Sep 24, 2016 | By Benedict

Aidan Leitch, a young New Yorker with a passion for 3D printing, has engineered an effective and consistent bouncy ball made from NinjaFlex 3D printing filament. After some unsuccessful prototypes, Leitch eventually improved the design with a 3D isometric internal structure.

With the possible exception of parents, everybody loves bouncy balls. No matter how quickly you lose them under a car, the thrill of the bouncy ball captivates all. Unfortunately, as we grow older, those 25-cent twist-to-dispense vending machines—for where else would you typically find a bouncy ball?—seem fewer and farther between. That, however, is not the end of the bouncy ball story: one committed maker has carried out a massive 3D printed bouncy ball research project, reeling off several spherical iterations in order to come up with a quality CAD design for a high-bouncing orb of joy.

Aidan Leitch, a New York-based maker, lists 3D printing, soft robotics, and electronics amongst his hobbies, but is also clearly a keen bouncer, for how else would someone so young have the skill and the patience to seek out the ultimate 3D printed bouncy ball? In truth, the maker has been assisted by 3D printing materials company NinjaTek, whose NinjaFlex TPE 3D printing filament has given makers the power to stretch, bend, and indeed bounce their 3D printed objects for several years now. All of Leitch’s bouncy ball designs were printed in NinjaFlex, though any kind of flexible filament would presumably produce similar results.

According to Leitch himself, the journey to the (near-)perfect bouncy ball has so far been a long and difficult one, though the maker is learning important bouncing facts at every step along the way. “When I got NinjaFlex working on one of my 3D printers, my first goal was was to make a bouncy ball,” Leitch recalls. “Sounds simple, right? I printed a simple sphere in a flexible filament. I was disappointed when I discovered that it did not yield great results. It bounced inconsistently, both in how high it bounced and where it went after impact.”

The reason for poor and uneven bounce of Leitch’s first prototype was its infill pattern, assigned to it by default. Leitch’s slicing software had created a grid pattern within the bouncy ball which made the object compressible on the X and Y axes but firm and un-bouncy on the Z axis. The result was a bouncy ball which would only really take off when it landed on certain areas. Leitch’s solution was to create a 3D isometric structure, inspired by a video from Maker’s Muse about 3D lattice infills, to replace the basic grid pattern of the first ball, which he calls Version 0.

To create his own 3D lattice structure, Leitch used Meshmixer, and saw gradual improvements in his next prototype. Although it was too dense and therefore insufficiently bouncy, this Version 1 (wall thickness of 2mm, tube thickness of 3mm, density of 7.5mm) was at least more consistent than the original ball, so Leitch persevered with his lattice design in order to perfect the rubbery sphere. Version 2 (4mm wall thickness, 4mm tube thickness, 10mm density) was where things really took off, bouncing around 3’ 9” on average. Version 3 (3mm wall thickness, 3mm tube thickness, 18mm density) yielded slightly worse results than Version 2, averaging 3' 4”.

“Upon further investigation, I found that there is a fundamental limit to how ‘consistently bouncy’ a 3D printed structure can be,” Leitch adds. “This is a result of 3D printed flexible materials being more elastic in parallel with the layer lines. This results in the ball bouncing best when it's layers are parallel with the surface it is bouncing off of. Paradoxically, 3D printing is the only manufacturing technology that can make this geometry, making this limit unavoidable.”

Leitch has made each version of the 3D printable bouncy ball available to download, though he recommends Version 2 for maximum bounce. The maker is currently researching  3D metamaterial structures as he continues his quest to create the ultimate 3D printed bouncy ball.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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