3D Printing - Beeeeees - The Difficulty of Design

3D printing is new, shiny and a wonderful opportunity to make amazing things.  From the outside, it looks easy but it can be really difficult to get the good quality information on it.  That is where I struggled starting out.  Here I’ll share the things I’ve learned on my own journey so that you might get to skip the first few mistakes I’ve made. 

We wanted bees.  Fast.  I wanted big fluffy ones but that’s beside the point.  These beautiful little creatures are quite complex if you want an accurate representation of them.  I dove right in to try to 3D print them.  Reading the specs on various printers I naively assumed that if a printer could print a 100 micron layer then I could design to that size.  This was not my cleverest moment.  There isn’t much structural integrity in a strand of skinny melted plastic.  My very first design never even got to print as the tail and antenna were too thin.  So I started with a head, wings and body on a little stand.  He was tiny.
3DHubs.com was recommended to me by a friend so I started there.  I’ve continued to use their service and information over the last 2 years even after finally getting a printer myself so it was good starting point.  I sent my bee off to be printed at a local, reasonably priced printer.  It was upon uploading it to the website that I found out my overall component design was so small there were potential difficulties in printing it.  My design was about 12mm tall.

My first print:

Thanks to the help of the nice person printing this, I learned a lot about what is possible with an FDM printer (the main type of consumer printer that melts plastics to make things).  I also found out all FDM printers are not created equal and the printer suggested I try a resin printer to get the results I wanted.  More on that in later posts.  For now, the happy ending was that I increased the size of the print to 22cm and ended up with the lovely yellow bee from the start of this post.