3D printing for Innovation


I just wanted to share how I have used 3D Printing technology to create a product range that I’m now in full retail sales selling online. Would this be possible without 3D printing?

Well this story starts in an Australian Summer in 2016. As we all do in Australia (and around the world!!), we stock up on a new batch of pool noodles as the others only just lasted the previous summer. I was floating around the pool with the kids just hitting each other and I though there must be something out there to help use pool noodles for good, not evil!!

I was thinking of making a ‘lilo’ shape with a bunch of pool noodles next to each other, so took to the internet to find out what’s available. To my surprise and amazement there was not really a ‘system’ out there but lots of photos with sticky tape, string and other things making shapes with pool noodles.

I though this would be an awesome product and friends I spoke to also thought it would be a good idea. I quick search online and saw there were over a million pools in Australian and around ten million in the USA so if ½ the pool owners spend $10, there was a $55m business, so now I was interested.

Just to let you know the I was an apprentice at a well equipmedl tool machining and CNC machining shop many years ago so I have worked with CAD / CAM systems in the past so the 3D technology of depositing plastics was new, but the ‘computers’ and code behind it were familiar.

I then decided that this was worth having some fun with and I really could only develop these prototypes with 3D printings as I had no access to a machine shop. I then set about selecting a 3D printer and what a range of prices and features they had. A couple of key things I really considered were :

· Online customer reviews

· Resolution of the printer

· Cost of the printer

· Software to take the CAD 3D drawing and turn it into a print file

· Size of the printing volume

This led me to select the FlashForge Dreamer (which has been superseded now)

Nice picture of new printer!

Printer in the ‘workshop’(more about the setup later)

Out of the box it was really easy to setup and found the simplest way to print was just via a SD card. I read a bit about the WiFi connection and my laptop would need to be on etc and from the SD card it’s easy to select on the screen past prints and get them started quickly.

Now I needed a ‘free’ CAD Package and found at the time the Autodesk product 123D Design was very easy to use and learn how to build by creating shapes and taking one away from the other or adding them together.

OK, so them I drew my first design and though this would be a good design to start with using a barb concept to hold the piece in the pool noodle.

The process then work that a .stl or 3D model file is saved from the CAD program and gets loaded into the FlashPrint program that comes with the printer. The idea of this program is to take the model you drew and the set it up how you want for 3D printing and there a lot of settings to adjust depending on the outcome you are after and I’ll talk through some soon.

A couple of things I didn’t know about before 3D printing was the Supports and Rafts which are sometimes needed for printing.

Supports are needed for any overhanging shape that is not at a certain angle as you can’t just print in space. This becomes very important how you lay you shape out for printing as removing these supports is time consuming and adds to the cleanup time. Another note is that the FlashForge Dreamer is a 2 head printer so it is possible to print the supports in a dissolvable material but I never tried and found this OK whith some though on model placement and I’ll show you two different ways for the same model below.

Different Support Structures for the same part in different orientations

Supports in the vertical orientation

Supports in the horizontal orientation

Rafts are a larger base to build the model on that help with it sticking to the bed for stability while printing although the model really only moves down for each layer, the print head is moving at 60-80mm/second so you want to model to be stuck well. The downside is getting the model of the bed at the end!!

We are now ready with the model to setup the printing values we want is this is where you can make up some time by making poorer quality prints quickly and as you move to final design you can improve the quality. You can select your resolution to get factory settings which are a good start,

Some of the considerations include :

Layer Height

The Layer height has a huge impact on time as the print head has to cover the entire model for each slice of the model. If it’s a simple straight sided model this can be larger(0.3mm) but for fine shapes with details so this low around (0.12mm)