Mar. 19, 2015 | By Alec

When you tell people that 3D printing can be used to make objects as small or as big as you want, it usually means just 50% larger or smaller or so. But as small or as big as you want really means that, and maintenance engineer Lance Abernethy from Auckland, New Zealand proves it. He has recently 3D printed what is probably the smallest working drill in the world.

As Lance explained to, he challenged himself to produce this miniscule drill after a conversation with a few colleagues. "I was with my work colleagues and talking about mythical stories about one country making a twist drill and sending it to another. the other country returned it with a hole through the middle," he said, and an idea was quickly born. Now of course the challenge was to actually make it work – we can all print a blob and insert a miniature drill bit – which means it had to actually become an outer shell capable of storing the drill sitting. "I wanted to make it as small as possible so I cramped all my parts as tight as possible but tried to keep the shape proportionate to the actual drill," he says.

Lance therefore took the smallest possible components as his basic shape and designed his shell around it using OnShape 3D CAD software, keeping his regular drill close by to determine the shape. The result was subsequently 3D printed on his Ultimaker 2, but this wasn’t a simple matter of press print and watching tv. Using a 0.25 nozzle and a layer height of just 0.04 mm, Lance 3D printed several versions as slowly as possible. With 10 mm/s in PLA, it took 25 minutes to just 3D print four halves (without supports).

The drill it was based on - see the similarities?

The two best halves were pressed together over his miniature motor, the hearing aid battery that powers it and the small button that can be used to operate this drill. The necessary wiring was taken out of a headphone cable, and it took about three hours to just try and squeeze everything in. "The wires kept breaking off when I was trying to connect them and it was a nightmare trying to hold them in place and to try to not short the battery," he laments. That struggle is understandable, as the drill itself is just 17 mm tall, 7.5 mm wide and 13 mm long.

However the 3D printed results themselves are quite good, which Lance attributes to the quality of his 3D printer and cura software, as well as to the good people from the Ultimaker forums community who advised him. But the real test is of course drilling: how does it perform? Well, it holds a 0.5 mm twist drill capable of drilling in plenty of soft objects, but it obviously lacks power for larger and harder projects. Nonetheless, the drill is perfect for 3D printing screw holes in PLA and similar surfaces.

Watch the drill in action here.

While this is already a very impressive – which of us can claim to have 3D printed a record-breaking object? – but Lance is already hungry for more. "My future plans are to make an even smaller one. I have already found a smaller battery and got lots more ideas that I won’t share yet," he tells us. More news will therefore hopefully follow.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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