Instructables contributor “machinest” decided that, despite the proliferation of cheap wireless mouse devices–they’re everywhere, aren’t they?–it couldn’t hurt to design one that could be 3D printed because, well, why not? While he (or she!) knew a lot about the technical part of the project, how the electronics worked, he didn’t know much about 3D modeling.
The ensuing make-it-yourself project involved working with electronic components, including a microcontroller, a circuit board, and optical sensors. “Machinest’s” Instructables tutorial is focused primarily on the 3D design and printing aspects of the mouse’s production.
It began at the drawing board with sketches on paper, working out what the shell or case of the device would look like–how it would most efficiently and ergonomically house the electronics, and ensuring that the PCB (printed circuit board) and the click buttons worked well with the overall design. It wasn’t a solo project, as some mechanical designers were consulted, but that’s the beauty of being a part of an ever-expanding maker community–there’s always help out there if you need it.
The transition from paper sketches of the model to 3D models was not an especially smooth one. Like many enthusiastic DIYers, “machinest” had a wealth of enthusiasm and interest in learning new skills but little know-how where CAD programs were concerned. He (or she!) explained:
“Given my modest knowledge on CAD modeling tools, I wanted to try making this model myself. Although I had tried a number of modeling tools (Autodesk Inventor, Rhinoceros, Sketchup), my acquaintance with the tools was not sufficient to make something that looks and works like a mouse.”
The process may have been stalled indefinitely, had he not discovered ProtoDnD, a web-based collaborative platform that lets users submit their ideas to experienced designers who create 3D models for them. No longer do good ideas have to languish in the ether! Thanks to ProtoDnD, a knowledgeable CAD modeler stepped in.
A brainstorming session with the 3D modeling expert took place, including agreeing on dimensions and establishing some basic requirements: The mouse needed a window for the optical sensor. Pods for screwing the PCB to the base of the mouse were needed and a “solid mating” had to be ensured between the two switches on the PCB and the buttons on the case. Some back and forth ensued, including via annotations directly on the .stl model, refinements were made, and the final .stl files were ready for 3D printing.
The end result, printing on an Objet 3D printer, is pretty basic–impressively so in an age where making a simple device or project more complicated than it should be. Particularly cool is the translucent material that lets you see the inner-workings of the mouse. Although the project must certainly have cost its maker a good deal more than buying a mouse online or via a nearby retailer, as long as the electronics hold up, subsequent versions of the case can be easily and cheaply produced as long as there’s an accessible 3D printer and filament. Of course, in the absence of the latter, there are always web-based 3D printing services to do the job.
Is a 3D printed mouse the accessory your computer needs? Let us know if this is a project you’ll try at home (or work!) in the 3D Printed Wireless Mouse forum thread at 3DPB.com.