Reflections on using the Ultimaker 3D Printer

Neo-Politans

Neo-Politans, Alice Woods, 2016. 3D Printed PLA, Resin, Paint, 35 x 20 x 3cm

As an artist or maker, 3D printing has been an incredibly exciting development in home production. We can now manufacture completely unique objects straight from our own studios and enjoy unlimited variations in the testing and experimentation phase. However, where mainstream manufacturing compartmentalises each process into specialised divisions, to truly take ownership of production, 3D printers need to take every stage of the process into their own hands. This is an exciting (if challenging) prospect. The opportunity to develop the understanding and skills to design, print and finish to a factory standard is an exercise in patience, perseverance and lots of creative problem solving. These are some of my reflections of each part of the process:

Designing 

Learning how to use CAD (computer-aided design) software can initially be the most time consuming part of 3D printing if you have no previous knowledge. I had a good understanding of 2D programs which stood me in good stead in terms of geometric calculations but the actual experience of designing in 3D requires a whole new mindset. I primarily use Rhino to design my 3D printed objects as it is very versatile. It took me a few days of watching YouTube tutorials to get going with fairly simple objects and then just by regular use and need I learnt how to construct much more complex structures.

Printing

Printing on the Ultimaker is very straight forward (the hard bit is ensuring your object is suitable for 3D printing). After exporting your object from your CAD program Cura will prepare your object for printing – you can use the preset settings (which are a helpful to start) and then begin to tinker with layer height, speed, temperature etc when you get to know the nuances of your machine. 

As with anything, time and experience will naturally improve the success of your printed objects. You come to understand how much detail the printer can capture and how well it can deal with overhangs without compromising quality, as well as things like what speed is appropriate and what material works best.

When creating larger items I have tended to make these in multiple parts. This is so if a print goes wrong you don’t have to waste filament printing perfectly good parts of the structure again. After I have all my parts I fix them together with resin. 

Finishing 

This perhaps is the most important phase if you are using the Ulitmaker to produce art objects. Once you have a sound structure that is fit for purpose, how do you actually make it look how you would like? Perhaps you would like to reveal that your object is 3D printed in which case your work is probably nearly done, but if you would like the smooth moulded look of factory plastic this is where the work really begins. 

Over time I have achieved a fairly reliable routine of:

  1. Quick sanding with a Dremel (or by hand depending on delicacy) 
  2. Filling any imperfections with polyfilla and hand sanding 
  3. Coating with XTC-3D resin to eliminate the 3D printing layer lines
  4. Sanding again if necessary (for instance if the XTC-3D resin has built up too much in one place and to eliminate the occasional bubble)
  5. Priming with resin or plastic primer
  6. Painting  

My experience of using the Ultimaker to create art objects has been one of positivity and optimism. On a critical level it has allowed my practice to become more self-reliant which has conceptually strengthened the various works I have produced. My key interest of the real economy vs future models is to an extent encapsulated by the possibilities of 3D printing. Just as in Experiments In Aquaponics, 3D printing is a step towards taking responsibility and ownership for the “stuff” in our lives. You make what you are capable of and learn something new each time, and through an understanding of process you come to produce only what you need.

E-Bomb

e-bomb, Alice Woods, 2016. Vinyl Toast, 3D Printed ABS, Pigmented Resin, 42 x 29.7 x 2cm

 

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