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Life is Like a 3D Printed Marble Machine

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For all its useful and world changing applications there is one thing that often gets lost in the buzz about 3D printing. Sometimes it can just be about having a lot of fun. Whether you are 3D printing My Little Pony statues, Yoda heads, dragon-shaped cup holders, or key-shaped key chains, it can be a lot of fun to waste time on designing silly things and then watching them become real objects. After all, while additive manufacturing was developed with industrial applications in mind, it wasn’t until the maker movement turned it into a toy for grown-ups that things started to get interesting.

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It is that spirit of pointless an indulgent fun that encouraged 19-year-old Dutch design student Tulio Laanen to get into the marble machine making business. His first attempts at making fun marble machines were constructed from wood, but once he started his studies at Fontys School of Fine and Performing Arts and had access to 3D printers that all changed. His first 3D printed marble machine was a fun, rube goldbergian machine that looked almost like a carnival ride and that’s exactly how he wanted it.

“I always had a special passion for things like marble machines and chain-reactions. Also, work such as that from [Jean] Tinguely and Alexander Calder always inspired me. I think I love the senseless of it. The fact that things move and flow with their own motion, their own pace and their own path, without any particular meaning to it. I think it’s life in a nutshell and it resembles the philosophical side of science quite well,” Laanen told us via email.

His first machine took Laanen about four months of design and trial and error to get right, and he did it all in between school lessons. His hard work clearly paid off because while his second took almost as long to design, it is considerably more sophisticated.

The second marble machine he designed simplified the mechanics of it and reduced the amount of parts needed to make it work to only four: the main track, the spiral elevator mechanism, the elevator cap, and the turning wheel. He made the second look intentionally like a sand castle, while still retaining the same simple charm of the first. Here is a look at his new marble machine in action:

“I love the fact that children nowadays aren’t limited to the toys that the stores have in stock for them. But that they can now make whatever their imagination can think of. And in that way, it’s kinda like a sandcastle. Its a toy that is deformable and adaptable just like a really old school sandcastle,” continued Laanen.

3dp_marblemachine2_main3D Printed Marble Machine #2 was designed in Cinema 4D and then Laanen sliced the model in Cura. The multiple test prints and the final print were all done on his school’s Ultimaker 2 and it was designed to require no support or rafting. He printed his version using a 0.1mm layer heights, which took him about 38 hours. However, Laanen says that the marble machine could be printed with a 0.2 layer height without too much loss in detail or resolution.

3dp_marblemachine_backPersonally, I think Laanen’s second marble machine is a huge improvement over his first, and he clearly put more thought into it. He even made the spiral elevator mechanism spin in only a single direction so the balls can’t fall out the back.

You can download the model directly from Thingiverse here, and you can find his first attempt at a marble machine here. Since models on Thingiverse are all free, if you like the fun stuff that Laanen designs, then you can always support him by donating to his PayPal account when you download his models.

So what do you think of Tulio Laanen’s marble machine designs? Can you do better, or have you printed one yourself? Tell us all about it over on the 3D Printed Marble Machine #2 forum thread at 3DPB.com.

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