Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Building Multi-Component Functional Models

This week’s blog posting is by Z Corp.’s Derrick Topp. Derrick began his career at Z Corporation as in 1999 as a designer and, in his words, has "had the pleasure of seeing our technology develop since then."   He took a few years off to start his own company designing and building children's furniture and play structures before returning to Z Corp. full time in 2007. He has worked on the ZPrinter 310, Spectrum Z510, ZPrinter 450, ZPrinter 650 and, most recently, the ZPrinter 350. In his spare time, Derrick enjoys chasing his 3 year old son, sailing and mountain biking.

When I first started at ZCorp back in 1999, I was immediately interested in printing and building models of my own designs on the new Z402 that we were all busy developing. Since then our 3D printing technology has improved dramatically and the passion to imagine, design and create interesting models is still there. It's a great feeling to be able to get a design out of my head quickly, onto the computer screen, and then into the printer. Not long after that I would be holding the part in my hand - the essence of rapid prototyping.

The idea of creating functional models was a natural progression from there. I didn't just want a model, I wanted that model to do something and to look good doing it. From rockets that fly (albeit not straight up) to wheels that turn, I have tried out many different ideas with our technology. No matter what I do though, I always come back to boats.

A few years ago, Z Corp. founder Tim Anderson gave me an antique catamaran, a Tornado class, to restore. I spent countless hours sanding, painting, wet sanding and finishing until the lines of the hulls were stuck in my head for good. Not too long ago those lines emerged again thru Rhino and our Z810 and, behold, I had hulls! After infiltration with ZMax and light sanding I painted them white and added other components, piece by piece over a few weeks. Since most of the components are small parts, I could easily print out a few sets for fit very quickly and with no need to infiltrate. As soon as the models were tweaked just right I printed the final versions and infiltrated, sanded and painted. The rudder blades, for example, took about 1 hour of total time from printing to painting.

One real advantage to printing out multiple parts and assembling a model, as opposed to printing the entire assembly as one piece, is that (aside from ease of painting) it brings a real look to the model, and makes for an eye catching display. Not shown in the photos of this version of my boat are the aluminum crossbars and mast, which are still to be installed. The trampoline and the sails will be of real fabric and the stays and shrouds will be realistic wound cable. I hope to cast the small blocks and tackle with bismuth alloy into printed molds. A disadvantage that I ran into was that small features like the rudder pivots scaled way to small to print and had to be beefed up for the desktop version.

So, as the boat progresses, my mind has already started wandering. The next logical step, if I get some free time, is to print a larger (30 inch?) model with thin walls, infiltrate with ZMax, and get a remote control hooked up so I can sail it across the pond. I'll give everybody fair warning if I get back into rockets again!

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