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February 21, 2014

My first 3D print

Well, today was the day I printed my first 3D object. The missing feeder tube from our site’s MakerBot Replicator 2 hasn’t yet been replaced, but Francesco Tonioni, friend, colleague and probably the most practical person I know, cobbled something together as a stop-gap.

So the game was on. :-)

This initial project stems back to May of last year – when I was in Boston for our internal Technical Summit – when my son talked to me about an idea of his. My children really like LEGO, and, at the time – the specific product tie-in tends to vary based on the LEGO game they’re working through on the Xbox 360 – they were really into The Lord of the Rings LEGO.

My son’s big problem was that when you put the ring into Frodo’s hand, our little plastic ring-bearer didn’t actually become invisible. We tried to propose a clear plastic Hobbit figure via the LEGO Cuusoo site, but hit a stumbling block when we needed to submit a photo. Yes, a photo of an invisible Hobbit. ;-)

Frodo with the ring

So, my first priority when the 3D printer arrived was to print a transparent plastic LEGO minifigure, whether for my son to play with or to help with submitting the concept to LEGO.

I used the OBJ file we saw in this previous post about creating street art using AutoCAD, loading it into MakerBot’s MakerWare software. Initially I tried laying the model flat, thinking that printing it this way would reduce the need for support material:

MakerWare on the case

Making LEGOAfter failing an initial test print, it seemed as though we would get better results by orienting the model upright and removing the support material afterwards. In fact I think the issue ultimately came down to my choice of model: for some reason one of the legs consistently prints with worse quality than the other and one of the arms has a very fragile connection to the torso. This Inventor model would probably be a better starting point, on reflection.

It was great to see the Replicator 2 in action, in any case. It actually worked more quickly than I expected and the results were pretty decent for a first attempt.

Invisible at last

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