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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.)
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.
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.
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.