Dec 5, 2015 | By Alec

Industrial 3D printers are set to become an integral part of NASA’s mission to Mars, but that doesn’t mean that we home users can’t also 3D print aerospace-related objects. While several 3D printable spacecraft models can easily be found online, we’ve found that the best typically come out of the mind and hands of Instructables’ own Jon-a-Tron. This time around, he has taken inspiration from perhaps the most useful tool in space: the Canadarm, a multifunctional robot arm that is used to do just about anything out in open space, from retrieving satellites to removing ice.

In the real world, Jon-a-Tron (or Jonathan) is a designer at the Instructables Design Studio – which he rightly calls the best job ever – and he specializes in architecture, film sets and animatrics, and more. However, space travel is a particular fascination of his, and back in October we last saw the results of that with this cool and very detailed 3D printable interplanetary rocket.

If you 3D printed that, you’ll doubtlessly be ready to add this next creation to your collection. As Jonathan explains, it was based on the actual Canadarm – one of the crown jewels of the Canadian engineering world that has been in use by NASA for over thirty years. ‘I chose to go with the astronaut platform with this model, but since it's modular, all kinds of things could be added to the end. In the process, I also came up with a nice position locking feature that allows the arm to be moved into different positions and keep them,’ he explains. ‘This project allows you to explore the robust possibilities with the technology, such as joinery and mechanical movement. Using the Canadarm as a model, this piece is made up of multiple complex assemblies. The pins, slots, tabs, ball joints, and sockets all come together to make a posable finished product that demonstrates the movement of the real robot arm as well as a lesson in mechanics and construction.’

What’s more, Jonathan is as ever keen to get others to try this model themselves, and you can find a very detailed tutorial on Instructables here. This miniature Canadarm itself was designed in Fusion 360, which he regular uses as it is very easy to 3D print with. ‘Unlike a lot of other programs I've used, I've never had any issues with the geometry translating to a solid printable model. It's also worth mentioning that Fusion is FREE FOR LIFE with a "startup license",’ he advises. He used the ‘high’ settings whenever possible.

Now the only slightly complex part about this model is that Jonathan wasn’t taking the simple route in terms of parts. ‘I wanted the model to be as realistic as possible, so I designed it to be made of a bunch of separate parts that fit together,’ he says, which resulted in about 25 different parts that all need to be 3D printed – all can be found on Instructables and all can be assembled without glue or anything. ‘The most challenging part of the design was creating a strong but flexible connection joint for the robot arm. I wanted a standard male / female socket connection that would allow one part to be snapped into the other without hardware, then to be able to articulate and hold its position,’ he says. In the end, he came up with a four-pronged design on the male end that makes the connection as tight as you want it.

However, before 3D printing he used Meshmixer to prep the files, which he always does. ‘It gives you a lot of control over the model while providing useful default settings that you can tweak slightly to get the results you want. Meshmixer has settings loaded for the Dremel Idea Builder that help you position your model and create support structures. Here are the steps for prepping a model for printing,’ he says.  Also be sure to follow the exact positioning and support steps he provides in the tutorial.

3D printing itself was done on his Dremel 3D Printer, using high resolution and a temperature of 230 degrees. ‘ I changed the density from the default 35% in a few of the models. I found that especially on smaller parts, 75% density made for much sturdier parts’ he adds. ‘If you're doing lots of prints, I find it's very helpful to have a disposable surface you can replace quickly. I use 3M ScotchBlue 2090 Painter's Tape as a build surface because it's large enough to cover the whole bed- this way you don't get any seams.’

After 3D printing all these parts, it’s just a simple matter of following his extensive assembly guide and you’re ready to go! While in most cases you’ll intuitively join models together yourself, with Jonathan’s tutorial it’s hard to go wrong. It’s a fun project and a must-do for space fans everywhere. What’s more, to encourage people to give it a try, Jonathan has added a bonus: ‘IMadeIts posted here will earn you a free 3-month pro membership!’, he says, so what are you waiting for?



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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