3D Printing XXL size

2017-01-03

During Christmas time, from December 15th to 30th 2016, I had the opportunity to run what we called “3D Live Exhibition“ where we 3d printed a 2 meter-high Chinese character and invite the public to participate in several areas. This was a first in several regards, so keep reading to know more!

Background

Following a workshop “Make Your Own 3D Printer” last June, Creative Macau invited me to think about an exhibition where we could showcase 3d printers. I was not inclined to show 3d printers in a static installation but rather create the conditions for public participation and social interactions (which also happens to be a research interest for my PhD ;-).

I was interested in highlighting relationships between humans and technologies and how technology is foremost a creation and an extension of our humanity and should connect humans to relate to each others. Of course, our world is a bit more complex and technologies are not always serving our best interest :-( I truly believe that technologies, like any human creations, are showing the amazing creativity of humans.

As I live in China I am always interested to relate my western culture with the Chinese culture, which is really the definition of Macau: a mix of european (mainly Portuguese) and Chinese cultures. Therefore, I decided to go with a simple, meaningful and well known Chinese character: ‘人’ (Rén in pinying, we pronounce it “yan” in Cantonese) which means “people” in English. I like this character for several reason: 1) it is simple to read! 2) it looks like a person walking to a defined objective, 3) it has an interesting shape that I found quite artistic, and finally 4) I found it meaningful in my work for this project (more onto it below).

WeAreHumans

Based on this initial idea, I wrote a simple Manifesto for the exhibition: Technologies have a tremendous impact in our daily life, they have become fashionable, desirable and somehow they define us, they shape us and they are giving us a social status. They are transforming our bodies and our life to make us better humans or simply to keep us from our own evil side. But, as everything humankind is creating, technologies are also an extension of ourselves, a projection of our thoughts and feelings. A deep outreach to our social peers, a need from our soul to engage in relationships. To reach the sky. To touch the infinite.
We are humans. We are social animals and we all desire to connect. This is what this exhibition is about: celebrating our humanity, our creativity and our interactions.

Timelapse of the full event from December 15th to 30th 2016.

As you can see, I was not alone working on this project and I want again thanks my colleagues Filipa Martins, Carlos Sena Caires, Filipe Farinha and Marco Leong for their invaluable help, support and ideas all along, from conception, making to completion. I could not achieve this project by myself.

The Character

Taken from a standard Chinese font, I redraw it in Autodesk Fusion360 and extruded it to get my 3d model, nothing special here, basic 3d modeling. Unless you have a huge 3d printer, when you want to print a 2m+ object you have to cut it in small blocks that can fit in your printers. Each block was created through a Voronoi generated pattern, therefore they are all unique in shape. I ended up with a very special 3d puzzle of 120 blocks to export and prepare for printing.
As mentioned, each blocks are unique in shape, I had two reasons for this: 1) aesthetically: it makes the overall piece more interesting visually and 2) symbolically: each person is unique but all together we make the humanity!

3D Yan Character in Fusion360

3D Printing

All blocks were printed in white PLA filament to keep it clear and because one of the intentions was also to use the big character as a “screen” for some projection mapping later on. I used Simplify3D for the slicing (software preparation for 3d printing) of all the blocks. Not all blocks are equal: the bottom ones carry most of the weight therefore I decided to make them a bit stronger. Here is the slicing configuration:

  • Layer height: 0.38mm (0.2 on the Ultimaker2),
  • Infill: 0% (the 10 bottom blocks on each sides were printed with 10% infill),
  • Shell (outside walls): 3 (~1.5mm),
  • Top layers: 5, bottom layers: 3,
  • XY Speed: 100mm/s.

Regarding the 3D printers here are the ones we used:

  • 2 * Lulzbot Taz5: they did the heavy work since they have a massive bed size (a bit less than 30cm3!). They are extremely reliable and they ran almost non-stop 24 hours a day. I was printing in average 5 blocks at a time! I did have to do a little bit of maintenance for both of them: the extruder idler broke. No big deal though, since the printer is fully open source/open hardware, I just reprinted those 2 parts quickly on the Mini!
  • 1 * Lulzbot Mini: much smaller but also very reliable machine, printing in average only 1 block at a time.
  • 1 * Ultimaker 2: this printer is beautifully built, always attracting visitors, even at night with the LEDs inside! However, I had to stop using it due mainly to problems with the extruder. In the future, I will replace it with a new one (probably the E3D kit). Once fixed, I am sure it will work like a charm!
  • 1 * Micromake Kossel: a DYI Kossel printer from China! We customized the printer with a fake E3D Hotend, bigger nozzles, etc… Unfortunately, we did not have time to use it much for this project.

All printers were provided by the Digital Fabrication Lab of the Faculty of Creative Industries at University of Saint Joseph and were controlled by Octoprint on a Raspberry Pi 2 (attached to each machine). Seriously, who can live without Octoprint in 3D Printing? ;-)

Exhibition View

Interactivity

It was important for us in this exhibition to allow interactivity between visitors and the installation. At the same time, we did not want to add complex interactivity and computerized systems, we wanted to show that interactivity is not necessary requiring a lot of computerized technical systems but you can create the conditions for interactions with low level technologies.
We created 3 specific levels of interactivity for our visitors, to allow them to become participants as well:

Signing

Visitors are invited to sign with a message at the back of a 3d printed block. One person bound to a block to make each block related to a human.

Photo Taking

Visitors are also invited to play with the big colorful letters we had (each letter is 22cm high, 5cm depth) to make words or simply their initials or name and take selfies or photos.

Sharing

We finally invited visitors to share their photos on their favorite social networks with our dedicated hashtags: #wearehumans, #3dliveprinting, and #3dyancharacter.

Obviously, we also had the possibility for visitors to 1) watch the 3d printers, 2) interact with us, ask questions, etc…
A more in-depth analysis of the interactivity during the exhibition will be developed in the coming months with a detail publication.

Projection Mapping

As mentioned earlier, the character was printed in white to use it as a screen and project animations on it. My colleague Carlos produced animations with sound (using Apple Motion 5 software). We had a few ideas for our animation concept:

  1. Tracing of the character contour with an animation,
  2. “flash lights”, random anmimation on the character,
  3. hashtags #wearehumans, #3dliveprinting #3dyancharacter displayed.

We actually displayed the projection mapping since day 1 on the spot where the character will raise 2 weeks later, it helps visitors to understand what was happening and to measure the progress.

The video for the projection mapping

Numbers

Because everybody like numbers (or almost everybody…), we collected various characteristic, anecdotic or funny numbers over the preparation and the exhibition time. Here are a few of them (related to the printing of the character only):

  • Size: 2.1m high x 2.2m wide x 0.1m deep
  • Number of parts: 120
  • Total Print Time (for the Chinese character only): over 190 hours (about 8 days)
  • Weight of Filament used: 14kg or around 1.4km in length (white filament only, not counting failed prints)
  • Total Epoxy Glue: 400ml (10 serynges)
  • Assembling Time: 45 hours

To my knowledge, it was a very unique experience and most probably the biggest Chinese character ever 3d printed!…but who cares? ;-)