How We Do It
Through the wonders of 3D printing - using multiple printers - we create our products in ABS plastic. ABS plastic is the same plastic used in LEGO® Building Blocks, so you can be confident that they are safe, non-toxic, and long lasting.
First - The Spark of Inspiration
We get ideas for objects from everywhere - usually from looking at the world around us - and we are always prepared to jot down ideas when inspiration strikes. Many of our current and potential customers send us suggestions! We review all ideas and make decisions about what we are going to design next, taking into account how many requests we have for a certain item and what we think our customers would appreciate most.
Next - Research
Once an item is selected, the research begins. We search the Internet, catalogs, and books. Photos and images of the object are printed and added to our "design" book where dimensions and details are listed. Then the full-size dimensions are converted to 1/64 scale; which are then converted to millimeters.
Followed by - the Design Process
Then we sit down at the computer and begin the actual design process. We use several different 3D drawing packages to block-out our designs, finalize the shapes, and to add the details. The 3D files usually go through several revisions before we get to the final design that we will attempt to print.
Part of the design process includes orienting the object so that it will print successfully, manually adding supports for overhangs greater than 45 degrees, and to get the best use of the printers XYZ resolution.
Two separate image files need to be created for objects that are going to be printed in two colors; one file for each color.
Next - Converting the File for the Slicing Software
Now the 3D file is converted to the STL format. STL is a file format native to StereoLithography CAD software; it is also known as Standard Tessellation Language. STL files describe only the surface geometry of a three dimensional object without any representation of color, texture or other common CAD model attributes; the printer only needs the shape of the object. The STL file format is simple, so it is easy to output and is supported by many 3D CAD/drawing packages.
And then - Slicing the File for Printing
Once the file is in the STL format, it is then time to slice the object into layers for the printer to process. The slicing software takes the file, and based on the specified layer height, "slices" the object into layers. This file is usually saved in the .gcode format.
For two color items the two separate image files need to be merged and then sliced; creating paths for both print heads to extrude plastic.
Finally - Printing the Object
The "sliced" file is then sent to the printer for processing. Depending upon the size and complexity of the object, this can take anywhere from minutes to hours.
The printer lays down melted ABS plastic layer by layer until the object is complete. If all has gone well, the object successfully prints.
And then - Tweaking the Object, repeating steps above and Reprinting
Rarely does the first printing of the object come out the way expected. We have boxes of failed prints and interesting plastic blobs. We analyze the failures and rework the design, orientation, and placement and repeat the conversion, slicing and printing of the object.
We do this step until either we have a successful print or determine that it is just something that we cannot print successfully with the current software and printer. Slicing and printing software are always being updated, so after an update is installed we always try reprinting failed objects.
We print at least 10 of each object to make sure it is stable and reproducible. Once we are confident that we can print each object successfully and repeatedly we add it to our catalog.