During the summer of 2006 I interned with Michael Frumin at the Eyebeam OpenLab. I explored how electronics can be integrated with 3D printouts and how algorithmically generated shapes could be programmed in Processing and output on the printer. The goal was to put together a toolchain for hackers and artists to be able to create physical objects from code with the minimum barrier possible. We have reached the point where thought expressed through code can very easily become physical.
Using Google's SketchUp I created a simple shape to test the process of 3D printing. The Catalyst software used by the Stratasys BST Dimension printer could not directly import any of the file formats that SketchUp can natively export. I used an STL export plugin to export to a format the Catalyst software could understand. SketchUp is designed for “surface” modelling, not “solid” modelling. The exported STL file had numerous open curves and would not print on the printer. After a few more tries with the STL exporter I decided to stop using SketchUp.
I used SolidWorks to create a small blinky LED toy, as an experiment in combining electronics with the 3D printouts. The 1”x1” square holds a coin cell battery snugly and has space for a color changing LED. The white plastic of the printouts diffuses the light nicely. The two halves of the printout snap together – a good test of the accuracy of the printer.
Playing with proprietary tools was a good learning experience, but I wanted to create something open source in the spirit of the OpenLab. The goal was to write programs to create shapes in Processing and output them on the 3D printer. Ideally there would be as small a jump as possible from thought expressed through code and the realization of the physical object.
The solution was to put together different open source tools to create a toolchain. The 3D model generated by Processing is captured using OGLE. The 3D model (in .obj format) is then converted to the STL format required by the 3D printer using Blender.
In future it may be possible to generate the STL file directly inside Processing, minimizing the steps required.
Produced at the Eyebeam OpenLab