Category Archives: 3D Printing

You’ve Got Fail!

TLDR; I released suspect geometry into the wild. Also 3dprinting.fail is now a thing.

failed citadel

Despite rumors to the contrary, it’s not all mimosas and backrubs here at Zheng Labs. There are times, thankfully few and far between of late, when we fail to make the proper sacrifices to the 3D printing gods and models go kablooie on the print bed.

To wit: these Eyrie caps that bought the farm before they could reach their full potential.

eyrie cap

The bottom surface of the Eyrie cap is a thin circle and occasionally won’t adhere to the build platform. Double woe if one gets ambitious and prints multiple models at a time; one failed print can catch on the extruder nozzle and get dragged into its doppleganger, causing a calamitous cascade of failure.

The printer, being blind, deaf, and completely lacking in agency besides, has no idea that this failure is happening and if left to its own devices will merrily continue extruding hot plastic into thin air.

Fail.

A quick primer on 3D printing for those of us who don’t live and breathe this stuff. One can break the process down into three basic steps, about which one could proceed to write volumes of details.

Step 1: Creation! By some mystic means, a 3D model is created. My weapon of choice in this arena is Autodesk Maya because I use it in my day job, but there are scores if not hundreds of software packages that will export a 3D printable model. Amazingly, even Minecraft can do it with the right mods. Tell your nine-year-old niece.

Step 2: Slicing! Before it can be printed a model must be divided up into a vertical series of horizontal layers. If you’ve accidentally introduced wonky geometry in Step 1 the slicing process will create toolpaths that kinda work, but might result in a less-than-optimal print in the real world. More on this and a mea culpa in a bit.

Step 3: Printing! A tireless bot with a melted plastic-filled hot glue gun draws successive layers on top of each other. The plastic cools and before you can say Bob’s your uncle you’ve got a brand new Dice Citadel. Usually it works, and sometimes this happens:

The reasons for print failure are legion, but I’m guilty of letting an avoidable one slip through my quality-control network with the Classic Citadel. Back to slicing and the aforementioned mea culpa:

Here at the lab our preferred slicing software is Cura. Cura has been churning out perfectly usable G-code for months and I’ve printed dozens of citadels with nary a problem. But here’s the rub, mein grübenses: not everyone out there uses Cura.

Printing problems started cropping up once the Citadel was released into the wild. Users of slicers Simplify3D and slic3r were shocked to find that their printed citadels, walls too thin to withstand an assault even by Marshmallow Mangonels, were crumbling to the touch– see the photo at the top of the post.

Mea maxima culpa, I really should have run the models through several slicers before releasing them. Parallels may easily be drawn between the current state of 3D slicing and the early Web when different browsers would render the same HTML in completely different ways. 1996 was a great year for flannel, but damned if I enjoy the return to crossing one’s fingers and hoping that WYS is truly WYG.

Wizzywig. Now there’s a term I’ve not heard in a long, long time.

But! Thanks to the heroic and dogged troubleshooting efforts of Strongholds backers Chris Yohe and Nate Johnson, the problem’s been fixed as far as I can tell. I’ve uploaded a new Citadel to Pinshape and alles gut. Print, my friends. Print LIKE THE WIND!

Other backers have been busy printing Eyries and plinths a-plenty. If you’ve got a print you’d like to show off to our little tribe of medievalists, send it my way.

backer prints

Unexpected creative output: There’s plenty of downtime to be filled while the printer is producing Citadels and Eyries for physical rewards backers, we’ve been thinking about failure a lot lately, and here at Zheng Labs we’re certainly not ones to let a good domain name go unclaimed.

So I went and registered 3dprinting.fail, polished up my JavaScript-stealing chops, and made a nice slideshow of some of the spectacular messes my printers have created over the years. Tell your friends. Tell your mom. Tell your mom’s friends at the next euchre tournament.

beast fails

(That model’s a Beast Token and you can grab your own at The Forge.)

So! That about covers it for this week. Back to printing backer rewards and obsessing over the Next Thing. Here’s another wee teaser for that project, which I’m hoping to release within a month or so:

wee

Who loves ya, baby?

Lao Zheng out.

Travelers, Part 2

eyrie

“Zaogao.”

Jamming a wheel– again– on a mud-slicked rock, Da Xiong muttered under his breath and wiped his brow with a dirty sleeve. Out here, with no one but his dozing master to hear him, he could speak just a bit and break the facade he’d carefully sustained since before escaping the capital five years ago.

Progress along the muddy ground was excruciatingly slow even for a man of his size and strength, made even more so by the weight of the cart he half-pulled, half dragged through the puddles and stones.

Master Qie, as was his wont in the late afternoon, napped on his cushion undisturbed by the bumpy and intermittent travel. Qie had insisted– INSISTED! with a flourish of a silken sleeve, that Xiong load the cart with cheap wines at the last stop. For trade, he said.

Trade, indeed. Not that even the waiguogou would drink this swill. Or properly pave a road, for that matter.

Back home even this minor road would have been carefully laid with precision-cut flagstones. Xiong noted where cutting a swale on the left would immeasurably improve drainage, and over there one could very easily re-grade and straighten the path with an eight-crew and two days’ labor, and just a few li back they’d passed a fine, defensible junction where, if they’d had any sense at all, the locals would have sited a cistern and a toll collector.

Pfft. Barbarians. The only saving grace of plodding through this godsforsaken land was that Master Qie was now very, very far from the Imperial Censor and his torturers.

Ahead of them the tower waited, piercing the canopy and reaching three times again as high as the tallest tree. There were temples taller than this at home, but not many, and none made entirely of stone. A staircase spiraled to the top of tower, narrow and irregular and steep. They’d have to leave the cart and lug the wine up on Xiong’s back.

The glass orb at the top glowed dimly, brighter than the sun in the overcast sky. Xiong estimated the amount of sand, coal, and workers one would need to engineer a glass sphere the size of a house and concluded that either it was clever fakery or the waiguogou possessed a secret foundry bigger than the Emperor’s stables.

Or, most likely given the Eyrie’s inhabitants, it was magic.

Wizards. These people knew the importance of learning and careful study, even if they wouldn’t deign to apply their erudition to engineering a passable turnpike.

Tomorrow, the travelers would meet these mages and make a record of their Eyrie in Master Qie’s ever-thickening journal. Page by page the catalogue of strange places and people grew, but Xiong doubted anyone in the capital would ever read it. He still held hope, but daily became more and more convinced he and his master would never return from this land of fleas to silk sheets and polished rice and love left behind.

Da Xiong sighed and trundled forward. Perhaps, sweet Tianyu, he mused. Perhaps I will hold you again.

eyrie closeup

You can purchase the Eyrie at Pinshape. Read the first installment of this series here.

Printing with NinjaFlex on a Type A Machines 2014 Series1

TLDR: print slow and hot with NinjaFlex. It ain’t rocket science, but does require a little attention to details if you’re used to PLA or ABS. If you’re using Cura you can download my Type A Machines 2014 Series 1 profile here.

Our most recent Kickstarter was a smashing success! We were 119% funded with 140 backers. Watch this space for a comparison/post-mortem describing the differences in funding among the several Kickstarters we’ve launched, successful and not so much. I learned a great deal with Strongholds and I’m eager to apply the new knowledge and analytics to the next crowdfunding effort.

Here at Zheng Labs we’re ramping up to start the print-a-thon for backer reward fulfillment, but we have a little side project to get out of the way first. Scoundrels that we are, we’re using the slow trickle of backer survey returns as an excuse to not engage with the following print ticket:

print ticket

That’s-a-lotta-printing, my friends. We’ll get started this evening, I promise.

The Easter Bunny was kind enough to drop off a roll of NinjaFlex last week, so before the printer gets ocupado producing Citadels and Eyries for the forseeable future we thought we’d give flexible filament a try.

Loading NinjaFlex into an extruder can be like shooting pool with a rope. I found that my venerable Replicator1 sucked the NinjaFlex right in without issues, but the faster G2 extruder on the Series 1 caused the NinjaFlex to bind up, thusly:

extruder

The trick is not to use OctoPrint’s Extrude button to pull the filament into the extruder– it pulls the filament in too fast, the filament backs up inside the nozzle and then starts folding upon itself and turning into silly string.

Instead, just heat up to 240°, push the lever on the side of the extruder, and manually push the filament in until you feel it hit the bottom of the nozzle. Make sure you’ve got good thermal conductivity between your hot end and nozzle too; a liberal application of thermal paste will be quite helpful.

Thermal paste fixes so many 3D printing problems.

Print settings: I’m at 240°, printing at 20mm/sec with .2 layer height. Retraction at 50mm/sec with a distance of 2mm.

Rex turned out nicely, printed on glass with Elmers’ glue stick. Then I mushed him under some PT weights.

rex crushed

(You can of course download Rex from The Forge.)

In other gnus: there will be a lot of human downtime while I’m printing all those Citadels and Eyries, so I’ve started modeling work on the Next Thing. Here’s a peek.

boot

#staytuned. This project’s going to be buckets o’ fun.

Nice guys finish first: Cubeforme vs. Just3dPrint

Oceans of pixels have already been spilt in covering the Great Free Model Heist of 2016 and I’m late to the game as usual (what with a 3D printing Kickstarter underway and all), but I’ll bring it up again because I’d like to draw a bright line of contrast between the moustache-twirling mendacity of Just3Dprint and the 3D printing paladins over at Cubeforme.

To recap: A quartet of marketing-school bros decided that offering outrageously-priced prints of freely available 3D models on eBay without crediting or compensating the original designers in any way was a viable business model. Just3DPrint defended themselves against the subsequent outrage with some hamhanded quasi-legal jiggery-pokery and, in doing so earned the ire of the 3D printing community and attracted the gaze of MakerBot’s legal department besides. Nice.

The hullabaloo has since died down and, with any luck, these gentlemen will fade into 3D printing history and pursue careers for which they are better suited, like price-gouging senior citizens out of their pharmaceuticals. Enough about them, let’s move on to Cubeforme.

Cubeforme found an alternative business model using the same wellsprings of free 3D printable content, but where Just3dPrint did everything wrong, Cubeforme is doing everything right.

A primer on Cubeforme: the company selects one designer a month, prints a few of their models, and ships the prints to subscribers along with some liner notes about the designer. They’re all about the end user unboxening experience: the colorful packing material is even matched to the colors of the 3D prints therein. BONUS! 10% of every order goes back to the original designer.

Their first box was “The Jim Rodda Adventure,” a title that the lovely and talented Mrs. Zheng3 thinks is hi-larious. It contains a couple of my designs: Robber Rex, Finger Shark, Zheng’s Diminutive Defender, and the Micro Ballista. It’s a fun little bundle of 3D printed mayhem.

jim rodda adventure

(Cubeforme > Just3DPrint). Here’s why:

  1. They asked permission. This is HUGE. In a world where 3D content is often free for the taking, CubeForme took that extra, polite step of asking me if they could use my work. Pay attention, just3Dprint.com. Creative Commons Attribution matters.
  2. I was compensated! I won’t be retiring on what I was paid– these guys are a scrappy startup, after all– but even a token gesture of financial support for someone who’s cranking out free models day after day means a great deal.
  3. They’re nice guys. CubeForme’s principals Kyle and Nick have gone out of their way to promote me and my work, even after their Kickstarter ended. Communication with them has been excellent and they’ve been good pals of mine ever since.

So! If you’re a 3D printing designer, especially one who got rubbed the wrong way by the Just3DPrint debacle, get in touch with CubeForme. They’ll help get your designs out to more people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to a 3D printer.

Not a designer but just want a monthly shipment of curated stuff showing up at your door? Check out Cubeforme here, and use code zheng3 at check-out for 20% off anything designed by Zheng Labs.

Best of luck to Cubeforme in all their future endeavors. This 3D printing startup is worth watching: you read it here first.

Zheng3 aka Princess Sparkle Pony

Earlier this year Zheng Labs had the distinct honor of winning the Pinshape People’s Choice award with the 2015 Seej Starter Set. During the run up to the vote tallies I promised our little community a photo of me wearing a lovely 3D-printable tiara if any of my designs won, and so here it is because WHO LOVES YA, BABY?

jim wearing a tiara

Nobody’s heard from Steve Harvey since the final results, so I think it’s safe to release the model. You can download the tiara over at Pinshape, or you can grab it from The Forge. Huge thanks to everyone who voted for the Starter Set.

Them gears is articulated, too! Just don’t catch your hair in them. This isn’t really a problem for yours truly, having given up the battle against middle age some time ago.

functional gears!

(I’m using ColorFabb PLA/PHA Silver and Gold at 220° to print the tiara.)

With the tiara project out of the way I must now hunker down and finish the launch copy for Zheng Labs Kickstarter #4. #staytuned, dear pals, and Join the Horde to be notified when we launch.

Lao Zheng out.

I gots new models on Etsy, yo

Kickstarter preparations continue at their frenetic ground-pounding pace here at Zheng Labs. The 3D printers whirrburble day and night, we hear camera shutters flutter in our sleep, and we’re driving the kobolds as hard as half-rations and flickering torchlight allow. We’re sure to hear from Humanoid Social Services if we flog the scaly little bastards any harder.

When last we left our heroes they’d just announced the sale of Dice Citadels on Etsy, and now we’ve got another RPG-related opus out there in the marketplace. Witness for yourself the power of this fully operational RPG Dice Plinth!

plinth gid

This one’s printed in ColorFabb Glow-In-The-Dark PLA/PHA, which is fast becoming my favorite filament. We’ve got ’em in Slate Blue, too. They’re both compatible with Chessex-style dice boxes.

plinth slate

Longtime followers of Zheng3.com will note that these dice plinths are remarkably similar to Dice Plinth 1.0 but there are two important differences to be noted:

First, and I realize this is getting a little deep in the weeds for 95% of the audience, the geometry on the new plinths is way more elegant. It’s been completely overhauled to minimize slicing and printing errors. No wonkiness in the STL, as far as I can tell.

Second, and this is where it gets exponentially more interesting, Dice Plinth 2.0 features a hidden chamber underneath a hinged trap door!

trapdoor closed

The secret compartment is spacious enough to stash a little cash for gaming night. Bust out a Hamilton and summon some mozzarella sticks, baby.

trapdoor open

So! With the completion of the dice plinth I’ve got a couple of backer reward levels done and tested, with solid gCode backing them up. You wouldn’t believe the amount of filament retraction troubleshooting that’s been going on over here.

oh gawd the filament retraction troubleshooting

All that remains now is to make the Kickstarter video, write the copy, and throw this project down on the front step and see if the cat licks it up.

Also I have to get around to designing that tiara I promised. Pinshape! Haven’t forgotten about you guys. Tiara’s gonna RAWK, trust me on this.

#staytuned, my friends. Join the Horde, too, while you’re at it.

Lao Zheng out.

Prelude to a Kickstarter

Sharp-eyed readers and hominids with their auditory orfices pressed to the earth will have noted by now that there have been rumblings in the distance that might just possibly, herald the coming of Zheng3 Kickstarter #4.

Clearly a throng of hardcore loyalists who really enjoy the work that we do here at Zheng Labs exists, but with the exception of the lightning-in-a-bottle success of the original Faire Play, our Kickstarters have failed to gain traction with a wider audience outside the 3D printing community.

I suspect there are two reasons for this:

  1. Zheng3 crowdfunding ideas are mostly unappealing to people not named Zheng3.
  2. Desktop 3D printing still hasn’t reached a significant enough market penetration where backers are willing to receive digital-only backer rewards. People want stuff.

This time around I think we might have a concept that deals with obstacle #1: instead of appealing to the Barbie-age grrl warrior demographic or geeks who might want infant children cut their teeth on Dungeon Blocks, we’re going slightly more mass-market. But only slightly, mind you.

Behold, the Dice Citadel.

slate blue square

Oh, yeeeeeeeah.

The citadel makes a nifty container for one full set of RPG dice, including an extra d10 so you can get your percentiles in there too. The battlement on top unscrews with a quick twist of the wrist.

dice cu

Best part? I’ve got a whole bunch of these ready to go in Colorfabb Glow In The Dark filament.

glow

Now, as for problem #2: people wanting stuff. THINGS. Physical products that they can hold in their hands and show off to Aunt Tillie. I’ve grudgingly accepted that the time for widespread adoption of digital-only backer rewards has not yet come, and have resigned to printing an oxcart full of these citadels and their Kickstarted descendants for those geeks outside the Venn diagram intersection of the 3D printing and RPG-playing communities.

Here’s the thing about Kickstarters: even an unsuccessful one is really, really hard to pull off. If you’ve never done one before you’d be amazed at how much pre-production goes into the process.

Amid all the planning hullabaloo there are known unknowns that can be minimized, however, and one of those is the production capacity of the small facility here at Zheng Labs. To that end, I’ve started moving my prototype Dice Citadels on Etsy. Fulfilling actual orders some outside accountablity in the process, and will help iron out printing, logistics, and shipping issues before we get into making dozens of dice towers for Kickstarter backers.

So! Join The Horde to be notified when the Kickstarter launches later this year.

Thanks. Lao Zheng out.

There Once Was a Project ’bout Venus

full

Longtime readers of this blog– both of them– know that here at Zheng Labs we’ve got a couple of rugrats running around the place. The older one’s in high school now, and has a practiced eye roll that earns perfect 10’s even from the Romanian judges. She’s not the subject of this post, although you can see photos of her pupal stage here and here, and some free 3D printable models to boot.

No, my friends, this week we bring to you the chronicle of my younger spawn and his adventures at the elementary school science fair. Each year his school puts on an open house for prospective families where they might explore for themselves the Hogwarts-like environment at one of Wisconsin’s fine public charter schools.

This open house features a gymnasium full of the kids’ long-term science projects, and is always a treat for those inclined to make things that go kablooie with papier maché, baking soda, and a little CH3COOH.

In years past procrastination and lack of interest have led my son to flail helplessly in front of a sloppy trifold when the time to present his project came, and this year we were determined not to repeat that particular learning experience. We got started early, enlisted a 3D printer, and won the science fair.*

*on “winning:” the event is actually noncompetitive and the school doesn’t give out prizes. I’ll define winning as spending a couple hours in the basement with my son, teaching him how motors and voltage and switches and soldering irons and burn creams work. Plus the look of unadulterated joy on Xiao Zheng’s face when the project worked: priceless. Scroll down to the bottom of the post for the big payoff video.

Also, the kid who actually won the science fair was the one with the trifold cheerfully labeled “Exploring Uranus.” That kid’s going places and has either fantastic or clueless parents.

Astute readers may have surmised that this year’s theme was space science, and the thrumming gymnasium was packed, absolutely packed with elementary school children wearing astronomy-related costumes. One kid was a dead ringer for Carl Sagan (red turtleneck included). Galileo and Halley’s comet were easily identifable from across the room. One young man made a fantastic Pathfinder rover hand puppet, a young lady was fetchingly dressed as the day and night cycle complete with helium balloons tied to her pigtails, and much aluminium foil was spent in the pursuit of knowledge.

Soviet science was well represented, too. The neighbor kid dressed up as Sputnik, and there was even a kid in full bright-orange Yuri Gagarin drag. Imaging getting that costume past the a 1950’s school board here in Appleton, Wisconsin, hometown of national disgrace and Ted Cruz lookandthinkandsoundalike Senator Joe McCarthy.

McCarthy’s grave is right down the street, should you feel the need to urinate.

I’d post photos of the science fair, but! Kids’ privacy issues. You know the drill. Local parents: if you’d like to share a photo of your kid’s costume, send it my way.

好久以前, back when Zheng himself was xiao, Dad and I spent many evenings in our basement laboring on school projects. In all fairness it’s safer to say that Dad did the heavy lifting and I just provided parameters, but man those projects were the envy of the other kids in elementary and middle school. I wish I had photos of the tornado diorama, or the sculpture of Zeus made of toilet paper, shellac, and Ivory soap flakes (!) or that Roman aqueduct we (Dad) made out of grout and PVC. Or the paper bag mountains with joint compound glaciers. Or the passive solar house model made out of foamboard reclaimed from the dumpster at work.

Thanks Dad, for doing those projects with me. I’m doing my best to pass your creativity down to your grandkids. Cir-cle of liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiife!

But I digress. This is a 3D printing blog first and foremost, and you’re here to read about the process of creation.

We got the trifold part of the project out of the way first, and settled into working on the costume part of the presentation. Our challenge: making a wearable model of Venus. Xiao Zheng’s first idea was to hand-letter the word “VENUS” on a piece of cardboard and hang it around his neck. He’s literal that way sometimes.

A planet-like sandwich board was also considered and quickly discarded as “stupid” and uncomfortable to boot. We gnashed teeth and rended garments for a while before remembering that his bike helmet has a GoPro mount on it, and would be a perfect platform on which to place a model.

The model of Venus itself is nothing fancy, just a lightweight ball of bubble wrap shrouded in painted tissue paper. It masses approximately 116 grams. The actual planet Venus masses 4.867 × 1027 grams.

venus

I introduced my son to the joy of inadvertently huffing spray paint fumes in the garage, which he liked. Maybe too much.

huff

Just attaching Venus to a helmet’s really not enough when the other kids are dressed up as Saturn V rockets, so we had to take it to the next level by making the model spin. I’ve got a bunch of old DC motors kicking around because of course I do, but we quickly realized that even if we could attach the motor’s axle directly to the model, it’d spin way too quickly.

We needed to slow the spin and the solution, as it is to so many things, is gears. Fortunately, I’ve already got some at the ready.

So a few minutes’ modification in Maya and we’re off and printing. Pro tip: gaffer tape works astonishingly well as a print surface for ColorFabb’s PLA/PHA. Note that there’s a cup integrated into the top of this gear to give the planet more surface area for adhesives.

gear

Next we’ve got to get the gears onto the helmet, and fortunately there’s a GoPro-compatible mounting system in the Forge. A few more minutes of vertex wrangling and a couple of test prints and the mounting system looks like so:

assembled

(You can download the models here if you’d like to take a peek at them.)

The rotation is controlled with a momentary switch hidden in the kid’s pocket. Hold the button down and Venus spins faster and faster. Of course, my kid’s teachers aren’t pants-wetting bigots and he’s white as Wisconsin snow and not named Ahmed, so nobody batted an eyelash at this suicide-bomber-looking pushbutton setup. It’s even RED.

switch

Fun fact: Venus’ day is 243 earth days long. I learned this from the aforementioned girl dressed as the day-night cycle.

Everything’s gaffer-taped together to insulate the solder joints and the wires are hidden under clothing.

The project survived the entire night on one set of 4 AA batteries and finally met its demise when my son, in an all-too-typical display of spazzy exuberance, head-butted the kid dressed up as a Soyuz capsule during cleanup and Venus went spinning across the gym floor and into the hallway.

Lao Zheng out. Thanks again, Dad, for teaching me how to do a science fair project right.