Sean's 'blog for 2012

[ 2012 Blog | Long Lost Twins ]


3D Printing - Anew
May 31, 2013

My interest in 3D printing began several years back when the current game project I was working on was in mid-development, and not yet released. Lord of the Rings Online was not yet shipped, and we were working away when one of my co-workers and friends pointed me to a web article about 3D printers being used at MIT, and I was fascinated. There were various ways to print something in physical space at the time, but they were extremely expensive, but nonetheless I was excited because the article kind of led us to believe that this kind of technology would be available at reasonable hobbyist prices in the next few years. Being known as a collector of lots of plastic (toys, collectibles, etc, in fact my desk was a tour stop on the Turbine tour because I had 5 shelves full of the coolest stuff you can imagine) I was of course excited at the prospect of being able to make my own "stuff".

Another co-worker and very good friend of mine at the time said something along the lines of "Oh, great. More junk to toss in a landfill."

Well, perhaps some people would print a lot of junk. I planned to print cool things, even if I was the only one who thought it cool.

In the last two years, the MakerBot has become a well-known hobbyist machine, and for under $3,000 (about the cost of an elaborate computer in the 1980s when I was first computer hobbying) it brought 3D layer printing in ABS plastic to the home hobbyist. And since then, the industry has sort of boomed. There are many printers now that can print 3D layered objects. Many of these are, themselves, a hobby. You buy the kit and build it. I've seen the results. Not always great.

So I kept my eye on the market and two promising printers showed up:

The Form-1 Resin Printer

The Afinia H479 ABS Layer Printer

About 8 months ago, I guess, I bought Make Magazine's special edition on 3D printing in which they pitted somewhere around a dozen different home-priced 3D printers and ranked them. I read through those articles, saw the test prints, and they ranked the Afinia H479 their "Best In Show" for various criteria. Where they lost out was on speed. But when I think about it, speed is not that important for the patient. Where they really won was in accuracy and precision. And in ease of use. It is touted as one of the first "out of the box" printers you can just plug and print.

Around the same time I heard of a Kickstarter campaign for the Form-1 . This excited me too, because the printed item is made of resin (which interested me because I mainly want to print garage hobby resin model kits for hobbyists, such as a Space 1999 Moonbuggy, or space ships I design myself.)

I looked into the Form-1 and I found that while the process is fascinating (it actually prints using a laser which hardens the liquid resin on a flat surface that's lowered into a shallow tray of resin. It hardens a layer onto this surface, and lifts it slowly out of the tray of resin, printing layer after layer, and you see the whole thing rise up upside-down out of this shallow bath of resin.

If this wasn't magic, then it was close enough! And look at these results!

Don't get me wrong. I WANT THIS PRINTER!

But it had its problems. First, the Kickstarter campaign indicated they were some way off from production. And the cost was about double the Afinia H Series printer.

And there was word that they were being sued for patent infringement . Not sure how that's going either, but it lends uncertainty to the project.

But the printing results speak for themselves.

Here is a side-by-side sample of the two methods of printing. On the left is a small item printed in ABS layers, and on the right, the same 3D model printed on the Form-1 with laser-hardened resin process. (Not sure which actual printer printed the layered version. They just labeled it "Low Cost FDM" which is another print material and process.)

But for now the Form-1 is out because it's not shipping yet, and is a bit too expensive. Also, the special liquid resin required to print is very expensive, something like $140 per liter. Now a liter sits in a shallow tray and can print a lot of items, but it would still make for a very expensive per-object cost. I think I'll want one of these when they're at market and the prices drop a bit.

So I investigated the Afinia H Series .

Afinia was good enough to offer to print me a sample item if I sent them an .STL file (standard file format for 3D printing.) I wanted to see how feasible it was to print a Space 1999 Moonbuggy so I downloaded a model from the internet just for testing purposes. Meanwhile I began to model my own. But for now this would do.

The model was NOT optimized for 3D printing, and I sent it in without alteration. I expected the worst, but what I got back actually surprised me. You can read about that in my previous entry, here.

They also sent me a sample print of a Taj Mahal that they do, and I was pretty sure this would be my first 3D printer.

At a price of $1599 I figured this would be my starting printer.

At the time I just got my tax refund back, and got a bonus from work, and had enough money in the bank to outright buy this printer. But with Charlotte's college coming up rapidly, and who knows what costs ahead, we figured it would be smarter to keep that money in the bank. So I had a plan.

Each year at Christmas I usually go through my collectibles in storage and sell a few on eBay to make some extra money to buy the family Christmas gifts. I decided I would make the purchase of this printer a project. An eBay project. I would sell enough of my collection (things I didn't cherish as much) and try to raise enough money to buy this printer outright. I knew it would take some time. I figured if I began auctioning in January, I should have $1600 by April.

I began auctioning the big ticket items first, items that would bring in over a hundred bucks and my PayPal account began to grow. Then I found a few things on eBay I wanted myself, and it shrank a bit, but not much. I kept auctioning, and the account began to grow. I wrote a spreadsheet to keep track of all my eBay auctions and the totals, the shipping costs, and the net result, and had a little window for how much I had left to go towards the Afinia printer.

Then in late March Charlotte and I were involved in a car accident that totaled my van and took me out of auctioning for a few weeks. I had too much else to concentrate on to be selling things on eBay, which is a hobby in itself. So I was delayed.

But when I bought a new car and finally took possession of it almost a month later (long story) I got back to selling.

Since January I sold over 115 items on eBay, and made $2300. As I said, some of that money had to go elsewhere. But I declared victory around May 25 when my PayPal account had reached over $1700. Enough to buy the printer and ship it.

Earlier this week I was about to pull the trigger. $1599 plus $40 expedited shipping for the printer and one reel of premium plastic, as well as a set of tools to help in the printing process.

But I looked around the internet for coupons and deals, and found that for $1650 I could get all of the above (shipped from Afinia's warehouse, so it's the same product) but add to that a set of knives (not expensive) and a heat switch (to lower the heat of the print head for some reason) but most importantly, three reels of filament in my color choices. Each reel of lower-quality filament usually runs $33 or thereabouts. So this was a great opportunity to get some extra colors off the bat. And one company was shipping $500 or above orders for free.

I ordered. Now I await the printer, which is grinding its way slowly to me by UPS Ground.

When I get it, I will begin blogging about it hopefully excessively. I will have to design a whole new page for it.

This is what an Afinia can do in the various colors of filament they sell:


3D Printing
May 4, 2013

You may have heard a lot lately about 3D printing. This is not a new thing, but it has become far more accessible to normal people in the last year. For many years now, machines have created items out of layers of plastic in what's called an "additive printing process" whereby a plastic melting head (not that different from a glue gun head) passes over a surface laying down a layer of shaped plastic, then lifts itself and lays down another layer, and continues until it prints an entire object from plastic (or sometimes other materials.)

I'm working now to buy an Afinia H printer, which prints things in ABS plastic, at .015mm layers, so about 8 layers per millimeter.

Just to show you (and me) what it's capable of, I sent a computer file (one I downloaded from the internet and did not alter) to Afinia for a test print, which they offered me when I expressed interest in their printer.

Here is the finished product, with tires in place.

Here we see the real problem with current layered printing. The more shallow your angle, the more stepping is noticeable. You have to realize, however, that this is an extreme close-up. It's not this bad in person, as it's a bit smaller.

This shows how the rounded seat is printed in layers, and how the flat area is diagonally cross-hatched. Certain methods can be used to better finish surfaces, often involving acetone vapor bath.

This is the fuel knob, which on the actual model is only about 1/8 inch in diameter.

This shows the general surfacing. For current tech, this isn't bad.

This shows the side and surfacing pattern.

A single wheel. The bolts inside print rather nicely, however, the gently curved surface is layered.

Here are some of the wheels together.

Please note that I can make a much cleaner model than this, and one that's more accurate to an actual Amphi-cat, as seen in Space 1999, posing as a moon buggy. This one had problems with unclosed model portions, something I would easily fix if I knew it was a problem.

I began selling some of my amazing toy collection on eBay to pay for it, and after months, I'm almost all the way there. I had to take a brief hiatus from auctioning things after my car accident , but I got back on track and am now very close to the amount I need to purchase this printer.

I have many plans including making rocket ship models, airship models, other props from TV shows and movies, as well as clocks. I have some great ideas for non-traditional clocks using normal clock motors you can buy in hobby shops.

Truth and the Internet
May 4, 2013

Space 1999 Moon Buggy Custom
May 4, 2013

Earlier this year I took a toy I had purchased (for another reason entirely), an 8-wheel ATV, and customized it into a Space 1999 Moon Buggy upgrade.

Here are some pics. I painted it yellow and black, and printed my own custom model decal sheets using Testors decal paper. I think it's not bad.

This is the toy set. I got it specifically for the geese. A co-worker kept complaining about the goose crap all over the place (Massachusetts hosts all these Canada Geese in the spring) so I bought this set, and put all these gees on his desk, sprinkled liberally with brown Jimmies, those tasteless things people put on ice cream. It was hilarious. But the ATV came as a bonus, and I saw a great opportunity.

Taken apart, and the green parts primed. The seat painted black.


The crossbar painted and in place.

Some decals in place.

Dashboard decals (Notice how I tried to closely mimic the actual Space 1999 dashboard:

I printed some diamond plate sheets to put here. No reason. I just liked it.

The start of the zebra-striping around the trim bumper.

I don't have a good photo of the finished product, just imagine the image above with zebra-striping around the front bumper too, and it's done.

Catching Up On Life, Charlotte's College Choices, Paying Off Our Mazda 5, and a Bloody Big Car Accident!
March 28, 2013

Today Carol called me at work to tell me Charlotte was, out of the blue, offered the Tsongas Scholarship to Bridgewater State University. Charlotte had more or less crossed Bridgewater off her list. Other colleges had offered her good money to attend, like Clark in Worcester, and Hartwick in New York State. But even with $84,000 from Hartwick, for her to go we (her and we) would have to incur $120,000 in loans just for an undergrad degree.

Charlotte was also offered a place in the Honors program at Bridgewater State, and invited down to the Honors invitee dinner, which impressed her sufficiently that she decided this is where she wants to go. And for what Charlotte wants to do (High School Psychology/Counseling) Bridgewater is awesome. It is a school that concentrates on the Education field, Psychology, and even has a professor there who is renowned for her work against bullying, which is close to Charlotte's heart. There is even a Minor program in LGBTQ Studies. I mean come on. What more could she want?

The Tsongas Scholarship pays for all tuition and fees for the four years, provided she keep up the work. And that leaves just housing, which is manageable for us. Later, when she goes for her more advanced degrees she might incur more expense, but getting her undergrad for practically free will be a HUGE step in the right direction starting out in life.

The Paul Tsongas Scholarship is named after a Massachusetts Senator. Five are given out in each of the Nine State Colleges. Of the Five, Charlotte got one, and amazingly, one of her best friends, in her same class, got one.

I took Charlotte out to supper that night at Ginjo in Walpole to celebrate. Carol did not accompany us, as she was very sick with a flu.

The month before, I had paid off the Mazda 5 after a six-year loan. Whew!

Well, somehow Karma got word, and on our way home from Ginjo we got rear-ended by a Ford F-250, a big black pick-up truck, whose driver did nothing to alter his course in ramming us from behind at a high speed. I saw the headlights in my rear-view mirror, saw them coming at me, and normally when this happens, the lights slow to match pace. In the time it took for me to say "What the F..." (I didn't even get to finish that word) I knew he wasn't slowing down.


We got hit from behind. Hard. I blacked out for a split-second. I came back to awareness with Charlotte screaming. I saw a light pole coming right for us, and I saw glass speeding away from us, glass from our back window. For a second, I thought we had lost our front window, but that was just a trick of the light. I swerved just narrowly avoiding getting sandwiched in between a stationary light pole and a fast black Ford F-250 pickup truck.

I slammed on my brakes, and steered straight, keeping the Mazda 5 in its lane. I slid past what I believe was four light poles before I finally got us both braked to a halt, his front inside my Mazda 5's rear end.

Then when the car was stopped, and we smelled the burning rubber, Charlotte had a bit of a panic because she thought the car was on fire. It was not. It was just the burned tire rubber. I made sure Charlotte was ok and getting out on the passenger side before I opened my door to check on the driver of the truck that hit us.

CRUNCH! ZOOOOOOM! SQUEEEAL! He pulled out of my car's rear end and sped off, tires squealing.

Long story short, this guy, as we came to find out later, was the 21-year-old son of the Walpole Fire Department Chief, an employee of the Walpole Town Water Department, and a prospective Fireman himself.

He was charged with drunk driving and leaving the scene of injury.

Here's a pic or two of my Mazda 5, taken the next day.

[ 2012 Blog | Long Lost Twins ]

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