As the festive period is now upon us, I thought it was time that I got inspired and began what has become an annual tradition for a new festive project. This year’s project took the form of some cool tree decorations used to showcase three of my favorite garage manufacturing methods! I chose to use three methods that I’d say most makers would have access to at least one of, 3D Printing, Laser Cutting and Resin Casting. With these methods in mind, I headed for 3DEXPERIENCE SOLIDWORKS for Makers and began designing.
The first of the three decorations I made was the Resin Cast. I wanted to keep this relatively simple and decided I’d use some clear epoxy resin as my material. My plan was to encase some typical festive type items within the clear resin to produce a cool effect. In my head I thought this would be some sort of holly leaf and perhaps some berries or cinnamon sticks etc. The design for this one would therefore be simple: a circle with a small hole at the top to attach ribbon to allow the ornament to hang. Once I’d loaded 3DEXPERIENCE SOLIDWORKS I started by creating a sketch in the top plane. This sketch was a circle 80mm in diameter with a smaller circle within this offset towards the top of the sketch. I dimensioned each sketch attribute to control placement and size. Once I was happy with this, I used the simple extrude sketch feature to produce the 3D part.
At this point it was time to produce the mold pattern. This would act as the replica of our design to create the silicone mold which we would then create the cast item within. I now had a decision to make, do I 3D print the part and spend what would feel like a week sanding or do I cheat the process and use my laser cutter to create the same master in less time with no sanding? As you’d expect I opted for the latter. I cut 2 pieces of 6mm thick acrylic to the design, then produced and stuck these together using some simple super glue.
From here I followed the standard casting process, producing a mold using silicone, allowing time to cure before removing this from the master pattern. It’s worth noting this is a really simple process and you don’t need any specialist tools or equipment. I always use scrap bits of cardboard to create my mold wall rather than wasting time cutting acrylic. Once I was happy that the silicone was fully cured, I measured out and poured my epoxy resin into the mold before carefully inserting a miniature candy cane into the liquid resin using toothpicks. When I was happy with the placement of the decoration within the casting, I used a blow torch to carefully heat the top of the ornament to remove as many of the rising air bubbles as possible. If you have the equipment, you could use a pressure pot to collapse any bubbles for the best finish possible – I’m thinking of making my own in the future for projects.
Leaving the poured resin to cure overnight, I returned the next day to remove my finished ornament from the mold. I think this turned out great, but the surface finish could definitely be improved by using a pressure pot for the casting process.
The second design was made using laser cutting. I started by finding free artwork online which I could use to create my festive design. I opted for a reindeer which would be etched onto the surface of the ornament. Within 3DEXPERIENCE SOLIDWORKS I created a simple circle like the previous variant and extruded 3mm. Upon this newly created surface I then imported the artwork using the sketch feature tool (hidden within the tools toolbar) and then traced around this to reproduce the outline of the imported sketch. I could have used my favorite SOLIDWORKS add in, the AutoTrace tool. But, due to the resolution of the image I was tracing, it was picking up some odd areas I didn’t want to select so I opted for the manual method. Once I had the outline completed, I added snowflakes to the design by creating one as a sketch on a circular PCD before using a circular sketch pattern to insert six of these sketches into the design.
At this point I had a choice: call it quits and produce the design or add some additional detail. I chose to add a few more features and create a 3D border to surround the design. To do so, I used the Convert Entities tool to replicate the circumference of the design before offsetting this by the required amount to produce the desired effect. The final stage, like with my first design, was to add a thru hole to allow the ornament to hang.
From my created SOLIDWORKS design I compiled two DXF files, one for the base layer with the engraved image and once for the circumferential ring. Laser cutting can be a simple process or a difficult process I’ve found. Coolant water temperature and material quality can play a key part in this. MDF was my material of choice for this design. However, I quickly came to the realization that different bits of MDF have different amounts of glue within them which can massively affect the amount of energy and number of passes required to cut material effectively. Settings that I’d previously used to cut this material wouldn’t cut as cleanly as required or would fail to go through the full thickness of the material. After a period of tuning and adjusting these settings within the laser software I was finally ready to run the parts needed. I nested as many top and bottom pieces as I could per sheet of MDF to get the best material yield possible. Once I was happy, I loaded this file onto my cutter and commenced the cutting process. The produced parts looked great, and I was happy to do the simple task of using super glue to bond the upper and lower pieces together.
When I was happy with the results of the resin casting and laser cutting, I headed into the final version which would be 3D printed. There were a few crazy ideas which sprung to mind but I decided I’d keep this tastefully simple to match the homey feel and theme of the other ornaments that would make up the set. I decided I’d like to do some sort of Christmas tree. I had a few thoughts on how best to achieve this within 3DEXPERIENCE SOLIDWORKS for Makers and had to pause for a moment to decide how best to attack this design. I decided the best way would be to create several sketches which would be 45 degrees apart. I’d then use a simple chamfer to create the final design. The 3D element of the design would be created by using simple extrudes with a distance of 20mm. I love the twisted look to this design and think it was a simple yet effective design which showcased how some entry level SOLIDWORKS CAD tools can allow anyone to have a go at designing.
The making on this one was easy due to the automatic nature of 3D printing; I simply exported the produced design as a STL file before importing into the print slicing software to prepare for printing. I’d be using PLA as my printing due to its easy-going nature and the fact it can be printed without a heated enclosure. Hitting print, I returned several hours later to find my festive tree ornament complete!
With the three ornaments lined up next to each other I reflected. For a quick and simple make, these ornaments really show how anyone can use the powerful 3DEXPERIENCE SOLIDWORKS for Makers to get involved with some festive making activities!
For the next festive season, I’d like to make an edit to the 3D printed design so that it better fits with the round disc shaped theme of the others.
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