My first experience with 3D printing was in a high school engineering class. That machine was very limited and didn’t impress me much at the time: just removing support material from the final product required a bath to dissolve the unwanted material.
Since then, I’ve worked with Makerbots and Dittos for projects ranging from the frivolous to the practical. At one institution (the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center) we kept our printer going constantly, printing unique projects for people to observe in progress…unfortunately we didn’t often take pictures of these throw-aways! Practical projects included a cutaway jet engine for demonstrations (Thingiverse original found here), a set of nozzles for a ping-pong cannon, and a gently sweeping revolution of a hyperboloid, the shape used in the coin “orbital wells,” which had to be manufactured in 4 pieces then assembled to avoid awkward overhangs/cavities.
While I enjoy testing the limits of what 3D printers can accomplish, I am happiest when the end result can be useful. For example, in the gallery to the left (click to enlarge), you can see the evolution of an education accessory from a picture in a historical diagram to a 3D model to a simplified print to its actual use in a program. An excellent use of the 3D printer and “found” materials since we needed 12 of the object (a mockup of the Apollo program docking probe head) and they were complicated enough to make them challenging with any other material/method!
I can remember bonding with my grandfather over his work with lathes and precision machining, so CNC, milling, and lathing has long held a special fascination for me.
At the Cosmosphere, I advocated for the purchase of a horizontal mill (an XCarve by Inventables) as a way to produce some needed components in house. I was one of two people who helped assemble the machine upon arrival, retapping components when threads were rough, and was the expert until leaving the Cosmosphere. Unfortunately this is another case where I did not take pictures of projects as I completed them!
I’ve worked with wood since I joined 4-H as a child. I began working with plastics shortly after that, tinkering in our garage every Spring Break on some project or another. I’ve also done some metalworking, though not including welding. I recently began working with 8020 aluminum.
Several examples are in the gallery to the right. These include a Stirling engine made of brass and wood, a Van de Graaff generator made of wood, plastic, and metal, and a mockup up the Apollo Docking Probe using metal, plastic, and a 3D printed head (see above).
I especially enjoy working with cardboard and paper as a low cost medium with some interesting properties, such as its inability to make compound curves.
I’ve used cardboard as a building medium for several projects at the Hutchinson Public Library, including an interactive crane and a facade for a donation bin. I enjoy using paper to create models, and experimented with using paper maché as a form of rapid prototyping. These are all pictured to the right, with a progression of images showing an experiment building up paper to resemble an inflated tire, the crane, ship, and a full-scale section of a B-24 “Liberator’s” nose made out of paper mache.
Robotics and Programming
In the 5th grade, I saved and saved until I could afford one of the first generations of LEGO Mindstorms set. This inspired a long interest in robotics and programming.
In addition to a personal interest in robotics, I’ve worked with various types of robotics at both the Mid-America Air Museum and Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center. This introduced me to both GUI and C/C++ style programming, something which I continue today. For an example of a project I programmed, see the video to the side for a project to automatically detect faces in videos in Dropbox.
Besides robotics and programming, I’ve worked with electricity since high school. I own several Arduino/Adafruit development boards. I recently bought an Adafruit Trinket as part of a project to interface existing drones at the Mid-America Air Museum to computer via USB. This project is ongoing, but has required reading on several new areas and renewing my soldering skills.
To the right is an image of the disassembled controller with leads to a breadboard holding the Trinket soldered on. I took this image for reference, so labeled each input/output I had the Trinket “watching” and preparing to input on.