3D Printers

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As of 2017-09-20, the ETC's only 3-D printer is a FlashForge Creator Pro. Steve Audia is the main point of contact. Any project teams, or courses, that have 3-D printing needs should submit a ticket, CC'ing their advisors, and once use is approved Steve will contact the team/students.


Depending on the volume of printing required, Steve will either do the prints for you, or train one of your team members to use the printer. However, physical access to the 3-D printer will still be restricted to normal business hours.


You can find articles and tutorials online for how to 3-D model for 3-D printing. My (Steve's) own experience with this has been strictly in Maya. I have the following high-level advice...

  • Keep in mind that when you view a 3-D model on a screen, it's likely using Smooth (Gouraud or Phong) shading, even if it's really high-poly. Smooth Shading is a rendering trick that makes objects' surfaces appear smoother than they actually are, and has been used in real-time graphics as far back as the Original PlayStation. The point here is that there is no Smooth Shading in real life, so your model will print "rougher" than what you see on screen, so you need to turn on Flat Shading in the viewports to know how it's really going to look. The only way for it to be completely smooth when printed is if each polygon is smaller than 0.1mm², which would be crazy high-poly.
  • Different colors of filament actually print differently at very small scales. I have modeled a lot of smartphone cases for 3-D printing. Part of the cases' designs were kickstands, and I modeled the hole in the end of the kickstand for the metal pin to go into. Sometimes I could print it, sometimes I couldn't. I found that at that very small detail, I had to dial in the temperature per filament brand and color. This may not affect you, but expert 3-D printers tend to put stickers on their filament spools that have some empirical characteristics data they use to help when printing (temperature, speed, etc.)
  • Some shapes will fall down when printed, even if you turn on supports in the 3-D printer's slicer software. This may be corrected in future slicer software updates, but I once tried to 3-D print the letter "M", right side-up on the build plate. As the printer started building it, the tip of the middle of the M shape fell over about 1/4 of the way through, because the slicer software saw no need to put supports around it as the angle of steepness on its walls did not exceed threshold, but it failed to realize that the base of that piece of the object was so small it could not hold up this "inverted pyramid" shape after it got to be so big. The point here is that you may need to deliberately model your own support pieces for certain shapes.


Similar to the use of the Laser Cutter and the Woodshop, teams/students must provide their own 3-D printer filament, either by buying it themselves (if approved for use in a course) or via an official ETC project team purchase (approved by their advisors).