Last week, I got to spend Monday-Friday building two BQ Hephestos Prusa i3 printers in the town of Likely, BC. For those of you who don’t know where that is, here’s a map: It’s only a little ways off Highway 97 in BC. The Two Rivers Gallery, and Likely-Xat’súll Community Forest partnered up to put this project together, and Vector Finesse was called on to provide our 3D technology integration expertise. All our organizations are very happy to have accessible 3D technology in Likely where one printer will stay, and at the Soda Creek First Nation where the second will call home.
Most people will recognize Likely as “that place where the tailings pond breach happened last year”. The disaster had great effects on the community and I learned a lot about from the people who experienced it firsthand, but the town has been around much longer than that. It started as the bustling Gold Rush town of Quesnelle Dam in 1858 and now has a population of around 350 people. The name Likely came in 1923, paying tribute to a popular miner in the area John “Plato” Likely. There’s no cellphone service, some people are still on dial-up internet, and the fastest connection you can get via satellite internet providers is 10Mbps. Now at this point you’re probably asking yourself, what is the Likely-Xat’súll Community Forest going to do with a couple 3D printers?
Well to start, you need to know what a Community Forest is. I had no idea coming in either, so here’s a video that explains it:
So if we flip back to a Community Forest, they’re charged with sustaining the forest surrounding the community and they take care of the cutting rights. The craftspeople get local loggers to harvest the trees they want to make their value added wood products (furniture, flooring, coins, knitting needles, etc.) adding more diversity to the local economy, and keeping more money in the area and thus allowing a small places like Likely to sustain themselves much easier.
I’m no expert on it, but that’s what I’ve gathered on the topic so far. Now, back to the original question, what is the Likely-Xat’súll Community Forest going to do with a couple 3D printers? I mean, they could start making parts for more printers. I constantly hammer on the advantages 3D technology has for localizing manufacturing and rapid prototyping, and that’s exactly what the machines are going to do in their new homes. The first thing they’re going to do in Likely is rapid prototype, then manufacture ends for the wooden knitting needles they’re starting to produce. After that, who knows, and that’s kind of the point. 3D technology has so many applications, everyone and every locale will use it differently. I can see them being used to produce things like small replacement plastic parts to reduce downtime on machinery working in the area, anchors and clips for boat covers, custom fishing lures, even souvenirs for sale at the post office. I could probably write pages discussing use cases, but let’s move on to what actually happened while I was there.
I got into town late Sunday evening in the dark, and I had to find the Pyna-tee-ah Lodge. It’s run by Gary and Peggy Zorn and is the base of operations for Ecotours BC. I drove past it three times because I didn’t do the homework to figure out where exactly I was going, but I finally pulled in and was greeted by Gary. He showed me inside, where I met Peggy and dropped my bag in my room. Nice and cozy. And a full bathroom to myself to boot. If you’re ever going to Likely I highly recommend booking a room at the lodge, it’s beautiful. The rooms are great, there is a large living room to mingle with the other guests and watch TV. This room is great. And don’t even get me started on the food. I could list all the meals we had, but in light of keeping this post fairly short, I’ll just say Peggy is a great cook, I definitely never went hungry, and leave it at that. If you want more info on the lodge and Ecotours BC, check out their website.
As I mentioned above, we built two BQ Hephestos i3 printers that we got from Voxel Factory. BQ is a company from Spain that started in the smartphone and tablet market then added 3D printers to their repertoire in recent years. The reason we went with these kits is because they could be sourced in Canada (thanks François), the build instructions are easy to follow, and when I saw them at CES, they printed well. One of the stipulations when we were talking machines with the Community Forest, was that they wanted a kit build so the users got a more in-depth knowledge of the machine and be better armed to problem solve should it ever breakdown. So it began. The group that we had to building the machines were rock stars, I thought my original timeline of a day and a half for the builds was tight, but they got them together and calibrated on the first day. We even managed to do a couple test prints, it was awesome! We were so ahead of schedule I thought I was going to run out of things to teach.
Day two was all about the slicer, the machines come with a set of profiles for Cura, and its user interface is great for first time users. One of the most important parts of 3D printing.
Starting with some sample models I brought, we went over what all the basic settings are for, and ran off some test prints. Slicing is a very important part of the printing process, so we spent the day getting everyone fluent in 3D printing lingo surrounding slicing, and ran a few test prints to see different effects. We introduced an elephant to the room.
One really important skill you still need in order to use a 3D printer to its fullest potential is an ability to design your own parts. Day three was intro to 3D modelling day, where we normally would have gone with TinkerCAD as our intro software of choice, due to a lack of internet connection, we dove into FreeCAD instead. We chose to start with a solid modelling program purely because it’s so easy to get water-tight, print-ready models out of it. Solid modellers use primitive shapes (cube, cylinder, cone, etc.) which you then add, subtract, and intersect with one another to create the part you want. This makes it easy to model parts with very specific parametric sizes and offsets, etc. so form and fit are proper for replacement parts. The first part we modelled was a knob for the printer’s LCD controller. We fused two cones together to create the outer shape, then used a cube to subtract part of a cylinder to create the “D” shape we needed to mimic the of the shaft the knob slides onto. Finally, we subtracted the “D” shape we’d just made from the fused cones to finish off our knob. We talked about the fillet (rounded edge) and chamfer (beveled edge) tools, and used them to dress up our parts a little. We ran a couple off as tests, and found we needed to scale the holes up a little to make them fit. After the files were modified, we had our freshly printed controller knobs. The rest of the day was free time in the software and I wandered around the room assisting when needed, but mostly marvelling at what everyone was designing. It’s great to see where people’s creative minds go when we give them free time. Thimble, arrowhead, poppy, and control knob.
With one type of modelling down, we pressed on into the world of mesh modelling; the place I first started with 3D. Now there is a reason we went with mesh modelling second, it’s much harder. You have total control over every single point in your model, which can be a blessing and a curse. I stick with solid modelling for most mechanical bits and pieces or anything that needs very specific dimensions, but when I need to do more organic shapes, I love the control of mesh modelling. We spent nearly all of day four working together modelling our own robots. We learned about loop cuts, mirroring modifiers, face/edge/vertex selection, extrusion, removing duplicate points, and subdivision surfaces. Our army. We had a nice little break when the students from the local school came down to the hall to see what we were up to. It was a lot to take in, but everyone soldiered through, and we ended up with a little army of robots to show for it at the end of the day. Concept to physical piece in a day.
We used day five as a wrap up day, trying out the wood filament, reviewing calibration, helping with any final software questions, and giving the machines a really good once over before we were done.
This project came to life because it’s directly at the crossroads between three organizations’ mandates. We have the Community Forest promoting localization and diversity in their local economy, Two Rivers Gallery with their promotion of life-long learning, and Vector Finesse’s core purpose to help people build great things.
Thanks to all the participants, we got through a ton of info in five short days, and I’m really excited to see what comes of it. I hope everyone stays curious, continues learning through experimentation, and most importantly, shares that knowledge.
The best part of doing projects like this is seeing how the technology aids different creative problem solving processes. One thing I can say for certain, creativity does not depend on whether or not you have cell service or a lightning fast internet connection.
John Makowsky – Owner, Vector Finesse
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