Tobold's Blog
Thursday, November 02, 2017
 
3D printing larger objects

Since I bought my 3D printer I have printed hundreds of miniatures for my Dungeons & Dragons game. The miniatures are in a classic 1 inch = 5 feet that is 1:60 scale. So a typical medium sized miniature has a 25 mm base and is around 28 mm tall. As I have written earlier, the main problem of printing objects that size is that printing anything less than 1 mm thick tends to fail, so I had to "fatten" some miniatures or give them oversized weapons to work. Now that I have a good selection of miniatures, I am more often printing larger objects, and the challenges are different.

Now "larger objects" on my 3D printer are limited to 150 mm in any dimension due to the size of the printer itself. Over the last month I printed several objects that were at or close to that limit: Two dice towers, a hinged box, a card tray and two card holders for the 7th Continent, and JoyCon holders for the Nintendo Switch. Apart from the box, which was more of a tech demo to show that you can print a hinged object in one piece, the other objects would be either hard to get anywhere, or be much more expensive. Thus there is some utility to printing these larger objects yourself. The 3D printer also automatically makes items hollow, filled with some honeycomb structure, so a bulky 3D printed object is quite lightweight.

While with larger objects there are no more problems with too thin parts, the main downside of these objects is that the uneven surface is far more prominent. If you are used to holding plastic items in your hand which have a smooth and shiny surface, the 3D printed objects are notably different. Along the Z-axis the layer structure is very visible. And on inner surfaces where the printer had to move across empty space to get to the other side of the object there are irregular imperfections. To some extent you can clean the object up using a sanding sponge. But unless you want to spend hours sanding the object will never be totally smooth and shiny like a commercial injection-molded item.

I still don't believe in a future where we all just 3D print everything we need instead of buying mass-produced items. However there are a few niche applications where a 3D printer can produce a larger object of some use.

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Comments:
That's obvious. Any "homemade" item will be less good or more expensive (in unpaid hours of your work) than a mass-produced. The advantages of homemade item is that you can create something what is not mass produced or sold on ripoff prices. Like niche game miniatures, spare parts for a machine, missing parts of a set, products of art (like a monster you design).
 
While I generally agree, I would consider the categories "spare parts for a machine" and "missing parts of a set" to be problematic. The plastic used for 3D printing, especially the most common, PLA, has severe shortcomings in material properties which would make it unsuitable for many machine spare parts. And the look of printed parts is so different from molded parts that matching a missing part of a set would be difficult, apart from the problem of finding the exact matching color.
 
The exception to Gevlon's rule would be food. The effort doesn't have to be significantly more, and the price and quality can be much better.
 
My neighbor who uses his printer to make plastic parts for cars he works on would disagree, Tobold. Oh, they don't look the same, but getting that sun-visor holder tab is surprisingly expensive and time consuming. His patrons (including me) are more interested in cheap and functional than pretty.
 
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