I've been doing a little research into the use of 3D printing to produce custom systainer inserts.
If you aren't familiar with 3D printing and what's been going on lately, you should be. Recent innovations and breakthroughs have placed us
on the verge of a 3D printing revolution that is poised to dwarf the impacts of the industrial revolution. If you don't keep up, you're going to
look like that blacksmith in 1900 saying "people will never go for this mass produced factory stuff"….
(Disclaimer: I currently hold a small "long" position in Stratasys, a supplier of 3D plastic print stock)
Stepping off the soapbox….
We've had discussions regarding foam inserts, and even the CaseCAD place for doing 3d design of foam cutouts, to a tutorial (on TalkFestool)
about making your own vacuum forms…. but I wanted to see if I could take it to the "next level" (buzzword alert!) and get something nice and efficient
like how the Festool inserts overlay all their parts, etc. Using 3D printing I would hope to get a better use of space without having to leave all that foam
The promise of 3D printing is that it will be inexpensive to produce custom "things" for yourself on your desktop 3D printer.
So let's see what can be done:
First, using Sketchup, I drew a simple shape that should look familiar:
Then I placed a cutout in it for my special wrench that I want to put in a systainer (it's a very special wrench!):
Of course, we want this to be hollow similar to the vacuum molded inserts:
Here's the cool part, we can also put in overlays for efficient use of space. Here, I've cut in an overlay insert above the
wrench for storage of another part. The purpose of this cutout is actually just intended to generate lots of FOG threads discussing
what it could be intended for.
Certainly, it would be cumbersome to have to manually draw the shape of any tool you want to put in there. But another breakthrough that has been occurring
is 3D scanning. MakerBot actually sells a kit which let's you make a 3D scanner that you could use to get the shapes of any object into 3D space. Once in there,
you could "intersect" it with the inlay model to have a custom, perfect fit for any part you want in the tray.
Anyway, for completeness, here is an x-ray view of the insert:
Personally, what I envision is a set of stacking, custom inserts that let me efficiently put together a tool kit. Similar to what Seth has shown us with
his wood stackables, or like the centrotec kits. This would be a great way to get a lot of tools into a systainer 2 or 3, and be able to get easy access to them
These would not need to be limited to systainers, of course. You could also make custom trays for the drawers of the traditional mechanics toolchests
that I use for a lot of my smaller tools.
So, now we've got this insert, we just need to find a way to print it. There are two options:
- buy our own desktop 3D printer
- outsource it to a 3D printing service
Let's try the second approach first, since I'm not really ready to get into the business of messing with printers:
First, I uploaded the model to ShapeWays.com, which is cool because they will automatically give you a price for printing it. Here are the
results of that:
Holy Smelly Cow! That must be one special wrench! Even though I made the walls all 2 mm thick (the minimum recommended), it's still a lot of material. They charge upwards of $2/ cubic cm, and that's where the cost comes from.
Let's try it at i.Materialize….
OK, well that's better, but still too steep to justify. Maybe I can remove some material from the sides:
That brought the price at ShapeWays down by about $30. Extrapolating that out to the rest of the surfaces, it would take about $180 off the cost.
That makes it a $450 insert. Of course, I could do a better job of removing material, that was just a quick hack job on the circles. Ideally you would use
hexagons and triangles to make it all more like a bridge, I'm sure I could cut that number down by half with a little work, but that's still $200+ dollars.
So the outsourced printing is still pretty expensive, and in reality I think they're geared more towards prototypes for traditional manufacturing. Still, it's cool
that if you had to do something like this, you could.
Let's look at option 1, getting your own desktop printer. The two that I've looked at briefly are the MakerBot ($1000) and the BotMill ($1300). Those are actually
very reasonable prices. Remember when the first IBM PC came out? It was $10,000 (without a hard drive!). But that price came down very quickly, and 3D printers
are expected to do the same. Once you've got your own printer, the actual materials cost is about 10 cents per cubic cm. That's 1/19th of the ShapeWays cost,
so printing that same insert would cost anwhere from $10 to $23!!!!
So there is hope, you just need a good excuse to buy a 3D printer!
At that point there is only one big problem, neither of these printers has a print area large enough to make a systainer insert in one pass. With the BotMill however, you could print it in quarters and then have them snap together (you can do that when you're designing and printing in 3D!
What else could you do with this technology? I've been wanting to build one of these,http://www.bridgecitytools.com/discussion/viewtopic.php?t=131
designed by Roger Savatteri. I've emailed him to see if he's selling them,
and got no response, so he seems to have abandoned it. Would be great to make it in ABS for accuracy rather than having to mill it myself.
I'm sure there are other jigs that could be done.