This is a thread on Head-Fi for this newfangled 3D printing thing. Inspired by the recent release of the Mr Speakers Alpha Dogs, I recently went out and bought a 3D printer!
My home is that this thread will be a general thread for all the budding makers and tinkerers on Head Fi to post about their own audio related 3D printer projects and to swap notes about their own experiences / builds and 3D printing in general.
If people's projects eventually need their own threads I will also try to link to them here. Hopefully we can get a community of adventurous peeps making some cool things!
29/08/2013: Thread Created
There are lots of guides to 3D printers on the internet, but I will put a brief one here concerning 3D printing and audio gear. This will be updated and expanded as time goes on.
Why 3D Printers?
3D printing is a additive (layer upon layer) print process for 3D objects. While this technology has been available for some time to enterprises, in recent years we have seen the advent of smaller 3D printers at price points that individual households can now consider purchasing.
3D printers currently can print in a variety of materials including ABS plastic, PLA plastic and Acrylic resin. This has particular importance to the headphone community as the majority of headphone designs are made out of plastic. With 3D printing we have the oppurtunity to print everything from replacement parts for our headphones, to accessories like cable winders and headphone stands, right up to more involved projects like completely reshelling headphones!
Do I need to have 3D design skills?
This was something I asked myself before I purchased a 3D printer. I personally do not have any professional 3D CAD (computer assisted design) skills beyond learning a bit of design & technology in High School, a semester of 3D animation / modelling classes at University and an understanding of how to use design software on computers. Basically if you are comfortable using Photoshop or playing videogames, I cannot see why you could not also learn to use a 3D printer.
What software do I need?
Surprisingly, a lot of powerful CAD software specifically made for 3D printing is freely available on the internet. Since headphones are relatively simply geometric shapes, many of these software suites are quite powerful for the task at hand. I have started my tinkering with a few of the packages from the CAD giant Autodesk, and here are my observations:
Tinkercad is a free browser based 3D modelling program that was acquired by Autodesk. Tinkercad is a basic program with a very unintimidating interface, and lets you very quickly start making designs by combining basic primitive shapes into more complex ones. I have actually managed to make some very precise and complex objects in Tinkercad and the interface is very fast. Because the interface is so fast and intuitive, you can also import shapes generated in other 3D modelling programs and assemble them in Tinkercad for printing with great ease.
Limitations: Tinkercad does not currently support some more advanced features - for instance, curved edges on objects. This is a limitation because generally hard edges create unwanted interactions with soundwaves for audio gear. Another limitation is that Tinkercad does not currently support a high curve resolution for shapes made in Tinkercad like cylinders or spheres. Strangely, importing high resolution curved shapes made in other programs works fine for Tinkercad up to a point, though if the geometry gets too complex I've noticed that Tinkercad will generate artefacts on the 3D shape. I do not know if these limitations will ever be fixed considering that Autodesk now has several other offerings.
123D Design Online
123D Design Online is another free browser based offering from Autodesk. 123D Design is barely another step on the learning curve over Tinkercad with a similar interface, and offers some features that Tinkercad doesn't, including high resolution curves and curved edges / bevels. It also has some clever inbuilt primitive shapes to work with. However, it does not seem as fast or as stable as Tinkercad.
123D Design (Desktop Version)
Autodesk makes another free 3D modelling program for desktops, though it seems to bare little resemblance to the online version of 123D. 123D Desktop has a very stripped down interface and a powerful set of tools much more like traditional 3D printing programs. However it lacks some of the helpful primitives of the above two programs and I find myself wrestling with the very strange camera behaviour and somewhat unintuitive interface. It's possible to use 123D Desktop to generate some very high precision individual shapes and then import them as STL files into Tinkercad (but oddly not into 123D Design online) for assembly.
Which printer should I buy?
Actually, to do 3D printing you do not even need a 3D printer. There are now numerous services online like Sculpteo http://www.sculpteo.com/en/ that will make 3D prints for you - upload a file to them and they can produce a plastic, acrylic - even CNC milled metal. Of course, there is a cost to this service - but for one offs this might work out nicely.
The advantage of having a personal 3D printer is lower material cost over time, and also the ability to very rapidly prototype changes. Something doesn't work or doesn't fit? Just print it again. You can achieve good results with just a few iterations of trial and error.
There are a bunch of 3D printers on the market and I won't review them all here, but it would be nice to have comments and observations in the thread about people's own experiences.
Personally I got myself an UP! Mini 3D, which I did a quick little video / setup review of here:
How much does it cost?
Besides the initial cost of the 3D printer, ABS plastic costs about 5 cents / gram. You can print in a variety of colours and different plastic types.
LINKS TO PROJECTS