The making of the 3D-printed, lasercut and electronically coolified hybris labs logo

As you might have heard, we’ve opened the hybris labs space in Munich. This is a show room where we the labs team will be able to showcase the prototypes it’s built over the years, so potential new customers, as well as our partners and existing customers can have look, get inspired, disucuss new technology and concepts. We’re still working on the details on how to maintain that showroom, but we’re already collecting the gadgets and the prototypes that we’ve built over the years. It seems to pay off that we “became physical” (jaja) very very early. It simply means we have stuff to put into those rooms. From wine shelves that show the latest around IoT to in-store displays that use gestures to navigate or iBeacons to identify customers.

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But this post is not about these prototypes. I realized that pretty much everything in the hybris labs space has story. A real story, one that you do not get when you “just buy it” – via external services or off-the-shelf. Sometimes a painful one, a story of hard work and failure as things did not turn out the way we wanted. But very often also stories of great exploration and experimentation combined with good returns – it very often really payed off when it comes to the reach we’ve achieved with our prototypes.

So everything has a story. And I could not resist to give our #hybrislabs logo, the logo that visitors will first see when they enter the space, a special story. Just ordering it would have been too easy and really not hybris labs. So…. as me and my family are new members of the FabLab Munich, I decided to 3D print, laser-cut and then electronically coolify the logo.

Some people have asked me for a step-by-step guide, so I hope to at least shed a bit of light into the process of making such a logo. I know for example, that Andreas Kopp of FabLab Munich Fame and Pixomat wants to recreate such a logo. It turns out that such a project is a great introduction to 3D printing, laser cutting and also electronics.

The logo was created in 3 steps:

  • 3D-printing the housing – each letter forms a little box with around 1.5mm wall width. I used a 2D SVG file from Inkscape and imported that into AutoDesk 123D, later on exported it to CURA for printing on an Ultimaker 3D printer. This process takes incredibly long. Each letter needs to be printed and even though I combined a few per print-job, I estimate around 20 hours in total. That’s time you mostly have to surveil the print job, but still it’s time you have to spend.
  • Once I had these “containers”, I added WS2812B RGB LED strips to the letters. This means a lot of cutting, drilling holes for the in/output lines and especially soldering. This process takes around 5-6 hours depending on your soldering skills.
  • Finally, after everything is electronically connected, tested, glued to the bottom of the 3D-printed letters, it’s time to laser-cut the top elements out of milky acrylic glass. As the laser cutter is a very exact machine, you can simply measure the length of a letter that got 3D printed and scale the lasercut design accordingly. I first created a MDF (wood) prototype of these top elements before I lasercut the more expensive acrylic glass.

Let’s take a more detailed look.

3D-printing the housing

For this, I started with a 3D SVG file (vectors) for the hybris labs logo. I got this a while back from our designers, SNK in Munich. I imported this “as a sketch” which means go get a flat surface in 123D.

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Next, I extruded that logo 3cms high. Now I had little solid elements for each letter.

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To create containers, I selected the top surface element and chose “shell”. It will allow you to specify the wall thickness, which is very important for 3D printing. Choose a wise and thick shell. I ended up scaling it down later on quite a bit, which reduces the shell thickness. I chose 3mm which worked well, even after scaling down in 123D by 0.5 and in CURA again by 0.75 (just my numbers).

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It’s likely you will now  have to create a few .STL exports of that file because at least the 3D printers I had access to cannot print a meter long logo. So I ended up having around 5 print jobs. Actual printing, creation of the 3D printers GCODE was doen with CURA. That tool imports an STL file and exports the GCODE onto a SD-Card which goes into the 3D printer (like Ultimaker).

I will not cover all the settings in CURA, as this might also be a bit specific to the 3D printer you have.

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Making it Blink

At this point, we have our 3D-printed containers and we have to add RGB pixels to them so we can later control them with an arduino. The ingredients here are:

  • Access to a drill so you can drill holes into the containers.
  • WS2812B strips, like these from eBay. These can be controlled with e Adafruit NeoPixel library.
  •  3-wire cable for connecting all the pieces
  • soldering iron, solder
  • Arduino or compatible microcontroller, 5V power supply, power depends on how many pixels you drive. Each pixel has 16 mA I believe… in our logo we’ve got around 100.
  • some wine to smoothen your feelings. This step takes a lot of accuracy, time, patience.

Once I had figured out the best way to connect each letter, I cut the WS2812 RGB strip into pieces and put the pieces into the containers.

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Next up is the soldering. Each pixel strip has VCC, GND and the Data in/out pins. Essentially the three wires are connected to the beginning of each strip part, then connected between the parts. It is very very important that you test the pixels after each soldering step. The problem is that some pixels might be bad, and if you have such a pixel in the middle of your project, you will search endlessly later on. So solder one piece, then try it out immediately. For testing, simply import the Adafruit NeoPixel library into the Arduino IDE, load the strandtest example and add the right values for pixel count and data pin. Do not forget to connect the GNDs of your power supply and the Arduino GND, plus place a 330Ohm resistor before the first pixel’s data input. Also, it is recommended to use a capacitor across the power supply to smoothen spikes when the power supply is turned on.

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Laser-Cutting the top elements

The final step is a rather quick step in the overall process. Using a laser-cutter, I cut out the top elements that go on top of the housing. The good thing about a laser cutter (compared to a 3d printer I feel) is that it is very exact. So it makes sense to 3D print some parts first, measure them, then adapt the lasercut design. Still I first used cheap MDF / wood to try out if the measurements are really correct, then I used acrylic glass for the second run.

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I simply measured the length of the “l” in “labs” and adjusted the size of the labs logo based on that length. I used two supporting lines / rules in Inkscape for that (sorry, no screenshot available for that). With the cutter we have at the FabLab Munich, I then had to save the file as a pdf and import it into Corel Draw which is the vector program setup on the lasercutter PC. Laser cutting itself is a pretty easy and quick process – once the speed and intensity of the laser are checked the actual cutting just takes a few minutes.

Finally, the elements – bottom 3D printend and full of electronics and the top parts which are laser-cut – need to be glued together. To hold everyhing in place I used these clips that you normally use to hang up your wet clothes…

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Et voilà

I realize not every step might be 100% clear at this point, but I hope it gives a good overview. It’s the best I came up with over the last 45 mins and I need to move on to a few other things. Please comment or tweet me for questions, share it, thx a lot for reading!