-orient, repair, scale and split the model, in order to get it ready for print. The procedure I followed is generally applicable to all kinds of complex prints.

Keep reading for instructions on how to do it.

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Learning to love difficult prints – Space Pod from 2001

There is an experiment I’d been meaning to try for a while, and my Thing-O-Matic is now printing well enough that I felt I could try it. It is to take files from a site such as the 2001 Model Archive, and see if I could print them with little editing. The result was a qualified success: you can do amazing things with the Thing-O-Matic and support material enabled, but trying to remove delicate parts from the support material can be a real challenge. Some degree of editing of the source files is a good idea, to make them print-ready.

Space Pod printed, cleaned and partially repaired

For the first attempt, I chose the Space Pod from “2001: A Space Odyssey”. I loaded it into Meshlab and had a look. Keep reading after the break for a longer description of the process.

Space Pod file seen in Meshlab

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Removable build platform hack for Thing-O-Matic

I’ve been using a 1/16″ aluminum build surface on my Thing-O-Matic for weeks, with really good results. Now you can buy an aluminum platform from Makerbot, and cover it with wide Kapton tape for the ultimate build surface. I’ve been using this combination on my Cupcake CNC for a while, and it is great: parts adhere really well and there is no warping. (Top tip: wipe the platform with acetone before printing for even better adhesion.)

However, this poses a challenge: sometimes parts stick to the platform so well that it can take a real effort, and a lot of force, to get them off. On the Cupcake, I would just detach the build platform and lever the piece loose. However, on the Thing-O-Matic, the platform is fixed, and you end up applying a lot of force to the X&Y platform as you try to release the piece.

One solution is to just double up the aluminum plate, and hold it on with bulldog clips, as described here. However, I went for a quicker solution in the short term.

Wing nut holding heated build platform for easy removal

I just put M3 wing nuts on the bolts holding the platform (you only really need 4, one on each corner, not 6). When I’m done printing, I can just detach the HBP connector (power off first!) and quickly unscrew the wing nuts. This allows for easy access to the printed piece from all sides, plus I can apply quite a bit of force without affecting the structure of the Thing-O-Matic.

At some point, I’d love to see a quick release mechanism for the Thing-O-Matic platform, like this one, but for now this is really saving me a lot of time and effort.


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Attaching Mk5/Mk6/Mk6+ thermocouple without slipping

When putting together my Thing-O-Matic, first with a Mk5 extruder and then a Mk6+, a perpetual source of frustration was attaching the thermocouple to the thermal block. It seemed like tightening the nut would rotate it, and it would come loose. Moreover, more than once the stresses of assembling and disassembling the extruder would loosen it as well.

Fortunately, there is a simple solution:

Mk6+ heater block with groove for thermocouple

I used a Dremel tool with a diamond grinding bit to make a groove in the side of the heater block, where the thermocouple fits. It grips the thermocouple wire as the nut is tightened, and prevents it from rotating loose. With this simple change, I can always get the thermocouple installed on the first try, and it feels really solid.

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Building custom parts for art projects – Wiis into Flashlights

I’ve been working with Lynn Hershman on some interesting projects, including a large-scale interactive installation that was shown at the Sundance film festival. The piece allows users to browse an archive of videos featuring work by contemporary women artists, using virtual flashlights that illuminate a simulated room.

I was able to use my Makerbot to make some small but critically important parts for the physical interface, parts that would have been difficult to make using any other techniques. Using the Makerbot and OpenSCAD, not only was I able to build the part (with help from friends), but I had it very, very quickly.

Wii to flashlight adapter ring

Keep reading for more details on what this little part does, and why using the Makerbot was the best option for building it.

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How to manually edit your Skeinforge profiles on Mac OS X

Sometimes you need to manually edit or delete a Skeinforge profile. The built-in profiles are stored with ReplicatorG in its installation directory, but the user-created profiles are in a hidden file within the user’s home directory. On Mac OS X, if you want to edit these profiles directly, say to edit the start.gcode file, it can be awkward to find and open the right directory. Fortunately, there is a simple way to access it, with no hacking or trickery required! Here’s how it’s done:

First, make a new Finder window. It should open in your user directory. Then, go to the Go menu in the Finder, and choose the Go To Folder… option.

Then, enter the name of the folder where ReplicatorG stores all the user stuff, which is usually “.replicatorg”:

And voilà, the folder opens up!

Your Skeinforge profiles will be in the folder labelled sf_xx_profiles, where xx is the version number. The start.gcode and end.gcode files are in the folder “alterations” within each of the profiles, and can be edited with TextEdit, or any other text editor. The “profiles” folder within each profile contains the settings for each individual module within Skeinforge. You can edit them directly if you are brave, or more practically, just copy the profiles to back them up or move them to another machine.1

  1. This trick works great when using ReplicatorG 24 and earlier. Stay tuned — or take a peek at the beta early — to take advantage of the new “Locate” button in the Skeinforge window when you “Generate G-Code”: automates this for you. []
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Simple extruded letters in Sketchup

I wanted to make sure our 8 month old son felt welcome in our new home, and what better way than by putting his name on the door of his room in Makerbotted letters!

I looked on Thingiverse, where there are more than a few sets of letters for blocks and for including in OpenSCAD, but it turns out that it is super-easy to make 3D extruded letters in Sketchup.

  1. Download and install Google Sketchup, if you haven’t already.
  2. Make sure you have an STL export plugin installed. I use this one but there are others.
  3. Start Sketchup
  4. Go to the Tools menu and select 3D text
  5. Type your text (it can be a single letter)
  6. For your dimensions, 0.075m for height will fit nicely in a Makerbot. 0.01 extrusion is good to start with.
  7. Press the Place button
  8. Select your letter, and find the STL export option. If you used the plugin I linked to, it’s in the Tools menu.
  9. Select millimeters as your export unit
  10. Select STL as your export format
  11. Open the STL in ReplicatorG
  12. Use the Move button, and then Center + Put On Platform to get it all lined up
  13. Print!
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