Jan 19, 2015 | By Kira

We’ve all felt the surprising jolt of electricity that sometimes comes with touching a doorknob, turning a faucet, or even shaking hands with another person. While it may sting for a second or two, it’s a tangible and first-hand way to see electrostatic energy in action. Now, imagine being able to create that static energy anytime you want. Wimshurst influence machines, originally developed in the late 1800s, allow you to do just that, and Jake von Slatt has found a way to 3D print your very own.

To give you a bit of history, Wimshurst influence machines are electrostatic generators, developed to generate high voltages using a rotating armature of amber, sulfur or glass, and a cloth or brush to create friction and induce a charge. In the 17th century, they were used by scientists and doctors to ignite x-ray tubes for medical imaging, and even in shock therapy (luckily for us, it’s not common practice anymore).

The man behind The Steampunk Workshop, von Slatt had previously designed and built a working Wimshurst influence machine out of everyday materials found at his local hardware store. That machine was capable of generating high voltage sparks, with arcs as big as 6”.

While his 3D printed model is significantly less powerful, producing ½” sparks at best, it is still a mechanical feat of ingenuity, and a project that with some more fine tuning and experimentation, has potential for exciting results.

von Slatt used Autodesk 123D to design it, and printed on a 200x200x100 RepRap. All parts were initially printed in PLA with a 20% fill. Other materials needed to complete the project include 608 skate bearings, a 5/16” fiberglass rod for the axles and shafts and aluminum duct tape. Since he wanted as many of the parts as possible to be printed, he even sprayed the collector electrodes and discharge electrodes with a carbon based RFI/EMI shielding paint to make them conductive.

Along with the conductive carbon paint, von Slatt also discovered a Thermo-Plastic Elastomer 3D printer filament that he used to print the drive belts.

Steampunk, a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy literature that is usually set in the Victorian era, blends 19th century aesthetics with modern, “retro-futuristic” steam-powered machinery. Therefore, von Slatt chose to design his machine with a gothic theme, inspired by the ogees and mullions of medieval cathedrals and 19th century steam engines.

The finished project is a mechanical feat, and even though it’s not quite as powerful as he was hoping, he already has a few theories as to why that is. “I do think that the carbon painted conductors are bleeding off some charge due to their “bumpiness”, and I also feel that the brads on the charge collector combs could be pointier and more densely placed,” he said. “But I think the main issue is with the structure of the disks themselves.” Some of his own ideas for improving the performance include printing the conductive pieces on ABS and smoothing them out with acetone vapor before painting them with the conductive paint, using dress maker’s pins instead of brads for the charge collector, or printing only the hubs of the disks and cutting the rest of acrylic or poly-carbonate sheet.

If you’re up for the challenge, the STL files and Autodesk 123D design source files are available on Makerbot’s Thingiverse. And even if you don’t get the giant sparks you were hoping for, you can admire its beauty while pranking your friends with a good old-fashioned handshake buzzer


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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AC wrote at 3/20/2015 2:10:24 AM:

The bit of history has several incorrections. Wimshurst machines are "influence machines" that multiply ever present small charges until the voltage gets high enough to make sparks. They don't rely on friction. The disks were originally made of glass or ebonite, not of amber or sulfur. They were used to drive x-ray machines, but at the end of the 19th century, not in the 17th, where almost nothing of electricity was known.

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