3D Print Material Preference

In the process of creating lighted objects using 3D printed components, the choice of what material to employ becomes a significant consideration. Unlike novelties and hobby interests, which generally focus on cost or printer compatibility issues (material print temperatures, warping, cracking, etc.) my focus is on creating objects with high surface finish quality, extremely long life, bonding strength, overall toughness, and secondary finish capability.

Primary Materials Considered

There are three primary materials commonly used in FDM processing.

ABS or Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene is the most commonly used material in FDM printing of end-use parts. It is also used to produce a wide range of plastic products you encounter every day, from toothbrushes to kitchen appliances. It is tough, can tolerate some heat, and is impact resistant. It has enough flexibility to move before it breaks. ABS glues very well using solvents, making strong bonds between parts to create larger assembled components. It sands and well, and since it is a medium surface energy plastic, so wil, wet out and takes paints and adhesives well – when properly prepared. However, ABS, due to its high Butadiene rubber content, is not tolerant of UV Light exposure, which will break it down over time, making it brittle and causing it to shrink and crack around fasteners. ABS can also be a little brittle in thin wall sections, resulting in cracking around fasteners and between layers.

3D Print 2010 vs. 2021 and Unicycle 2

Unicycle Two was inspired by the first 3D print object I ever made in 2010 – Unicycle One, which was part of the 52 in 52 project. This first full object project and over 1000 subsequent projects since has been a massive learning experience. The following summarizes the progression that has taken place over these 11 years.

Unicycle Two (2021, foreground) vs. Unicycle One (2010, background) reflects the evolution of progress in creating finished art using 3D print technology. This includes surface finishing as well as approach to body fill and construction.

Not knowing the characteristics of the ABS plastic in 2010, I printed the first fixture solid, which consumed 115 cubic inches of material, at a cost of over $600. Ouch! Over the last 11 years, I have learned a lot about how to create objects with 3D printers, which is reflected in the latest iteration of the Unicycle design.

2010: The first 3D print object, using a Stratasys Dimension bst1200es, was printed solid and is unfinished. The design was done in Rhino CAD, and the separation of colors reflected the numerous sections required to build the fixture up. The driver and electronics are in the base. The arm and head were made from machined copper.
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Integrated 3D Printed Handheld Task Light

3D printing can be accomplished using single or multiple materials. The future of the process includes printing integrated circuits, optics, circuit pathways, heat sinks, fixture bodies and enclosures. Robotics, combined with 3D printing stations, can assemble entire products with no fasteners, no seams, and no human interaction, from a bin of raw materials.

The process involves setting up a series of 3D printers that feed into a main printer that is printing a body. At various stages, the printer is paused, and components are installed into cavities, before the printer continues. This can also include potting of cavities, as well as creating wiring vias and paths for conventional wires to pass through. The finished product would have no seams to leak, no intermediate gasketing to fail. It is an integrated assembly that used no glue or seaming of any type, making the final product durable.

This process can be repeated 24/7, with no staff present, other than to keep the material supplies loaded (also done with automation in the local area of the machine.) Customer orders can then move directly from order entry into the production que, with all available selectable options of color, optic, LED power level, CCT, control interface, etc… since the entire fixture is created from software to real world, with none of the conventional inventory of parts, components, etc… through to assembly operations.

A Simple Example to Illustrate the Process

The following is a design and process I created from raw fixture design to printed, in less than 24 hours.

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What I Can Do for You at Lumenique

Every designer has instances where they want to see a special idea or concept realized to fill a small, but essential need or want, but cannot find a path to see it realized. I know this, as I was a designer that started making things for my own projects to fill this need – which led to the formation of Lumenique.

Custom Frame Mount LED Picture Light

The need for something special may be as simple as a small iconic accent applied to a wall or door, a corporate image piece, a center piece at a corporate entry desk or conference table, a side table or dining table light that functions as accent source of illumination while making an artistic design statement. These are the inspired details that add nuance and depth, that makes a design pop – but are too frequently set aside for want of a source to make them real.

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Art and Design Creation Enabled by Technology

Art vs. Design

Art is not media bound. It matters not whether a creation comes from spray cans, found objects, sculpted from clay, chipped out of marble, or painted with secret formula pigments. Art is the transformation of a thought or individual vision, expressed in forms to be experienced by others. Some art is intentionally fleeting, to be experienced in the moment that is lost to time. Other forms are permanent, to transcend the ages. Some art is heavily contextual, some dated, and some transcendent, changing in meaning and perceived value over time. It is all art. It is all creative expression.

Every stage of human artistic development has been boosted by the simultaneous development of enabling technology. In some cases, the artist themselves were the innovators, in others, artists are the benefactors of technology that emerged for other purposes. Early painters utilized paints of their own creation, where modern artists utilize a plethora of manufactured medium with which to express themselves. The art is not diminished, and the ability to create is enhanced by this transformation. Early sculptors chipped away at marble they sourced from quarries engaged in building architecture, or shaped clay taken from river beds or headed to brick factories, or cast bronze from the same processes and materials used for architectural metalwork. Today, sculpting comes in every imaginable form, using materials and technologies from the past, the present, and in the case of some, the near future. The introduction of the computer has opened doors into new realm of art – including digital works that exist only as data and projected pixels, art headed to any number of printing processes, and now three dimensional art directly from data using 3D printers.

There is differentiation between art and design. Design – whether it be Graphic or Industrial – is creative and artistic, but has a purpose, a determined value to be delivered. In this, Design seeks to first identify the need of the viewer (read “customer”) community, then deploy an end product to satisfy the intended number of viewers in a way that produces a commercial sales result. In this, the Viewer is the priority in which the Designer intends to serve. The Designer focuses every effort on the attempt to produce a clear understanding of the product created, in order to produce the most universal acceptance by the target audience (read “Customer”.)

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Steps from a Virtual Concept to Finished Work using 3D Printed Components

The following is the step by step process I use to develop a design or artistic idea into three dimensional reality using modern tools and technology. The images are from a current project just completed, and are not retouched, so you can see the raw process as it progressed.

Creative Process – In the virtual universe
Building the Model
While we once used pens and pencils to create drawings, when the end product is to be produced directly as a 3D assembly, creating designs within solid-model CAD software is a more direct, and more satisfying process. In my case, all sculptures and designs are created in SolidWorks. This includes all components to be utilized, to insure the final product will fit together. This is a highly iterative process, that may entail dozens of attempts and variations, as the design matures and evolves.
At various stages in the process, the model assembly or its parts are rendered to see how they might appear when completed. This affords me insight into proportion, and general appearance that the CAD software is lacking.
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3D Printing at Lumenique

Additive manufacturing – AKA 3D Printing – comes in several forms that produce various degrees of detail and part integrity. For most of us, the go-to process is FDM, which generates strong plastic parts at a reasonable cost, using a wide range of polymers to suit many needs.

An early part created using FDM Printing, with minimal post-print processing or smoothing.

FDM – Fused Deposition Modeling, also known and MLE (Material Layer Extrusion) – is a process in which a filament of plastic is heated and extruded, tracing the part and its interior, layer by layer. This is the most common process for making strong end-use parts, made from a wide range of materials. FDM printing is also very cost effective, using affordable equipment. Can produce crude optical diffusers, but unsuited to optical forms.

For art produced by the author at Lumenique, we employ a Stratasys F370 Professional grade high performance FDM 3D printer that can print a wide range of plastics. The F370 is a highly reliable printer, that can generate parts that take many days to produce, without failures or quality issues. There are many lower cost machines on the market, but they are not capable of reliably printing large, high quality parts runs without failing. We regularly print jobs that take more than 60 hours, that consume 75 cubic inches of material. We invest in the equipment needed to support this. Our previous Stratasys printer generated over 900 print jobs, with just 2 print failures in the 9 years we had it in operation.

The Stratasys F370 Printer is an industry leading, high reliability, commercial/industrial grade machine with 4 material bays and a heated build environment.
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