Apr 29, 2016

Replacing a Broken GoPro Drone part with 3D Printing

One of the most exciting things about 3D Printing is when you can use it to replace or fix something that breaks. Last time this happened, it was a clock which fell off the wall (no , I didn't knock it off the wall). This time, it was a small GoPro camera part.

Is it strange that I felt lucky when I had something break that gave me this opportunity again? Yes, it's strange. But at least I didn't break it intentionally ;)

The Problem (the broken thing)

I have an older model Drone (DJI Phantom 2) which has an older GoPro Hero 3+ connected to it using a Zenmuse gimbal on the underside of the aircraft. The GoPro is held to the gimbal with a hard plastic strap. That hard plastic strap broke.

As you can see in the image, the break was right at the part where the screw receptacle fits. As soon as I saw this, I knew that I could likely re-use the screw receptacles and fit them into a new 3D Printed plastic strap.

The Solution

I measured the inside spacing of the plastic strap and the thickness of the plastic in both dimensions. It was pretty simple to design a solution here.

First I created a rectangle block to represent the outer measurement (which was the inner measurement plus times the plastic strap thickness (times two for the width measurement since there are two sides to account for on that dimension but only one on the height). Then I created a similar block for the inside measurement to be used to SUBTRACT from the first block. That gave me the basic shape of the strap.

For the ends where the screw receptacles would go, I created a small 7mm x 7mm x 7mm block and then tweaked one edge to make a slightly angled side as you can see in the image. This was an almost exact replica of the original strap design. I duplicated that block for the other side.
I combined those parts so that I had one part for the whole strap.

Then I subtracted holes into the ends of the blocks where the screw receptacles would go. This was the only area where the model needed some precision - so it took a couple of tests to get it right. These holes were 2.1mm radius (4.2mm diameter) and 5.5mm deep.

The Model

Having the metal screw receptacles from the original part made this really easy. If I didn't have those, I might have just left a tiny hole in the plastic ends and hope the screws would hold on to the plastic, but I'm not confident that would work for very long.

If you plan on printing this part, be sure to get a hold of screw receptacles, or modify the model to have a different connection design.

You can find the GoPro Hero 3+ Gimbal Strap on my Thingiverse page.

Apr 12, 2016

5 reasons to have a 3D Printing Pen

My first 3D Pen - 3Doodler 1.0
More than a year ago, I saw my first 3D Pen - the 3Doodler - and I immediately bought it. It seemed like such a cool combination of creativity and modern technology. I had already gotten into "traditional 3D Printing" (did I really just say "traditional"?), and figured this was a natural extension of that. I didn't have any expectations of how or why I would use it, but bought it to help figure that out.

Why have a 3D Pen?

After using my 3D pen a few times, I really enjoyed creating things with it, but I also recognized that there are reasons to have them that differ a bit from the reasons for having a 3D Printer. That's what I'll outline here, a few reasons why a 3D Pen might be something you "need"...

Reason 1: Help you understand 3D Printing.

While 3D Printing is not rocket surgery, it's more fun to learn how it works by seeing it rather than reading about it or watching a video. A 3D Pen is a low cost, simple way to see 3D Printing mechanics in action. Yes, it's just plastic melting and being re-formed to harden again. But seeing it first hand - and being able to quickly create something without 3D Modeling skills or expensive machines - is cool.

Reason 2: Be Artistic in a New Way

My 2nd one - the Scribbler 3D Pen
Kids - and bigger people - often love making things. Crayons, markers, paint, yarn and fabric, even duct tape - it's all fun. But how often is there a NEW medium to create things? Not often. Melting plastic and reforming it into a new thing - now that's NEW - that's COOL.

Reason 3: It's Easy.

Making 3D objects with wood is amazing, but very hard, requiring many tools, perhaps dangerous electrical tools, and very time consuming.  Paper machè is great and simple - but it's messy! 3D Pens are easy to set up, take almost no time to get going, have minimal training with very small danger risks (watch the hot end!) and super easy to clean up. Learning how to do it is easy too! In a short session, kids can see results and even collaborate by building different parts of a larger model.

Reason 4: It's Cheap(er).

A great 3D Pen costs about $100 (although I actually got my Scribbler 3D Pen for $69, even though they now seem to be no less than $99). The PLA filament is also very cheap - about $20 for a whole roll (and you can try to calculate how much a printed object costs). A good 3D Printer costs about $500-$1000, and a better one costs more like $2000.

some experimental creations ("art")

Reason 5: Practice Experimenting and Failure

If you think creating something with a pen or crayon that you would call "Art" is difficult, well, just imagine trying that in three dimensions ;)

One thing I love about all arts and crafts is the practice it gives us - as kids and adults - in trying new things, in experimenting, in failing and trying again! Experimenting is such an important step in innovating, and that's why I love all kinds of art for EVERYONE. The 3D Pen is a great tool for this sort of practice - and is a fun alternative that spurs people's interest in something they may have never tried before. That's a good thing!

One reason to NOT get a 3D Pen.

Do not get a 3D Pen as an alternative to a 3D Printer.

not so precise mini-building
It is not at all the same thing. A 3D Printer is basically a robot which melts plastic and forms it into an object that has been modeled with 3D Modeling software. While that type of 3D PRINTING is not artistic - the 3D Modeling part can be VERY artistic. It's just that the actual printing process is not the artistic part when using a 3D Printer.

Conversely, the 3D Pen is NOT a good way to precisely create a 3D object for functional use. It is very hard to create an object of precise measurements or with straight edges or smooth, measured curves.

The comparison of 3D Pens to 3D Printers is analogous to comparing drawing by hand to printing with an inkjet printer - the first being artistic, the second being functional. Bat, as in 3D Printing, an inkjet printer required perhaps some artistic process first, before the actual printing step.

Here's what you'll have a lot of...
One other important point:  Because using the 3D Pen means having it closer to your face while you use it, you should ONLY use PLA - NOT ABS. It has been found that ABS Plastic often has harmful fumes, while most PLA does not.

Engadget wrote a post on this recently, which I try to share with everyone I know who does 3D Printing under any conditions - but I think it is even more important for 3D Pen use because of the likelihood of breathing in fumes.

Apr 10, 2016

Expanding Creativity With A 3D Printing Pen

3D Pens have popped up everywhere. Ok, not everywhere - like there are none in my sock drawer - but certainly in stores and online where, just a year ago, you would not have seen them.

If you have already tried a 3D Pen or bought one or generally know about them, you can stop reading now. If you wanted to understand the basics of what they are, this short post should help you.

What is a 3D Pen?

A 3D Pen is an electric tool which lets you create things out of plastic. It's a creative tool - perhaps it could even be called a toy. It is what I would call a modern version of play-dough.

Most 3D Pens take a strip of plastic "filament" into one side, heats it up to around 175 degrees Celsius (347 Fahrenheit!) and forces it out of the other side (tip) of the "pen" in a narrow stream allowing you to "draw" with it.

As the plastic dries, it hardens back into firm plastic, remaining in whatever form you created. If you've ever decorated a cake with one of those pastry bags, you pretty much know how to use a 3D Pen.

The plastic used is typically the same as that used by 3D Printers. PLA is the best option, as it has less harmful (or worrisome) fumes and melts at a slightly lower temperature (although, 345F is still pretty darn hot!). Some 3D Pens expect you to use their own "plastic sticks" - like the 3Doodler - but I prefer pens which are friendly to the same filament I'm using with my 3D Printer, so I don't have to buy separate material.

Scribber 3D Pen has a clear screen to show the settings

Controlling the 3D Pen

There are some basic controls on most 3D pens.

Temperature is the most important, as different plastic requires different temperatures.

Speed is another option on some pens, so you can control the rate at which the melted plastic comes out of the tip.

Then there's the motion - all pens which use plastic filament have both a forward (for drawing) and reverse (for removing un-used filament) - which allows you to "draw" or stop as you want to. That's pretty much it. Simple.

World's First, and My First - 3Doodler

The 3Doodler 1.0 - the original
The first 3D Pen I ever saw - in September 2014 at the MakerFaire in NYC - and apparently the first one ever invented, was the 3Doodler.

That first version of the 3Doodler, which I bought pretty much at first sight, was good - but not excellent - which is pretty expected given it was the "world's first". It was loud (it even has a fan in it) and bulky and had inconsistent reliability in my experience and clogged a couple of times too.

The 3Doodler 2.0 - from 3Doodler's site
That said, the first early 3Doodler helped me understand the concept well and frankly, amazed me.

Since then, the 3Doodler company greatly improved on their original design and now sells their second version which I don't own yet. IT has been considered by others to be a huge improvement over the first - Less bulky, quieter, more reliable.

I'll definitely try the version 2.0 3Doodler eventually, and I have the utmost respect for this company's founders, as they really innovated and broke new ground, defining this whole product category. You can now buy the 3Doodler in almost every innovative electronic-friendly toy or game shop and even in Brookstone and other high-end retailers.

3D Pens Galore

Scribbler 3D Pen
With 3Doodler's success in this new product category, it was inevitable that others would follow to create similar products. I've seen all sorts of variations on this theme now, but most are just basic knock-offs.

I decided to try one called the "Scribbler 3D Pen" (3rd generation). It was highly rated on Amazon and - at the time - was on sale for $69. (As of this writing, it is $99 in all the listings I could find).

I saw one completely new 3D Pen design at the NYC Toy Fair this past February called CreoPop - which uses liquid "ink" without heat - rather it uses LED lights to dry the ink as it emits from the pen's tip. This also seemed to allow more option in material with glow-in-the-dark, neon and more colors. This looked cool, but I haven't had a chance to try it first hand.

New 3D Pen version for kids coming

3Doodler Start and some creations
3Doodler is also showing and taking pre-orders for a completely new product called the 3Doodler Start.

This version operates at a much lower temperature with completely new filament which is non-toxic, making the whole kit much safer for younger kids!

I saw this product at the NYC Toy Fair in February 2016, and was VERY impressed. I expect this product to be a huge success for kids and schools if it proves to be reliable with reasonably priced filament. Nice to see 3Doodler continuing to innovate in 3D Pen Printing.


If you love crafts and Maker projects, and often have the opportunity to work with kids to encourage them to experiment and try new things - get a 3D Pen. Make no mistake - this tool is not for creating precision objects as you might do with a 3D Printer. This tool is mainly for creativity and art.

I haven't worked with enough different models to absolutely pick which is best and recommend a "winner" - but I will say that I've had great luck so far with the Scribbler 3D Pen myself and have heard good things about 3Doodlers 2.0 version.

Check ratings on Amazon and Google Shopping to get a broader opinion before buying.