View of robot

3D printing: Not as scary as you think

  • Written by Tabitha Lewis | Makerspace Coordinator
    Jul 23, 2018
  • Category:
    / Education

Pioneer Tabitha Lewis lets a Brock University student share his 3D success story in his own words.

Alex came into the space several times before, but this time he was on a mission. Determined to solve a design problem for his robotics class, he came to the makerspace to work through some possible solutions using 3D printing.

As usual we wanted to encourage Alex not to simply download something online but to figure out how to ideate and design his solution. We encourage this to ensure that students are learning innovative design skills through the process of 3D modeling and printing. Alex shares in his own words how he solved his design problems through the process of 3D modeling and printing:

I am building a LEGO Mindstorms NXT robot for both my robotics class and my machine learning class. I wanted a robot with complex behaviors; one that can learn from its environment. I decided to swap out the low-caliber NXT “brain” that comes with simple programming software, a few MB of RAM and six AA batteries for a BrickPi.

My problem was that I had to power the Raspberry Pi along with the motors. The motors get powered by 12V NiMH batteries, but these would drain quickly if they also had to power the Raspberry Pi. To counter this, I purchased a heavy-duty portable phone charger. Now this problem was that none of the LEGO pieces fit around the battery nicely without having a lot of space leftover. he closest fit meant that there were an even number of holes in my LEGO pieces, but most of them come with an odd number. This made much of my design asymmetric.

I stumbled upon a blog written by a person who designed 3D printed lego parts; he had designed one for his Raspberry Pi camera along with other parts (like ball bearings among other things). I was fascinated and downloaded the models. I knew that Brock offered 3D printing services at the Makerspace which I had peeked into a few times before to see what was happening. They recently moved to a larger space and have plenty of printers. I asked to print the part I had downloaded, but they told me I had to design it myself since it was a creative space and they wanted to encourage learning. I offered to learn and they introduced me to TinkerCAD, an online 3D modeling program.


lego design

I ended up using Fusion 360 by Autodesk and designed the camera case myself. It was a steep learning curve which often involved having dozens of tabs open. I finished one design and was proud of myself, and I had the whole weekend to consider my work. I probably designed 6 or 7 cases before I was happy with the final design. I decided I wanted my phone charger and NiMH battery cases to be the same dimension on the outside (of different lengths) so that they would be closely compatible with each other. When I came in the next day, I discovered that my print turned out wonderfully. All of the holes were perfectly sized and when I went to check that all of the sides were compatible, everything fit snugly and perfectly.


One of the greatest advantages of 3D printing the case was that since the battery is the core of the robot, I now had a large surface with lots of connections and that was sturdy. I also designed it so that the holes were odd-numbered so everything was compatible! I wouldn’t have been able to do this without the wonderful patience and support of the people at the Makerspace. In particular, I really appreciated their willingness to let me print several copies and point me in the right direction when I needed help.


Alex Van de Kleut
Brock University, 2019
Neurocomputing, BSc Honours
Applications of neuronal structures to machine learning algorithms and artificial general intelligence.

It will be exciting to see how Alex approaches problem-solving now that he has gained literacy in technology surrounding 3D modeling and printing.


Final part printed