Egg Cup & Soldiers Holder: Physical Prototyping with Rhino & Makerbot

Design Challenge:

For our final prototype exploration, we had the opportunity to design whatever we wanted (within reason, of course) using Rhino to model and MakerBot to print a 3D object that used all the basic functionality such as revolving, extruding, and boolean operations we learned in our Friday studio workshop.

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Studio workshop on 3D printing hosted by Keren

Studio workshop on 3D printing hosted by Keren

Prototype:

To gather inspiration on what to print, I decided to look through my Pinterest board of all the cute little knick knacks I've collected over time. I settled on trying to recreated this horse and castle eggs and soldiers set. 

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Then, I got to sketching to build a strategy on how to construct these items in Rhino. For both the workshop and experimenting on my own, I soon realized that thinking in 3D is an interesting task. Learning to break down complex shapes into more simple forms and understanding how shapes, curves, surfaces and solids intersect was new to me and required me to pause often to think about how things could be built. I've concluded that there aren't necessarily any wrong answers or ways to arrive at a solution when building things using 3D modeling software, but there are definitely better and/or easier ways to do so. 

To create the castle structure, I started with two circles, a smaller one for the top and a larger one for the base of the castle. A surface was created between these two circles using the sweep function to form a tapered cylinder. In retrospect, I could have also revolved a slightly slanted line to create the same shape. Next, I offset the surface inward to create the thickness of the castle wall. To create the cutouts on the top of the castle wall, I extruded a small rectangle to create a cube and then multiplied the single cube spaced equally around the castle wall using the polar array function, which evenly distributes a shape around a center point. These cubes were subtracted from the castle structure using the boolean difference. The castle door was created by creating an arch, extruding it and subtracting it from the castle, again using the boolean difference function.

The horse was a bit more difficult to construct because of its more organic shape. I started by free hand drawing the horse shape using a combination of straight and curved lines in the front view. Once I was happy with the overall shape, I extruded it to give the horse its width. To create the hole for the toast soldiers, I extruded a rectangle through the horse’s back and subtracted the shape using the boolean difference. I used the same boolean difference technique to create the eyes using small spheres that were subtracted from the horses face. To reduce the boxiness of the object and give the horse a more organic feel, I used the sweep function to create a curved surface on the horses front and hind legs. This was done by creating a new curved base at the front and rear of the horse and connecting these curves to the neck and butt. This became the new edge and the previous back and front edges were deleted before patching up the bottom of the horse to ensure that it would remain a solid.

What I learned:

Although I don't expect to be hired as an industrial designer any time soon, I do feel that learning some basics about 3D modeling and printing were extremely valuable in learning how to think in 3D and how to communicate with designers that may be using such software. It was also helpful in getting me to think about how products might be manufactured. 

I also found it extremely helpful to watch and learn from those with more experience to get tips on how they would approach each task and uncovered buried functionality in the software.

Failures and mistakes can be beautiful, especially when you learn from them. 

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Pros and cons of 3D modeling and printing:

Pros:

  • 3D printing is a fairly cheap way of creating small objects with great detail that are higher in fidelity if you have access to a printer and don't have to front the cost of a printer yourself.
  • 3D printed objects can be used as props or stand-ins when pitching an idea to get funding or buy in from stakeholders, even if the details of the technical capabilities of a product aren't finalized. 
  • Creating something physical for people to touch and experience makes your ideas tangible and helps people envision the possibilities of your design ideas.
  • Using different filament for printing provides an easy way to explore different types of materials. 

Cons:

  • It takes time to learn and perfect using 3D modeling software. In most future cases, I'll likely leave this to the experts. 
  • Depending on what you want to create, the print space might be considered small.
  • Not everyone has access to a 3D printer. However, as the technology becomes cheaper and more available, this will be less of an issue.

I believe we've just begun to touch the surface of 3D printing capabilities. Just as the tools for desktop publishing has become widely available and the tools supporting it have become easier to use, 3D printing will likely evolve in a similar way.