3D Printing 3: What have I learned in nearly 2 years?

    3D Printer in enclosure

    Manufacturing is very much, a process of learning, tinkering, and refining.

    It's obvious, once you set up your printer, give it a shiny home to keep it protected, quiet, and suitably warm... that you then need to actually use it.

    You can always be better at CAD (Computer Aided Design).

    No matter which software you use for your 3D designs, you will spend a great deal of time using it. Choosing the right software for you will make or break your enthusiasm for 3D work.

    I've dabbled with Sketchup, Blender, Sculptris, just to see what they're like, and they all do a great job. However, I find that I'm most comfortable with Fusion360. The sort of design work I do, lends itself pretty well to any of the major software variants, but I just go with what I know most of the time.


    I have designed tables, and even house plans with Sketchup, mostly because a lot of wood workers use the free web system... and I had just watched a few YouTube tutorials for it.

    Unfortunately, as soon as you start getting vaguely complex, the key Sketchup features that would make your life so much easier... are limited to the paid version.. and boy do they want you to pay.


    Blender is extremely powerful. It's designed to create computer-generated 3D images and animations, but there's absolutely no reason it can't make an accurate 3D model. The software runs on most computers (Windows, Linux, and Mac) and is completely free.

    Because it is so powerful, it is not the easiest to learn. However, there are some absolutely fabulous tutorials online (see screenshot above) from https://i.materialise.com

    Fusion 360

    Fusion is just so nice to work with once you get it to a state that you can feel comfortable with it. It has so many features, that I wish I knew sooner. However, like the free version of Sketchup is cloud based. That means it can be pretty slow to load, upload to the cloud, and if you don't have the internet for months on end (like when I'm out in a paddock somewhere for a while) it stops working entirely.

    Wood lumber storage trolley

    Modelling of my wood projects...

    Moving away from single plastic adaptors, I started to design, and model some of my wood projects. Naturally they're more involved (many more pieces) but in some ways, they're also simpler. Not a lot of tolerances to worry about, no tapers, no infill ratios, or considerations for bed adhesion.
    A wall mountable case for a Raspberry Pi based weather station.

    Getting a little trickier with my 3D printing projects...

    Making a custom case for my weather station is perhaps one of the most intricate pieces of CAD work I've done to date.

    Although only the main chassis is shown here with the Raspberry Pi, there are three separate parts. Each part has been designed with tight tolerances to consider such as mounting points for the Raspberry Pi circuit board and additional external ports. Other considerations include:

    • How best to add wall mounting,
    • The interlocking of parts,
    • Hole alignments (for M3 machine screws)
    • The necessity of vents for cooling, 
    • Aesthetic/appearance of the completed unit (factoring in cables as well), and
    • At least a tokenistic efforts toward dust control... in this case bevelled vents.
    Printing the main chassis of my Raspberry Pi Case (a 27 hour print)

    Printing such a complex part taught me several things...

    Whether the 27 hour print time increases the liklihood that a loose X axis belt will cause one layer to slip a gear and fall out of alignment with the lower layers, or that the gaps needed in the vents will cause stringing, or that the finished print still needs a light sanding before it's ready.... it's these real-world experiences that teach me how each design choice impacts the manufacturing process.
    The socket panel, printed with just enough clearance to work with all the mounted sockets.

    Assembly is a further opportunity to be humbled...

    Assuming your parts complete successfully, and you've sanded/painted/whatever they need to be ready to assemble. Things go wrong. You can snap an air-vent fin, or the holes in your panel don't line up with the holes in your socket. The lid might need re-designing since you changed the box design and now it doesn't fit...

    This is the third attempt, and it is finally assembled and ready for installation.
    Assembled box, held against the wall while deciding where to mount it.

    It might look like a simple box...

    There's a level of complexity that is hidden by seemingly simple, everyday objects.

    This unit has been installed for a year or so now. It's often hard to imagine the additional considerations, additional Fusion360 features both learned and used, as well as the patience and persistence it takes to bring any product from concept all the way through the manufacturing process.

    CAD leads you to places you don't always expect...

    Ok, so you build a few pieces of furniture, a few chests of drawers, a shelf, and you start incorporating more and more metal work into your projects.

    Imagine that your partner then says "Let's get a clothes dryer"... and does. Only to find out that there's nowhere nice to put it in the laundry. You've got taps sticking out miles from the wall, the sink won't allow sitting the units side by side... and the room dimensions are all kinds of "too small" to make the "ideal" designs or even ideas practical.

    So what do you do?

    Design a water resistant (steel) frame to put a smaller sink in, and most importantly fit, your dryer, washer, and still have some storage space...
    Laundry redesign using Fusion 360

    I must be getting better....

    It's one thing to design furniture, small plastic adaptors/boxes for projects, but when your better half gives you the task of "sorting out that laundry", it shows that they have faith in you... even if you don't think it's entirely warranted.

    This is where CAD really comes in handy. It answers questions like:

    • What if I put these machines side by side, or on top of one another?
    • What if I put the machine into a bench?
    • Should I put it along the side wall, or stacked on the back wall?
    • What size sink would we need if we did (insert any idea listed above)
    • What does it look like if we use wood, or stone bench tops?
    • How much space is left in the room to move around, carry washing baskets, etc?
    • Where do we store the ironing board?
    • Can we create more storage somewhere?

    So I can weld the frame to get the machines off the floor, order the correct sized sink, then provide the exact dimensions to the bench top specialist when ordering.  With a little additional work, we also know the exact size of overhead cabinetry, where the light and power switches are, what "prep work" needs to be done to fit it all in, and the order in which it needs to be done in.

    CAD-generated technical drawings for ordering custom parts (or benchtops)

    Technical diagrams generated from CAD

    Moving on. Where am I going from here?

    At the point of writing, I'm in the process of building a DIY CNC router control system. CAD work is going to be more important to me as time progresses. Especially when I start routing and milling parts to specification.

    Fusion 360 has numerous features that I'm only just starting to use. Things like stress analyses, (I believe they call it "Finite Element Analysis" or FEA)... this also includes some capacity for motion analysis, and these will make sure my designs aren't just pretty, but also practical. It may also help to stop my tendency of wildly over-engineering everything.

    Here is just a simple example:
    Fusion 360 load stress analysis

    I think I've come a decent distance, but there's still so much to learn in the design phase, we haven't even come to CAM or printing yet!

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