Makerspace Collaborating on Sustainability Projects

Last spring semester, the Makerspace @ Williams College pivoted to focus on academic projects that support teaching and learning goals; previously, this focus had been an aspirational goal. The Makerspace Program Manager, David Keiser-Clark, and his team of amazing student workers, now support a dozen interdisciplinary academic and campus projects at a time. A quarter of these projects support sustainability, or specifically the Zero Waste Action Plan, including: (1) a three-college collaboration to create an eco-friendly deterrent for Japanese Beetles in our community garden; (2) a prototype to upcycle plastic bottles into 3D printer filament; and (3) a set of laser engraved wood signs, sustainably harvested from Hopkins Forest, for a Stockbridge-Munsee led garden video and audio tour at the Mission House in Stockbridge, MA. Below, you’ll find a brief spotlight on each project, and possible ways we might build on these initial efforts.

E4 Bug Off Team Project : Mitigating Japanese Beetle Damage

E4 Bug Off Team Project, installed in the Williams College Community Garden : Mitigating Japanese Beetle Damage

E4 Bug Off Team Project, installed in the Williams College Community Garden

The E4 Bug Off Team is a collaborative environmental project between engineering students from Harvey Mudd and Pomona Colleges, and students working with the Williams College Makerspace and Zilkha Center. The engineering students researched and developed a prototype that would safely repel Japanese beetles to hopefully stop them from defoliating raspberry bushes in the Williams College Community Garden. The Makerspace used 3D printers to create the parts and subsequently assembled the model. Zilkha Center interns then deployed the model in the gardens. The device is designed to be low-maintenance and only needs the reservoir filled weekly with 100% peppermint essential oil. Japanese beetles, in addition to other bugs and mammals, dislike the smell of the mint family, and the concentrated peppermint essential oil diffuses into the air via permeable wicks that extend from the reservoir tank.

One of five engineering diagrams from the 30-page E4 Bug Off Team Project.

One of five engineering diagrams from the 30-page E4 Bug Off Team Project.


The initial model was installed in the garden in July 2022, at the tail end of the raspberry season, and immediately leaked. This spring (2023), the Makerspace re-printed the reservoir tank with a higher density (50% solid as compared to 15%), tested the model and, after 24 hours, found it to be 100% water-tight. This second model was introduced into the garden with mixed results: the functional model performs as intended, but the impact is difficult to measure without a control plot or method of measuring beetle activity this year. 

In addition to recording measurements of a control plot, additional steps to increase effectiveness could include fabricating additional models to better saturate the air within the berry patch or returning the project to the engineering team for design modifications. The final version would be printed with ASA filament, which is physically stronger and UV/moisture resistant, as compared to PLA or ABS filaments.

To learn more about this project, read this blog post by Makerspace student worker Leah Williams.

Contributors: Harvey Mudd College (Students: Javier Perez, Linna Cubbage, Eli Schwarz, Stephanie Huang; Professors Steven Santana and TJ Tsai), Pomona College (Student: Betsy Ding), Zilkha Center (Students: Martha Carlson, Evan Chester, Sabrina Antrosio; Staff: Tanja Srebotnjak, Mike Evans, Christine Seibert) and Makerspace (Student: Leah Williams; Staff: David Keiser-Clark)

Polyformer: Sustainable 3D Printing at Williams College

While completing a month-long Zero Waste Internship at the Zilkha Center (through the ’68 Career Center’s career exploration Winter Study course), Camily Hidalgo pitched building a machine to convert waste plastic into usable 3D printer filament. The project aligns with the Williams College Zero Waste Action Plan, which is based on the sustainability strategy in the Williams College Strategic Plan. She envisioned this as being a collaborative effort between the Williams College Zilkha Center and the Makerspace. 

After researching several options, she selected the Polyformer because it is an open-source (publicly accessible) project that seeks to create a DIY kit, composed of standard and commonly found parts, able to convert and upcycle plastic bottles (waste) into usable 3D printer filament. This project was launched in May 2022 and has quickly amassed more than 4,000 people who follow and/or contribute to the project (on Discord), while a core group of dedicated volunteers develop the project.

Many of the 78 printed parts that will be assembled into the Polyformer.

Many of the 78 printed parts that will be assembled into the Polyformer.

The intended outcome is to build a machine, based on standardized specifications, that effectively slices a water bottle into a half-inch wide ribbon, and then feeds that ribbon through a heated funnel, called a hot-end, to extrude it as 1.75mm PET filament. Camily seeks to create a working prototype to demonstrate our ability to disrupt our plastic waste stream and upcycle that into usable 3D printer filament. Approximately 40 bottles are required to create a standard 1 kg roll of filament, (enough to print 6 of the aforementioned beetle devices!). This project seeks to raise awareness that we can both reduce the quantity of waste that the college ships offsite while using that waste to create new filament and thereby purchase less of that virgin material from China. Upcycling waste can reduce the environmental impacts associated with the extraction of raw materials and product manufacturing as well as the significant carbon footprint associated with shipping those products to us from the other side of the globe.

Polyformer diagram for building the "Right Arm Drive Unit Subassembly."

Polyformer diagram for building the “Right Arm Drive Unit Subassembly.”

Camily Hidalgo notes that this project is complicated because the design is constantly being improved. Additionally, it requires 3D printing 78 individual parts and then assembling those with a kit of sourced materials that includes a circuit board, LCD screen, a volcano heater block and 0.4 mm hot end, a stepper motor, stainless steel tubing, bearings, neodymium magnets, lots of wires, and lots of metal fasteners.

This project began last spring semester and, as of this summer, all 78 parts have been locally printed. Assembly has begun, and will be completed during the fall semester, followed by actual testing under a science lab exhaust hood to safely capture antimony, a VOC released when PET reaches its melting point. 

To learn more about this project, read this blog post by Makerspace student worker Camily Hidalgo.

Contributors: Zilkha Center (Student: Camily Hidalgo; Staff: Tanja Srebotnjak, Mike Evans, Christine Seibert), Makerspace (Students: Camily Hidalgo, Milton Vento; Staff: David Keiser-Clark), Chemistry (Professors: Chris and Sarah Goh; Staff: Gisela Demant, Jay Racela)

Laser Engraving: Stockbridge-Munsee Garden Video and Audio Tour

Yoheidy Feliz connecting a red maple slab to a slanted locust base, with dowels and wood glue.

Yoheidy Feliz connecting a red maple slab to a slanted locust base, with dowels and wood glue.

The Stockbridge-Munsee Community Historic Preservation Office summer intern, Yoheidy Feliz, reached out to the Zilkha Center for help with creating locally sourced wooden signs for a permanent video and audio tour at the Stockbridge-Munsee Garden in Stockbridge, MA. She received a dozen sugar maple and red maple discs, plus locust wedges, all sustainably harvested from already fallen trees in the Williams College Hopkins Forest. 

Yoheidy approached the Makerspace and, in collaboration with expertise and tools from the Science Shop, learned how to use an industrial laser engraving machine to etch a welcome sign with QR code, as well as multiple audio guide messages, onto sanded wooden discs. She attached these discs to sloped wooden bases (“wedges”) using woodworking dowel joinery, wood glue and a mallet, and then applied a natural, non-toxic preservative coating of Walrus-brand tung oil. 

Yoheidy sits with her series of laser engraved wood slabs. She later added a laser engraved metal QR code label that directs users to the hosted video tour.

Yoheidy sits with her series of laser engraved wood slabs. She later added a laser engraved metal QR code label that directs users to the hosted video tour.

The day after completing all of this work, she installed these at the Mission House garden, and then created these stunning video and audio tours to guide local and remote viewers through the gardens.  

To learn more about this project, please be on the lookout for an upcoming Makerspace guest blog post by Yoheidy Feliz.
Contributors: Stockbridge-Munsee Community Historic Preservation Office (Staff: Bonney Hartley, Historic Preservation Manager; Student: Yoheidy Feliz), Science Shop (Staff: Jason Mativi, Michael Taylor), CES & Zilkha Center (Staff: Drew Jones, Christine Seibert), Makerspace (Staff: David Keiser-Clark)

Cloning the Last of its Kind

Milton Vento ‘26 using photogrammetry to create a 3D object

Milton Vento ‘26 using photogrammetry to create a 3D object

Most recently, Associate Professor of German, Chris Koné, approached the Makerspace with a problem: all but one of the file hanging clips to his beloved office desk had broken. The result: piles of overflowing manila folders surrounding his desk, cramping his office and style. He searched Ebay, Etsy, and Amazon, but was unable to find replacement parts. He even visited a store in NYC that specializes in providing office parts. Alas, the parts were obsolete. So he approached the Makerspace and asked if we might be able to replicate his last remaining viable part.

Milton Vento and Chris Koné hold the original and cloned objects.

Milton Vento and Chris Koné hold the original and cloned objects.

Milton Vento, the Makerspace’s summer student worker, took on the task as his first project, using it as an opportunity to learn photogrammetry, an accessible and low-cost method of taking many photographs of an object from varying angles and then using software to stitch them together into a 3D digital object. He expanded the project by testing four different methods of creating 3D objects using: standard manual DSLR photogrammetry with Metashape software; photogrammetry using a smart turntable that rotates and sends an infrared signal to the DSLR camera, causing it to iteratively release the shutter and then advance the turntable several degrees and then repeat that process; an older DAVID5 object scanner; and the RealityScan app that requires only a smartphone. This exploration resulted in two distinctly more efficient workflows that will become standard use this fall in the Makerspace. 

He also successfully re-created a 3D object of the final remaining desk part, and printed and delivered a half dozen of these parts to Chris. Should any of these ever break, the file can easily be retrieved and re-printed. 
Contributors: German Department (Professor: Chris Koné), Makerspace (Staff: David Keiser-Clark, Student: Milton Vento)

Future Project Ideas

One upcoming and likely collaboration between the Makerspace and the Zilkha Center would be to laser etch additional sustainably-harvested Hopkins Forest wood slices to create signs for the Williams College Community Garden. Additionally, the Zilkha Center, Makerspace and MCLA Physics and Environmental Center may brainstorm the possibility of creating a larger prototype for upcycling plastic into pellets. The pellets could then be used for injection molding, given to local artists for artwork, or sold regionally; this idea was sparked by Smith College’s collaboration with Precious Plastics


You can find this blogpost and other sustainability projects at sustainability.williams.edu.

From Teeth to Time: Discovering Siwalik Hills’ Past Through Archaeology

How did we get here? Where do we come from? What does our future encompass? As an aspiring scientist, I have always been fascinated by these (and many more!) questions about the evolution of humanity and the cosmos. Specifically, the modern ways in which experts around the world are working towards finding a unifying, concrete answer about the theory of evolution and dispersal of early humans. To my pleasant surprise, scientists at Williams College are making wonderful discoveries and progress on this topic, and I was able to contribute — even just a tiny bit — to some of their work this semester!

Some Background

Scientists believe that early humans dispersed throughout the world because of changing global climates. The specific routes that these early humans took are still inconclusive. However, there are several hypotheses about the possible areas they inhabited, given early Pleistocene evidence of hominin occupation in those areas. Thus, the hypothesis I will explore in this blog post will be related to the pieces of evidence of hominin occupation from regions around the Indian subcontinent: i.e., Dmanisi, Nihewan, and Ubeidiya—just to name a few sites.

Anubhav Preet Kaur

Anubhav Preet Kaur pictured working at the ESR Lab at Williams College

One of the supporters of this hypothesis is Anubhav Preet Kaur, an archeologist conducting a paleoanthropological research project that seeks to identify if the Siwalik Hills in India were a likely dispersal path for early humans. As Anubhav states: “The fossils of Homo erectus, one of the first known early human species to disperse outside of Africa, have been discovered from Early Pleistocene deposits of East Europe, West Asia, and Southeast Asia, thereby placing Indian Subcontinent in general—and the Siwalik Hills, in particular—-as an important dispersal route.” The problem is that no fossil hominin remains or evidence attributed to any early hominin occupation have ever been uncovered in that area. Thus, her project seeks to paint a clearer prehistorical picture of the region’s ecology by precisely dating faunal remains from her dig sites. She hopes to indicate if the Siwalik Hills, already famous for yielding many paleontological and archeological finds over the past hundred-plus years, would have had fauna and ecological conditions during these migratory time periods that would have supported early humans. And precisely dating these faunal remains requires the skills of Dr. Anne Skinner, a renowned lecturer at Williams College. 

Anne is a distinguished Williams College emerita chemistry faculty member who is an expert in electron spin resonance (ESR) and specializes in applying ESR techniques to study geological and archaeological materials. Anubhav is a Smithsonian Institute Predoctoral Fellow and presently a doctoral student at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Mohali, India. Anubhav spent three seasons, between 2020-2022, doing palaeontological field surveys and geological excavations at the Siwalik Hills region in India. She led a team of undergraduate and graduate field assistants and volunteers in searching for clues that might indicate if the conditions were suitable for hominins. Ultimately, she brought a selection of her fossils to Williamstown, MA, so that Anne could begin to teach her the process of utilizing ESR to date her objects. 

What is ESR?

ESR is a technique used on non-hominin remains that allow scientists to measure the amount of radiation damage a buried object—in this case, several partial sets of animal teeth—has received to provide insights into its geological and biological history. The Siwalik Hills region is a particularly important site for archaeologists because they are home to a variety of rich deposits of fossil remains that date back from the Miocene to Pleistocene periods; however, Anubhav’s sites in particular, contain remains from the Pliocene and Pleistocene. The periods that she studied in her site are relevant as those are the periods in which she theorizes a dispersal could have happened, making the study of the remains more effective. The region is located in the northern part of India (near the border of Pakistan) and covers an area of about 2,400 square kilometers. The fossils Anubhav and her team collected (~0.63-2.58 Myr) include the remains of Pleistocene mammals, such as bovids, porcupines, deer, and elephants. Thus, they and have been used as a tool for archaeologists to learn more about the region’s past climate and ecology

The Story Starts Here

On January 9, 2023, Anne and Anubhav visited the Williams College Makerspace and inquired if we could create high-quality 3D models that would persist as a permanent scientific record for four sets of Pleistocene mammalian teeth that would soon be destroyed as a consequence of ESR dating. Electron spin resonance is currently the most highly specific form of dating for objects up to 2 Mya, and is used only with animal remains as the dating process requires crushing the material into powder in order to analyze with highly sensitive equipment. Hominin remains are widely considered too rare and valuable to allow destructive dating, while animal remains are relatively more frequent. Creating high-quality 3D objects allows researchers with a means to effectively consult and do further research on a digital reconstruction of the model at a future date. In addition, the 3D objects are the basis for creating 3D prints of the object for physical study and handling. 

Furthermore, ESR is a rare and expensive technique that is only available at a limited number of sites throughout Australia, Japan, Brazil, Spain, France, and the United States. Williams College is, in fact, the only facility in all of North America with ESR equipment, and Anne is the only ESR specialist at Williams. 

My Job

This spring, I collaborated on this 3D modeling project with David Keiser-Clark, the Makerspace Program Manager. We divided the job so that each of us was in charge of producing two unique 3D models of the highest quality. We began the project by holding a kickoff meeting with Anubhav and Anne to discuss project needs and to receive four sets of prehistoric teeth. Throughout the project, we held additional meetings to discuss progress and, finally, to present finished 3D digital and printed models. Despite the fact that this was my first photogrammetry assignment, I embraced the challenge head-on, working autonomously and engaging with stakeholders whenever necessary.

To build the 3D models, I used a photographic method known as photogrammetry. This required putting together many orbits of images using software to create a three-dimensional object. I participated in two workshops offered by Beth Fischer, Assistant Curator of Digital Learning and Research at the Williams College Museum of Art, to develop knowledge of this procedure. Her thorough understanding of the intricate workings of our photogrammetry software, Agisoft Metashape, was incredibly helpful. Beth was a great resource and was willing to meet with us numerous times. Moreover, I shared what I learned with David (and the entire Makerspace team) so that we could update the Makerspace’s new documentation on photogrammetry. By sharing my experiences, I helped to guarantee that the documentation addressed a wide range of challenging edge-case scenarios and would serve as a thorough and useful reference for future student workers.

Here is a walkthrough of the photogrammetry process:

Taking the pictures

Valeria and David took an average of 341 pictures for each of the four sets of teeth (a total of 1,365 photographs).

Valeria and David took an average of 341 pictures for each of the four sets of teeth (a total of 1,365 photographs).

I collaborated with David to take clear images from every aspect and dimension. We took a hands-on approach, testing different angles and lighting settings to look for the best approach to photograph each tooth. I first relied on natural lighting and a plain background. After a couple of runs, however, David pushed the concept to the next level by adding a photography lightbox, which allowed us to shoot higher-quality photographs with bright lighting and without shadows. These photos served as the foundation for subsequent work with the photogrammetry software.

 

 

Meeting with Anubhav

Valeria interviewed Anubhav Preet Kaur before starting the 3D model process.

Valeria interviewed Anubhav Preet Kaur before starting the 3D model process.

I wanted to know more about the scope of the project and what function my contribution might provide. In order to have a better understanding of the scientific process, I interviewed Anubhav, whose important insight provided light on the significance of her research within the larger scientific field. This interaction helped me understand the purpose of the 3D models I was making, especially given the impending pulverization of the teeth via the ESR process. Furthermore, it emphasized the critical need to have an accurate digital 3D model, as well as a physical model, that would endure beyond the impending destruction of the original objects.

Valeria encountered several challenges when importing masks. However, Beth supported her in her journey, and they overcame those obstacles together.

Valeria encountered several challenges when importing masks. However, Beth supported her in her journey, and they overcame those obstacles together.

Using Photoshop to Create Masks: What is a Mask?

Masks play a crucial role in the model-building process in Agisoft Metashape as they provide precise control over the specific portions of an image used for generating the model. This level of control ensures the resulting reconstruction is accurate and detailed by eliminating irrelevant or problematic features. I used Adobe Photoshop to create masks for each set of teeth, and this proved to be one of the most challenging aspects of the entire project. Because the sets of photos had varying angles and lighting conditions, I collaborated with Beth Fischer to troubleshoot and overcome these obstacles. This collaborative effort deepened David’s and my own understanding of the process. This enabled him to document the issues I faced and their corresponding solutions for future students. After approximately one month of persistent trial and error and several meetings with Beth, we successfully identified effective solutions to the encountered problems.

Using Metashape to Create the 3D Model

Using Agisoft Metashape to construct the 3D Model by importing the photographs and generated masks.

Using Agisoft Metashape to construct the 3D Model by importing the photographs and generated masks.

When you use Metashape, it starts by scanning each image and looking for specific points that stand out, like a small group of dark pixels in a larger area of light pixels. These distinctive points are called “key points,” and the software only searches for them in the unmasked areas of the image. Once it finds these key points, Metashape starts to match them across multiple images. If it succeeds in finding matches, these points become “tie points.” If enough points are found between two images, the software links those images together. Thus, many tie points are called a “sparse point cloud.” These tie points anchor each image’s spatial orientation to the other images in the dataset—it’s a bit like using trigonometry to connect the images via known points. Since Metashape knows the relative positions of multiple tie points in a given image, it can calculate an image’s precise placement relative to the rest of the object. After that process, I made the model even more accurate by using “gradual selection” to refine the accuracy of the sparse point cloud, and then I “optimized cameras” to remove any uncertain points (yay!). 

Using Agisoft Metashape to construct the 3D Model by importing the photographs and generated masks.

Using Agisoft Metashape to construct the 3D Model by importing the photographs and generated masks.

Later on, I moved on to building the “dense cloud.” This process utilizes the position of the photos previously captured to build a refined sparse cloud. Metashape builds the dense cloud by generating new points that represent the contours of the object. The resultant dense point cloud is a representation of the object made up of millions of tiny colored dots, resembling the object itself. I then cleaned the dense cloud to further refine it by removing any noise or uncertain points.

Using Agisoft Metashape to construct the 3D Model by importing the photographs and generated masks.

Using Agisoft Metashape to construct the 3D Model by importing the photographs and generated masks.

Now it was time to build the geometry! This is what turns the point cloud into a solid, printable surface. Through this process, Metashape connects the dots by forming triangular polygons called “faces.” The more faces the model has, the more detailed it will be (it also uses more memory!). As a point of comparison, early 3D animations often appeared to be blocky objects with visible facets, and that was because those models had low face counts. High face counts offer greater refinement and realism.

Lastly, I textured the model. Metashape uses dense cloud points to identify the color of each spot on the model. Texturing the model offers further realism because it applies the actual colors of the object (as photographed) to the resultant 3D model. 

And that’s the general process I followed to turn a set of images into a high-quality 3D object using Metashape!

Printing the model

We used calipers and recorded those measurements for later use with accurately scaling the digital object.

We used calipers and recorded those measurements for later use with accurately scaling the digital object.

To print the final 3D model of the set of teeth, Beth and David worked on scaling it in Metashape. Earlier in the project, David had measured each set of teeth with calipers and recorded metric measurements. Then, Beth marked the endpoints of two sets of David’s measurements and set the length between them. Based on those known measurements, Metashape was then able to figure out the proportionate size of the rest of the model to within 0.1 mm.

Valeria and David began printing a rough draft of how the models will look once the materials are set. 

Valeria and David began printing a rough draft of how the models will look once the materials are set. 

Valeria and David completed printing a rough draft to verify that the size is accurate.

Valeria and David completed printing a rough draft to verify that the size is accurate.

Next steps

The final steps, which are scheduled to take place this summer, will be to:

  • lean up the file structure of the four digital projects in preparation for permanent archiving in the college library;
  • send the final digital files to Anubhav Preet Kaur in India; we will include stl files so that she may 3D print her models locally.

Sources

  1. Chauhan, Parth. (2022). Chrono-contextual issues at open-air Pleistocene vertebrate fossil sites of central and peninsular India and implications for Indian paleoanthropology. Geological Society, London, Special Publications. 515. 10.1144/SP515-2021-29. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/362424930_Chrono-contextual_issues_at_open-air_Pleistocene_vertebrate_fossil_sites_of_central_and_peninsular_India_and_implications_for_Indian_paleoanthropology
  2. Estes, R. (2023, June 8). bovid. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/animal/bovid
  3. Grun, R., Shackleton, N. J., & Deacon, H. J. (n.d.). Electron-spin-resonance dating of tooth enamel from Klasies River mouth … The University of Chicago Press Journals. https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/203866 
  4. Lopez, V., & Kaur, A. P. (2023, February 11). Interview with Anubhav. personal. 
  5. Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, June 1). Geologic time scale. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geologic_time_scale#Table_of_geologic_time 
  6. Williams College. (n.d.). Anne Skinner. Williams College Chemistry. https://chemistry.williams.edu/profile/askinner/ 
  7. Agisoft. (2022, November 4). Working with masks : Helpdesk Portal. Helpdesk Portal. Retrieved June 16, 2023, from https://agisoft.freshdesk.com/support/solutions/articles/31000153479-working-with-masks
  8. Hominin | Definition, Characteristics, & Family Tree | Britannica. (2023, June 9). Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved June 16, 2023, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/hominin

Sustainable 3D Printing at Williams College

Introduction

The massive amount of plastic bottles incinerated or dumped in landfills or oceans is a growing global concern. In the United States alone, despite recycling efforts, 22 billion plastic bottles are incorrectly disposed of each year. It is evident that our current recycling strategy has been falling short for the past 60 years, and it gives us false

The Polyformer

The Polyformer

confidence to continue our plastic-dependent lifestyle. In response to this urgent problem, Williams College, through a collaboration between the Makerspace and Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives, has embarked on an innovative sustainable 3D-printing project that seeks to upcycle plastic bottles into 3D print filament. 

 

Recycling Methods: Ineffectual at Best and Deceptive at Worst

The current state of plastic waste recycling presents significant challenges and limitations. Recent statistics highlight the large scale of this issue as well as the urgent need to seek innovative and improved solutions.  The United States, for example, generated approximately 40 million tons of plastic waste in 2021, of which only 5-6% (two million tons) were recycled, far below previous estimates. Moreover, between 2019 and 2020, there was a 5.7% global decrease in plastics recovered for recycling, resulting in a net decrease of 290 million pounds. These statistics indicate a concerning downward trend in plastic recycling efforts. 

The annual global production of approximately 400 million tons of plastic waste adds to the growing environmental crisis. Import bans by countries like China and Turkey have hindered recycling efforts, as the United States previously relied on outsourcing a significant portion of its plastic waste for recycling. The inherent challenges of plastic recycling, such as its degradation in quality with repeated recycling, make it less suitable for circular recycling processes. In the United States, the total bottle recycling rate has declined, with 2.5 million plastic bottles discarded every hour. Similarly, the global accumulation of plastic waste in oceans, estimated to be between 75 and 199 million tons, poses a severe threat to marine life and ecosystems, and the long degradation time of plastic bottles, which can take over 450 years, adds to the concern.

These statistics emphasize the pressing need to address the limitations of Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic recycling. Relying solely on conventional recycling methods is inadequate to tackle the magnitude of the problem. Innovative approaches, such as upcycling, are crucial for effectively reducing plastic waste and minimizing our environmental impact. By finding alternative uses for plastic materials, we can break free from the limitations of circular recycling processes and make a significant change in helping eradicate the plastic waste crisis.

Myths, Pros, and Cons of Recycling and Upcycling

Recycling: Despite its benefits, the reality is that after being collected and aggregated, much of the recycled content is stored in unsafe locations until it overflows and is eventually landfilled or burned. Recent incidents, such as a recycling center fire in Richmond, Indiana, highlight the dangers, inefficiencies, and serious consequences of the current recycling system. 

In addition, when plastics are recycled, their potential recyclability is subsequently decreased. PET is classified as grade 1 plastic due to its high recycling potential. However, once it is recycled, it downgrades to the 7th grade, which is no longer recyclable. For this reason, at the Williams Makerspace, we decided to implement the strategy of upcycling that aims to repurpose PET plastic instead of recycling it to provide longer durability. 

Upcycling: Upcycling offers an alternative approach by diverting items from the waste stream and enabling their reuse. While upcycling may not restore plastic to its original grade, it provides a longer second life for the material before it becomes waste once again. Upcycling is the practice of transforming a disposable object into one of greater value. Therefore, upcycling contrasts the idea that an object has no value once disposed of or must be destroyed before reentering a new circle of production and value creation. 

The Polyformer Prototype and Its Value

The Polyformer is a sustainable 3D printing project that aims to convert PET plastic bottles into 3D printer filament. For the purposes of this project, the filament will initially be used to produce 3D-printed plant pots and compost bins for the Zilkha Center, effectively converting waste into items that can be utilized on a day-to-day basis. This process could reduce the purchase of virgin plastic objects (i.e., pots and bins), reducing carbon-related shipping emissions and reducing waste generated by single-use plastics. This project aims to explore the environmental impact of repurposing on-site waste into products needed on campus. Additionally, this project offers a prototype for developing locally-sourced 3D printer filament, which would reduce our dependence on purchasing virgin filament that is typically sourced from other countries, such as China, and bears a carbon footprint. The project’s goals include providing an educational opportunity for the students to engage in environmental activism by repurposing single-use plastic bottles into 3D filament and useful objects for the Williams College community. 

The Polyformer is an open-source project with over 4,000 Discord members. It is a prototype and has pain points, such as that the bottles require manual cleaning, individual manual placement onto the machine, and any impurities that can cause the filament to fail (break or clog) in the 3D printer. The Polyformer community is actively addressing these issues, and while solutions do not yet exist, this is an exciting project that offers an opportunity to disrupt the stream of plastic waste.

Project Goals and Alignment with Williams’ Strategic Objectives

The project’s goals align with the Williams College Zero Waste Action Plan, which builds upon the sustainability strategy in the college’s strategic plan, focusing on three of its goals. Firstly, it offers an educational opportunity for students to engage in environmental activism and learn about upcycling as a solution to plastic waste. Secondly, the project promotes sustainability by reducing waste and carbon emissions associated with single-use plastics. Thirdly, it reinforces Williams College’s commitment to local engagement and community impact by providing practical and sustainable solutions to address environmental challenges.

Building the Polyformer

The Polyformer is a tool that will allow Makerspace student workers to manually automate cutting a water bottle into a long, consistent ribbon that feeds into a repurposed 3D printer hot end, converting it into a standard 1.75 mm filament. Building a Polyformer requires 3D printing 78 individual parts and then assembling those with a Bill of Materials (BOM) that can be sourced individually or purchased as a kit. This acquired kit includes a circuit board, LCD screen, a volcano heater block and 0.4 mm hot end, a stepper motor, stainless steel tubing, bearings, neodymium magnets, lots of wires, and a box of metal fasteners. 

Polyformer: Parts View

Polyformer: Parts View

We have printed all 78 parts, and my fellow Makerspace student workers have been instrumental in helping to complete that process. The next stage, which I plan to begin this summer, is assembling and testing the Polyformer to transform the plastic bottles into 3D-printer filament. 

 

 

 

Polyformer as a Disruptor

This project aims to disrupt our plastic-centric world in several ways. By repurposing plastic bottles into valuable filament, it challenges the notion that disposables have no value once discarded. Furthermore, it reduces dependence on external filament sources and contributes to a more self-sufficient and sustainable production cycle.

Polyformer: Next Steps

The project is currently in the prototyping phase, and this summer, I hope to begin assembling the Polyformer and, subsequently, testing it under a science lab hood. We will use a hood to vent the area because the process of melting PET/G ribbon, from the bottles, into filament releases antimony – a suspected carcinogen — and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs). When our Polyformer works as expected, students will

Polyformer assembly

Polyformer assembly

then volunteer to collect approximately 200 plastic bottles (a standard 1 kg roll of filament requires approximately 40 bottles) to manufacture sufficient filament to produce the four large plant pots and 22 compost bins. The pots and bins will be provided to Zilkha Center gardening interns and the Sustainable Living Community at the College, serving as practical examples of upcycling in action.

Conclusion

The sustainable 3D printing project at Williams College represents a powerful initiative to combat plastic waste through upcycling. By repurposing plastic bottles into valuable filament and creating sustainable products, the project aligns with Williams’ commitment to environmental stewardship and community engagement. Through innovative approaches like this, we can work towards a future with reduced plastic waste, increased sustainability, and a more conscious approach to consumption.

References:

  1. USA Plastic Bottles Pollution: https://www.container-recycling.org/assets/pdfs/media/2006-5-WMW-DownDrain.pdf
  2. Plastic Pollution as a Global Issue: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304389421018537 https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/one-bottle-time/
  3. The evolution and current situation of Plastic Pollution: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0025326X22001114
  4. What is Upcycling?: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303466628_Upcycling
  5. What is the Polyformer?: https://www.reiten.design/polyformer https://www.aliexpress.us/item/3256804888534268.html
  6. Recycling data: https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2018/04/04/7-things-you-didnt-know-about-plastic-and-recycling/#:~:text=RECYCLING%20PLASTIC%20DOWNGRADES%20ITS%20QUALITY.&text=Every%20time%20plastic%20is%20recycled,can%20no%20longer%20be%20used.
  7. Plastics Material Specific Data: https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/plastics-material-specific-data
  8. Richmond, Indiana Recycling Plant Fire: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/04/12/us/richmond-indiana-recycling-plant-fire.html
  9. Williams College Strategic Plan and Zero Waste Action Plan: https://sustainability.williams.edu/waste/zero-waste-action-plan/ https://president.williams.edu/strategic-plan-2021/

 

Spinning Tales: My Whimsical Adventure in Arduino Turntable Wonderland

I remember the day I first laid eyes on that clunky, awkward, yet fascinating automated burrito-making machine in the local toy store. It was love at first sight! I knew I had to make it mine, but alas, my piggy bank held only a handful of nickels and a couple of lint balls. Little did I know that my passion for robotics would lead me to a journey full of laughter, tears, and making the lives of hundreds of passionate photogrammetry hobbyists like me easier by creating an affordable DIY Arduino turntable.

Fast forward to 2023, where I found myself rotating an 80 thousand-year-old cave bear tooth by one degree increments and taking 600 pictures, all with just 2 hands (which took me 4 hours and gave me 2 days of back pain) in our college Makerspace. I found myself daydreaming about the kind of robot I would create if only I had the skills of Tony Stark. And then, soon afterward, while I was surfing the internet on how to make photogrammetry pictures better optimized for 3D scanning, I stumbled upon a YouTube photogrammetry tutorial and found out that there was a ”thing” called “turntables.” To my sadness, it cost $150. And that was my light-bulb moment. I thought, “Why not give it a try?” As I saw my Makerspace friends clumsily rotate a plastic hangman for 3D scanning, I had an epiphany – what if I built an AFFORDABLE automatic turntable to do the job for us?

With the enthusiasm of a mad scientist, I proposed the idea to David, our Makerspace program manager and he immediately approved the idea and sent me a couple of resources to start with (thanks, David, for being so supportive). I dove headfirst into the world of turntables that people had previously made. I found Adrian Glasser–a professional computer scientist and a consultant–who had already made an almost similar prototype I was planning to make. Although his project was pretty cool, it needed fancy components which were relatively expensive. I also found Brian Brocken, a passionate maker and 3D printer, whose turntable project stood out and inspired me a lot in the design of my prototype. While these works were a great sense of inspiration, my mind was lingering around the question of “how to make the design and features more efficient while keeping the device affordable and easy to build.”

The journey was fraught with challenges and unexpected twists, but I was determined to build the most magnificent, borderline-overengineered turntable the world had ever seen (just kidding!). I worked iteratively, and my first draft was a very basic model so that I could feel it with my hands and think about the build process I 3D printed a PLA (a type of 3D printing filament) base, a rotating platform , and some gears and bearings. After researching different approaches, I ordered my first set of electronic components and kept the total cost below $60 for this first version. I decided to go with Arduino Uno, a very easy-to-program and flexible microcontroller that will be  the brains of my device. “Easy to build for everyone” was lingering in my mind when I chose the components. I got a stepper motor – which provides incremental motion, compared to a DC motor that provides a continuous motion – coupled with a physical motor driver to enable precise and sequential one-degree rotations with a super-low margin of error. To make the turntable more user-friendly, I added a simple LCD display and a rotary encoder for adjusting the rotation speed. After two weeks of assembly and testing, I had a fully functional circuit. 

Now it’s time to code! The hardest part while coding was finding the library file on the internet that corresponded to my particular stepper motor. It took me 4 hours just to find the library and start coding! Phew…

I kept writing code for a week and then moved on to testing my code. Overcoming the challenges of building my robotic turntable was like conquering Mount Everest. I spent hours troubleshooting the Arduino code, sifting through lines of syntax until my eyes crossed. But, much like a robot phoenix, I rose from the ashes, armed with patience, persistence, and an endless supply of coffee. After a few weeks of tinkering and testing, I finally had a circuit and a working code that I marked as a BIG CHECKPOINT for the project.

The spring semester gradually came to an end, and the turntable project will take a summer vacation. But next semester, the first prototype of the turntable is going to see the bright light of the earth. 

The next steps will include:

  1. Using Fusion360 to design an easy-to-print downloadable 3D model (stl file) 
  2. Using Infra-Red (IR) sensors to automate the camera shutter click with each one-degree rotation of the turntable, so that our Makerspace friends can leave the automated turntable working (extra hours!) overnight **insert cruel laugh**
  3. Sharing the technical details and building process online to make it accessible to other Makerspace groups and hobbyists around the world. This can be done through posting a followup blog with all the technical details. For example, I hope to publish step-by-step instructions, along with the final list of parts (with URLs), my custom Arduino code, link to the software library that corresponds to my stepper motor, and post downloadable stl files for printing my custom 3D models to complete this project.

Finally, I hope to keep the project affordable: my goal is for all costs to be under $70.

During this journey, I learned the importance of patience, collaboration, and perseverance. Building a robotic turntable from scratch is not a one-person job, and I found myself relying on the support and expertise of my fellow Makerspace friends. Together, we shared our knowledge and skills, which not only allowed me to build a better turntable but also contributed to the overall growth and development of our Makerspace community. I enlisted the help of my fellow Makerspace comrades, who offered their own unique brand of wisdom, ranging from programming tips to advice on how to make the turntable levitate. (Note: do not try to make your turntable levitate. It’s a bad idea.)

The Arduino turntable project wasn’t just about creating a cool gadget – it was about embracing my love for robotics and the creative process. In the end, I learned that a healthy dose of humor, imagination, and the willingness to make things up as you go can lead to some truly spectacular results.

Today, my beloved half-constructed Arduino turntable takes pride of place on the little yellow Makerspace table, a constant reminder of progress, the power of imagination, and the beautiful chaos that comes with it. So, dear reader, I encourage you to explore your own interests, whether that’s robotics or any other field that sparks your curiosity. Be open to surprises, maintain a sense of humor when facing challenges, and always remember that amazing innovations often start with bold ideas.

 

The Backbone of Art: Sculpting a Spine with 3D Printing and Plaster

Sculpting a Spine with 3D Printing and PlasterThis semester in Beginning Sculpture (ARTS 132), my professor Amy Podmore tasked us with creating a sculpture in response to a prompt titled “Scaffolded Fragments.” For this project, we had to “create a sculpture where a part of a figure, (or a fragment or surrogate), is supported, contained, bracketed or held by a wooden support.” We could use any material of choice, but she strongly encouraged us to use wood as the support. To answer the prompt, I started by thinking about what fragment I wanted to use. My initial impulse was to make something that featured a spine. I knew I wanted the spine to be realistic, so I began brainstorming how I could emulate the curvature of a spine and create recognizable vertebrae. First, I modeled vertebrae out of clay and made some plaster molds of those clay pieces, but I knew there had to be a better way to create these bones. 

We were given freedom with regard to materials for this project, so I tried to think outside the box for how to make realistic vertebrae quickly and easily. In my brainstorming and searching, I found a design for a 3D printed vertebrae for sale on Etsy. From there, I went to the Makerspace to discuss the logistics and if using this design would be possible. The students working there told me it was not only possible, but I didn’t even have to make the purchase and instead could peruse a library of free designs online. I found one that worked, and the undertaking began! 

Sculpting a Spine with 3D Printing and PlasterLeah Williams led the Makerspace side of things for this project, and once she printed some vertebrae, I brought them to the sculpture studio. I made molds of the vertebrae using alginate and then poured plaster into the molds to create casts. After the casts hardened, I drilled holes in them and slid them onto a piece of steel I bent to resemble the twist of a spine. The plaster offered a smooth, matte look that the plastic couldn’t, so I decided to use the plaster casts for the spine, but I still wanted to incorporate the original 3D printed plastic vertebrae in my sculpture, so I placed them in a bird cage-like metal object resting atop the stool. Including both materials resulted in an interplay between the artificial and the natural (with the plaster representing the natural) that makes the viewer wonder about what happens when you bring the artificial into the human body.

Sculpting a Spine with 3D Printing and PlasterOne challenge with this project was the limited timeframe by which I was constrained. When we began printing, I had roughly 1-1.5 weeks to complete the project, and printing took more time than I had anticipated. But Leah was able to print enough pieces for me to make casts while more were still being printed, and we were able to make enough to fill the bird cage partway with the 3D printed pieces. In the end, I was able to bring my vision to life and incorporate both machine-made and handmade objects in my sculpture.

The “Press The Button” Project

Pictured Above: Sam Samuel (left) and Nancy Macauley (right)

Route 2, a highway that cuts through campus, holds a degree of danger as students frequently cross to get to classes, dorms, extracurriculars, etc. Due to this, the campus provides three Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons (RRFB), yielding the right of way to pedestrians. Despite their ability to increase the awareness of drivers, it is common for students to neglect pushing crosswalk buttons with the assumption that drivers will stop regardless. However, as implied in the signs posted by Campus Security Services (CSS), the vision of drivers may be impaired due to solar glare or lack of lighting. This may present a danger to students who fail to push the button before crossing. Due to these concerns, Nancy Macauley, a Campus Safety Services Officer with CSS, reached out to the Makerspace with a project idea that she hoped might encourage more students to “press the button”. 

Example of a RRFB on Campus

When I was first introduced to this project, I struggled with the direction CSS wanted to take, so I quickly set up a meeting to get a better understanding. I had my first meeting on September 29th where we discussed purpose, goals, and I shared a fair amount of criticism on the project from my perspective as a student. From there I concluded that:

  1. This project began in July with a previously 3D printed prototype button that CSS mentioned contained two holes and was purple; I took that information into consideration when designing a new button. Nancy had mentioned liking the previous design but, since several months had passed, she was  unable to  locate or show me the original prototype. 
  2. An engraving that read either “push the button” or “press the button” was requested on the design and if possible painted yellow or gold once completed.
  3. A total of 50 buttons were requested as a starting point once design was settled.
  4. Students would receive free ice cream from the local ice cream shop after receiving 3 buttons and a pizza voucher after 5 buttons. Because of that, we concluded that we would need a design that could be easily collected on a keychain.
  5. Given that this project is just starting to get its footing it still needs to be approved within CSS. 

From there began the start of my journey. I first inquired with the Makerspace manager about the original prototype button from when this project was first pitched. Unable to locate it, I began researching appropriate sizes and other button designs for inspiration. After sketching in my notebook, I made four variations of my first design on Fusion360. I created multiple versions on Fusion360 because I wanted to test varying heights in extruding. I also attempted to approximate appropriate hole sizings that would accommodate a standard-sized keychain. I then attempted to add the text engraving and that was more challenging than I had expected. I was unable to include the engraving because of the relatively small size of the buttons. My first designs ranged in size from 23 mm to 34 mm, and were inspired by clothing buttons.

First Button Prototype

Figure 1. First Button Prototype

I decided to keep the small sized button because it would print quickly, requiring only 13 to 15 minutes each, and would reduce environmental waste as I anticipated students might throw away buttons or lose them. However, given some communication issues on my part, and due to me being sick for a period of time, there was an overall lack of in-person meetings. After a quick email interaction, I left multiple printed versions of my first prototype at the CSS office and later received Nancy’s overall feel on the design. Since she expressed reservations, I decided to build another design in Fusion360. This prototype attempted to replicate the look of the actual RRFB buttons students press at campus crosswalks. 

Figure 2. Fusion360 Design

Figure 2. Fusion360 Design

Figure 3. Fusion360 Design

Figure 3. Printed Prototype

 

               

 

 

 

 

 

 

My attempts at implementing the engraving on the design included manipulating different methods of extrusion. According to the application ArcGIS, “extrusion is the process of  stretching a flat, 2D shape vertically to create a 3D object in a scene.” I first tried the inset and extrude combination method for the text which entails creating an inset on one of the object’s planar faces and extruding using that sketch to create a hole. When I extrude, I stretch it vertically inwards which cuts into the object. This would allow for the text to show as a hole. In the end, the surface area was too small for the Dremel DigiLab 3D45 printer to extrude, resulting in the text collapsing when I printed it. This also occurs when I stretch vertically outwards. This can be seen in figure 2 where the sketch of the text on the object’s planar face is raised by a height of about 1 mm. Extrusion actually occurs throughout the entirety of creation of the object! For example, to create the keychain portion of the object, a 2D sketch of an arc is needed to extrude the sketch outwards. Then the hole for the keychain is made by extruding inwards after making an inset on our previous sketch’s plane. Once printed on the Dremel, you are then able to insert physical objects (like a metal keyring) in and out of the hole, which was successfully done in each prototype.

In my most recent meeting with Nancy, I learned that she had envisioned a larger button — one more similar to the silver-dollar sized prototype she had first received from the Makerspace last July. Hearing this from her helped me explain how the loss of the original prototype, combined with having scheduled only two in-person meetings, resulted in my providing her with prototypes that were both smaller and different in appearance from what she had been expecting. We ultimately decided to put a temporary pause on the project and meet in-person again at the start of the spring semester. During Winter Term, Nancy will share the current project and seek feedback from the rest of the CSS Staff. And I have many more ideas and experiments to try to prepare for CSS’s first launch of this initiative!

 

3D Scanning: Trials and Tribulations

Pictured above: Our scanner setup. The camera and projector are used to take scans, while the dotted board in the upper left is necessary for calibration. The various items under the mount are just there to hold it up; since this image was taken, we’ve mounted the tripod to a more stable wooden board.

This semester I’ve spent most of my time trying to get our DAVID5 (bought by HP and since discontinued) 3D Scanner operational. The scanner is a neat tool that takes images of whatever object we put in front of it and stitches them together to create a 3D model, which can then be printed with the 3D printers. In the past, workers at the Makerspace have even used it to scan and print people’s faces! Unfortunately for us, those workers who knew how the scanner functions have since graduated, leaving me to figure it out myself. 

Coming into this project, I was told that the scanner wasn’t operational; nobody had even been able to get it past the calibration phase. Luckily, we had the manual on hand. I walked myself through the process for setup and calibration, and it actually worked! I even managed to take some rough images in order to create a full model.

Unfortunately, the computer we had running the DAVID software turned out to be not powerful enough to actually fuse together that model, and the whole thing crashed. To make matters worse, we couldn’t save any scans due to an issue with the license that kept us stuck on a trial version of the software. Luckily, the first problem was a fairly easy fix. We were able to get a more powerful used computer, and I used it to successfully put together a rough but complete model! 

The license has been a bit more of a struggle, however. It wouldn’t work regardless of where on the computer or USB I saved it to. We didn’t have a proper stand for the scanner components, so I’d been propping it up on random parts I found around the room. The scanner is also too high, so objects on the table aren’t fully in its field of view.

While working on this post, however, I made a great deal of progress on these issues. We now have a working license, a more stable stand, and a strategy to raise objects for easier scans. Unfortunately, these fixes have somehow led to more problems. Now, the camera isn’t working with the scanner software. Thankfully, the HP support team has been very helpful, so hopefully I’ll be able to get everything working and put together some cleaner scans soon.

Understanding Clogging with Relation to Various Filaments

The past month of working in the Makerspace has been a period of learning as I started to explore a new part of the Makerspace I hadn’t before: learning how to take things apart in order to fix them. My experience last year was primarily learning how to 3D print properly, especially skills such as calibrating the printer for a print, slicing a print, and changing filaments for different prints. This semester, as we tried out new types of filaments (3D Printlife Eco-Friendly ProPLA and Filamentive rPLA) and new print styles, I got the opportunity to learn how the gears in the hotend and extruder of the 3D printer work and how to go about fixing clogging is/sues that come along while printing. 

This month, I have focussed most of my time on unclogging and fixing printer issues. Since our Makerspace currently has 10 workers, it’s common for one student to start a print, and for another student to complete the print or fix a clogged printer. Whether it is opening up the motor to take out a stuck filament, I gained a deeper understanding of how the internal parts of the printer were working together. I began to be able to visualize each small part working together to create beautiful prints on the build plate (images below). 

This experience also allowed me to look deeper into the types of filaments we were using and how that was affecting the printer. For example, when we started using recycled filaments (1.75 mm Filamentive rPLA), it started to cause more issues with the Dremel Digilab 3D45 printer unlike some of the other types of filaments (3D Printlife Eco-Friendly ProPLA). Filaments with different tensile strengths (PLA has around 40-50 MPa, ABS has around 30 MPa) interacted with the hotend and extruder differently, since low tensile strength means it has less bend and needs more heat for it to print. This was the case when I tried using copper filament, as it started out normally but then would clog midway through the print. Changing the printing speed to 80%, the bed temperature to 10 degrees higher, and the fan speed to 100% to get the right proportion for the copper filament was key to making the printer print smoother. However, when it was the normal setting of 40-45 degrees bed temperature, 100% print speed, and 100% fan speed, the print wouldn’t stick to the bed and the printer was getting clogged more often. This experience allowed me to appreciate both the machine and the final product even more as a tiny tweak was able to create a much better print!

(Image: The first time I took a motor out to pull out a bit of broken orange filament stuck right in between the gears)

I also printed out various student requests for open-source 3D models available online. I sometimes found myself wishing the younger version of Himal had all these prints to explore when I was involved with 3D modeling in high school. The number of prints that are open-source today is huge. I’m glad I’m able to experience this joy today as part of the Makerspace, and I’m very grateful for this opportunity. Below are some of my favorite prints that I’ve printed and smoothened out by removing their support structures with pliers and using a precision knife to clean up smaller anomalies.

Overall, the start of this year has already been a lot of failing and learning. It couldn’t have been a better way to enjoy the work in the Makerspace. I’m glad to be able to share this joy with other students both by printing out their requests and showing them around the Makerspace!

How to Fix Clogging and Bed Adhesion Issues

So far, I’ve spent most of my time at the Makerspace fixing 3D printers. Here are some issues that I’ve encountered:


Clogging


How to avoid clogging a printer:

Before starting any print:

  • Check that the outside of the nozzle is clean. If there’s any buildup outside, this may be a sign of buildup inside the extruder/nozzle.
  • Double-check that the filament type is suitable for this specific printer
  • Calibrate/level before beginning your print 
  • Ensure temperature settings are correct

How to fix an already clogged printer:

There are several ways a printer can clog. Only go to the next step if the printer is still clogged:

For the Dremel Digilab 3D45: 

  1. Turn on Dremel and press the “Preheat” option. Wait until the printer is preheated to the optimal temperature indicated on the filament. Press purge a few times until the filament comes out of the nozzle. If nothing comes out, go to the next step.
  2. Do a cold pull. Press down on the level and pull out the filament with pliers.
  3. Press the lever down and use the declogging tool to push down any remaining filament.
  4. Take out the stepper motor to see if there’s filament clogged there. Take out any remaining filament with tweezers. To learn how to do this, look at Option 4 in the guide below or see The Fine Art of Unclogging post.

For visual help, here is a step-by-step guide to unclogging the Dremel: https://www.dremel.com/us/en/digilab/support/3d45-series-3d-printer/extruder/unclogging-extruder

For Prusa MK3S or MK2S:

  1. While there is no “purge” setting, you can preheat the filament to melting point and then change the filament (the Prusa will use the other filament to push out the clog), which will generally unclog the extruder/nozzle
  2. If that doesn’t work, gently remove hotend using this guide (start on step 2): https://www.ifixit.com/Guide/How+to+Unclog+a+Prusa+i3+MK3+Nozzle/140666

Adhesion Issues of Model to Print Bed


Examples of bad adhesion to print bed:

  • Nothing is being printed, or there’s just a blob (no adhesion)
  • Model moves during printing (bad adhesion)
  • Sides curl up (OK adhesion but can do better)

To fix these problems, check for these things before you print:

For the Dremel Digilab 3D45, check the following: 

  1. BUILD ORIENTATION: When orienting your model in 3D slicer software, ensure there is as much contact as possible between the bed and the model. 
  2. CLEAN: The bed is completely clean and free of glue or dust, or filament. If it’s not clean, turn off the printer and wipe it down with alcohol wipes and let it dry.
  3. GLUE: Put glue from a glue stick on the bed area where the model will be printed.
  4. TANGLE-FREE SPOOL: Ensure no tangles or tension in the spool.
  5. LEVEL: When ready to begin your print, you must calibrate the bed to ensure it is level. You may do this by pressing the “Level” option on the screen. This provides on-screen instructions on how to level.
  6. TEMPERATURE: Ensure you preheat the temperature to the optimal temperature indicated on the filament in the “preheat” settings.

 

For Prusa MK3S or MK2S, check:

  1. BUILD ORIENTATION: When orienting your model in 3D slicer software, ensure there is as much contact as possible between the bed and the model. 
  2. CLEAN: The bed is completely clean and free of dust or filament. If it’s not clean, turn off the printer and wipe it down with alcohol wipes and let it dry. Note: there should never be glue on this printer.
  3. TANGLE-FREE SPOOL: Ensure no tangles or tension in the spool.
  4. TEMPERATURE: Ensure you preheat the temperature to the optimal temperature indicated on the filament in the “preheat” settings.
  5. CALIBRATE: Do a first layer calibration. To do this, press the knob, turn the knob and press “Calibrate” and then press “First layer calibration”. Follow this guide for a good calibration: https://help.prusa3d.com/article/first-layer-calibration-i3_112364

 

Shall You 3D Print Without Supports?

Printing a brain with supports

Occasionally, I’ve had to print complex objects that require support constructions to hold the main print in place. In the process, I understood how crucial it is to understand the role of supports that 3D printers employ and how they affect the overall print quality.

What are supports in 3D printing?

Supports in 3D printing are the additional elements printed to support the weight of the main print while printing larger models. It offers room for the filament to work and enables the printer to print finer details and overhangs without making any errors.

What are the types of supports?

There are basically two types of supports that are commonly used in 3D printing:

  1. Linear Support 

Linear supports touch the entire ground directly beneath the prints where it overhangs. I found them pretty useful for flat and steep overhangs. But the problem with linear support is that they take a little bit more time and use more filament to print. 

  1. Tree-like Support

Tree-like support is a tree-like structure that supports the overhangs of the object. It only touches the overhang at certain points. I found it useful for printing arches and rounded overhangs. 

How do you print without supports?

If we are willing to give up having things printed in one go, almost anything can be printed without support. Printing items that usually require support is possible by using a slicer to reduce the size and angle of the object sections. Nevertheless, the printing process will become considerably time consuming.

Failed attempt to print a slanted complex object without support

What are the pros and cons of not having supports in 3D prints?

While working on a variety of projects, I have experimented with printing items without supports in an effort to determine whether or not doing so offers any advantages over printing with supports. During the course of the tests, I made the following list of advantages and disadvantages of using and not using supports for 3D prints:

Why not to use supports:

  • Less Filament: It can be difficult to justify using a whole support system for the entire print when filaments are expensive and I am using half of the roll on printing supports that I will eventually toss away (recycle).
  • Quick Cleanup: When printing using supports, a large amount of waste is produced that must be disposed of after printing is complete.
  • Faster Prints: If you have to print a large object that needs support, cutting it up into smaller parts can make the process go much more quickly.

Waste produced from printing supports

Why to use supports:

  • Print Stability: A 3D print’s instability increases in proportion to its size. The 3D prints will be consistently stable if you provide them with enough support to keep them supported and attached to the printing bed.
  • More surface to print: More surface area can be used for printing if supports are used, as there will be more scopes to use a slicer to cut up an object and print it in smaller parts.
  • Strong prints: Due to the increased connectivity enabled by the support, the printed object is significantly more durable, and the time required for the layers to dry in order for another layer to print on top of it is also reduced. The objects achieve better durability by eliminating the chances of sagging and layer displacement during the print. The likelihood of overhanging or separating owing to weight is extremely low.

Printing without supports is possible, and most small projects can be performed quickly and easily. However, as the complexity and size of my projects have grown, I’ve had to educate myself on when and how to make use of supports while printing to get the best output.

Experiences that boost learning

As a first-year student worker at the Makerspace in Williams College, I have encountered my time here to be highly enriching. In these two months, I have learned core abilities that have helped develop my problem-solving and analytical skills as a woman in the STEM field. Prior to coming to Williams, I had taken part in two projects related to 3D printing technology in Paraguay (my home country), where I assisted with a 3D store and assembled 3D printed prosthetics, thus I was delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to the Williams College Makerspace.

During the course of my first weeks, I familiarized myself even more with the use of 3D printers, practicing how to properly slice models for printing and changing filaments. I also learned how different modifications in parameters of 3D printers’ slicing software, such as layer height, print speed, supports, infill patterns and temperature are crucial for a 3D print to go smoothly. 

Nonetheless, after several successful prints for students’ requests, I have also encountered some obstacles such as clogging and bed adhesion issues. When printing a Minecraft lamp, I found that it had been detached from the printer’s bed, resulting in a waste of filament. To solve this, I used glue or tape — depending on the printer bed material, to help the filament stick better to the platform. In another instance, one of the printers got its filament stuck and clogged the extruder completely, making it unable to properly function. Therefore, I had to unclog it manually, disassembling the extruder to reach the clogged section near the nozzle and cleaning the obstructing filament piece away from the extruder channel tube. A valuable lesson I learned from these experiences is that it is essential to always be alert while the 3D printer is working, and look for strategies to solve the problems that may occur.

Figure 1. Me unclogging a Dremel 3D printer.

As for 3D modeling, I have started experimenting with Fusion360, a specialized software to create and edit pre-existing 3D models. This has been extremely useful to repair corrupted open-source models to efficiently print them. I have used this tool to edit designs students would request. For instance, a student once requested a keyholder that had an open section in the center but wanted the object to have a solid surface without the hole. Thus, I filled the gap using the tools of this specialized software.

Aside from that, I started to become familiar with operating Virtual Reality (VR) equipment, which is an essential and cutting-edge technology that not only allows for fun recreational time but also has academic applications. From playing VR games, like the popular Beat Blaster, to exploring a variety of countries using Google Earth; there is a world of possibilities when it comes to Virtual Reality.

Lastly, I am working on the promotion of the makerspace with peers and faculty to make more members of our campus aware of the wonderful opportunities at the Makerspace. Looking forward, I aim to continue increasing my knowledge on these topics to be able to make an impactful contribution to our community at Williams College.

The Fine Art of Unclogging

Picture this: You have a hard time deciding what you want to print at The Williams Makerspace, you talk to your friends to brainstorm the best possible artifact, and just when you finally decide to print your so-awaited masterpiece, you find out that the 3d printer is broken. This not-so-uncommon outcome can be disappointing. Though, as a student worker at The Williams Makerspace, I can tell you that this is totally normal! One of the reasons for this happening might be that the 3D printer is clogged. In this blog post, I will talk about my experience unclogging a Dremel DigiLab 3D45 for the first time.

First things first — purging the filament! At this stage, we don’t know what might be causing the clogging, so purging the filament is a safe start. To do so, we cut the filament and press the “Purge” button on the preheating option section. Once clicked, the Dremel should start purging all the filament out, cleaning the inside.

Figure 1. Purging the filament

Unfortunately, purging the filament didn’t fix the issue in this case, so I had to go a little further! To ensure there were no clogs in the stepper motor, I had to turn the Dremel off and allow the extruder and print bed to cool to at least 60°C. Then, I removed the right screw on the bottom of the housing using a T10 Torx bit. From there, I removed the two screws on top of the extruder housing using a 2.5mm hex bit. At this point, I removed the top cover and unplugged the filament runout switch to disconnect the extruder terminal box. I unscrewed – but not entirely – the two motor screws using a 2.5mm Allen key. This allowed me to remove the extruder stepper motor assembly. Taking a clean brush, I gently cleaned the motor as carefully as possible and then put everything back in place. And just like that (drum roll, please), the Dremel DigiLab 3D45 was unclogged!

Figure 2. Taking the cover off

I know this might sound like a lot at first — because it is! But as you get used to working with 3D printers, you will encounter this and many other problems on your way — so beware! For me, one of the best parts of working with these kinds of machines is learning how to use them and fix them! So, the next time you walk into the Williams Makerspace, be assured that we will guide you through any questions or concerns about 3D prints or 3D printers. The best part is that if we don’t know the answer at the top of our heads, we will do our best to answer it as soon as we can.

Using Clay Based Filaments to Create 3d-Prints

This is an extension of the WCMA artist project. 

At this point, all of the 3d-prints for the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) have been in PLA plastic filament. Creating them in plastic was relatively inexpensive, convenient (as we already had that filament on hand), and gave a good enough visual representation of what the pieces looked like. 

Now that we now have access to a pottery clay-based filament the 3d-prints can now be created using the new filament type. As the pieces cannot be held by the average person creating models using stone based filament gives more accurate information on the artifacts weight and texture.

Our current machines have brass nozzles which are not suitable for the more textured pottery clay based filament. As a result, the brass nozzle needs to be removed and replaced hardened steel nozzle. 

Once the hardened nozzle was installed, the printer was recalibrated to account for any thing that might have changed when it was taken apart. The seated deity was printed as an initial test of the filament because it had the least amount of problems when printing in PLA. It was printed at 0.15 mm quality with a 15% infill and supports were generated everywhere. 

These are the results. 

Leah Williams 3D printed this using clay filament for Dr. Beatriz Cortez.

Leah Williams 3D printed this using clay filament for Dr. Beatriz Cortez.

 

E4 Bug Off Team Project : Mitigating Japanese Beetle Damage

The E4 Bug Off Project: Installed in the Williams College Community Garden

The E4 Bug Off Project: Installed in the Williams College Community Garden

Japanese beetles are an invasive species that cause considerable damage to plants across much of the United States, including in the Williams College ‘66 Envi Center

gardens. The E4 Bug Off Team—consisting of students at Harvey Mudd and Pomona colleges (Javier Perez, Linna Cubbage, Betsy Ding, Eli Schwarz, and Stephanie Huang with guidance from Profs. Steven Santana and TJ Tsai)—collaborated with the Zilkha Center on the E4 Bug Off Team Project: Mitigating Japanese Beetle Damage to develop means for repelling the beetles from campus gardens and lands before they could harm the plants. The E4 Bug Off team developed a model for a physical artifact that emits repelling scents and can be attached to trees and plants. The device, which can be created by a 3D printer, is intended to be easily built, used, durable, and human and bee friendly.

E4 Team 3D Prototype and Redesign

The E4 Bug Off Teams Final Prototype

 

The E4 Bug Off team shared the CAD files with the Zilkha Center who asked the Williams College Makerspace for assistance with printing. The first iteration of the 3D model that was created by the Makerspace consisted of a white tall body, a lid with various holes, and a short rod. 

The holes in the lid are for peppermint-scented sticks and the tall body could hold additional scent liquid. Based on the research done by the E4 Bug Off team, peppermint scent was found to be a repellent of Japanese Beetles. Thus, if the scent is widely enough dispersed by the wind, it should help with keeping Japanese beetles from the area around the device. It remains to be tested, how many devices will be needed to cover the area of the gardens. It’s an innovative solution since peppermint is safer than other traps such as spectracide bags, which have low to moderate toxicity for humans. It has also been reported that such bags may also simply increase the numbers of beetles present.

The artifact also features a green cone, which protects the scent sticks from rain. It was cut out of a plastic folder by the Zilkha Center summer garden interns. 

Zilkha Center: Beetle model 3D printed and built following the E4 Bug Off Team’s CAD files

The first prototype had a few shortcomings: its body was leaky and the rod was a little too big to fit into the lid. Zilkha Center garden interns, Martha Carlson and Evan Chester, put putty on the holes in the body to stop it from leaking and needed to heavily sand down the rod for it to fit in the base. 

To create a longer-lasting solution that could also be printed in larger numbers, a new body and slightly thinner rod were designed and reprinted. 

The plan is to launch the device in time for the summer 2023 Japanese Beetle season, assuming all goes well with the new sealing method. The Makerspace and Zilkha Center will share the final 3D design and list of ingredients after the final testing is complete.

New body and thinner rod

 

3d Printing Sculptures with WCMA

The makerspace was approached by a representative of the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) to create 3d models of some of the Maya objects, dated to approximately 600-900 CE, that they have in their collection. Some of their sculptures are old and have an unknown creator so creating 3d prints of them allows others to engage with them more and an accurate print gives insight into how it was made.

On the left is a hollow rattle and on the right is a corn pot.

When printing the corn pot a lot of issues were encountered. When printing a large model a lot of layer shifting in the print would happening and the front left leg would have problems adhering to the print bed. A variety of different solutions were trim including different kinds of bed adhesion methods (skirt, brim raft), decreasing the print speed and changing the size of the model.

Eventually the final model was created at 50% print speed, around 80% of the original size and a 3.0mm brim to help with bed adhesion.

 

 

Raccoon Tracks

Over the summer of 2016, the Clark Art Institute came to the Makerspace for help. For their exhibit Sensing Place: Reflecting On Stone Hill at the Lunder Center on Stone Hill, they needed molds of raccoon paws to make a plaster cast of raccoon footprints. However, they only had molds of the raccoon’s right front and right back paws, and they needed molds of the raccoon’s left front and left back paws to complete the set.

We were able to help out by scanning the two footprint molds that the Clark Art Institute owned using the David Scanner. The scans were 3D models of the two molds which could be opened in Rhinoceros and then reflected to create a mirrored replica.

After creating a set of four 3D models using the scanning and modeling technology that we have, we used the Form 1+ printer to print the models out. The Form 1+ printer, which uses liquid resin, produced prints with the smooth texture required for the molds.

However, after two prints, there was not enough liquid resin to print an additional two sets of footprints that the Clark needed. To improvise, we mobilized the Makerspace’s remaining two printers, the MakerGear M2 and LulzBot TAZ 5. We used these printers to print the remaining footprints, applied the liquid resin on the surface of the prints, and left them to cure under the sun, allowing us to successfully recreate the smooth texture of the original prints.

Sensing Place: Reflecting On Stone Hill is on exhibit until October 10, 2016. Stop by to check out the Makerspace’s contribution to the exhibit!

 

 

e-NABLE Prosthetic Hands

The Williams college Makerspace is working with the organization e-NABLE to print and assemble simple prosthetic hands for children with manual disabilities! Project Updates will be posted here.

Prototype 1: Printing the First Hand (2/28/2015)

A few days ago, we set out on our first prototype of the Raptor Hand. Today, after much printing and assembly, we have a working final product!

Observations: The phalanges are a little too large for the joints, and stick badly, reducing grip strength. Next time around, we’ll print larger and in ABS to see how using different plastics affects the final project.