Dec 3, 2014 | By Alec

3D printing projects don't have to be revolutionary or life-saving, as it's also a perfect manufacturing technology for producing fun toys for both young and old. And when it comes to toys, can you think of any type of toy that has seen more action than the kite? Children and adults have been playing with kites since at least the 6th century, when they were first mentioned in historical sources from China, and they're still a toy store classic throughout the world today.

This legacy alone makes it a perfect toy to recreate using 3D printing, though the materials it consists of might make you think again. Kites tend to be use and feature a variety of delicate, thin materials. Fortunately for us, the Berlin-based artist and engineer Michael Ang has developed a 3D printing kit that is perfect for recreating the connectors that are central to kites. Simply add fabric or paper, along with some thin wooden rods, and you've got yourself a (partly) 3D printed kite!

Michael Ang has been focussing on the intersection of art, engineering, and the natural world throughout his projects, and develops technological tools that combine human nature with the world around us. HIs artwork has been exhibited at NASA Ames Research Center for Yuri's Night, transmediale, Gray Area Foundation For The Arts, and Natalie Jeremijenko's OOZ. Kites, though simple at a glance, perfectly fit into his ambitions. After all, can you think of another widely popular device that involves man's obsession with flight, the power of the wind and a mathematically designed structure with a dihedral angle capable of harnessing the wind?

Michael has been developing a polygon construction technique called Polycon, which develops the uniquely shaped connectors necessary for kites, though they can also be used to shape rods into whatever structure you have your eye on. 'Polycon takes a simple polygon model and generates a set of connectors for 3D printing and list of cuts for material to connect the points of the polygon. After the connectors are printed and the connecting rods are cut the object can be assembled.' However, kites are just a perfect, tangible example of the technology's potential. To design these connectors, follow Michael's tutorial, which is perfect for kites but can also be used to design larger structures (or larger kites).

And it's very flexible. Michael relied on his Prusa i3 Berlin RepRap 3D printer and Cura software, but any type of regularly used printer/software combination should be just perfect. Just make sure to do some tests with your particular setup and layering, as it is important to achieve a particular level of strength and thickness. 'To get the most strength in your print you can make multiple prints of the connector with different settings (temperature, wall thickness, and so on) and see how much force it takes to break them. This is a good technique in general for getting strong prints.'

The design process itself is pretty straightforward; Michael modelled his using OpenSCAD software, which requires some basic programming skills. However, never fear as Michael provides all the necessary codes in his tutorial, and even highlights the areas that can be slightly adjusted for different models and effects. And if designing your own STL file isn't your thing, take a look at this Thingiverse file that is already printable.

Following his steps will allow you to assemble a classically-shaped Eddy diamond kite with a 3D printed connector, though the assembly process itself has nothing to do with 3D printing. You'll need to buy a one-meter long wooden rod with a 4mm diameter, which can be cut down into a 50 cm and two 25 cm pieces. If your design is correct (and properly printed), these can easily be connected using your home-made connector. Then simply follow these classic steps for assembling the string-and-paper sail. Now you've got yourself a kite! If need be, you can add yourself a tail that will increase the kite's stability in the air.

Now this kite alone is an excellent result, but Michael won't be who he is if he didn't start looking for expansions and other applications. For the same polycon design process can be used to produce a wide variety of connectors suitable for giant, flashy and complicated kites or just about any other construction.

Michael himself used this technique for an inspiring piece of art, the Chrysalis, for which he took geometric inspiration from the Monarch Butterfly in its cocoon. Like the kite, the Chrysalis was made but building and 3D printing a series of connectors, which together embody a unique shape. 'The Chrysalis is conceived as a "living" organism. During the day the Chrysalis has a simple white appearance and almost blends in. At night the internal process of metamorphosis is made visible by a pattern of lights that cycle from green to the colours of a fully developed Monarch butterfly.'

This work of art has already been installed as an urban intervention in Toronto, outside OCADU's Situation Lab. It was also shown at the Waldkultum Festival at Fort Gorgast, Germany. It perfectly shows that these 3D printed connectors and Michael's polycon technique can be used to create any shape you'd like. What would construct? You can find his polycon tutorial here.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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