Apr 22, 2017 | By David

The increasing popularity of 3D printing technology has had a particularly big impact on the use of Lego bricks. A custom-made Lego 3D printer, the virtual 3D modelling software Lego X, and a Lego-based biomedical 3D design tool are just some of the applications that have breathed new life into the beloved construction toy range over the last few years. Now the tech wizards at Adafruit Industries, whose 3D printing work we have covered before, have designed and 3D printed another impressive Lego innovation: flexible Lego bases that will stick to almost any surface.

The flexible adhesive strips were made using Adafruit’s own Ninjaflex 85A filament, and the Type A Machines Series 1 Pro 3D printer. The soft and rubbery characteristics of the Ninjaflex filament make it perfect for this task, as it can be bent easily without sacrificing the tightness that is required for a firm connection to Lego bricks. Its adhesive underside is possible to make with the help of a 3D printer with a heated bed, such as the Series 1 Pro.

In a helpful how-to guide and video posted on its website, Adafruit recommends heating your 3D printer bed to around 60 degrees Celsius, with the extruder heads at around 230 degrees Celsius. This will make the bottom layers of the print fuse together, giving the bottom of the strips a very glossy, smooth surface. This surface, when pressed up against a glass surface, will create an airtight vacuum, forcing the strip to cling tightly to the glass surface. Sticking in this way, without any extra adhesive materials required, means that the strips can be removed and repositioned as many times as you want.

The tightness of the strips is a result of the excellent physical resistances of the Ninjaflex filament. Regardless of how they are curved or flexed, the upper part of the base will keep its shape and firmness, meaning that any Lego bricks attatched to it will maintain a strong connection. This is the case even for the smallest 1x1 Lego bricks, which only have a very small area of contact with the base.

Adafruit disabled the retraction settings on the 3D printer it was using, and set extrusion speed to 30mm/s, and travel speed to 120mm/s.  Any excess material needed to be removed as much as possible, and the crucial first layer of the print needed to be neither too loose nor too squashed when the bed was levelled. A perfect balance needed to be struck between the bed being low enough to give a completely flat bottom surface and high enough to prevent the nozzle from buckling the material. Initial print time for the bottom was 1 hour and 3 minutes, with the total print time being around 2 hours and 30 minutes.

The Ninjaflex filament is available in a wide variety of colours, and the 3D design is scalable to any size as well as the final print being easy to alter with scissors if necessary. This means that the strips offer a huge amount of imaginative scope. Any part of a mirror, window, or computer screen, for example, can be decorated with these bendy Lego bases, allowing you to create all kinds of interesting Lego sculptures and scenes in places you would never have thought possible. They can even be sewn onto clothing or furniture. It’s great to see 3D printing technology being used like this to revitalize a design classic, and we can’t wait to see what Adafruit Industries will come up with next.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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