Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Shapeways (Not a Women's Gym)

As you may have read about, I've been on something of an Arduino kick lately.  I've slowed down a lot on my trivia system, partially because for a while I considered a change to how I make each of the handheld buzzers.  I've been using PVC pipe and having to file out a rectangular hole in the endcap for the network keystone jack, but that leads to kind of an ugly, irregular cut out that doesn't perfectly fit the keystone jack.

This led me to Shapeways, which as the title of this post suggests, is indeed NOT a women's gym.  Instead it's a 3D printing service that will let you print your designs using a HUGE variety of materials for relatively cheap (they charge by the volume of your printed object).  I've been experimenting using Blender on Ubuntu to try to make my own endcap that will act like a wallplate and allow the keystone jack to simply snap in.  I haven't done any 3D modeling in over a decade, and I've never tried to do something that had to be a precise size for a real-world application.  Still, it's been fun.  My current prototype, which I haven't printed yet, is shown below:

My first attempt at an endcap.  It's shorter and has thinner walls than the ones I've bought from Home Depot, but it would still cost $3.21 +shipping to print at Shapeways.  This one just has a more precise cutout.  It doesn't have the full geometry to act like a wallplate for the keystone jack to simply snap into place.
Unfortunately, even with some of the changes I've made it would still cost $3.21 per part to print at Shapeways, which isn't quite worth it considering the ones at Home Depot cost less than $0.50 each.  Still, it was a worthwhile experiment and I've learned a lot about how to use Blender in the process.  I'm far from being an expert, but I'm definitely going to be on the lookout for cool ways to use Shapeways in the future.  I purchased the material samples kit from their website for $30 so I could see what the different materials looked and felt like before blowing a bunch of money on some actual prints.  It came with a $25 credit for 3D printing though, so now I have that credit on my account just waiting for me!

Seeing as I have all the materials for the trivia system already, I'll probably stick to filing and drilling the endcaps rather than printing them.  The cost just isn't worth it for the larger parts when I need so many of them -- at least not until I get my Replicator 2.  Please feel free to donate to the cause!  ;-)

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