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3D printing does have a place

1522 Views 3 Replies 3 Participants Last post by  JOAT
One of my best used deals was a small ShopSmith Dust collector. It is small, relatively quiet compared to a shop vac, but has great air flow velocity. It is only 1 HP, but it has 3 2-1/2 inlets on it, which match my CNC machine perfectly. I've had it for a year now, and my only complaint was that I needed a better way to plug the unused ports. The previous owner employed the handyman's secret weapon (duct tape), and I followed suit replacing it when needed.

I had thought of cutting a couple of MDF plugs to fit in the unused hole, or conning my youngest to turn me a pair of nice plugs on her lathe, but I never seemed to get around to it. Then inspiration struck. I found out that the local library has 3D printers free to use. I inquired about the process, took the orientation and badging course to prove I was qualified to operate them, and then I was ready to go.

I started my model in my CNC software, but it looked a little clunky. My oldest had an engineering course in high school were they did rapid prototyping with a 3D printer. While she has been home from college this summer, I tasked her with putting those skill to good (AKA 'my') use. We took the calipers out into the garage and measured everything, and she took her sketch up to her room. In about 8 minutes she brought me the file she had created and I was good to go.

I booked my time in the library and I was off. I only intended to print 1, so I could take it home and try it. That's when I learned the dirty secret of 3d printing. It takes FOREVER. The first cap 'should' have only taken 1 hour to print based on the software's estimate. It took me 25 minutes to get the machine ready, and then almost 90 minutes to print. But in the end, the result was perfect.

The following week I reserved the machine again, and things went more quickly. I had made some changes, so the model took less time to build, and I was much faster setting up the machine this time. Unfortunately, they were out of the snazzy purple filament I had used on the first one. I was in no mood to change from the white to blue or gray, so cap 2 is a little more bland. I should not complain, an anonymous library patron donates all of the consumables to the library, so whatever color are there is fine with me.

The result of the project is a more professional looking setup, thanks to the duct tape being gone.

There are a lot of neat models on that can be used in the workshop. Jigs, knobs, alignment fixtures, etc. all free to download. The unfortunate problem is that I can only book the machine for 3 hours at a time. Most of the models will be pushing that time limit. I have to talk more with the Research Librarian who is responsible for that machine and see what other options are.

While I see no reason to own a 3D printer, I can see how it can be a handy tool. Like all of the digital fabrication tools, it requires only basic skills to run, but to get the most out of it you have to practice and learn different techniques. I hope to try and sneak in there once a month or so and try making other shop improvements.

Check your library, they may have similar tools available in your area as well. And look at the models on for inspiration.


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Nice looking plugs Doug. I just used the ones that came with my vacuum when I got it but I think one is now cracked, duct tape will likely be used to repair. 3D printers certainly have their place. I always figured once I have one of everything else I'd probably get one.

There have a been a fair number of times when working in the observatory with a new telescope, CCD camera, or other component that I wished I had something to make the threaded adapters I needed for the perfect spacing. Spacing is key for keeping the perfect spacing of the mirrors/lens to surface of the CCD chip. Tilt is critical as well and then of course it can't be reflective.

I'll be working on a 24" Ritchey Chretien telescope soon out in California, a bit remote location, and having something like that may well prove it's worth alone. Largest diameter adapters would be 4" threaded fittings. Wall thickness would be dependent on load of the camera, filter wheel, focuser, rotator, adaptive optic unit, spectrograph, and so on. Of course not all of these are mounted at the same time. In this case however a turret to select the component to use would also be in the mix.

So yeah, this could be handy....Any idea if you can do specific threads on one of these? Being lazy, I can look that up but if it doesn't do anything more than produce a working prototype before heading to the machine shop (really expensive) to produce a proven spacer it can be worth it.
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The one I use at the library has a resolution of 50 microns, which I think means 0.05mm. it should be able to print threads. Might be a fun experiment.
Well, those look well done. My only experiences with 3D printers is:

Watching a video or three on youtube printing out some of the stupidest things I have ever seen, except for the really stupid video games my grandson plays, and plays wrong.

And awhile back my older son bought one of the 30 round .22 magnum pistols that came out just a bit ago, so I bought him a 3d printed loader to help him load the magazine. Fortunately I was able to get my money back. It looked great. And that was the only thing good about it. First, the lips of it had to be widened to even accept a rond. But then the holder for the round was at the wrong angle. And even if the angle could have been corrected, it would not have mattered, because the holder was too short. Seems to me there was something else wrong with it, but can't recall what. First class POS. I don't worry about problems like that because, One: I will never have a 3d printer. Two: I could make one that would work, and would check that it DID work, which the guy selling the crap apparently did not.
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