3D Printed Campus

As part of the century celebration on campus, the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology; Digital Scholarship Lab; and Boatwright Library collaborated on the printing of a 2 foot by 3 foot terrain map of campus as it looked in 1914 with 7 major buildings on campus and the roads and terrain as they existed at the time. The image below shows the 12 pieces that were designed for individual printing on the new 3D printer

Image from SketchUp software of the 12 tablet pieces that make up the 3D printed campus map of 1914

The photo below shows the final and printed version (the two blocks in the upper, right-hand corner had not yet been finished so they have a pastel look to them).

Photo of the 3D printed campus that parallels the design image

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SketchUp 2014 Plugins

As mentioned previously, SketchUp 2014 has a new scheme for installing plugins.  Trimble SketchUp now hosts a repository for SketchUp plugins that one can access and install directly from SketchUp Make or Pro.  There is an Extension Warehouse that can be called by clicking on the button (below) located on the toolbar. Toolbar of SketchUp Pro 2014 highlighting Extension Warehouse feature Here are some recommended extensions as an update to those previously assembled here.

PLEASE NOTE: As of publishing, the Extension Warehouse seems to require an account (free) to download extensions, both inside SketchUp and from a web browser.  The unfortunate part is that there do not seem to be any error messages notifying you when trying to download a file when not logged in or if your session times out – it simply doesn’t download.

Installing UR CTLT-selected Plugins

In order to make the process easier for installing plugins for those in the University of Richmond community who will be using SketchUp through engagement with the CTLT and/or TLC, you may wish to follow the steps below.

  1. Install SketchUp 2014 Make or Pro if you do not have either one.
  2. Open SketchUp.
  3. Go to the Extension Warehouse using the icon on the tool bar shown below.Toolbar of SketchUp Pro 2014 highlighting Extension Warehouse feature
  4. Login or create an account with the Extension Warehouse (as mentioned above, the site doesn’t let you download extensions unless you are logged into an account and they do not warn you).
  5. Search for the Plugin Loader plugin (see http://www.alexschreyer.net/projects/plugin-loader-for-sketchup/ for more information about the tool including installation and use).
  6. Install the plugin into your SketchUp.  You should now see a Plugins menu item between “Window” and “Help.”
  7. Download the SketchUpPlugins_URCTLTselected zip file that we created to be an archive of all the aforementioned plugins. 
  8. Once downloaded to your computer, you will need to unzip (expand) it into a folder on your computer (the instructions depend whether you have a Windows PC, Mac, or other operating system – Google is your friend).
  9. Within SketchUp, click the Plugins menu item, then go to Plugin Loader, and finally click on “Load all plugins from a folder (RB)”.Plugin Loader screen
  10. An instructional message will appear, just click OK.OK button
  11. Browse to the folder that you created when expanding the zip file on your computer (from steps 7 and 8 above).Selecting a file
  12. Select one of the .RB files (such as SPGears.rb) and then click the Open or OK button (depending on your OS and web browser).  You should get a message that the plugins were successfully loaded.Success
  13. Use the aforementioned plugins as much as you want!  Please note that by following these steps exactly, you will need to follow them again each time you open SketchUp.  If you are working from your own computer, you may want to use the install all the plugins so you do not need to load them every time you use SketchUp; however, you would need to download and install each one from the links above.

Installing in a Multi-User Environment

There are most probably additional steps related to setting plugins folders permissions for multi-user access and possibly editing plist files for Macs, but there seems to be a new wrinkle in SketchUp 2014 plugins that may cause issues.  It seems that all plugins are installed as user plugins (installed in user’s home folder) rather than system-wide plugins.  On a Mac, this means the plugins get installed in /Users/[username]/Library/Application Support/SketchUp 2014/SketchUp/Plugins rather than /Library/Application Support/SketchUp 2014/SketchUp/Plugins  .  In fact, there is no /Library/Application Support/SketchUp 2014/ folder even created.  However, in the case above where we want to install the Plugin Loader plugin, I was able to get it to work for at least myself by creating the /Library/Application Support/SketchUp 2014/SketchUp/Plugins folder structure and then depositing the as_pluginloader.rb file and as_pluginloader folder (that are included in the as_pluginloader.rbz compressed file) into the /Library/Application Support/SketchUp 2014/SketchUp/Plugins folder.

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Second Tutorial for Creating a Cube Project for 3D Printing

The following tutorial contains the remaining steps for creating a cube designed for 3D printing in which the cube consists of 3 interlocking components each made of smaller cubes (click here for the 1st part of the tutorial).


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First Tutorial for Creating a Cube Project for 3D Printing

The following tutorial contains the bulk of the steps for creating a cube designed for 3D printing in which the cube consists of 3 interlocking components each made of smaller cubes.

The remaining steps that would be necessary for preparing the sculptures for 3D printing are limited to reducing the dimensions of the interior faces in order to permit the pieces to fit together with the printing tolerances and materials used.  A tutorial demonstrating these steps will follow.

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A Biology Experiment

Four prototypes of the flytrack starting with a raceway approach and then leading to the final design with a sample video camera for recording.Professors Ovidiu Lipan and Laura Runyen-Janecky approached the CTLT with the idea of developing a new fly experiment for introductory science students in the Integrated Quantitative Science course in which students would study the locomotion of various ages of a particular fly.  We began researching and developing some options for a device to use in the experiment, guided by the fact that there is nothing commercially available for their application and that the university does not have a machine shop available for this.

Among the specifications were things like the device needing to allow simple loading and unloading of the flies, controlling the flies from escaping, allowing reproducibility and multiple trials for the experiment, permitting video recording of the experiment for analysis, backlighting the device to allow better contrast for data acquisition, and being able to mark the device for “start” and “finish” lines.

Over the next couple months, we developed a few prototypes in Trimble SketchUp and discussed the virtual designs.  We then proceeded to make physical prototypes using the CTLT 3D printers (Solidoodle version 2 and version 3 printers).  During this phase, the CTLT also learned how to improve accuracy of printing through experimenting with PLA plastic filament versus ABS plastic filament (PLA contracts less as it cools after printing which allows for better printing precision, necessary for fitted parts).

After the last prototype proved successful in testing with flies early in the summer, the CTLT then looked at fabrication options for creating 10 of the experimental setups.  For printing the pieces through Shapeways, a popular online 3D printing service, and assembling the devices locally, we determined that the cost would be $2310 (see table below).  We then calculated the cost for doing the 3D printing ourselves on our 3D printers to be $137 or about 6% of the online cost.

Item Description Cost Each Quantity Per Experiment Cost Per Experiment Quantity Extended Cost Shapeways Extended Cost
Magnets – 1/4×1/4 $0.65 4 $2.60 10 $26.00 $26.00
Magnets – 1/4×1/8 $0.53 4 $2.13 10 $21.30 $21.30
FlyTrack $4.00 1 $4.00 10 $40.00 $1,004.50
FlytTrack Base $2.00 2 $4.00 10 $40.00 $1,170.00
magnet holder $0.02 4 $0.09 10 $0.91 $73.60
Plexiglass $0.83 1 $0.83 10 $8.33 $8.33
S&H $0.00 $6.50
Total $136.54 $2,310.23

These numbers are for the final pieces.  However as mentioned above, we experimented with the design and went through about 3 physical prototypes.  These prototypes would have each cost about $120 for testing and would have taken 3-5 days for turnaround time, adding that on to the development time that we had used.

We admit that this is not a complete story about costs.  Obviously, we are not including the costs of staff time (although the bulk of the CTLT time was done off the clock and the rest is considered aligned with the goals of effectively integrating technology into teaching and learning).  Further, this was not an exhaustive cost analysis.  We did not research the costs for traditional fabrication for such a device.  Of course factory mass production would be too expensive, but there are “traditional” machine shops (without 3D printing) that could probably make these devices incorporating most of the aforementioned specifications.  However, in our experience with outsourced research instrument design, we believe the hourly rate of a machinist’s time would be enough to make this unfeasible as well.

We proceeded to print the pieces in the CTLT and acquire the additional parts to assemble the devices.  The time required to print the 10 FlyTracks and 20 FlyTrack bases (10 devices) came to 110 hours.  Luckily, very little of it required human attention.

The final design is available from Thingiverse to allow other schools and individuals to use and/or evolve the design.

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Tinkercad is Coming Back

Tinkercad logoDirectly from the founder and CEO of Tinkercad is word that they are being bought by Autodesk, and there are “exciting plans for Tinkercad.” The shutdown of Tindercad has been rolled back, people can again sign up for accounts.”

We like TinkerCad because it most of the basic features from SketchUp but has an even lower learning curve and can create “watertight parts” more easily (the parts need to be mathematically solid if they are to be 3D printed).

One can sign up for a free account at http://tinkercad.com/.  Best practice is to save your work and export it from any cloud service like Tinkercad soon after completion (just in case the service changes).

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3D Printing in the UR Alumni Magazine

overhead photo of the 3D cube of letters taken while being printed
As a collaborate project between University Communications, CTLT, and Boatwright Library, we developed the largest 3D print to be printed on a UR CTLT printer for inclusion in a video that documents the night culture in the library.  The cubic prop measured 180mm (over 7 inches) in its largest dimension and paves the way for large academic 3D printed objects.  The Solidoodle 3 printer can print an object up to 8 in. x 8 in. x 8 in., so we expect it will get more use for printing everything from large molecular models to student 3D design sculpture.

Communications developed the typography and provided a sample to the CTLT for further refinement and extrusion into a 3D shape.  The CTLT imported the design into SketchUp from an Adobe Illustrator intermediary file format. SketchUp allowed us to create the solid object with some hidden support structures to give the letters more rigidity during filming, and we could model the final look and feel of the object for approval.  We conducted a couple scaled test prints and iteratively developed the design for optimal printing.  We then set up the 3D printer in such a way that it could execute the 50+ hour print job while allowing time lapse photography of the printing process to be included in the video project.

To read the article and see the video, please visit the alumni magazine web site.

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SketchUp 2013

The New SketchUp 2013 Extension Warehouse logoSketchUp 2013 was released this week and represents a slight improvement over past versions.  The most notable changes, however, are that Trimble has furthered their effort in creatnig an identity for the product after they acquired SketchUp from Google in 2012. The new free version of SketchUp is called SketchUp Make.  Beyond more intuitive feature icons, the software has mainly added an Extension Warehouse to provide simple discover and installation of plugins for extending what SketchUp can do (see earlier post for the SketchUp plugins that we recommend). A list of all the additional features are available at the SketchUp web site.

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Google SketchUp

SketchUp editing image of castle

[Updated 5/15/13 with new list of plugins]

SketchUp is a great tool for doing 3D design.  It has a very low learning curve and can be used to create accurate designs.  Moreover, there are many plug-ins for use with the app to increase functionality and interoperability.


SketchUp is available for download from their site, but it is also available on the computers in the Technology Learning Center located on the 3rd floor of Boatwright Library.


There are many sources for tutorials for using SketchUp.  The best video tutorials are the official ones originally from Google and now maintained by Trimble (visit http://www.sketchup.com/training/videos.html ).  Also, there are tutorial files that can be opened in SketchUp and walk you through learning various skills.  They are available through the 3D Warehouse (visit http://sketchup.google.com/3dwarehouse/cldetails?clid=36e1fa0d054a15eecc725c514c21d975 ).  The University of Richmond subscribes to Atomic Learning tutorials for its community; however, those tutorials are only up to SketchUp version 7 (visit http://is.richmond.edu/training/tutorials.html ).


The plug-ins that are installed and are recommended for greatly increasing the utility of SketchUp include:

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UR CTLT 3D Printing in the News

We were visited today by Richmond’s own WTVR senior reporter, Wayne Covil.  He interviewed me as part of a story about the 3D printing of guns (see earlier post for background). Bottom-line, current low-cost 3D printers are not quite ready to print guns, but they are coming.

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