We all have our own view as to what a typical Christmas Tree should look like and I must admit that when I was first contacted by Mitch & Joy about 3D printing a Christmas tree I will admit I was sceptical but also keen to see what was possible.
If operating the 3D printers in the Technology centre at the RS Trade Counter in Southampton over the past 18 months has taught me anything it’s the following:
One design does not necessarily mean one print – where large objects are concerned printing one design all at once is not always the easiest and fastest way. When printing the Christmas tree I found that the easiest way to do this was to print the tree in two separate parts, this not only cut the print time down from 5 days to less than 3 days but also saved on resources by reducing the amount of support structure needed to hold each segment in place.
Positioning of the design is key – The general impression is that 3D printers can “make anything”, this is not always the case. If you can’t get the position of the design on the printers build plate correct then the design will either not print or print incorrectly. In the case of the Christmas tree I had to print the lower half upside down as this gave each layer of the design more support during the printing process as the printer would be printing from the inside out in an upwards direction, this ensured each new layer had the previous layer for support limiting the amount of extra support structure the printer had to add in order to stop the design collapsing during the print process.
The top half of the Tree was built the correct way up as this made printing the star at the top of the tree easier and once again limited the amount of support structure needed to hold up the corners of the star.
First impressions are not always what they seem – just because a design looks like it isn’t printable does not mean you can’t print it. The Christmas tree was a classic example of this.
Due to both the design of the star at the top of the tree and the distance between the stand and the first segment at the bottom of the tree I was sceptical as to weather printing a Christmas tree was possible however using all the experience I have gained over the past 18 months I was able to overcome both the obstacles and my own scepticism and produce a finished 3D printed Christmas tree.
Asides from the physical build volume of the print and my own scepticism the printing process itself was virtually trouble free.
The tree itself was constructed at a resolution of 200 micron and used roughly 1.2kg of filament in its construction with most of the printing being done overnight. Typically I would start the print process in the afternoon so I was able to observe the printer lay the base down and start the first 20-30 layers or so as it is during this early stage that 99% of issues take place.
The finishing process was a slightly different story. Even though I had positioned the two components of the tree in the most efficient positions possible there was still a large amount of support structure that needed removing and the surfaces that they adhered to required smoothing down.
To carry out the finishing I used the following tools that are readily available:
Mini file set
The ideal tool to use for finishing however is a Dremel/micro power toolas the attachments allow you to get into all the small spaces you may not be able to reach using basic hand tools.
Once the finishing was done there was the “will it won’t it” moment that everybody gets when preforming the final assembly of any modular item from plastic model kits to flat pack furniture and I delighted to see that there was no collapse or breakages what so ever, the two pieces fitted together perfectly.
In the Technology Centre at RS Southampton, the 3D printing process is something we carry out for our customers regularly and I see and hear about all forms of 3D printing technology SLA & FDM along with others, as well as being able to see how 3D printing has evolved in the past few years and where we plan to take this technology in the years to come, I personally find it both fascinating and a little bit freaky all at the same time. But one thing is for sure, being able to print a large Christmas tree today is just the tip of the iceberg compared to what we will be printing tomorrow.