Apr. 6, 2015 | By Kira

There are a few different ways of looking at makers. On the one hand, there are those who use their creativity and skills to design and build functional end-use products, ranging from cell phone cases to bike seats to sculptures or home decorations. On the other hand, there is the kind of maker who isn’t satisfied with the tools at their disposal, and sees making as more of a problem-solving method, designing entirely new tools that can be put to use in future DIY projects.

John Steuben, a postdoctoral research associate at the US Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC, is the second kind of maker. While working on an experiment in the Computational Multiphysics Systems Lab, where he is developing computer simulations of additive manufacturing processes (such as 3D printing) and materials, Steuben required a device that could load delicate test specimens into a large hydraulic tension tester without leaving marks on the specimens or risking his fingers to the powerful hydraulic machine. Instead of compromising his experiment or making due with the existing tools in his lab, Steuben 3D printed his very own adjustable groove-joint pliers, designed precisely for the task at hand.

The pliers are based on a rotating tongue-and-groove mechanism that can be scaled up or down during printing and can grasp objects from 0-50mm without marring. Steuben based the design of the jaws and handles from an old pair of Diamond Tool and Horseshoe brand forged steel pliers he had lying around, since he liked the shape and ergonomics. However, the tongue and groove mechanism for adjusting the size of the pliers is taken from a more modern commercial product made by Channellock. “The tongue and groove design is very strong, and is appropriate for additive manufacturing,” Steuben told 3ders.org. “The mechanical stresses of gripping an object are carried by both a pivot pin and tongue boss, these components are loaded in pure shear. This helps keep delaminating forces in check, and as a result the pliers are very strong.”

In terms of the actual functioning of the tool, Steuben gave us a technical breakdown of the process: “The moving jaw pivots about a central pin. The location of this central pin is dictated by the engagement of a tongue into one of a set of five matching grooves on the stationary jaw. Both the tongue and grooves are radially symmetric about the axis of the pin, therefore the pliers can be open and closed while the pin rotates about a stationary axis. However if the pliers are opened past a certain point, the tongue disengages from the grooves and the moving jaw may be slid forward or backwards. Then the tongue can be slotted into another groove. This allows objects from 0 to 50mm in size to be grasped.  A snap ring keeps the two halves of the pliers locked together.”

The Navy Researcher designed the 3D model for his customized pliers in SolidWorks and then printed them on his Makergear M2 using gold PLA filament manufactured by Inland. 100% infill was used to ensure adequate mechanical strength. The tool is entirely 3D printed, and printing time was only 35 minutes total. Steuben said that he is very happy with the performance and strength of the final tool, and that it was an ideal project for 3D printing since the parameters can easily be adjusted to fit individual users’ needs. “If printed at full density, objects can be grasped using the full force of the operator’s hand,” he said. However, there is a small caveat: while the pliers can be printed at smaller sizes if needed, this reduces their strength dramatically. At 50% scale, the pliers will fail.

These pliers aren’t the only problem-solving tools Steuben has made with his 3D printer. As shown in the image below, he is also working on a 75% scale model of the groove-joint pliers, a pair of compound forceps that use a system of four flexible joints arranged in a diamond pattern to produce improved mechanical advantage, and a precise, 1/3 scale model of a Coes adjustable wrench (the “true” monkey wrench).

The 3D files for the adjustable groove-joint pliers are available on Thingiverse, and due to the positive feedback Steuben has received, he is hoping to upload more of his handy tool designs in the very near future. 



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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