This week I made further progress on my box, and finally managed to understand the source of my drone transmitter pairing problem, though I have not yet been able to fix it. I also spent my Saturday at the NY 3D Print Show, a sort of trade show for those involved in the 3D printing industry.
So, on the box front, I viewed several different steel thicknesses, and decided on 14 gauge steel sheet for the box faces, buttressed by angle steel around the sides and corners. This should make for a stronger, better looking, and easier to construct lockbox than one made simply from steel sheets. While 14 gauge is still fairly thick, such a design prevents me from having to go to something like 1/4th inch steel plate, which would be more expensive, and harder to work with. I picked up all the angle steel I will need from Home Depot, and I have ordered the steel sheet I hope use from an online distributor. My solenoids also arrived, and I think that I prefer the one sold through Ardafruit, as it retracts further, though I have had some trouble testing it, as the DC power supply seems to go into an error loop whenever I plug it in.
As for the drone, I have found that in some cases, until the transmitter is properly paired with the receiver, the receiver cannot draw the power it needs through the OpenPilot CCPD flight control chip, and that, as a result, it needs to be initially powered by a standalone power source. I plan to make one with four AA batteries, but I need a bit of help to make sure that I install the connectors properly, and do not blow any circuits.
The 3D print show was fantastic. All manner of 3D printers were on sale, capable of printing in many different materials, and able to print objects of considerable size and complexity. The increase in print bay size and, on the other side, print resolution and fidelity, astounded me.
Vendors seemed to fall into one of three broad categories, printer manufacturers, print materials manufacturers and printing service firms. Printer manufacturers, quite simply, were there to demonstrate the abilities of their printers, and sell as many as possible. The printers available ranged tremendously in size and complexity, from large printers capable of creating pieces of furniture literally from the ground up, to small printers designed for on-the-go architects, able to printer plaster building models with great speed from almost any location. While most printers are able to utilize generic spools of printing material produced by third party vendors, one inexpensive printer used proprietary material cartridges, similar to those used by many current inkjet printers. While this model works well in the inkjet business, it does so because there are few ongoing innovations and advancements in the world of inkjet ink. The same cannot be said for the world of 3D printing.
The materials side of the printing process has exploded since I last looked at 3D printing. Instead of being limited to fairly cheap, brittle, plastics, 3D printers can now utilize stronger polymers infused with woods and metals, making them much stronger and more visually appealing. Sandstone printers produce cool, porous object, while printers equipped with heated print beds can utilize spools of nylon print material. Printers utilizing laser binding methods instead of heated extruders can create objects in a multitude of metals, from bronze to tungsten, though the metallic powders required for these printing processes keep print prices very high. Some printers can now produce objects in carbon fiber, though, sadly, none were on display at the show. I am particularly interested in whether these printers actually weave the carbon fiber, or simply bind layers of it together. In any case, this huge growth in the number of available print materials makes any sort of inflexible, proprietary cartridge system a tough sell.
Most interestingly, one firm at the show, Fuel3D, has created a camera which can create complex 3d models from still photos taken using a camera with multiple lenses and sequenced flashes. The process helps to capture depth, and, while it was originally developed for use in medical imaging, can be used to create workable, printable 3D models of almost anything. I had a chance to speak with the creators, who told me that, while the process is currently very effective for artistic scanning, the compositing process used to turn still photos into 3d models will often give slight curves to angles, complicating attempts to print intricate mechanical parts from models created using Fuel3D’s camera. This problem can be ameliorated through the use of more complex rendering software and a greater number of cameras, but sadly, we are not yet able to scan and reproduce turbine engines and the like. Still, the folks at Fuel3D were kind enough to demonstrate their technology by making a very creepy 3D image of my face.