Aug.15, 2013

Erik Pettersson from Enköping, Sweden made an inspiring gear painting on his eMaker Huxley 3D printer back in 2011. Last year he created a beautiful 3D-printed Kinetic sculptures. This year Erik Pettersson comes up with another 3D printed art-project: the ball sculpture.

It reminds me the SpaceWarp, line of popular build-it-yourself toy rolling ball "roller coasters" that originated in 1980 and manufactured by Japanese toy company Bandai. It allows users to construct their own futuristic roller coaster to the sizes and dimensions of their choice. Thick plastic tubing is cut in varying lengths to form the curves and loops of the track and is held in place by plastic rail track holders. Steel balls that follow along the track are carried back to the top of the coaster by a battery-powered screw conveyor.

Inpired by Mark Bischof's beautiful rolling ball sculptures, Pettersson created his own art for home or office. The basic rule of this rolling ball sculpture is to allow glass or steel balls roll all the way on the track, as slowly as possible.

This is a "lots of work" project. Pettersson started his design of the sculpture in August 2012. The designing part took about 100 hours in Google SketchUp. For keeping the sculpture a clean looking Pettersson kept only two types of curves on the track.

The building process was started with the "elevator", the screw that pushes the ball upward when the elevator pipe turns. Instead of using any glue or screws to attach either the track or the holder Pettersson chose to 3D print track holders to snap everything in place. Because he needed different lengths of the holders for the tracks to stay where he wanted, so it turned out to be 8 different holders that should be designed and printed. The images below are a 3D printed holder in closeup and then all of them printed.

One big challenge is to bend the rods all manually and it took him about 5 months to get them done, by only working on evenings. Totally he has built 67 track templates each holding 2 rails of track.

The base platform is built for holding the pillars, elevator, elevator counter holders and drive gear, all screws are invisible form outside.

The final stage was to assemble all the parts together. Pettersson started from the lowest level to set the slope. Then he also had to figure out the load and offload of the balls in the elevator, which was one of the hardest parts of the project.

"It turns out that one of the hardest parts of the project was to adjust the levels of the tracks. It is very important that the balls are the same weight and size. And its very hard to lower the speed when it has accelerated. The amount of slope I used in the design is WAY to much and I had to lower the tracks considerably to even come close. This meant that I had to shorten the elevator as well. The balls are now rolling all the way, but the speed is a bit high. It works and all, but in my mind I imagined them to go slower. I will continue to adjust the levels for a while. But I'm happy enough with the result now to publish this anyway. :)" writes Pettersson.

Here are some nice shots of the latest version:

(Image Credit: Erik Pettersson)

More about this 3D printed ball sculpture:

  • Total design time in Google SketchUp: About 100 hours.
  • Total building time: About 300 hours.
  • Total printing time: About 50 hours.
  • All printed parts are printed on a: RepRapPro Huxley (Beta) 3D-Printer.
  • There are six 16mm glass balls in total in the sculpture.
  • Only one ball at a time rolls on the track.
  • The motor turns 1 rpm, then it's geared down a bit more so one turn on the elevator takes about 5 mins and 32 secs.
  • The ride for the ball from start to end takes about 1 min and 30 secs. This means that most of the time nothing happens except the elevator slowly pushing the balls upwards. This was one of the key elements of the sculpture. It shall not disturb you, but when you watch it, you will be impressed. :)

You can find all the STL-files for all printed parts on Thingiverse.

Great project, Erik! Find detailed infomation here on Erik Pettersson's blog.

Posted in 3D Printing Applications



Maybe you also like:


Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to Feeds twitter facebook   

About provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive