Archive for the ‘3D printing’ Category

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.

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.
2010: The original Unicycle One was designed in RhinoCAD 3D
2010: The original Unicycle One was printed on a Dimension bst1200es printer in ABS+ material
2021: All current objects are designed in Solidworks Professional, which allows me far greater control over design features and part qualities.
2021: The new Unicycle Two is printed using a Stratasys F370, in ASA material.

In addition to learning the processes and materials involved, I have also developed various processes to properly finish the objects, and assemble them using appropriate adhesives to produce optimal strength. I have tested dozens of adhesives using lab processes to create a library of materials that will generate joints that are strong and long lasting.

I frequently do stress testing to verify object integrity. In the case of Unicycle Two, in a destructive test I discovered three issues that were corrected in further versions. One was a weak seam at the center of the body, another was a too-thin wall section that cased layer cracking, in the upper body, and the final a weakness in the arm detailing that allowed too much flex in the finished assembly. All of these were corrected in the final version of the design.
This is the collection of body parts for the new Unicycle Two, which took close to 50 hours to print, but used significantly less material compared to the original.
The raw printed parts are glued together into larger assemblies. Various solvent based adhesives are used, creating finished assemblies that are as strong in joinery as the components are individually.
Once the joints have cured fully, the parts go through a sanding process to eliminate the print lines and joint visibility.
Painting processes include several stages of priming and finish sanding to achieve the final desired appearance.
The finished parts, ready for assembly, are allowed to cure for at least 5 days, to avoid any damage during final object assembly and light source integration.

With a greater understanding of material properties, assembly creation, light source integration and adaptation of new hardware, the quality of finished objects has improved significantly, as has their strength and appearance.

This snapshot is a preview of the new offerings coming this summer in a collection of 16 new objects now in process. This iteration of the Unicycle not only uses less than half the material of the original, its finished quality is markedly improved as well.

3D printing was once a tool for industrial designers seeking a fast track to hands on prototypes. Today, it is possible for an artist to use the technology to capture a thought from imagination and convert it to tangible object, before the inspiration goes cold. This is an exciting and empowering capability.

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.

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.


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.

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.