Here are the steps I took to create the "Circling the Square" watch body.
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1. Create A Dummy Object
Take detailed measurements of the electronics parts to be inserted into the watch base and create an accurate 3D model that matches its real world counterpart when produced by the intended desktop 3D printer.

Techniques Learned
  • Research Available Measurements ("Cheat")
  • Creating Orthographic Projections (The Six Views)
  • Plan for Insertion of Parts
  • Simplify Geometry to What Is Relevant
  • Plan to Accomodate Mechanical Tolerances
  • You Are Making Two (Three) Digital Dummies, Not Just One


2. Sketching the Watch Body

Leaning on the accurate model produced for the dummy object, sketch out ideas for the watch body design and take notes how you design references the electronic parts.

Techniques Learned:
  • Commit to a Design Concept
  • Identify Where Your Design Interfaces wIth Dummy
  • Trace Sketch with Vector Illustration Tool For Reference Markers for 3D Modeling.
  • Break Down Complicated Shapes Into Primitive Solids 


3. Modeling the Faceplate

Import sketches for faceplate into 3D CAD tool and use reference measurements and notes where parts interface to model the first part of the watch body.

Techniques Learned:
  • Create Reference "Cage"
  • Triangulate Placement Using Orthographic Projections
  • Use Many Layers (Duplicating, Locking, Hiding)
  • Construct Complicated Shapes From Primitive Solids 
  • Build Details Using Points, Curves, Surfaces.
  • Grouping vs Joining
  • Boolean Operations - As Late As Possible
  • Printing Test Parts; Insertion Test


4. Adding Buttons

Work with Faceplate test prints to determine placement of buttons and how they should interface with the enclosed electronics.

Techniques Learned:
  • Trapped Button Caps
  • Wireframe Routing Tip
  • Creating Button Cage
  • Creating Buttons and Button Cutting Tool
  • Printing Button Tests


5. Preparing for Wrist Straps

Create and implement a cutting tool for routing wrist straps / pocket watch fob. Create snap-fit strap bar for easier handling.

Techniques Learned:
  • Build In Flexibility for Range of Sizes
  • Overhangs and Support Material
  • Snap-fit Planning
  • Printing Strap Tests


6. Modeling the Backplate

Model the backplate to closeup back of watch body, to insulate the electronics, and to accomodate wrist straps.

Techniques Learned:
  • Scale and Offset 
  • Planning for Materials
  • Accomodate Range of Wrist Sizes
  • Printing Backplate Tests

A Few General Modeling Tips

While I will mention many of these elsewhere in this guide, it is worth gathering here the general modeling tips you will return to again and again.
  • Print a test object from your design software. As a first stage to design, create and export a small file with some easy to measure parts on x, y, and z axes. Print this as early in the process as possible and use digital calipers to measure how the physical object compares to the measurement settings in your digital design file.
  • Use Many Layers. Get to know the layers in your application and develop a practice of duplicating all of the elements that you will use for joins, 
  • Create "Reference Layers." The simple points, curves, and surfaces that you use to produce solid parts by combining, lofting, slicing, and boolean operations are of crucial value later in the design process as a reference for how you created complex shapes. Create separate reference layers and copy and paste the elements you use as tools before running operations on them so that you can retrieve them later if something goes wrong and you need to roll back the clock.
  • Build a Mechanical Tolerance Plan. Anytime you use a fabrication tool to produce a physical object from a digital design, there are slight differences between the "ideal" digital model and the accuracy of the machine used to create the printed object. When you create printed parts that interface with real world objects you need to plan to accomodate this by getting to know the technical specs for your machine and job settings -- and by printing frequently. See "Creating a Dummy Object" for a great practical example.
  • Create "Reference Cages." You will find that you will create geometry separate from your design primarily as a reference for position, compare, or separate objects. A good "reference cage" includes both geometry to reference the "dummy object" and workplane and the workplane of the object being modeled. (Here's a hint -- a reference cage for a cavity emphasizes the points and curves inset from boundary between cavity and dummy while a reference cage for an outer surface emphasizes the points and curves offset from the boundary of the object.) 
  • Learn the keyboard commands. You will rarely use all of the modeling tools from a CAD package within one project, just a small subset. Learning the keyboard commands won't just speed up the process of modeling, it will help keep you in more intuitive creative mindset than if you are constantly stopping to mouse over to a menu item.
  • Print Often, Measure Once, Twice, Thrice! Take every opportunity to print your model, or parts of your model, available to you. You will learn quite a bit about your model by holding it physically in your hand. And if you use each opportunity to measure and compare your real world model to your digital one, you will make sure you detect faster whether any of your modeling operations has shifted your design off of the baseline you established creating the dummy object.
  • Print Parts of your Model. To save time and print material, it is worth creating new layers with version of your project that are trimmed down to only the element you are currently working on, so that you can export and print those. Examples include how a button and button cavity will function. 
  • Adjust your model, not your job settings. While it is tempting to tweak your print job settings with lots of tiny scale and position changes in your CAM tool to just "make it work," those you share your printable model with after the design process will not benefit from what you learned about your model from printing it unless you go back into the design file and make adjustments there, upstream from your printable files.
  • Fused Filament Fabrication prints shrink as they cool. And by a factor of about 1%-2%, depending on your plastic vendor. You will get the hang of this over time, but as long as you accomodate this when planning for engineering tolerances your design should remain accurate to the world.

This guide was first published on Jan 12, 2013. It was last updated on Jan 12, 2013.

This page (Creating a 3D Model) was last updated on Jan 09, 2013.

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