Thursday, 19 March 2015

Starting on 3D printed light buckets for RC cars

After long consideration, the LANE Boys finally got a 3D printer. One of the applications we had in mind is printing custom light buckets for RC cars. The first results are very promising.

The 3D printer market is changing rapidly. The printer we have chosen is the LulzBot Mini. It is an open source design, very nicely built, compact, prints quickly and is well priced.
There are printers with a much larger print volume, there are cheaper printers, there are printers with a better print quality -- but we felt that the LulzBot Mini has the combination of features that is right for us.

Our printer was shipped from a warehouse in the UK. It was ordered Thursday morning Singapore time, and arrived Tuesday afternoon.

The most impressive part so far was the out-of-the box experience: It took only 15 minutes from opening the box until we had the first print going. And that included installing software!

We recently started equipping RC cars with lights that were not foreseen to have them installed. We had to build light buckets from pieces of styrene. This is fiddly and time consuming work. It is hard to take measurements from the polycarbonate body shell, and it is hard to make tiny pieces from sheets of plastic. A set of light buckets took usually a whole Saturday afternoon to build.

Well, things are different now. The light buckets in the image above are for a Tamiya Nissan GT-R R34 body shell. While this car comes with light buckets for the front and rear lights, the client wanted also lights for the front fog lamps, the rear reversing/fog lamp and the 3rd light bucket.

The shapes are very simple in this case and it would have been no issue making them from scratch by hand. However, with the 3D printer all of the light cases above were done in a single evening -- and that includes the 3D design. For the front fog lamp and the combined reversing/fog rear light we even went through two iterations to ensure they fit perfectly.

A single print took between 11 and 24 minutes, depending on size of the light bucket and the print quality setting we chose. While the printer is doing its thing we could work already on the next project, making the whole process very efficient.

We are using HIPS (High Impact Polystyrene), which is basically the same material that the light buckets in RC kits are made from. The Tamiya cement works perfectly in case gluing is required.

Given that we had no prior experience in 3D design and printing, we are extremely pleased with the result. There is of course a lot more to learn, but things can only get better from here. We have already a long list of items we want to design and print...

So ... what shall we print next?

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