May 13, 2016 | By Alec

The fantastic Kentucky Derby was held last week, but one horse clearly stood out from all the others at this iconic equestrian event. If you happened to watch the Derby report on NBC Sports, you cannot have missed the amazing 3D printed brooch worn by reporter and two-time Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir. Connected to a Twitter feed, the amazing social brooch galloped amidst flashing lights whenever the hashtag #WatchMeNeighNeigh was used on Twitter. As a result, Lawrence, the 3D printed horse on the brooch, was galloping almost continuously throughout the Derby.

This fantastic 3D printed social brooch was actually created through a collaborative project involving NBC Sports and product and marketing developers Viget. It was also a huge success, as an estimated 16 million people watched the Derby on NBC Sports and had the opportunity to interact with the horse. And as Viget’s hardware developer Justin Sinichko explains, it was quite a challenging 3D printing stunt.

As the maker reveals in a blog post, the funny brooch was actually born out of a brainstorming session. And as Sinichko previously worked on a ranch, he had extensive experience with horse movement. Through several hours of design work, this was translated into a 3D printable model. “Though we ultimately backed away from double-articulated legs (the linear mechanics involved to perfectly nail it were too complex for the project’s small scale) we found that combining the legs with a slight head bob were plenty convincing,” he recalls.

However, Lawrence’s the small scale presented a big challenge, as the brooch needed to be about 3.5” (8.89cm) wide and as thin and light as possible. This was eventually realized through Fusion 360, in which Sinichko minimized every component as much as possible. “During these early steps I took care to design and constrain each component of the model so it could be altered later. This type of changeability is most easily accomplished using parametric modeling -- something that is as much a feature of some CAD utilities as it is a design methodology. Parametric modeling, paired with rapid prototyping technologies, facilitate quick design iterations,” he says.

To 3D print his prototypes, Sinichko relied on Viget’s trusty LuzBot Mini 3D printer – which they use for any reasonably sized project. “This is especially true for intricate components that are otherwise a bear to painstakingly tool by hand. We’re familiar with 3D printer tolerances, limits, and bake these into our designs,” he explains. “These considerations include specifically sized gaps between moving components and part heights that divide evenly into the layer-heights found in our production slicer profile.”

All in all, about ten different iterations were made, including several major alternations to reduce noise. Through the LulzBot 3D printer, these were all completed in just an hour or so, using white nGen colorFabb filament for the horse, and clear t-Glase Taulman filament for the linkage and LED housing. While nGen bonds very well between layers, t-Glasse is stiffer and translucent, and very easy to work with. The early prototypes focused on motion, and the later ones on refining production techniques – which was necessary because the aesthetics of the horse might not be finalized until the day before the Derby. During assembly, plastic heat-set inserts were added to the design, with brass components and several screws used to ensure a solid brooch that doesn’t suffer from material fatigue. The servo was also mounted with two eyeglass screws.

As the electronics module required quite a few wires, these were all hidden away inside Johnny Weir’s jacket during the final adjustments. The module itself handles both power management and networking, and both WiFi and cellular options were included just in case. “Because networking at the Derby, especially cellular, was an unknown we wanted the ability to hot-swap on the fly. Our custom web-app allowed us to monitor the state of these devices remotely and also target multiple devices with control commands at once. Inside each module was the brooch’s brain -- either a Particle Photon (WiFi) or Particle Electron (3G),” Sinichko explains.

But the results are fantastic. The wires are completely invisible, while the extra-long pink tail provides a fun effect. “It may be hard to see, but that pink tail matches a 5’ (152cm) long ponytail that Johnny rocked during the entire Derby. These are small details that make a big difference when working to pull off a stellar stunt,” Sinichko adds. Most importantly, the brooch was a huge Twitter hit, and looking through the #WatchMeNeighNeigh list shows just how much people enjoyed this entertaining addition to the Kentucky Derby.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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