Jamie came up with an idea to give-out tiny packages of LEGO in place of candy for Halloween to the kids at her office and for the packaging chose a classic of DIY projects, the Altoids tin. We happened to have a few of these in the warehouse, and she was able to garner enough additional donations to get good number of tins in usable shape.
My part of the project was creating “baseplates” that matched the size of the tin. We have a surplus of other LEGO parts to donate to the project but we don’t have a lot of plates, and the ones we have are not quite the right size to fit the tins properly. Additionally, these parts are surprisingly expensive and would have blown the budget for a project that we were donating everything for.
If only there was a way to get a perfectly-sized part that wasn’t too expensive…
(you know where this is going).
Since I first got into 3D printing almost a decade ago, people have been printing LEGO-compatible parts. In the early days these almost never worked because the quality of the printers and the materials meant the parts just were not precise enough. However it had been a long time since my first attempt and I thought it would be worth a shot, so I found a customizable model of the plate we wanted and tweaked it to fit nicely inside the Altoids tin.
I printed a test piece and while it didn’t turn out perfect, it actually worked! With that test behind us I switched into “mass”-production mode and started churning-out three boards at a time.
The printer ran like this for almost three days straight, almost certainly the longest amount of time it’s run nonstop without a breakdown. The quality of the parts varied but almost all of them were usable and we completed the project by test-driving each set to make sure we could build something fun with them.
Jamie did most of the work on this project but it was fun to do something both challenging (in terms of keeping the printer working) and beneficial with 3D printing. These are the sort of applications I’d love to see more of from both personal and especially community-operated printers.