The Future Is Now

3D printing has always fascinated me and I have wanted to take part ever since I first heard about it.  That this is at all possible is staggering; you take something from your imagination, write it down in a computer and in 7-10 business days, your imagined thing becomes a real thing in your hands. This being 2013, access is easy; there are sites online where you can send your model files to and have the resulting thing shipped to you.

The real problem was how to make a model?  Frankly, I don’t have any particular training in 3D modelling.  However, I do have patience.  Lots and lots of patience.  So, I began to investigate tools and brainstorm what I was able to make that would be useful.

I was inspired by this Kickstarter which had a fantastic idea, but not exactly what I wanted.  The idea for the Kickstarter was to make a 5″ negative mould which you could use as an imprint to make custom, themed bases out of green stuff.  You put a layer of green stuff on the base, then press it into the mould and get a unique base for every model, but all variations on a theme.

Infinite bases

I (like everyone else on the planet) have a Convergence army and wanted to make something high-tech and mathematical for their bases.  I had decided I wanted to do something that looked like it could be the factory floor of a Convergence base.  I started looking around for designs that involved Hexagons (my favourite shape) and recursion (an interesting programming technique that makes for beautiful images).  This is what I found that caught my eye:


So, I wanted this to be something where the lines were grooves in the floor. It would be possible to “lift” a tile (by carving out the greenstuff) and show off some gears or tech below the floor on some bases for a little variety.  The template would be 120mm wide to accommodate Colossal/Battle Engine bases, and there would be lots of space to pick spots for individual models for variety.

After discussing this with some co-workers, I tried Blender first.  I found that it was complicated to use and the UI wasn’t very intuitive.  I think it’s also intended for more advanced users.  After some fits and starts, I gave up on it.  I may go back later.

A little googling turned up (surprise, surprise) SketchUp by Google.  It’s intended as a simple way for Makers to create models to send to 3D Printers.  After a little time with the tutorials and messing around, I worked out all the kinks in my plan and was able to get to work.

The beauty of recursion is that it’s the same pattern over and over again.  You can build up to the result by iterating over the same plan again and again.  I started with the base hexagon (thankfully SketchUp has a hexagon shape and snaps to other vertices).  Then I used additional hexagons to make the adjacent diamond shape and finally deleted the parts I didn’t need.




At this point, you need to keep in mind the scale for the item.  When you create a new project in SketchUp, you can pick the units that you want it in. I picked millimeters because this is an easy one to relate to the base sizes and it’s the 21st century for God’s sake!  I chose a 7.5mm edge-to-edge radius on the Hexagon because the pattern will be repeated 4 times to get to 120mm.  Now you can Push the shape up into a 3D block.  I used 5mm as that should be pretty solid and I wanted to limit the costs involved.  3D printing is typically done based on the volume of the object and the material used.  I may have to adjust the thickness later, but that’s ok.


Now I can use the Offset tool to create the ridges.  The Offset tool makes a shape the same size as the selected one, but slightly larger or smaller.  In my case, I’m making an identical shape 0.5mm smaller than the original so that I can “pull” the edge up and create the ridge that will make the indent in the floor. (Remember this is a mould, so I’m working in reverse from what we want to see on the base)


Now I can select the outer edge and raise it up 0.5mm

Step6Now, I am finally ready to make my first real hexagon in the pattern.  I can use the Rotate tool along with a Ctrl-click to create a duplicate and rotate it 120 degrees and then 240 degrees to complete the hexagon.Step7


Now I’m back a fancy version of my original hexagon.  Since this recursion, I can create a new diamond shaped tail and repeat the Push, Offset, Move and Rotate/Copy commands to get another Hexagon.



I can continue this process two more times to get the final model:


And there I have my initial cut at a 3D model for a recursive hexagon shaped base mould.

Next time, I will talk about the things I did wrong and why I had to start all over. Part 2

Author: CG

I am a software developer by trade with an interest in mathematics and wargaming. I love it when I can bring all my interests together at the same time.

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