Dec 19, 2014 | By Simon

Despite there being more objects to download and 3D print than ever, a large majority of the objects available are still static objects that resemble more of a small statue than something kinetic and moveable.

Considering that it takes some serious skill to create articulated objects and ensure that the moving pieces line up perfectly, it's not surprising that the 3D printed projects out there with articulated parts are limited.

With that being said, creating your own articulating 3D prints isn't as hard as you think...and oftentimes, they can be assembled during the printing process with no need to assemble with your hands! To put things into perspective, a recent example of a 3D printed object that was assembled during the print process is the recently revealed Kinematics 3D printed dress.

In their Instructables project "How to Create 3D Printable Articulated Sculptures", project creator 'chosetec' outlines the steps necessary for creating your very own 3D prints with movable parts and print-assembled parts.

As for what kind of a 3D printer you are using, the printer should be able to create nested parts that allows for two parts to be printed next to each other without fusing together. Among others, SLS works just fine. If you don't have access to an SLS 3D printer, Shapeways offers an SLS 3D printing service.

As for what you choose to model is up to you, but for the sake of their exercise, 'chosetec' chose to 3D model and print a crab in order to highlight the multiple mechanical features as seen in the natural biological structure of crab legs:

Starting with an inspiration image and creating a hand drawn design to work from, the process then moves into a 3D modeling program (in this case, Wings3D) to be constructed into 3D printable geometry.

Once the form has been determined, the movable joints can be created as one singular entity (be careful to pay attention to sensitive material thicknesses), and then duplicated for the rest of where it is needed in the model. If your 3D modeling program has a 'mate' or 'simulation' feature, you should be able to test how well the joints move during this step.

Once you have your initial form and mechanical components modeled and duplicated, the next step is to finalize the model using sculpting techniques or anything else you would like to add in terms of features. If you are creating something based off of a real-life object, you might want to double-check your inspiration image so that the proportions look accurate. If you are creating an object of your own imagination, now is the time to finalize any last details.

Next, it's time to export the file as an .STL to be printed. While your own 3D printer might work just fine, the printers used by Shapeways will almost certainly print your models at a higher resolution, if desired. In this case, you can upload your file and select your ordering options, such as material type, per your requirements.

So, whether you chose to model the crab as seen here or a design of your choosing, the steps you followed during this process will apply to any other 3D print where you want to assemble the pieces into an articulating object.

Have fun!

Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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Benjamin Midon wrote at 6/11/2019 2:07:37 PM:

I don't really understand how does it work. It's just a question of thickness where we want our joint ? You can use the material do you want ? Because if you are using metal like stainless steel, i don't understand how the small thickness break. Because if you're using plastic like PLA or ABS the thickness break so you have your joint but with metal ?? Thanks (sorry for my english, i'm a french student)

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