Dec 10, 2014 | By Alec

The beauty of 3D printing is being able to reinterpret and redesign existing objects to suit your own preferences. And this doesn't have to be fun, as it can also be instructional. And this particular digital clock is all of that, as well as truly amazing. Unlike most clocks, this 3D printed 'Word Clock' lights up the specific time, up to a five minute accuracy. While therefore not great when boiling an egg, it's a clever and unusual design that looks absolutely stunning.

And what's more, its relatively easy to build, provided you have a dual extruder set-up and a bit of engineering skills, as the LED setup and programming behind the 'light wells' that separate the light for each word is a bit complicated. It has been made by Instructables user drhatch, who fortunately wrote a detailed tutorial to help everyone on their way.

As he explains, he relied on a two-headed Makerbot Replicator 2X 3D printer to print the whole clock piece as one single impressive object in just over six hours. To do so, the black walls (not the casing, that's an extra piece) were printed in black ABS with one extruder, while the other simultaneously worked on the light diffusers in a very very thin (0.05") layer of translucent 'Natural' ABS filament. That stuff results in milky clear prints, and is therefore perfect for these light diffusing screens which give the whole lamp a friendly, warm glow.

All the STL files to actually print this design can be downloaded from the Instructables guide, and have been made by drhatch using Autodesk123D Design. Just make sure you have both STL files (one for each extruder) that need to both be opened at the same time. To do so, simply follow the steps of the Makerbot software and assign each to one of the extruder heads.

Once printed, it's a complicated matter of installing a microprocessor, a clock IC and all those necessary 72 LEDs. You'll need to order a whole list of parts, though fortunately Drhatch developed a very complicated PC board and schematics that will make installing these much easier.

To program it, it's a simple matter of downloading the designer's home-made code. This software is fairly straight forward, and revolves around a clock chip. The software reads the chip's time and turns on the corresponding LED lights. Another cool feature reads the ambient light level from the sensor, making sure the LEDs are somewhat dimmed in a darker room.

Once installed, it's a matter of assembling your cool time-telling creation. Aside from the 3D printed parts and hardware, you'll need to create a 'word mask' that sits on top of the light well piece to create the words. The design includes the word mask used in this clock, and drhatch advises using a laser cutter on a sheet of acrylic, though you can probably 3D print a mask too.

After gluing that piece in place, drhatch added a nice enclosure in the shape of a store-bought 6" x 6" x 1.5" shadow box that can be purchased at Michael's (and likely at any other similar store). A simple 5 volt regulated wall wart attached to the back acts power source.

All in all, this very cool and unusual clock can be a very fun 3D printing project, though you'll need a bit of engineering experience to bring it to a successful conclusion. But what project is better than one that's practical, functional, accurate and helps you to be on time? And you're guaranteed of having one of the most original clocks out there.

Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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