Tag Archives: filabot

ComposiMold: First Impressions

The friendly team at ComposiMold recently sent me a sample of their product for review. Like many experimenters I’m mostly unacquainted with mold-making and casting but I’m willing to get messy and give it a go. Let’s dive right in and see how this stuff works.

TL;DR Summary: ComposiMold is easy to use, reuse, and reuse again, even for a casting n00b. It’d make a great gift for a Maker kid. Highly recommended.

Composimold: The Unboxening

open container

Opening the 10-ounce container releases the faintest waft of lemon. It’s not unpleasant or pronounced; only bloodhounds and those accustomed to huffing day-old mimeographs will have the chemoreceptors to detect the scent.

It’s firmer than I expected. I was thinking I’d have something a little gooier, but when ComposiMold is cool it’s got the consistency of a flexed bicep. At 10 ounces the sample container feels satisfyingly dense in the hand. I feel like I could make stuff with this.

Virgin ComposiMold looks surprisingly like honey. So much so that the lovely and talented Mrs. Zheng3, slightly less talented than usual at 5:30am, nearly dropped a heaping spoonful of ComposiMold into her oatmeal. I probably shouldn’t have left the container on top of the microwave last night.

In theory, the mold making process is simple and straightforward: heat ComposiMold, pour it over the object you want to reproduce, allow to cool, and then extract your object.

Naturally I screwed it up.

Jumping into this project like an enthusiastic idiot I naturally made a a rookie mistake right off the bat. I forgot to coat my mold container with a release agent. So I restarted the project. What you’re seeing here is actually take two on my quest to replicate a Seej bloxen.

So! Into the microwave with you, ComposiMold.

in the microwave

Another brief installment of Zheng’s household hints: before photographing the inside of a microwave you’ll want to clean it so the Internet doesn’t think you’re a gavone. Put a cup full of vinegar in the microwave and nuke the bejeezus out of it. The steam will soften the Hot Pockets splatter off the inside of your microwave so that you can wipe it clean with a rag. The healing brush in Photoshop will take care of any pastacules you might have missed.

Thirty seconds in my microwave and I’ve got a golfball-sized nugget of ComposiMold suspended in honey-like goo. Stir with a craft stick (always, always, always have craft sticks around any maker project), give it another 20 seconds of non-ionizing radiation and we’re good to go. During the melt the lemony scent is a little more pronounced but doesn’t stink up the kitchen.

bloxen, masonry
I’ve decided to try and cast a Seej Bloxen for my first project. I’ve made sidewalk chalk bloxen using a 3d printed mold, but I’m interested to see how ComposiMold picks up the detail in the 3D modeled grout and stones of something I’ve already printed. This particular bloxen was produced during my review of Filabot’s recycled ABS filament.

Composimold: Making A Mold

I give the bloxen a rub with some vegetable oil and put it into an old laundry scoop. Here’s where I run into my first unknown unknown in the mold-making process.

pouring

unforeseen problemThe plastic object I’m trying to copy is less dense than ComposiMold, so it wants to float. I try holding it down with a craft stick, but I’m unwilling to wait half an hour for the ComposiMold to solidify at room temperature. I throw the whole thing in the freezer to cool and abort the first try at mold-making.

It’s 9AM on a Sunday morning so I take a break and have some cheese danish before the kids get up and eat it all. After twenty minutes and a cuppa joe I cut open the mold to see how well it captured the details. Click to embiggen.

detail

The detail’s quite fine here. ComposiMold even picked up the layer artifacts left by the 3d printing process. Each of those parallel lines is about 100 microns wide. I can’t use this failed mold for casting, but it provides an excellent chance to test ComposiMold’s reusability.

Forty-five seconds in the microwave and I’m back to pouring a new mold. Easy peasy George and Weezy. So far ComposiMold is living up to its promises.

This time I’ll try suspending the bloxen from a stiff piece of hookup wire before I pour. I drill a small hole in the side of the bloxen, superglue in a wire scrap, and wrap it around a craft stick. (See previous admonition about having craft sticks around.) I’ll use a plastic cup for my mold container this time, because I can just cut it away without having to worry about pre-treating it with mold release. The vegetable oil gets everywhere and I don’t want it schmeered all over my camera and light box.

suspended

The bloxen remains submerged this time, if a little off-kilter as the unsecured bottom of the plastic tries to float upwards. The newly-poured mold goes back to the freezer for fifteen minutes or so before I cut away the plastic cup.

The mold resists my hobby knife with the strength of an overcooked ham, but splits easily and the bloxen pops right out. A little vegetable oil on the inside of the mold and it’s ready to be filled with Plaster of Paris.

ready

Composimold: Casting

ComposiMold’s produced a perfectly usable mold. The process has been simple even for a mold-making novice, but today I’m wishing I paid more attention on casting day in sculpture class.

In all fairness, I was trying to get the lovely and talented not-yet-Mrs. Zheng3 to notice me at the time.

plaster

Notice that almost all the bubble artifacts on this plaster bloxen faces inwards; this isn’t ComposiMold’s fault, it’s mine. Either I didn’t get the plaster/water ratio correct or I didn’t agitate the mold enough after pouring, or my plaster’s old, or something else. I’d love to see what ComposiMold can do in the hands of someone with more casting experience. ComposiMold also sells a bubble buster that will assist in the casting process that wasn’t included in my review sample.

A couple hours of playing with this product has given me all kinds of great ideas for where to go next with this. Traditional casting and 3D-printing are a powerful combination, so #staytuned for another casting attempt, this time with cement. The younger Zhengspawn and I have a project in mind that’s perfect for ComposiMold. We’ll see how an 8-year old does with this stuff under lax supervision.

If you’d like me to put your Maker-related gizmo, material, tool, or software through its paces at Zheng3.com, email me and I’ll give it a shot.

First Filabot Recycled ABS Print

The fine folks at Filabot were kind enough to send me a sample of their Recycled ABS filament so that I can put it through its paces. My first print is an upgraded Seej Battle Pennon with a cylindrical finial, which you can download for free at The Forge.

Pennon, Rounded

Note to other manufacturers, I’ll be happy to take a look at your product and give it a fair evaluation on this blog. email me if you’d like to get the ball rolling.

Filabot’s located behind the Tofu Curtain in idyllic Vermont. I have strong attachments to that state; I went to college there, got my first real job there, met the lovely and talented Mrs. Zheng3 there, returned there after years in Toronto and Chicago, and frankly expected to end my days chopping wood in the Green Mountain State before life’s capricious winds required a move back to the wilds of the American Midwest.

So I know and love the local culture of Vermont, and it surprises me not in the least that a Vermont entrepreneur would be among the first to start a service recycling ABS plastic for 3D printing. Filabot embodies good-ol’ Yankee frugality blended with hippy-dippy save-the-earthism and a splash of tech savvy for flavor.

Here’s Filabot’s dealio: you buy a pound of their recycled ABS and they send it to you with a prepaid shipping label in the box. When you’re done with the spool, send it back to them with as many failed prints as you can cram in there.

They complete the cycle by pureéing your fails and feeding them back into a Filabot to be made into new filament.

The box of filament arrived a few days ago, and perhaps surprisingly for a package shipped from Vermont, did not smell of patchouli. Just a 3d-printed spool of filament held together with zip ties. Nice touch on printing your own spools, Filabot. Dollars to donuts that cardboard is recycled too.

Filabot Spool 1

I’m presuming that this spool is Filabot’s Orange ABS. Note that the color gets a little inconsistent further down the spool. I don’t expect this to be a problem for me, since many of my models get a post-print spray-painting and those that don’t are utilitarian in nature.

Filabot Spool 1

I’ll be printing with this spool until it’s gone so I can really beat on this filament and see what it can and can’t do. So far, the filament is smooth and consistent in texture. No bubbles or lumps.

I suspect it’s a little more brittle than other ABSes I’ve used. I’ll give it a few dozen more meters of printing before I make that judgement call, though.

All three parts of the flag printed smoothly with no extrusion problems in my Replicator1. I went with an extrusion temperature of 250°, a little hotter than Filabot’s recommended 230°-240° range. This filament doesn’t smell any worse than traditional ABS when it’s melting, which is to say it’s not bad at all. I’ve used ABSes that are flat-out stank, so this was a pleasant surprise.

So! Stay tuned for more prints with Filabot’s recycled filament. Bloxen are next in the queue.

An Emerging Symbiosis

I’ve read plenty of articles that boil down to, “What is LEGO going to do in The Future, when anyone, ANYONE! can print their own LEGO kit in their basement?”

One can swap LEGO with whatever $manufacturer you choose: Tinkertoys, Lincoln Logs, K’Nex, Colt Firearms. (The 3D printing of firearms is a topic I’ll visit sometime soon, but for now let’s stick to things you can buy at Toys R’ Us.)

The implication of these articles is often that $manufacturer is ultimately screwed. Sooner or later, The Future will arrive and $manufacturer‘s revenue stream will dry up as we all print their products willy-nilly in our living rooms.

I see things differently.

This afternoon my son was playing with the new K’Nex set graciously provided by Grandpa and Grandma. He couldn’t find the one gray piece he needs to finish his roller coaster, so I volunteered to print him one.

Thingiverse doesn’t have the specific piece I need. Nor should they; K’Nex owns the rights to their designs and they deserve to profit from them. They’ve invested the capital in building their factories and hiring designers, and it’s their right to enjoy the fruits of their efforts. Thingiverse probably doesn’t want or need the legal headaches associated with hosting knockoff models of popular toys.

(I just realized I’m making arguments similar to those made by drug companies. Maybe there’s a path to The Future where designs go “generic” after a couple of years so that $manufacturer has an incentive to continue creating new ones? I digress.)

So Thingiverse doesn’t have the piece I need, but they do have pieces from the Universal Construction Kit, which lets one link toys that weren’t designed to be linked– Tinkertoys to Lincoln Logs, Duplo to K’Nex, and so on.

So I grabbed a K’nex -> Duplo connector, did a little vertex surgery, and now I have the piece I need as a 3D model.

knex

To print!

This is what I got, printed in red ABS. Note the difference between my bootleg copy and the original. Cue sad trombone.

knex_fail

You could argue that the MakerBot Replicator is *the* top-of-the-line home 3D printer. There are others in its price range that have more or less the same capability, and if you go an order of magnitude more expensive you can get yourself a small industrial quality prototyper with superior resolution.

Part of this failure is surely inability to configure my printer settings properly, but I think a larger part of it is that the Replicator just can’t print this precisely yet. K’Nex parts are cast in ABS, which effectively means they’ve got molecular-level resolution. No way I can get that on my desktop in 2013.

A further limitation of the additive printing process is those overhangs– even if I could get the resolution right, gravity would pull those long grooves down and make the part significantly less K’Nex-able.

You might get around this by printing the entire piece as a column, but my experience in printing toothpicks vertically is that they tend to fail.

So K’Nex gets a pass until the resolution of home 3D printers increases. Maybe the Form1 will be able to do it. We’ll have to wait until the Form1 is out in the wild to see. I’m hopeful, because right now a lot of my ideas are limited by resolution and gravity.

What about lower-resolution objects, like Tinkertoys? Tinkertoys are well-within the resolution range of the Replicator. I’ve already made a couple of Tinkertoy-compatible items.

apple

There’s nothing stopping me from printing a Tinkertoy clone right now except time, but the manufacturing process that makes Tinkertoys at gets them to the toy store (or, in my case, Amazon) is so much more efficient than a Replicator that it just doesn’t make sense, it can’t *ever* make financial sense to print these toys at home unless the price of plastic feedstock drops to near zero.

(Ultra-low-cost feedstock might happen with a descendant of the Filabot Reclaimer, but it’s not here now.)

So I don’t see home fabrication of toys taking off anytime soon, but here’s what is happening. People are using their 3D printers to extend the capabilities of their existing toys.

gears This is the emerging symbiosis: traditional manufacturing is now and likely will forever provide the base of the mass-market toy experience, cranking out LEGO bricks and Lincoln Logs by the millions. Home-based 3D printers will make small production runs for niche items– gears that extend your Tinkertoys, wacky Lincoln Logs accessories, and the like. Over time, $manufacturer will adapt to the proliferation of high-resolution home printers by offering certified premium models, guaranteed to be interoperable with their mass-manufactured cousins.

zheng3_penny_catapultIn short, I think 3D printers aren’t going to kill the toy industry, they’re going to make it much more creative. And haven’t even mentioned new toys like Dutchmogul’s Pocket Tactics, or my pet project, Seej.