Being active in the evolution of emerging new and exciting technologies is rewarding and fun. Being involved in two at once is even better. The blending of 3D printing to produce functional and prototype parts, not to mention just making things we need around the house, has shown me that as this technology expands and improves in both cost and performance, it will eventually change how many things are made and brought to market. In almost every community, there are others that share this view, who meet to share their ideas, show off machines or products, and seek input for completing their own pursuits. Like it has been with the solid-state lighting universe, I am asked to present at these gatherings. The range of topics include exploring the practical aspects and economies of 3D printing, to specific examples of making a product combining LED sources into a 3D printed end-product.
Design 7 is a product I made up to demonstrate the process of bringing a design idea and functional end-use together in a form that could be made in a few hours, from design to finished product, using a desktop 3D printer and less than $10.00 in parts. In this specific case, the idea was for a small bedside table night-light in a form that was as fun when it was not in use, as it was when lighted up. Pressing the rocket nose cone starts the LED light “engine” creating a glow that works as a security or path light in a dark room, while when off, looks the part of a vintage rocket toy. For the purposes of the demonstration, I printed the model a couple of times to show different techniques, from printing in one pass using two colors of material (with inferior structural strength), to breaking the model apart to print the various components for optimized strength. The final model was then sanded and painted to create the finished effect.
The internal LED components came from a reading lamp purchased at a bookstore for less that $9.00, which was then dismantled for its LED, control, and battery holder. The LED was mounted into the rockets body, while the internals were incorporated into a removable internal sleeve to facilitate battery changes. In all, the total cost involved was around $18.00, including 3D plastic, and around 4 hours of work, after the design/model was created in SolidWorks. While the demonstration was successful, and well received, it did point out the one weakness in the entire 3D printing universe – the connection with 3D modeling software, and expertise in 3D design required to create novel end products from scratch. This, combined with the rather rudimentary and frequently poorly developed 3D printer software, is a greater roadblock to expansion of this technology than the actual printing hardware is at this time.