Jun 10, 2015 | By Alec

Everyone in the 3D printing community is time and again reminded of just how much potential 3D printing technology has, from life-saving medical applications to spare parts for actual spacecraft. Of course, the fast majority of us only have access to an FDM 3D printer, but Taiwanese maker Tony Su shows us how that shouldn’t hold us back. Why stick to 3D printing planters and pencil cases if we can relatively easily 3D print electronic toys and other inexpensive solutions for our everyday life?

For that is exactly how Tony Su approaches his DIY Prusa i3 3D printer. As he explained to 3ders.org, he is a software engineer at IC Design House who is actually mad about making and has spent his entire life assembling and designing things. ‘I like to realize ideas for a lot of different things in my head, but in the past I was only able to give them shape via design software. When I was still a student, I therefore developed designs for 3D video games,’ he says. ‘But now, with the popularity and decreasing prices of hardware modules, 3D printing technology is becoming mature enough for everyone. My ideas are no longer limited to a digital rendering, but I can bring them to life through 3D printing hardware.'

As such, his 3D printer is always being used for one project or another, either for things his children want to play with, or for objects to be used in and around the house. Especially his kids seem to be lucky with such dad, as he has, among others, 3D printed objects as diverse for them as a candy vending machine, a remote control car and even a pinball machine.

Fortunately, Tony is more than happy to show these to us, of which the vending machine can be seen above, complete with a coin based operating system that can give you your change back. ‘This candy vending machine started out as a simple carton box to play with. But once I got my hands on a 3D printer, I was able to start building complex structures to house, for instance, the electronics of the money changing mechanics. However, I did need to add a wooden board to strengthen the structure for use.'

The candy vending machine in action. Who wouldn’t have wanted one of these as a kid?

The basic 3D printed car

However, the remote controlled car Tony made looks just as fun, but is also a frugal solution. As he explains, it was inspired by LEGO’s expensive sets that feature basic electronic components for cars and simple robots. While safe options for kids, they are not always the perfect choice for your wallet, nor are they very powerful. ‘To program these robots, you would have to purchase expensive LEGO sets, but 3D printing is an easy alternative,’ he tells us. ‘3D printing an RC robot can be easily done with some inexpensive electronic components, and can even be combined with any LEGO bricks you have laying around.’

The LEGO/3D printed RC car, that can be transformed into gorgeous and fantastical creations by any child, as it is fully compatible with LEGO blocks.

But perhaps most ambitious is Tony’s decision to tackle a pinball machine. As he explains, these things can be found all over Taiwan in playgrounds, supermarkets and so on. ‘My children particularly like them, and I found out that pinball machines are not very complicated structures. With the help of my 3D printer, I was even able to produce some parts that cannot be created in just wood, such as the marble channel components that include the light and touch switches,’ he says. As you can see in the building clip below, Tony resorted for a rather modest machine, but the exact same principles can be applied to a pinball machine of any size.

The building of an actual 3D printed pinball machine.

But of course his children are not the only ones to benefit from his doubtlessly time-consuming hobby, as Tony even 3D printed a light for his own bicycle. ‘But my children also had a lot of ideas for this one, as making a bike light isn’t difficult at all. For instance, they decided that the color of the light should be green and that it should flash in a certain pattern. However, it is exceptionally easy to make with 3D printing technology, and while this is just a basic shape, it can take any form to suit your bike or your style,’ Tony explains.

The bike light. 

What’s more, all these projects are remarkably simple to make. As Tony’s DIY Prusa i3 3D printer is quite small, all parts are 3D printed in PLA in pieces no larger than 20 cm. ‘Its accuracy is not very high, but the tolerance can be calculated, so it won't cause problems for my designs. For example, the tolerance of the hole is about 1mm, so if I want to make a 3mm hole, my design should be around 4mm,’ he explains.

But all of these projects, understandably, feature a basic engineered system, revolving around a single chip micro-computer, the occaissional LEDs and stepper motors. And as these parts have massively come down in price in recent years, projects like these are easier to complete than ever before. So what’s our excuse? Tony, meanwhile, is already working on a number of other projects, mostly in the toy department. ‘I am currently planning to build a device that can pick up dolls,’ he tells us. For more on Tony’s exploits, check out his YouTube channel here.

Some of Tony’s other creations: triangular pyramid speakers (above) and a small shelf for a fluorescent lamp.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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