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  • 10 steps to getting started with Meshmixer for 3D Printing

    10 steps to getting started with Meshmixer for 3D Printing

    Your model must be watertight for 3D printing, however occasionally you may encounter a hole or gap in your 3D model. Luckily, meshmixer can help

    Autodesk meshmixer is a fantastic free software for creating and manipulating 3D files for 3D printing. Whether you need to clean up a 3D scan, do some 3D printing or design an object, meshmixer can help. Today, we take you through 10 valuable steps to get you up and running and taking your 3D file preparation to the next level.

    Step 1: Importing a model and basic controls

    This is a great place to start and you’ll be pleased to know that a range of 3D file types can be loaded in to Meshmixer including STL, OBJ, PLY and AMF. Importing a model is very simple, simply open the software, click Import and select the file you wish to load. To zoom in and out of a model you can use the scroll button on your mouse and to move around the model use the right click. Finally, Ctrl+Z is to undo and Ctrl+Y is redo

    Step 2: Transforming your model

    Once you load your 3D model, the next step is manipulating the model so that you can either continue to work on it effectively and make it 3D print ready or if minimal editing is required then you can simply rotate to optimise for 3D printing and export (Step 10).

    Remember when 3D printing, not crucially but ideally you want two things: Firstly, you want the object to sit flat on the build plate if possible, secondly you want minimum overhangs. An overhang is an area of a model where there is limited support underneath. Anything up to and including a 45 degree angled overhang is printable, however the more you increase this angle, the poorer the finish. You want to orientate the model in a way that overhangs are minimised. Select Edit and Transform. For rotation, simply pick one of the coloured curves (blue, green and red) to transform around that particular axis. Using transform, you can also translate along an axis and thus increase the size in one particular direction. This is done by clicking and dragging the squares at the end of each coloured arrow. Once you are happy with your transformation, click accept to save the changes.

    10 steps to getting started with Meshmixer for 3D Printing

    10 steps to getting started with Meshmixer for 3D Printing

    Step 3: Scaling your model

    Resizing or scaling your model is usually necessary and if not it is always good to at least confirm your model size before 3D printing. This is easily achieved by selecting Analysis on the left toolbar and then selecting Units/Dimensions. You can alter the dimension along any axis and this will automatically scale your model accordingly. Once you are happy with the dimensions click Done.

    10 steps to getting started with Meshmixer for 3D Printing

    Step 4: Reducing file size

    The ability to reduce the file size of your 3D model is extremely useful, particularly if your model is a high quality scan as these can often be over 100MB. A 3D file is generally made up of a series of triangles. The greater this number of triangles the more detailed the model and this means a larger file size. In the case of a high quality 3D scan, reducing the number of triangles fairly substantially will not have a huge effect on the overall quality of your 3D print. To reduce, choose Select and then click on the area of the model you wish to reduce. If you wish to reduce the whole model then double click on the model and this will select the entirety. Once selected, choose Edit and Reduce and use the percentage slider. As an example. If a model is made up of 10,000 triangles and you slide to 80% then you will be left with a 2,000 triangle model.

    10 steps to getting started with Meshmixer for 3D Printing

    Step 5: Plane Cut

    This is a useful tool for trimming parts of your model in any direction you wish. Perhaps there is an area of the model that you want to be completely level or just certain parts that you want to get rid of completely. Select Edit and Plane Cut. You can change the angle of the cut using the coloured curves and the positioning using the arrows. The large blue arrow allows you to select which area either side of the cut you wish to remove. Once you are happy with the positioning of the cut simply click accept.

    10 steps to getting started with Meshmixer for 3D Printing

    Step 6: Mesh Repair

    Your model must be watertight for 3D printing, however occasionally you may encounter a hole or gap in your 3D model. Luckily, meshmixer can help. Select Analysis>Inspector to investigate if your model has any holes. You will be presented with spheres that indicate where the holes are located. There are 3 modes for filling holes: minimal (minimal number of polygons), flat (self-explanatory) or smooth fill (uses surrounding surfaces to create a smooth appearance). You can select different fills for different holes by selecting your preferred fill method and then clicking the sphere you wish to fill using this method, before moving on to another area of the model. If you wish to repair all the holes with the same method then pick a fill type and select Auto Repair All. The Small Thresh parameter specifies the threshold for what is detected as a ‘small component’. These areas are deleted by auto repair. This can be problematic if your 3D model contains small parts. By reducing the Small Thresh slider, these small component areas will be preserved. Keep in mind, any change you make is easy to undo (Ctrl+Z).

    10 steps to getting started with Meshmixer for 3D Printing

    Step 7: Measure

    The ability to accurately measure every aspect of your 3D model can be very useful. For example, you may wish to understand how changing the overall scale of the model has an effect on various individual aspects. For producing prototypes and mechanical parts this tool is essential. Select Analysis>Measure and by varying the type and direction you are able to accurately measure any part of the outer shell of your model.

    10 steps to getting started with Meshmixer for 3D Printing

    Step 8: Split your model

    In Meshmixer you are able to split up a 3D model in to multiple slices. This can be very useful if you have a large model that requires 3D printing as separate components. Alternatively you may simply wish to split your model up so that you can better analyse or study distinct separate areas of your 3D model. Start by selecting Edit>Make Slices. There are two methods you can pick: Stacked or Stacked3D. Stacked 3D incorporates the overall form of your model and is generally the preferred choice. You can choose the direction you wish to create slices in i.e. X, Y or Z and finally select the thickness of each slice. Select compute and you will be shown how your model will be sliced up. Once happy, choose accept and your model will be successfully split into separate STL files.

    10 steps to getting started with Meshmixer for 3D Printing

    Step 9: Produce Support

    If your model has overhangs then it may struggle to 3D print effectively, especially for those areas with a greater overhang angle of 45 degrees. One of Meshmixer’s most powerful tools is its support generation as it is simple and highly effective. Select Analysis>Overhangs to get started. You will be prompted with a number of options such as angle thresh, advanced support etc. Feel free to play around and produce your own custom support settings, however when starting out I’d advise using the drop down (top left) and selecting one of the pre-determined setting options which is available for a number of listed 3D printer types e.g. Ultimaker 2. This will load up all the recommended settings for your printer and then you can easily tweak individual settings if you wish. For example, if you wish to provide your model with thicker supports you can click Support Generator and increase the post diameter. Some tweaking may be necessary however this tool is very user friendly. To preview your settings select Generate Support and if you wish to revert to tweak something else simply select Remove Support. Once you are happy click Done.

    10 steps to getting started with Meshmixer for 3D Printing

    Step 10: Exporting your 3D Model

    Once you done editing your 3D file simply select Export and choose the file type you want to save as. Generally this will be STL ASCII Format however other options include OBJ, COLLADA, PLY, AMF and VRML. Then the fun part - 3D printing your model!

    We hope the above steps prove useful in your 3D printing venture.  These steps are just a small sample of what meshmixer is capable of and in actual fact there is a vast assortment of extremely useful tools, not only for simple editing but also for sculpting and producing your very own unique 3D designs. If you are interested in learning each and every tool and becoming a master then you may be interested in our HoneyPoint3D online video course for Meshmixer which can be found here.

  • Introducing 3D printing to the classroom: 5 steps for teachers

    Introducing 3D printing to the classroom: 5 steps for teachers

    Our primary goal is to support and educate teachers and make the introduction of 3D printing in to the classroom a simple process

    3D Printing is continuing to make its way in to schools, colleges and universities in every corner of the globe. It’s not rocket science, however there a number of things to consider before starting. At PrintLab, our primary goal is to support and educate teachers and make the introduction of 3D printing in to the classroom a simple process. The possibilities for young people are greater than ever and we believe that 3D printing will play a key part in the careers of the next generation. From engineering and architecture to fashion and art, 3D printing promotes problem solving, creative thinking and 3D design. We hope these 5 steps serve as a useful introduction.

    1. Make a plan of action

    The first step is to really consider your objectives. This will enable you to plan your 3D printing Lab accordingly. It is a good idea to ask yourself a number of questions. What learning outcomes are you trying to convey to your students? 3D design, physics and engineering principles are all fantastic examples and there are many more you may wish to consider. How many students will require the use of a 3D printer? What curriculum needs do you have? There are many things to consider but if you require any guidance, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

    2. Understand the basics

    There are a number of avenues to go down if you want to learn the basics of 3D printing. YouTube and Google are a great place to start. Alternatively, we have a comprehensive guide to 3D printing for teachers available for free here, all that’s required is a simple, secure sign up. Another fantastic resource is our ‘Introduction to 3D printing’ online course from HoneyPoint3D which gives a full breakdown of everything you need to know. The course is self-paced and lasts a few hours. Once acquired, it is available for a year so you can refer back whenever you need. You can check that out on our build section.

    3. Check out the ecosystem

    Now that you have a good grasp of what is involved in 3D printing, take a look at our ecosystem. We have a number of fantastic components, which when combined with lifetime service and support from your local PrintLab partner give a complete solution for the classroom. From printers to curriculum, installation and training, we have everything covered.

    4. Get your first 3D printer

    If you decide to get a 3D printer then your mission is starting to take course. Once it arrives get comfortable with it and take your time. It is important to feel at home with this new classroom tool so that you can manage it and teach your students effectively. Don’t be put off if things are not perfect right away. New technology can often be intimidating but these machines are generally quite pliable, get hands-on and learn through making mistakes. Consider starting out by printing pre-made 3D models to get familiar with the machine and its capabilities. There are literally thousands available to download for free and we also have some great classroom objects available as part of our free resources. After that, why not try a simple free CAD software such as Autodesk 123D and create your very own unique 3D model.

    5. Inspire a generation

    You are now in a position to teach your first lesson. Have fun with it and encourage students to do the same. We have a number of incredible curriculum options available that are being used all around the world as we speak. 3D printing as an extremely powerful tool to convey theory from a multitude of core subjects, inspire creativity and even spark a debate amongst students on best 3D printing practises. If you see yourself as more of a trailblazer then why not design your own lesson? Come up with a basic learning outcome and work backwards to a model that can help convey this. Even better, give the students free reign to design their own 3D model. Again Autodesk 123D is a good place to start and for the more advanced we recommend Autodesk Fusion 360. We have an online course available for that too on our build section which provides 15 hours of content and gives the user a thorough understanding of this incredible software.

  • Victoria Hand: providing 3D printed prosthetics to amputees in the developing world

    Victoria Hand: providing 3D printed prosthetics to amputees in the developing world

    At the University of Victoria, a team of engineers, designers and volunteers is hard at work, providing 3D printed prosthetic hands to amputees in some of the world’s most deprived areas. There are challenges, but the difference they’re making is remarkable. They are the Victoria Hand Project, and this is their story.

    Adaptive Grasp

    In the late 90’s, Dr. Nikolai Dechev was working on his Masters project creating a prosthetic hand with a ground-breaking technology which he called Adaptive Grasp. Adaptive Grasp allows the fingers to conform around an object as the hand closes. At the time, the hand was designed to be fabricated on a CNC machine. The high cost of manufacturing the hand made it not a viable option. That’s where 3D printing came in. After seeing the potential of this technology, Dechev and his colleague Joshua Coutts modified the design and started the Victoria Hand Project.

    Victoria Hand prosthetics

    Prosthetics aren’t often available in developing countries, due to limited resources, restricted access in rural areas, lack of expertise and expense. 3D printing provided a solution to the problem, enabling the team to print and assemble locally in each country, at a reduced cost. With a 3D printer and right filament, a clinic can print personalized medical devices or replacement parts, even in remote locations. For example, in Nepal, a team of engineers traveled with their 3D printer, creating medical devices and replacement parts for machines. It’s easier and cheaper than transporting big boxes of specific parts.

    They needed a printer that offered a high-quality finish, with strong bonds between each plastic layer. The Ultimaker 2 was ideal, thanks to the quality, ease of use and available resources for maintenance and troubleshooting.

    How it works

    Firstly, the amputee meets the prosthetist for measurements. A mold is created of their residual limb, then the prosthetist creates interfaces between the device and the human body. The Victoria Hand Project team captures the prosthetist’s skill through custom 3D scanning of the plaster mold. This scan is then used to create a customized, 3D printed socket for the amputee.

    The hand and wrist components are printed in around 48 hours, then assembled and attached to the custom socket. The final step is to paint the prosthesis to match the natural skin tone. This aesthetic touch helps the amputee to feel more confident.

    Training is provided to all 3D print lab staff, plus the prosthetists and clinicians.

    Victoria Hand Project prosthetics in use
    Victoria Hand Project in action

    3D printing challenges

    In 2014, the Victoria Hand Project team researched different 3D printers, and found the Ultimaker 2 was best suited to the task. Initially, they ordered an SLA 3D printer as well, but it resulted in many failed prints and didn’t offer the clean environment required. The parts were also too brittle for practical use. Ultimaker proved to be far easier to use, which meant clinicians and prosthetists could quickly grasp how to operate them.

    There were a few issues along the way, but Ultimaker’s guides and forums helped them learn how to use and repair the printers. The quality of prints improved and the manufacturing process sped up. Over the years, the team gained valuable experience using 3D printers, and were able to provide technical support to other clinics. They train medical workers in person, to ensure they know how to assemble and fit the prosthesis. This encourages a closer relationship with the clinic staff.

    The team also learned how different 3D printing in clinics can be from printing in the University of Victoria lab. In Nepal, for example, there are daily power-cuts. Without a UPS, no sockets could be printed. In other clinics, it’s hot and humid, which can alter material properties. In Kathmandu, the air is dusty, which means the build plate needs to be cleaned more often, and this makes the process more expensive. Plus, shipping and importing fees make it expensive to replace even something as small as a nozzle.

    3D printing prosthetic hands

    Material choices

    Sometimes, it’s challenging knowing what the best print settings are for the job. With Ultimaker 2+ printers, the Victoria Hand team tested print speeds and layer heights to find the optimum settings, and also tested different materials, such as PLA, ABS, Nylon and PET. Engineering student volunteers undertook tensile tests and failure analysis in each case. These tests allowed Victoria Hand Project to further improve their designs.

    The students determined that black PLA was the best. It was strong and required less pre-processing time. Other materials were harder to print with – for example, ABS was stronger, but didn’t stick to the build plate as well. This would have been problematic for less experienced 3D printers (such as the staff at the clinics). PLA offered great quality and was easy to use – so it was the ideal material for the job.

    Victoria Hand Project prosthetic hand
    Victoria Hand Project hand in use

    From Guatemala to Cambodia and beyond

    After receiving a grant from Grand Challenges Canada, the Victoria Hand Project joined forces with the Range of Motion Project in Guatemala. Short and long-term trials were conducted – which confirmed that people desperately needed high-quality prostheses, without the expense. Joshua Coutts, a designer, recalls his third visit, when he realized the 3D printer’s full potential.

    Until then, he’d focused on developing the hand functionality. In the third trial, the function, ease of use and aesthetics were all improved, which made the world of difference. It felt like the hard work was paying off, and they were finally delivering life-changing results.

    Since then, the Victoria Hand Project have teamed with other clinical partners in Nepal, Haiti, Cambodia and Ecuador. The clinics find the amputees, print and assemble the hands, and fit the prosthesis. The Victoria Hand Project team sets up the equipment, trains local staff, and offers support and follow-up.

    Victoria Hand prosthetic hands
    Victoria Hand in Guatemala

    Sponsors and supporters

    It wouldn’t have been possible without several generous donations. Grand Challenges Canada funded the initial development and trials, and extended their help to establish additional clinics. Ultimaker donated four Ultimaker 2+ printers – a crucial component of the operation. The Enable Community Foundation funded the clinic in Haiti, and other donations have come through via crowdfunding and fundraising.

    Although Victoria Hand Project have collaborated with E-nable, the design teams are now separate. E-nable runs off an open-source model, allowing people to download designs and print them anywhere with a 3D printer. The Victoria Hand Project provides STL files and Gcode files to collaborators only. This ensures the 3D printed prosthetic is exceptional quality and maintains a good reputation.

    Victoria Hand prosthetic assembly

    New devices

    In addition to the 3D printed hands, the team has started to develop other medical devices using 3D printing; such as an adjustable club-foot brace, ankle brace and finger brace. They used the same hardware and materials, so the new design is simply emailed to the clinic and printing can begin.

    The parts are heat-formed using a heat-gun or hot water, as PLA is a thermoplastic. As the material becomes soft, it can be formed around the limb; then as it cools it becomes rigid and provides support.

    The future

    Victoria Hand Project aims to reach more amputees by improving their system further, raising funds, and building more partnerships worldwide.

    Spreading the word and gaining financial support are major factors in making this happen. Watch this space to learn more about this amazing project. We will keep you posted on their progress!

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