Sunday, 27 May 2012

Day 25 - Summing up

The residency has finished and although I wish it had gone for a longer period of time I am also glad that it is over. It was an incredible experience as an artist and also as a technology enthusiast. This having been my first residency it has given me a chance to learn the basic skills required to operate a 3d printer, made me more conscious of how to build and optimise models for printing and been a fantastic opportunity to display this emerging technology to interested members of the public, visiting school groups, gallery staff and volunteers and also work with and gain insights from Corrie who has been wonderfully patient with my strange ways (Thank you Corrie!).

Given the opportunity I would do it all over again in a heartbeat and if I undertake any residencies in the future I believe I will have a much better idea of what a residency entails. The fate of the 3d printers is still undecided although I have heard mention of the possibility that Corrie and myself may have access to them in the future which will hopefully allow us to print out the final objects the universe so cruelly denied us the ability to produce on both of our respective 'final days'.

As for the equipment itself I can wholeheartedly recommend the UP! 3d printer to anyone interested in producing single colour objects with relative ease. The UP! printer performend almost flawlessly (except for the last two days) considering it was being printed to non-stop by two artistswith next to no previous 3d printing experience who were almost certainly making it do things the makers of the machine never intended for it to do. There isn't much else to say about it; it prints well (albeit a bit slowly), the quality is good, the software is so easy that you grandma could use it.

The Makerbot Replicator is however a different story. I really wanted to like it and I am 100% behind the Makerbot ethos which is about empowering individuals to innovate, create and share objects and ideas. Unfortunately I could not recommend the Replicator to anyone except perhaps the most dedicated of techies and tinkerers. The Software is not intuitive, the onboard electonics are not as advanced as those of the UP! printer (and require the PC to remain attached while printing which killed two prints when the computer shut down spontaneously), the online help system quite often lead me in confusing loops without answering questions, the dual extrusion printing process was not well supported by the software and despite all my best efforts I suspect I didn't even come close to producing a two colour object.

Ultimately the quality of the objects wasn't of a standard that I would deem acceptable for anything except small 'utility' (i.e. 'part') prints and perhaps gifts for friends and family. I really don't like being negative and really dislike having to give bad reviews but in my opinion the Replicator requires far too much investment of time to obtain acceptable results. That being said I will definitely follow their progress as a company and would absolutely consider obtaining subsequent models of their machines if the standard was able to be raised to that of the UP! printer and if the software was to become more user-friendly.

I am very excited about the possibilities of 3d printing and as one of three possible outcomes for my artistic practice I can clearly see that it is in my interests to obtain a 3d as soon as possible and join the revolution. I hope you have enjoyed following my progress and I look forward to showcasing future developments in 3d printing and my artistic pursuits through other avenues but for now I must bid you farewell.

Cheers, Beau.

p.s don't forget to check out Corrie's blog to hear another artist's perspective of the same residency

The final haul of objects

Day 24 - Crazy days

Upon arrival for my last day of the residency I learnt that tragic circumstances had transpired the previous day. At some point the UP! printer had ceased printing for Corrie and despite her valiant efforts to ressurrect the UP! it remained unable to print for the remainder of her last day which I can only imagine must have been incredibly frustrating for her as neither of us had up to that point felt that we had reached our final objectives or had enough time with the printers.

I optimistically turned on the UP! printer and headed for its maintenance screen to see if I could detect any anomalies but all seemed well. I tried to extrude some material and the filament manifested as requested; things were looking up (pun intended). Upon attemtping to print a small test object it became readily apparent that the printer was indeed having some serious issues. The printer seemed to be working fine initially, the raft material was created correctly and the beginnings of the support structure and object looked promising, then the printer decided to stop extruding. Several attempts at printing were only made more frustrating by the printer seemingly being able to extrude normally from its control panel.

As an extra twist of fate the universe had decided to provide me with what was easily the busiest day of the entire residency which made troubleshooting difficult. In the end I was not able to successfully print anything on the UP! and only managed three small prints on the Makerbot in between discussions with interested members of the public. Ultimately it proved to be a bittersweet ending to the residency; the planned prints for the last day didn't happen but I was able to show a lot of people (including a couple of close friends and my very own mother) the Makerbot in action and the working space as well as the collection of objects that Corrie and myself had produced during the previous month.

20, 21, 22 & 23 - Mixed results

The final days of the residency were spent moving towards a final outcome. I had realised some time prior to this point that the multi-part creation and the musical instrument were probably not practical things to be working on, especially considering how tired I was becoming each evening as the residency progressed; I was barely able to keep my eyes open for long enough to eat dinner, much less go into a modelling frenzy. I attempted two prints of a persian inspired decorative object on the Makerbot and the results were very dissapointing as the objects developed large splits in them during the printing process.

Initial research indicated that the air conditioning in the gallery could be causing these issues but after enclosing the Makerbot in its own sealed perspex box the splitting remained an issue. During these final days I printed a lightly larger version of the fractal spinning top and a slightly smaller version of the decorative ball on the UP! printer as well as a small population of Xeno-urchins on the Makerbot.

As if the late arrival of the Makerbot and the 3d scanning system hadn't already thrown a figurative spanner in the works the coloured filament arrived three days before the end of the residency. I began to have dreams of neon green urchins.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Days 15 & 16 - Triumphs and tragedies

Corrie and myself made the decision to change back to the white filament but not before I printed off a persian inspired decorative ball. On the Thursday the Makerbot Replicator printer finally arrived as did a 3d scanning system. The 3d scanning system appears straightforward enough but does not seem to provide a means of stitching together the resultant meshes and given the late arrival of the system it is unlikely I will dig too deep into its capabilities especially in light of having far more things to print than I have time left in which to print them.

The Makerbot Replicator printer did not provide the out-of-the-box experience I was hoping for. The unpacking and setup of the machine was simple enough but that is where it ended. The machine fired up and printed a default object that came preloaded on an SD card and the preliminary results were encouraging. At first the noise of the Makerbot lended an authenticity to it being a hi tech device In action the Makerbot Replicator sounds like R2D2's long lost brother; but after an hour or two the noise had lost its charm and by the second day I was well and truly annoyed by it. The noises it makes do not have a consistent rythm and it seems to leave me in a state of permanent distraction which is something to bear in mind if looking at purchasing this unit.

The more obvious problem with the Replicator however proved to be printing itself. The software used to send the models to the printer is nowhere near as user-friendly as the UP! software and it took quite a bit of trial and error before I finally managed to successfully send a print to it. When the software planets finally aligned it took a long time to send the model to the printer and begin printing. At first the printing process seemed to be working quite well and all indications were that the print was going to take a relatively short amount of time for the model I sent to it (a double sized version of my slug model). However shortly thereafter the raft material began to split and splinter, the Replicator's second nozzle began catching on sections of the splintering raft material and before I knew it the whole print had been ruined as the model detached from the platform.

Upon inspection and careful re-caibration I ascertained that the front right hand corner of the platform may need a longer spacer as even at the maximum height there appears to still be too large a gap between the platform and the nozzle for adequate operation. Corrie and myself have both printed small objects (which only occupied the center of the printing platform) which have completed successfully. Sadly for Makerbot however I don't feel I could endorse the machine as of yet as the print quality itself just does not seem to be there; there are inconsistenties in the quality of the print, loose strands and loops which require additional finishing work to bring the model up to an acceptable standard and the surface is nowhere near as smooth as that provided by the UP! printer and it is possible to see the internal matrix/supports through the surface of the object which is not ideal for finished objects.

While all this was happening with the Replicator I managed to print out a half sized version of a 3d fractal I made in Mandelbulb 3d which turned out quite nicely. It turns out however that printed fractals are suprisingly sharp and I shredded part of my thumb while removing the raft and support materials.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Days 13 & 14 - New colours bring new issues

After the white ABS filament ran out we decided to try the black filament. It took me some time to wind it off the large spool onto the UP! sized spool so that is something to consider when purchasing materials. The black filament has an incredible glossy finish to it and after printing the top part of a recorder (which is full of support material and doesn't work yet) I realised I had to print the slug in black. The result was a perfectly slug-like sheen and all who have seen the slug have been impressed so far.

When removing the raft and support materials from the slug it immediately became apparent (based on me having printed the slug already in white) that the black material has different characteristics - it is somewhat tougher and a lot more flexible than the white filament. I ended up sanding most of the raft away and another issues became apparent; the black material turns grey when it is cut, bent and sanded. I was able to use a small gas torch on the bottom of the slug and the grey areas immediately re-melted and became glossy and black again.

Today was largely spent preparing for the public forum in the afternoon so I only managed to print out a model of a black cockatoo which was a spectacular failure - I learnt that feathers will not print which casts doubts on printing any of the other Australian animals I had hoped to.

With only one week to go until the residency ends I am now questioning how much I can possibly achieve in this time and whether I should attempt anything of a serious nature as I fear that time is against us. The possible arrival of a Makerbot printer and a 3d scanner tomorrow should fill me with excitement but again I fear time is getting the best of us and they might simply prove to be a diversion at this point as learning the ins and outs of the UP! printer have taken up three weeks so far.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Days 11 & 12 - Giant slugs & miniature buildings

I spent a large portion of day 11 at the Sunshine Coast Careers Expo hovering around the Sunshine Coast Council's Smart Arts table and mingling with the punters showing some of the prints Corrie and myself have made. While I was there the printer was beavering away back at the gallery printing the bottom section of a sea urchin totem pole that is yet to be finished.

Day 12 being Saturday meant more traffic than usual so I printed a slug I modelled in Sculptris for a number of patrons attending with children in the morning. The supports for its eyes detached halfway through the printing process but didn't affect the integrity of the eye stalks which was surprising.

While the slug was printing I modelled a building to print in the afternoon. The print took a number of hours and I had a moment of panic when it was nearly complete as I realised the roll of ABS filament was perilously close to running out. Thankfully it finished printing with only centimeters to spare! 

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Day 10 - Space urchin

Throughout the residency Corrie and me have attempted to print larger objects or a selection of smaller objects that fill the printing platform but we have discovered that the platform does not heat evenly and can lead to the objects warping if they are too close to the edge of the platform. The problem with this is that the objects lift from the platform in places and when they warp visibly the print head (nozzle) collides with the objects which results in malformed prints or the print becoming detached from the platform which requires that the job be stopped.

Due to the very small tolerances of the process the perfboard (pcb) that is clipped to the platform (that the objects are printed onto) has become coated in plastic and I believe it is interfering with the printing quality so we are investigating the best (easiest) wasy to clean the excess plastic from the perfboard.

Today I was able to print this space urchin object which I made in ZBrush and the results are quite nice. The scaffold material came off this print very easily and it looks as though it will only require a small amount of filing to remove a couple of stray strands of scaffolding/raft material so I'm declaring victory with this one. I will paint this object with enamel or acrylic paint when I have a bit of time to do so.

Days 7, 8 & 9

Not a lot to report from these days and no objects (successfully) printed. I did attempt a few small models but encountered some showstopping errors whereby the models were printing as a series of noodley blobs. I suspect the printer's driver became corrupted as it was only when printing from my machine that the noodley-ness was occurring. Corrie printed out some automata models that she found on Thingiverse that assemble and work when a handle is cranked. I shall post some photos of them when I remember to take my camera with me to the gallery.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Day 6 - I love the smell of ABS in the morning

We had a short informal talk with some Sunshine Coast Council staff members first thing in the morning. I printed the bunny-headed woman to demonstrate the capabilities of the printer. In the afternoon I attempted to print a procedurally generated geometrical shape, the results were interesting but nothing at all like the model I had sent to the printer. The STL file had some non-closed surfaces which I suspect caused the print to go... well... noodley! I shall upload a picture of that one tomorrow when I remember to photograph it. I suspect Corrie will be able to use it for something as it is still an interesting mix of hard edges and organic... noodles!

In the late afternoon I printed what may have been my first or second Sculptris model which bears a passing resemblance to a stone fish crossed with an alien shellfish. I spent some time in the afternoon creating two bridges which I hope to print tomorrow or on Saturday and worked on a skull with cogs where there should be a brain which will be a larger print for a quiet day.

To be honest I really don't like the smell of the ABS plastic, I can still smell it now and that is of some concern. I have yet to do any cleanup on the bunny-headed woman so it is still a bit rough at the moment.

Day 5 - A quiet day

Corrie printed a tricycle which sadly broke apart when she was freeing it from the scaffolding. After the tricycle Corrie printed a selection of small objects and when the printer had finished something very odd happened; the printer began to extrude plastic all over the newly printed objects and the print head began moving around as if possessed! The platform raised itself and the nozzle collided with one of the objects it had just finished printing. The print nozzle cut through the object like a hot knife through butter.

I have not had this occur on any of my prints but it had happened to Corrie once before. I suspect the OSx print driver may have a bug as Corrie printing from her Macbook is the only variable I can think of that could be causing this issue. On a quiet day I may try a few tests to see if we can replicate the issue. After the print head collision the heating block and nozzle were coated in ABS which quickly turned black and required cleaning before resuming printing.

The following two pictures are Corrie's work, the spring is tiny and quite flexible. The other piece is a construct she cleverly created from excess raft and scaffold material which she has populated with miniature figures.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Day 4 - Transcending the medium

I spent most of today preparing models and exporting them to .STL format for printing. I printed out a figure (which has featured prominently in my digital works this year) of a woman meditating. The process used 26 grams of ABS plastic and took two hours to print. The support material was quite extensive and unfortunately it adhered to the figure's face. Half an hour of careful tweezering and filing later and she was freed of her restraints.

There are a few brown patches which I suspect is symptomatic of a clogged nozzle or incorrect nozzle height; I shall experiment tomorrow to see if I can eliminate these blemishes. Overall I'm fairly happy with the detail in this piece, each of the fingers and toes is distinct as are the facial features. Somewhat synchronistically I realised when taking the photos of the figure that I had also today hung the picture seen in the fourth photo which features the same model.