MegaMax 3D printer lives!

After a year’s work designing, building, scrapping, redesigning, building, and working through software and firmware issues, the MegaMax 3D printer is now functional.   It has some common 3D printing issues like printed objects peeling up off the glass printbed.   Tweaked settings in Slic3r, ABS “juice”, and Aquanet hairspray have all been tested with moderate success in attempts to improve adhesion to the printbed.  Finally, have_blue gave me  a block of foam out of the Stratasys printer to try out and it seems to work better than the other methods and doesn’t require heating the bed!  Further experiments to be conducted post-haste.

More info on this project can be found here:

MegaMax printing on foam from Stratasys printer.

MegaMax printing on foam from Stratasys printer.

A Clockwork…Room Divider

A 6 foot tall, clockwork gear inpired, tri-fold room divider

Hopefully, we can use this as a backdrop for events like the Art Jamboree.

I’ve been toying with the idea of room dividers for a while now. I don’t exactly have use for one, but I think they look neat and it’s basically a blank canvas. Drawing inspiration from my Clockwork Boxes, I decided that a gear motif would best suit the makerspace, thus giving me a new use for the piece: as a backdrop at events we participate in such as Art Jamboree and the various Maker Faires.

A picture of myself, Jason, and Matt, standing around the room divider

There are 3 of us in this photo. Really.

The actual screens were cut out with a large-scale CNC router, while the frame was ripped from 2×4’s, with a dado groove down the center for the screen to slip into. Thanks, Jason H.!!

Assembly went well, although there were a few hiccups.  The drill bit wasn’t long enough, so some minor splitting occurred at a couple of spots. The frame was slightly warped and so needed to be clamped and glued before being screwed together.

After allowing the paint to dry overnight, myself, Matt W., and Jason H. assembled this thing just prior to heading to the Art Jamboree at the Hilton in Milwaukee.

EDIT: I’ve just entered this into the Furniture Contest that Instructables is running. Click the link. Vote. Be thanked. :)



I’ve updated Robert Indiana’s iconic sculpture “LOVE” for our times!  While “Love” may have been an appropriate sentiment from 1964 to 1970 when the 2D and 3D versions were made, I think that the revised text is more appropriate for the 2000’s and 2010’s. Fear is 8” tall and 4” deep, and while not a monumental outdoor sculpture, FEAR appears fairly sizable on a table top.

Fear, which is solid aluminum and weighs over 7 lbs, was cast last Thursday with quite a few other pieces.  The great thing about having an aluminum foundry at the Makerspace is that the whole thing cost about $7!  – $4 for propane, $1 for Styrofoam, and $3 for some Rotozip bits.  If FEAR were cast in bronze, it would weigh over 20 lbs, which would cost $200 for the metal alone.  As it is, we melted down old heat sinks, stock cutoffs and hard drive frames, so the metal is essentially free.

In the spirit of Indiana who made his own font, I drew FEAR up in Inkscape using Georgia Bold, but I increased the height of the Serifs a bit.  Shane helped me with the file manipulation and G-code generation (Thanks!), so I could use the CNC router to cut FEAR out of styrofoam.  I exported FEAR’s hairline thickness outline as .dxf so it I could bring it into CamBam to generate the G-code. The outer contour of FEAR was selected, and the following settings were chosen:

  • General -> Enabled -> True
  • General -> Name -> Outside
  • Cutting Depth -> Clearance Plane -> 0.125 (inches)
  • Cutting Depth -> Depth Increment -> 1.05 (inches)
  • Cutting Depth -> Target Depth -> -1.05 (inches)
  • Feedrates -> Cut Feedrate -> 300 (inches per second)
  • Options -> Roughing/Finishing -> Finishing
  • Tool -> Tool Diameter -> 0.125 (inches)
  • Tool -> Tool Profile -> End Mill

Identical settings were chosen for the inner contours of FEAR, with the exception of General -> Name -> Inside.   Then, I just selected “Generate G-code.”  Check out the real-time video of Makerspace CNC router running the G-code and cutting out the 1” thick Styrofoam (Owens Corning Foamular 150).

After cutting four 1” thick pieces, they were stacked and glued together.  I buried the foam FEAR in petrobond, and then attached Styrofoam sprues and vents.  For a more complete explanation of the quick lost-styrofoam casting process, check out this post.   Stay tuned for details of our next Aluminum pour, which will be in January in the New Milwaukee Makerspace!


MegaMax Lives!

The video shows the last few layers of the calibration cube “printing” at 414% speed (according to my LCD display).

The Bucketworks 3D printing meet-up on 8/12 paid off big-time!  Gary Kramlich helped me debug a problem that was preventing me from flashing the firmware on the controller board for the MegaMax 3D printer.  After a few tweaks I was able to get it moving.

I am the Cult of “Foamy”

Hello all:

I have been a member here at the Milwaukee Makerspace for about 15 months now.  One of my favorite things to do here is machine architectural reliefs from foam.  I studied architectural history extensively at UWM, so I have a lot of influences to draw from.

The first piece I did was 3/8″ deep, since that’s the bit we had at MMS.  I first tried a piece with all flat surfaces.  It turned out very well, so I tried another piece that has slanted roof surfaces; again, success, so then I did some searching and found a 1/2″ deep milling bit.  I did several pieces “on a theme”, taking the first one and making slight modifications. All of these designs are my own creations, I just daydream and think them up.

I have found that I can get 1/64″ details on these pieces.  I have recently started using 1″ deep bits, and the results are fantastic!  The best part is that the foam is really cheep-cheep-cheep, $25 for a big sheet at Home Depot!

My process is:

1) design in Solidworks (CAD)

2) Export to .STL file format

3) Import into Cut3D, where I generate G-Code

4) Load into Mach 3, the software that controls the CNC router.

5) Let the foam fly!

I started out on the MMS router, which uses leadscrews; my newer Zenbot machine uses belts, and is blazing fast.  I can now machine 8 times faster!  The largest piece shown here went from about 19 hours down to 2.5 hours.

My next challenge is to get small lines onto my pieces that will represent bricks/mortar, etc.  I’ll have to generate different code for that; the milling code runs in 3d, but the “bricklines” will need to be in 2d, so I’m looking forward to that challenge.  I’ll be using Vectric’s “Aspire” software for that.  More to come!



MKE 3D Printing Meetup – August 2012


Remember that 3D Printing Meetup we had? You probably read all about it. Well, people liked it, so we’re doing it again.

If you’ve got a MakerBot, RepRap, Mendel90, Solidoodle, Bukobot, Quantum ORD Bot, or some other oddly named CNC machine that spits out melted plastic, pack it up and join us… if you don’t know what the heck those names mean, but you’ve heard the phrase “3D printing” you can join us too, and we’ll answer all your questions.

We’ll be meeting on Sunday, August 12th, 2012 at 1:00pm. We won’t be at our space because we’ve partnered with our friends at Bucketworks for this one! Details are below.

706 South 5th Street
Milwaukee WI

Note: This event is FREE and open to the public! Everyone is invited.

Laser Cut Safety Lock-Out Tags

Lock-out tags are used by factory workers to clearly identify broken or damaged equipment.  Milwaukee Makerspace is no exception.  A set of stop sign-shaped, 3″ wide, 3/16″ thick, red plastic tags have been created with the words “STOP – NEEDS REPAIR” in bold, white letters.  Tags are hanging over the first aid file cabinet by the light switches in the Workshop.  If you find a machine is out of service, please zip-tie a tag to the machine, preferably over its ON/OFF switch so people can easily spot it and refrain from using a potentially unsafe tool.

MegaMax 3D Printer

MegaMax 3D Printer

MegaMax 3D printer based on MendelMax but bigger and minus plastic parts.

This is my on-going project at the Milwaukee Makerspace.  It is a 3D extruded plastic printer with about 1 cuft build envelope.  I want to print life-size human skulls (among other things) from CT scan data.  The printer is made mostly from salvaged parts and materials so the cost has been very low.  When it’s finished it will have a heated 12″x12″ bed (13″x13″ if I can find an aluminum plate that big) and dual extruder so it can print in two colors.

I have learned a lot on this project- some things that work and others that don’t work so well, and how to use a milling machine to drill holes precisely and square the ends of the 8020 extrusion pieces used to build up the frame of the machine.

I could not have done any of this without access to the people, materials, and tools at Milwaukee Makerspace.  Every time I go there to do some work on this project someone says something that gives me new ideas for improvements to the design.   I frequently find materials and parts left for me on the machine’s cart by other members who know what I’m trying to do.  If you have a project idea find your local Makerspace and get busy- there is nothing that will get your creative juices flowing like being around a bunch of people with similar interests and different skills and experience!

Easy and Free 3D

Its no huge secret that learning to make something in a 3D CAD program has been a bit challenging before now. Programs such as Blender are quite powerful, but the learning curve is a bit steep and you could spend days working in tutorials before you actualy got around to making anything. Well, the world turns and the people with the big brains are slowly learning that the best way to get more people involved is to create tools that don’t require a masters in computer design to understand.

In the old days, you needed a high end workstation with advanced graphics capabilities to do this kind of work. I can remember going to my friends work place and marveling at his 386 workstation built into a desk with a pen based touch screen. These days we can do so much more, and in a web browser. The recommendations below won’t meet everyone’s needs, but it’s a great starting point to learn what works and what does not. Its also hella fun.

Back in November I bought a Printrbot during their Kickstarter campaign. Since then I have been trying out different combinations of programs and processes for generating 3D designs and slicing them for use on the printer. I had a short list of requirements for things I absolutely needed:

  • Short learning curve, nothing overly complicated. I just need to make straight 3D designs. I don’t need textures, colors or animation.
  • Free. I was looking to keep this as low cost as possible. I am a huge fan of open source solutions.
  • Ability to export STL files.

I ran through Blender, 123D, Google (now Trimble) sketchup and a few other programs. They were all quite functional, but each had some small quirks or non-intuitive interface problems and I was routinely somewhat frustrated and defeated. I kept poking around and finally stumbled upon a winning combination.

TinkerCad is a free 3d design app. It runs within your browser and has a strong preference for Chrome. All your designs are assembled with a simple tool set and saved to the web automatically. The site allows you to download your designs as STL, VRML or 2D SVG. It also allows you to imidiately submit your designs to several 3D printing services such as Shapeways and Sculpteo.

Although the tools are somewhat limited, you are able to do a surprising amount of real work. All of the tools are quite intuitive and I was able to jump in without needing to run through the tutorial. In fact, my 12 year old daughter jumped in after I was done and was designing her own things without any input from me. I’m going to be needing a lot more filament at this rate. The ruler and measurement tools are better than any other program I tried. In less than 20 minutes I was able to assemble a small robot design.

Once I had the design, I was able to easily export the STL file and immediately print one using the printrbot. I added a small raft to the back and drilled out a hole for a button. This is now going to be my new doorbell. I also added a few LEDs to the back for lighting.

Once I was done, I was really excited by the prospect of actually being able to make virtual things. I decided to see what else I could do. One dream has been to find a way to easily create cardboard sliced designs. A fairly new app from Autodesk called 123D MAKE can do just that. It’s not open source, but it is a free 100+ MB download. I was able to take the STL file I downloaded and upload it to the 123D MAKE program. From within the tool, I was able to set material thickness, slice type, output format, stage size and dozens of other options. I was then able to export EPS files containing all the pieces laid out and numbered for assembly.

I was able to take these over to the laser cutter and cut some slices from cardboard I had laying around. I assembled them per directions and wound up with this bad boy.

If you don’t have a laser cutter, you can always just print the design and cut the pieces by hand.

I think we are seeing start of a huge shift in production of one-off items. 3D printers are getting cheaper, and more importantly, printing services are able to produce items in almost any material you can imagine. As the design tools get easier and easier to use you are going to see these services become more and more prevalent. Need a replacement part? Print it yourself. Have an idea for a game, have it printed, boxed and shipped overnight. Its the definition of a disruptive technology.

Now, go make something!


Free 3D design web app