Friday, September 8, 2017

Post-Processing Tips for 3D Printing Trophies: Part 2

Whether they’re Oscar statuettes, youth sports participation awards or anything in between, we tend to think of trophies as shiny metallic objects. But there’s no rule that says they have to be gleaming silver or gold, especially if you’re making them with a 3D printer.

In Part 1 of this post, we shared methods for giving 3D-printed trophies a finish that looks like chrome plating. Now, let’s explore a different approach to post-processing for plastic pieces made with FDM (fused deposition modeling) printers.

After successfully completing our Cisco trophy, we decided to create small trophies for each member of the winning team at our annual fundraising golf tournament. Our Director of Instruction, Tom Meeks, came up with as design featuring a golf ball atop a cylindrical base. And instead of the standard metal-plated finish, Tom wanted the ball to be white – like a real golf ball – and the base to look like wood. 
Finished trophies for YouthQuest's golf tournament
We had initially ruled out using FDM machines for the project because, even when they’re set for the finest detail, the printing process always leaves visible striations as layers of melted filament are stacked up. We wanted to create plastic parts with smooth surfaces – and do it with a minimum amount of effort.

One popular method is sanding the piece and brushing on an epoxy product such as XTC-3D or, for plastics like ABS, Acetone. But that can be time-consuming, mixing the epoxy can be messy and Acetone is potentially dangerous to you and your print if you’re not careful.

Tom’s search for a better solution led him to discover Polymaker. The company makes a PVB filament called PolySmooth, which prints like PLA, but can be smoothed with ethanol or isopropyl alcohol. Post-processing is done by putting prints in the Polysher, a device that generates an alcohol mist inside a see-through tank. Print layer lines virtually disappear, leaving a surface that looks polished – exactly what we wanted for our “golf ball.”
Ball after smoothing in Polysher
To print the base, we could have used any number of filaments made with a mixture of wood and thermoplastic, but they tend to cause extruder clogs. Instead we went with Polymaker’s PolyWood, which doesn’t contain any wood particles but looks and feels much like genuine wood, and can be textured and stained just like the real thing.
Trophy base made of PolyWood before staining
Having filament that’s affected by alcohol also opens up some interesting possibilities for adding colors to 3D printed pieces in post-processing. Tom had been experimenting with the Craftwell eBrush, an electric airbrushing system that uses alcohol-based color makers, before he learned about PolySmooth filament. He’s planning to have our advanced 3D ThinkLink students try using the eBrush on PolySmooth parts to see what kind of results they can produce during our next Immersion Lab Week.


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Post-Processing Tips for 3D Printing Trophies: Part 1

Taking on new kinds of 3D printing projects always leads us to explore new skills and techniques. In this series of posts, we’ll share what we learned about some cool post-processing methods as we made 3D-printed trophies for the first time.

Early this year, Cisco asked us to create a 3D-printed trophy for CyberPatriot IX, a nationwide computer network security skills competition for high school and middle school students created by the Air Force Association. Cisco is one of the sponsors and it hosts the Cisco Networking Challenge during the CyberPatriot National Finals.

“We like to encourage our 3D ThinkLink students to find useful things they can do with a 3D printer and this trophy sounded like a great useful thing to do,” said Tom Meeks, our Director of Instruction.

We experimented with designs for the trophy and settled on one modeled after a Cisco router. After making prototypes with our Z450 powder bed printer, the next challenge was to give it a shiny, metallic finish so it would look like a trophy instead of a piece of electronic equipment.
Cisco router used as model for trophy design
The Z450 creates 3D objects by spreading layer after layer of starch-based liquid binder on a bed of gypsum powder. After drying, the parts are coated with a super-glue-like infiltrant or thin liquid epoxy. This strengthens the piece, but the surface still feels rough, like unpolished stone instead of smooth metal.
Trophy prototype before and after basecoat application
Working with Bill Leckliter at Chrome Finishes, Inc. in Frederick, Maryland, we learned now to transform our powder-and-glue box into a trophy that appears to be chrome plated using the Cosmichrome process. First, Bill sprayed it with glossy basecoat primer to make the surface smoother. Then he sprayed on the Cosmichrome plating chemicals, which react with the basecoat to produce a metal reflective finish.
Test object with Cosmichrome coating
“It turned out beautifully,” said Tom, who mounted the chromed trophy to a black wooden plaque and attached a brushed metal plate to the base for the winners to sign.
Team Togo members with trophy
The one-of-a-kind trophy was presented to Cisco Networking Challenge winners Aled Cuda, Kyle Gusdorf, Jonathan Liu, Jaren Mendelsohn and Nikola Pratte – Team Togo from North Hollywood High School in Los Angeles – at the Cyberpatriot IX National Finals in Baltimore in April. 
In researching options for this project, Tom also learned that you can get similar results with a do-it-yourself electroplating kit. The key is to coat your 3D-printed object with a thin layer of graphite paint so it will conduct electricity when it’s in the electroplating bath.

Encouraged by success of our Cisco project, we went on to create trophies for our foundation’s annual fundraising golf tournament. But instead of using the powder printer, which few 3D printing facilities have, we made them with common FDM (fused deposition modeling) printers using some new kinds of plastic filament. In our next post, we’ll explain the post-processing techniques we used to do that. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

3D ThinkLink Intiative Recognized for Public Service

We are honored to be among the nominees for Public Service Innovator of the Year in the Greater Washington Innovation Awards. It’s exciting to have such an opportunity to tell regional leaders about the success of our 3D ThinkLink Initiative.

In a Q&A with the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce blog, YouthQuest Co-Founder and President Lynda Mann explained:

“Our innovation is not that we introduce kids to 3D design and printing, it’s how we use this technology as a vehicle to teach the important life skills at-risk youth lack, such as critical thinking, problem solving, creativity and the confidence to fail. 3D printing is perfectly suited for showing kids who’ve failed in school that mistakes are part of the learning process – they are the beginning of something good, not the end of something bad.”

Another innovative element of the project is that our methodology for teaching the CAD (computer-aided design) program Moment of Inspiration is based on the way we learn languages. We present 3D design concepts as nouns (2D shapes) and verbs (actions applied to shapes that make them 3D).

In addition, the 3D ThinkLink Initiative is innovative because, instead of serving the high-achieving “Science Club” kids who would likely have access to 3D printing anyway, we target at-risk kids to get them re-engaged with education.

Asked what innovation means to her, Lynda told the NOVA Chamber blog:

“The YouthQuest Foundation team believes innovation is the enlightened consequence of a creative, synergistic process that leads to thinking in new ways about solving problems … We wanted to create a truly innovative approach that would lead to solutions that make life better for these young people, and improve organizations and entire communities where they can grow, learn and work.”

Our presentation to the judges at the Innovation Awards Showcase on March 3 included this video of students talking about how the 3D ThinkLink experience affected them.
A week before the Innovation Awards Showcase, we had another great opportunity to raise our profile among Northern Virginia leaders. We were featured at a Corporate Information Event in McLean, along with our partners from the PHILLIPS Programs for Children and Families.
YouthQuest Director of Instruction Tom Meeks and Operations Manager Juan Louro speak with guests at Corporate Information Night on February 21 in McLean, Virginia.

The winners of the Greater Washington Innovation Awards will be announced April 27 at the Hamilton Live in DC. Click here for details and ticket information.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

VIDEOS: Why We've Added the M3D Micro to Our 3D Printing Toolbox

With our 3D ThinkLink Initiative now in its fourth year, and 3D design and printing technology evolving faster than ever, we're always on the lookout for new tools that are well-suited to our work with at-risk youth. We've been testing the Micro 3D printer made by M3D and are quite pleased with the results. 

Our Director of Instruction, Tom Meeks, is so impressed that he's making a series of video tutorials about the M3D Micro. The key to the successful use of any 3D printer is to understand how it works and what the operator can do to ensure the best performance and reliability. That is what our M3D video series will try to address.

The videos are primarily for our teachers and students in the programs we serve, such as National Guard Youth ChalleNGe, the PHILLIPS Programs for Children and Families and AMIkids -- but we're happy to share them with all 3D printing enthusiasts. Here are the first two:

The Micro is a valuable addition to our 3D ThinkLink toolbox for many reasons. First of all, it makes high-quality prints. It's easy to use, reliable, compact and quiet. It can handle more types of material than the 3D Systems Cube printers we use at most of our class sites, including flexible and thermochromic filaments. And, yes, it's quite affordable for such a versatile machine. 

Each 3D printer in our toolbox is chosen to fill a unique role. While the M3D is a bit slow to be used in the classroom when compared to our Cube 2 and Cube 3 machines, it is the perfect "personal printer" to be used by teachers and our Youth Mentor students outside the classroom. It extends our educational work beyond the classroom and into the community.

Better Tools, Better Teaching

Although we haven't deployed Micros at program class sites yet, we have purchased several for our 3D ThinkLink Creativity Lab, where we've introduced our teachers to them. Our expectation is that teachers will enjoy using the Micro so much that they'll greatly increase their own 3D design and printing skills, then use that knowledge to better tailor our 3D ThinkLink curriculum to their students' particular needs. 
Tom Meeks demonstrates the M3D Micro during 3D ThinkLink teacher training
The Micro is also part of the Tech Pack we give our top students when they complete training to be Youth Mentors. Their mission is to use the printers in sharing their 3D skills with people in their communities, acting as role models to promote positive change.
Freestate ChalleNGe Academy grad Aunya' Jones, our first Youth Mentor,
works with her M3D Micro printer
As Tom noted in his Idearoom3D blog, we're eagerly awaiting the release of the bigger, faster M3D Pro, which won't have to be connected to a laptop while printing. Meanwhile, keep an eye on our YouTube channel for more tips about using the M3D Micro.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Yes, That Is a Jerky Maker in Our 3D Printing Lab

And, no, we’re not using it to turn our Thanksgiving leftovers into turkey jerky. The food dehyrdrator is part of our low-tech solution to a common 3D printing problem – brittle filament.

If you’ve been working with FDM (fused deposition modeling) printers, you’ve probably discovered to your dismay that filament absorbs moisture from the air. If you leave it exposed for too long, the plastic breaks easily – leading to print failures, rough surfaces and even clogged print heads. 

It seems counterintuitive that water can make a material less flexible; especially plastic, which we think of as being moisture-resistant. But most 3D printing filaments are made with some type of polymer. Water molecules break polymer chains, weakening the material’s structure. has a good explanation of the science behind this process, called hydrolysis

The type of filament we use most at our 3D ThinkLink class sites and in our lab is PLA (Polylactic Acid) a biodegradable polymer made from plants such as corn. It’s safer than another commonly used type of filament, ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), because it doesn’t emit potentially dangerous fumes when it melts in the 3D printer’s hot end. PLA absorbs water faster than ABS. Moisture is an even bigger problem with two other kinds of filament we sometimes use – nylon and 3D Systems’ Infinity water-soluble support material.

Tiny pockets of water will turn to steam when the filament is extruded through the printer’s hot end, leaving pits in what should be smooth surfaces of printed objects. Moisture can also make filament swell up, causing a clog that could ruin your machine’s print head. 

We’ve learned through trial and error that it’s not enough to store filament in an airtight container, although that’s also part of the solution. When you encounter a moisture-related problem, you have to actively dry the filament. That’s where our jerky maker comes in.

3D printing enthusiasts have devised all sorts of methods for drying filament. We’ve found that using a home food dehydrator is a safe, simple, affordable way to make troublesome filament usable again.

We use a Nesco FD-61, which is widely available for well under $100 online and at most big-box stores, but any similar machine will do. Make sure it’s large enough to accommodate the filament spools you use. 
Screen removed from tray to make spacer
We had to cut away the screen portion of a few trays to create spaces between levels deep enough for large spools like this one.
Filament spool ready for drying
Dry the filament at a temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit for 4 to 6 hours, then run a test print to make sure you’re satisfied with the quality. 

You can do the same thing if you have a convection oven, which constantly circulates hot air just like the dehydrator. But you have to keep a close watch on the temperature to make sure you don’t melt the plastic. 
Cube 2 filament cartridge opened
If you use filament cartridges such as the ones for the Cube 2 printer, it's best to remove the spool for drying to avoid possible heat damage to the plastic case. Carefully press each tab around the edge of the cartridge and pull apart the two halves of the shell, then take out the cardboard spool and put it in the dehydrator. After drying, reassemble the cartridge, making sure the tiny verification chip in the base of the case remains in place and the filament is threaded correctly through the guides behind the exit hole so that it moves freely. 

Once you’ve removed all that annoying moisture, make sure your filament stays dry by storing it in an airtight container with a desiccant pack. Again, you’ll find many creative filament storage inventions online. We have dozens of cartridges and spools in the 3D ThinkLink Creativity Lab, so we like to use five-gallon plastic buckets with 12-inch screw-top lids. You can find them in the paint section of any major home improvement supply store. They stack easily and have plenty of room for filament cartridges and desiccant.
Storage bucket with screw-top lid and rechargeable desiccant block
Now that our filament is dry and safe in the sealed buckets, maybe we will use the dehydrator to make some jerky after all. Anyone have a good recipe?

Monday, November 7, 2016

3D ThinkLink Helps At-Risk Youth Redefine Failure

Failure is not final. We never fail to emphasize that message in our 3D ThinkLink classes. 
A favorite motivational poster in our 3D ThinkLink Creativity Lab features a picture of Yoda with this quote: “You want to know the difference between a master and a beginner? The master has failed more times than the beginner has ever tried.”

In fact, that’s not a line from a Star Wars movie, even though it sure sounds like something Yoda might say. 

But what about “Failure is not an option”? Apollo 13 Flight Director Gene Kranz never said that, either. A screenwriter for the Ron Howard movie came up with the line, but Kranz thought it captured the spirit of NASA’s Mission Control Center so well that he used it as the title of his autobiography. 

What Kranz did tell his team as they scrambled to save the astronauts aboard the crippled spacecraft was: “This crew is coming home … And we must make it happen.” And they did – but not without overcoming plenty of obstacles along the way. They didn’t let failures keep them from ultimately achieving success. 

Fast-forward to the era of private spaceflight. SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who recently watched one of his Falcon 9 rockets explode on the launch pad, has declared: "Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough."

In fact, 15Five CEO David Hassell contends that for today’s entrepreneurs, failure is not an option – it’s required

These varied views of failure can be difficult to reconcile for the young people we serve. Most of them have experienced a great deal of failure in school and at home. It’s no wonder that they’ve learned to fear failure and to give up when they make mistakes. 

Our 3D ThinkLink Initiative is designed to help at-risk kids redefine failure. We’ve seen how learning 3D design and printing gives them the opportunity to work through problems by trial and error without worrying about flunking a test or being punished. Nobody’s 3D project turn out right the first time. But the inevitable mistakes are always instructive, and sometimes even beautiful

Students in 3D ThinkLink Creativity Lab
With the CAD software and user-friendly printers we provide for 3D ThinkLink classes along with hands-on help from highly engaged teachers in the classrooms, our students can easily evaluate failures, improve their designs and print again until they’re satisfied with the results. 

The key is for students to develop the confidence to keep trying in the face of failures, knowing that each mistake can lead to improvement. That’s a profoundly different way of thinking for most at-risk youth.  
Bob Lenz, Executive Director of the Buck Institute for Education, explained on the Edutopia blog what he means when he says failure is essential to learning.

I'm not talking about dead-end failure, the kind that results in loss of opportunity, regression, or stagnation. Instead, we see failure as an opportunity for students to receive feedback on their strengths as well as their areas of improvement -- all for the purpose of getting better. When reframed as a good, constructive, and essential part of learning, failure is a master teacher.

How do you make failure students' friend? Set a high standard and don't be afraid to tell students that they haven't met it. But in the next breath, give detailed suggestions on what they can do to improve. And, most important -- though so often given short shrift -- allow students the time, space, and support to make the revisions. In such a culture, failure does not mean, "You lose." It means, "You can do better. We believe in you. Here is some feedback: revise, and try again."

That’s why our 3D ThinkLink curriculum includes lots of design lab sessions. Students need time to go through the process of incremental improvement so they can internalize the larger lesson about failure.

3DThinkLink class at the PHILLIPS School
We know it works because of the results we’ve seen. For instance, here’s what a student from our first class for teens with autism at the PHILLIPS School in Annandale, Virginia, told us: 
“What I liked about the 3D program was that it taught me that I could innovate. It’s teaching me ‘don’t give up on your design.’ … Like when you lose your data, you can always get it back – just keep going. I am using this now, every day. It is OK to lose data because you can always do it again. It helped me tolerate the loss – to start again, to start over.”

We hear the same thing from other organizations that offer 3D printing programs for at-risk youth. The McCarthy-Dressman Foundation and ChickTech recently provided workshops in app development and 3D printing at Helensview Alternative High School in Portland, Oregon, to help students gain confidence and learn from failures. Surveys done before and after the classes showed a 22 percent increase in students reporting “I can work through problems.”

The PHILLIPS School’s evaluation report included this teacher’s account of the change he saw one student undergo during our pilot project. 

“During the 3rd session, the student suddenly ran back into the classroom, buried his head on the desk and shut down. He would not talk to me. He has a habit of never revealing or identifying the problem. I talked to the 3D Design Teacher who said the student got frustrated trying to create something. Then, during one of the final 3D classes, I was observing the class and this student had stopped working on the project and was doing other things on the computer. When the 3D Design Teacher went to him, the student showed him the project, identified the problem and together they problem solved. The student was able to finish and print his design – this is a major change. I have seen it in other areas as well. The student does not shut down as often.”

The final quotation on this subject comes from a time long before Elon Musk, Gene Kranz and Yoda. “My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure,” said Abraham Lincoln. 

It is life-changing when students learn how to use their failures to pave the way to success.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Understanding Additive Manufacturing Is a Plus for 3D ThinkLink Students

YouthQuest’s 3D ThinkLink training gives at-risk teens an advantage in the tech-driven job market where demand for 3D design and printing skills is growing fast.

Our students from Maryland’s Freestate, DC’s Capital Guardian and South Carolina Youth ChalleNGe Academies learned about the additive manufacturing techniques, such as 3D printing, and traditional subtractive manufacturing during last month’s Vocational Orientation field trips. 

In this video, Bill Nye the Science Guy explains why additive manufacturing is the way of the future.

3D Systems Director of Corporate Communications Tim Miller told the students who toured the company’s headquarters in Rock Hill, South Carolina, that demand for workers who understand 3D printing is skyrocketing. Job listings for positions requiring 3D printing skills jumped more than 1,800 percent from 2010 to 2014, according to Wanted Analytics. 
Tim Miller leads a Vocational Orientation
tour of 3D Systems

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers also reported:
… knowing how to use a 3D printer has become an in-demand job skill. A recent report from data company Wanted Analytics found that in one month 35 percent of engineering job listings from a variety of fields, including biomedical, software, and transportation industries, required applicants familiar with 3D printing and its additive manufacturing processes. The same report found that companies are having a difficult time finding candidates with the right skills.

Fortunately for our students, many of these jobs do not require a 4-year college degree, as noted in the Potomac Laser blog:
Interestingly, the new tools being implemented are often automated and the workers who run them do not need advanced degrees. These operators who have an underlying STEM-based skillset can enter the workforce with a high school diploma or associate’s degree at a pay scale averaging 61 percent higher than workers in non-STEM jobs with similar education. 

Students explore additive and subtractive
manufacturing at The Foundery in Baltimore
As our students discovered during their Vocational Orientation visits to businesses and universities, additive and subtractive manufacturing methods are often used in combination. For instance, 3D printing may be used in developing prototypes of a finished product that will be mass-produced through traditional manufacturing techniques. 

CAD (Computer Aided Design) software is used in both types of manufacturing. Our students learn Moment of Inspiration, a professional-level CAD program, so they understand the concept of giving computer-controlled manufacturing devices the instructions to create objects, whether they’re 3D printers or subtractive CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machines. 

In addition to technical skills, the 3D ThinkLink Initiative gives students an advantage by emphasizing the development of critical thinking and problem solving skills. Research by PayScale ranked those at the top of the list of skills hiring managers say are lacking in recent graduates.