Tag Archives: ClearNav

Flap Handle ClearNav Remote Caddy Done! (I hope)

John tells me that the latest and greatest flap handle ClearNav remote caddy version is alive and doing well in his glider.  The flap grip section fits over the metal flap control handle nicely, and the redesigned remote caddy section with its beefed-up quarter-turn fastener seems to be holding up OK so far.  The ‘caddy garage’ piece also seems to be working to hold the remote caddy in an out of the way place when not in use, allowing John to enter/exit the glider without worrying about damaging the caddy or breaking a cable.  Only time will tell, but for now it looks like I might be DONE!!!

Original flap grip replaced with ClearNav remote caddy

Original flap grip replaced with ClearNav remote caddy

Remote caddy detached from flap grip and connected to 'garage' piece mounted to instrument panel using one of the instrument screws

Remote caddy detached from flap grip and connected to ‘garage’ piece mounted to instrument panel using one of the instrument screws

I Need a Better Class of Pilot!

In our last episode of the Flap Handle Follies, I was sure I had all the bases covered.

  • Larger set-screws in grip – check!
  • 1/4 turn locking latch connecting flap grip to remote caddy assembly – check!
  • Rotatable remote caddy with spring-plunger detent every 10 degrees – check!

Unfortunately, one essential item for success with this version was missing from my checklist, and its absence spelled doom:

  • Non-gorilla pilot – check!

A few days after sending the latest version to John, I got an email with some photos and suggestions, and a few days after that I got my folded/stapled/mutilated flap handle assembly back – boy was I embarrassed!  What I had thought was a *brilliant* solution to a problem turned out to be not-so-brilliant when exposed to a pilot who expected things to go together in a particular way.  I had designed the 1/4 turn locking mechanism so the locking direction was opposite the normal “righty-tighty” direction because by doing so, the pilot’s normal thumb position on the remote caddy tended to hold the caddy locked onto the flap grip, as opposed to tending to unlock it.  Unfortunately, I had forgotten to mention this feat of brilliance to my friend, who expected everything to conform to normal lock/unlock conventions – oops!

Ah, well – it wasn’t a total failure, because we learned some things in the process:

  • The 3-piece assembly (flap grip, grip-to-caddy converter, caddy) was too long; John couldn’t reach the CN remote’s buttons with his thumb while his hand was comfortably placed on the flap grip.
  • The 1/4-turn locking mechanism was way too fragile (jokes about gorilla pilots notwithstanding)
  • The dimensions of the rectangular slot in the grip piece seemed to be just about right.

So, back to the drawing board yet again.  hunting through the forest of design possibilities for just the right combination.

  • Minimize or eliminate the grip-to-caddy converter to reduce overall length
  • Enlarge/strengthen the 1/4-turn locking mechanism (but keep the opposite direction actuation)

Minimizing or eliminating the converter piece required that I drop the caddy rotation feature.  This was kind of overkill anyway, as John had marked the correct (for him) rotation much earlier in the game;  I was trying to generalize his preference into something other pilots could use as well.   I just needed to think about the rotation feature as something ‘baked in’ to the design, rather than something pilot-adjustable.

Enlarging/Strengthening the 1/4-turn locking mechanism shouldn’t be too much trouble, as the latch parts were available in their own separate design files, so a simple scaling operation should do the trick there.  The only limitation on size being that the latching mechanism has to fit into the top of the flap grip and the bottom of the converter piece.

Based on my now extensive experience with printing parts on my PrintrBot, I also added the requirement that each part be printable in a way that preserves the quality of the mating surfaces.   I have come to understand that there is a right way and a wrong way to print parts; the right way result in very clean and smooth mating surfaces, while the wrong way results in ugly, bumpy surfaces that no amount of sanding can make right.  Fortunately, the combination of careful design and clever positioning of the part on the print plate seems (so far) to be effective.  The trick here is to make sure that parts are positioned so the mating surfaces are either perfectly parallel or perfectly perpendicular to the print plate; in either orientation the result is nice, clean surfaces.  In the case of the converter part, the mating surfaces aren’t parallel to each other, so it was placed vertically on the print plate so the larger mating surface (remote caddy interface) was perpendicular to the print plate, and the smaller (flap grip) surface was tilted 20 degrees from the vertical.  Near-vertical surfaces also print very well, so this resulted in both mating surfaces printing nicely, but the cost was a much longer printing time (2 -3 hours vs about 15 minutes!).

In the previous version, the thickness of the grip-to-caddy converter part was driven by the need for the caddy to rotate on the converter-to-caddy mating surface, which required that the converter have a hole deep enough to accommodate a reasonably sized axle post on the caddy part.  Eliminating the rotation feature allowed me to eliminate much of this thickness.  I still had the following requirements:

  • The caddy has to be rotated about 25 degrees CCW with respect to the fore-and-aft centerline of the flap grip, when looking at the top of the caddy. This value was measured from John’s marks on an earlier version.
  • The caddy has to be tilted vertically about 20 degrees with respect to the flap grip mating surface (again taken from John’s feedback).

To implement the ‘minimized’ grip-to-caddy converter piece, I went back to Autodesk 123d Design’s ‘sketch loft’ feature.  This is a very cool capability, and makes it (just) worthwhile to deal with 123d Designs many other ‘non-linear frustrations’ (see 2014/10/tinkercad-vs-123d-design-vs-meshmixer-pick-poison/).  I started with a 2D ellipse that matches the flap grip cross-section, and then added a 2D sketch of the caddy. Then I tilted and rotated the caddy sketch as defined above, and then ‘lofted’ the ellipse sketch into the caddy sketch – voila!

Now that I had the grip-to-caddy converter design worked out, all I had to do was to insert the scaled up 1/4-turn latching mechanism into the top of the grip and the bottom of the converter, and print all the parts.  Scaling and inserting the latch parts turned out to be pretty easy, as I already had all the latch geometry issues worked out from the time before, and all I had to do was use Tinkercad’s uniform scaling feature to ‘grow’ the latch about 150% or so.  After scaling the parts, I latched and unlatched them in Tinkercad a couple of times to make sure that Part A did indeed fit into Part B, and then simply copy/pasted them into the grip and converter designs.

There was one complicating factor; due to printing concerns, I decided to print the converter and caddy parts separately, and then screw them together using 2ea 4-40 screws.  I designed matching 2mm pilot holes in both the caddy and converter mating surfaces, and I added thickness to the bottom of the caddy so I could countersink sufficiently (about 3mm) to hide the screw heads below the bottom surface of the caddy.  However, when I got everything done, I wound up just gluing the parts together with gap-filling superglue from my local hobby shop, and this seemed to do much better than screws.

In summary, I was able to quickly design and implement a new flap-grip version with ‘baked-in’ caddy twist and tilt, and was able to get the caddy about 12mm (about 1/2 inch) closer to the flap grip than in the old design.

As an added amenity for the pilot, I decided to design and implement a ‘caddy garage’ so John would have a place to store the caddy when it wasn’t in use.  As part of the original testing program for the 1/4-turn latch, I had built some thin test pieces with the same cross-section as the flap grip – one with a plug, and one with a socket.  I did the same thing for the larger latching mechanism, so all I had to do was to put some mounting holes in the socket test piece and throw it in the box with the completed flap grip/caddy assembly.  John can mount the ‘garage’ in some convenient location in his cockpit, and simply latch the caddy assembly to the ‘garage’ after unlatching it from the flap grip.

Caddy Garage.  Note mounting holes for convenience

Caddy Garage. Note mounting holes for convenience

OK, off to the Post Office tomorrow to mail the new stuff to John.  I hope this new version will survive the ‘Gorilla Pilot’ test in better order than the last one did! 😉



ClearNav Joystick Part 7 – Flap Grip Model Finished? – NOT!

The title of my last post on this subject had the word ‘Finished?’ with a question mark, because I suspected that John and I weren’t really ‘finished’ with this project (and for that matter, may never be!), and sure ’nuff, the ‘finished’ version came back to me with some suggestions for improvements.  However, as has happened at every stage of this journey, lessons learned with each trial opened up avenues for improvement.  One of the many cool things about the current 3D printing world is that a single individual or a small group (in our case, a ‘group’ of two!) can traverse the complete trial, re-design and re-implement cycle in a very short time at essentially zero cost.  This short cycle time and low incremental cost means that failure isn’t only an option – it’s an expected and accepted way of rapidly stepping through many design variations in the quest for truly useful and cool ‘things’.  After all, who would have thought that a clay model of a joystick-mounted ClearNav remote caddy created by one pilot long ago would have evolved so rapidly into a detachable and rotatable flap handle mounted caddy at all, much less in the 2-3 months we have been working on the project (and this time includes several ship/return cycles to move trial pieces from my lab to John’s glider and back again!).

So, anyway, back to the current design cycle:  At the conclusion of last week’s episode, I had completed a new version and sent it off to John for testing.  This version included the following improvements:

  • Deleted the cable channel in the flap grip piece
  • Resized the rectangular slot in the flap grip piece
  • Removed the finger scallops on the front of the grip
  • Offset the caddy piece slightly forward of the flap handle centerline, and rotated it about 20 degrees ‘up’ relative to the top surface of the flap grip
  • Used a round vs rectangular post to couple the caddy to the flap grip to allow for rotation
  • Added protection walls for the RJ-11 remote connector

Although this version was a decided improvement over the last one, I still wasn’t happy with it, for a number of reasons:

  • First and foremost – the way that I had implemented the rotation feature meant that John could no longer remove just the caddy portion from the flap grip when entering/exiting; now he had to remove the entire system, flap grip and all, from the flap control bar.  I didn’t think this would work as a long-term solution.
  • The transition piece from the flap grip ellipse to the remote caddy rounded rectangle was clunky and ugly, to say the least

So, even as the previous version was on its way down to John, I was already working on ideas for the next version to address the above issues.

Rotatable and Detachable:

I wanted a way to have my cake and eat it too – a way to make the remote caddy easily (and repeatedly) detachable from the flap grip and easily rotatable about the axis of the flap grip and fixable at the desired rotation angle.  Whatever solution I came up with had to also be implementable as a plastic 3D-printable shape – no cheating allowed!

Option 1 – Snap Ring:  Maybe I could design a snap ring setup, where the post on the bottom of the caddy piece would snap into some sort of groove in the flap grip so it would rotate freely but not just fall out – some force would be required to detach it?  I decided to experiment with this a bit and see if I could come up with something workable.  Another of the many cool aspects of 3D printing is that I can rapidly design and print small parts to test just the current idea, without wasting time with non-relevant structures.  In this case, I designed and printed several pairs of ‘buttons’ just to test the snap ring idea.

Female snap ring 'button'

Female snap ring ‘button’

Male snap ring 'button'

Male snap ring ‘button’

Connected snap ring buttons

Connected snap ring buttons

What I learned from this series of experiments is that a) I’m not that good of a Mechanical Engineer, and b) The snap ring idea is great for a semi-permanent rotational coupling, but not so much for a system that must be connected and disconnected many times. The plastic is just too hard – it’s just as likely that the part will fail before the snap ring disconnects!  The good news is that I was able to learn this lesson quickly and cheaply! ;-).

Option 2 – Separate the rotation feature from the attach/detach feature:  The snap ring exercise convinced me that I needed to separate the rotation feature from the attach/detach feature.  Conceptually, this meant that I had to partition the system into three parts rather than two; the flap grip, a ‘converter’ piece that would attach/detach from the flap grip on one side, and would form a rotational surface with the remote caddy piece on the other, and the caddy piece itself.  Separating the design into three pieces vs two wasn’t really much of a conceptual leap anyway, as I had already done most of this in the previous incarnation when I used the 123D Design’s ‘Loft’ feature to transition from the flap grip ellipse to the caddy rectangle.  All I had to do was to make that transition into it’s own separate piece, with some sort of attach/detach mechanism on the bottom, and a rotation feature on the top.  Of course I still had to figure out what those mechanisms were, but details, details, details! ;-).

Quarter-Turn Latch For Attach-Detach:  While I was doodling around trying to figure out a good mechanism for latching/unlatching the center ‘converter’ section to the flap grip, my wife happened to look over my shoulder and casually say “what about a quarter-turn fastener?”.  My first thought was “nah – WAY too hard”, but the more I though about it, the more is seemed like that might not be such a crazy idea after all.  One of the many cool things about 3D printing is its ability to form internal structures that aren’t possible via normal milling/machining techniques, another is its ability to convert a solid shape to a cavity and vice-versa, and another is the way it facilitates rapid experimentation.  The combination of these three things allowed me to design complementary plug/socket designs, and then rapidly iterate through several versions to improve the design.

I started with a circular base for both the ‘plug’ and ‘socket’ version of the quarter-turn latching mechanism, but rapidly changed to an elliptical base that exactly matched the cross-section of the flap grip. I knew I would eventually need to transfer the mechanism to the top of the flap grip and the bottom of the identically-shaped bottom of the center transition section, so using the same shape for the experimental parts would make the transfer a LOT easier.  The first set of trials were pretty clumsy, as I had no real idea what a good mechanism looked like, how to determine the amount of rotation from locked to unlocked, and which direction I wanted the locking rotation to go.  Version 1 used a rectangular tongue for the latch, but I discovered this didn’t work very well, so this evolved to a pie-section tongue shape, and the complementary internal socket channel evolved to match.

Version 1 of the quarter-turn fastener socket

Version 1 of the quarter-turn fastener socket

Version 1 of the quarter-turn fastener plug

Version 1 of the quarter-turn fastener plug

Version 3 of the quarter-turn latching mechanism

Version 3 of the quarter-turn latching mechanism

Version 3 of the quarter-turn latching mechanism with internal details shown

Version 3 of the quarter-turn latching mechanism with internal details shown

By version 3, I had also started adding ‘engraved’ version number and orientation reference marks to the experimental pieces as an aid for getting the lock/unlock orientations right (after having screwed this up a couple of times without the reference marks).  I had also gotten smart enough (after some more screwups) to extract the design of the quarter-turn mechanism into its own file, so it could be added to whatever structure required it (and making it available for completely different future projects!).

Version 2 and V3 plug/socket parts in their own design file

Version 2 and V3 plug/socket parts in their own design file

Doing this made it MUCH easier, for instance, to reverse the lock/unlock rotation direction when I discovered that the original orientation made the mechanism too easy to unlock inadvertently during normal use (50/50 chance and I blew it – again!).  The finished (as much as anything gets finished in this project) product is shown below

FlapGrip to center section quarter-turn locking mechanism.

FlapGrip to center section quarter-turn locking mechanism.

Center section in the locked position on the flap grip

Center section in the locked position on the flap grip

Center section in the UNlocked position on the flap grip

Center section in the UNlocked position on the flap grip

Rotational Feature:  Based on earlier feedback from John, I wanted the remote caddy to be able to rotate with respect to the flap grip.  In an earlier incantation, the piece that transitioned from the flap grip ellipse to the semi-rectangular remote caddy was integrated into the remote caddy, and the entire piece rotated about the top of the flap grip.  This was OK, but the transition/caddy section could not be easily removed from the flap grip, making glider entry/exit potentially awkward.  In the new setup the idea was to separate the transition section from the remote caddy so it could rotate around the top of the transition section, while the combined caddy/transition sections would attach/detach from the flap grip via the quarter-turn fastener.  So, I needed a rotation mechanism, preferably with some sort of detent arrangement so John could try different rotation angles in flight.  The detent requirement led to another series of experiments with snap-ring buttons, with a small protruding tip one button that engaged a set of radially distributed grooves on the other.  The result, unfortunately, was that if the tip was sufficiently large to properly engage the grooves, it was also large enough to  make it nearly impossible to ‘click’ from one groove to another.  In other words, it turned out to be pretty much an ‘all or nothing’ kind of thing.  Fortunately I still had a couple of the McMaster-Carr ball-spring plungers left over from the last go-around, and I replacing the protruding tip with a spring-loaded ball did the trick very nicely!

Remote caddy interior details showing rotation and detent arrangement

Remote caddy interior details showing rotation and detent arrangement

Remote caddy bottom surface showing detents

Remote caddy bottom surface showing detents.  Note the ball-spring plunger in the top of the transition piece

OK, so now we had the desired quick-release feature so John can easily remove the remote caddy (with its attached cable to the ClearNav) from the flap grip for glider entry/exit, AND the desired ability to rotate the caddy with respect to the flap grip axis!  All it took was a little persistence, a genius wife, and about a million design/implement/test cycles ;-).  The following photos show the various experimental parts generated, and the ‘final product’ (but of course, ‘final product is what I said the last time!)


Collection of experimental printed parts

Collection of experimental printed parts

Disassembled system showing all three pieces

Disassembled system showing all three pieces

Assembled 3-piece system

Assembled 3-piece system

Stay Tuned!










ClearNav Joystick Part 6 – Flap Grip Model Finished?

In Part 5 of this journey, I described our paradigm shift from a joystick mounted ClearNav remote caddy to a flap grip mounted version.  When John received and tested the first try at this approach, he agreed we were on the right track, but there were some ‘issues’ (there are *always* issues!).

  • The cable channel in the flap grip piece is unusable, as routing the cable this way interferes with opening the canopy.  Instead, John just used the single tie point on the caddy piece, and simply detached that piece when entering/exiting the glider
  • The rectangular slot in the flap grip piece was a bit too roomy in the forward/aft direction.
  • The finger scallops on the front of the grip didn’t really fit John’s fingers – oops!
  • The caddy piece would work better if it was offset slightly forward of the flap handle centerline, and rotated about 20 degrees ‘up’ relative to the top surface of the flap grip (i.e. toward the glider centerline)
  • The way that the caddy piece was attached to the flap grip prevented it from being rotated slightly to accommodate John’s actual thumb position; he suggested a round stud rather than a rectangular one.
  • The remote connector (a RJ-11 phone-style connector) sticks out the front of the caddy and is vulnerable to damage; John suggested I design in some protective walls for this.

Incorporating all the above elements into a new design involved some head-scratching, and quite a few 4-letter words, as I found that none of the 3D design tools I have so far employed (TinkerCad, 123D Design, and MeshMixer) would do the whole job.  I wound up working with all of them at one point or another in order to get what I wanted.  In addition, I was in the process of upgrading my PrintrBot 3D printer with a heated bed to accommodate future plans to print with ABS plastic in addition to PLA, and this turned out to be a lot more complicated than I had envisaged (I eventually reverted to my original hardware configuration, as I could not get consistent prints with the heated bed).

The first three items above were trivial to solve – just deleting the relevant ‘hole’ structures from the design, and modifying the rectangular slot dimension slightly.

The last three, however, required a complete re-thinking of the way the caddy piece coupled to the top of the flap grip piece.  The flap grip has an elliptical cross-section, with a top surface that is parallel to the glider centerline, while the caddy piece has a rectangular cross-section that needed to be tilted up 20 degrees to the flap grip piece.  In addition, the front portion of the caddy piece needed to have significant material added to support a side wall protection structure for the RJ-11 connector.  I ran through several TinkerCad versions but ultimately realized that TinkerCad just kind ran out of horsepower to handle the complex surface morphing I was looking for.  I just couldn’t get any kind of a smooth transition from the elliptical flap grip shape to the essentially rectangular caddy shape *and* provide for connector walls.


An early concept for the 'new improved' flap grip model

An early concept for the ‘new improved’ flap grip model

An early concept for the 'new improved' flap grip model

An early concept for the ‘new improved’ flap grip model

However, I had been playing with 123D Design as a possible alternative to TinkerCad, and realized that it’s ‘sketch lofting’ feature might be just what I needed (assuming I could get past all the 123D Design frustrations and actually make the *%$@!#%$#* thing work!  The way the ‘lofting’ feature works is to take a ‘base’ 2D sketch in an X-Y plane (in my case, an ellipse representing the top of the flap grip), and morph it into a ‘top’ 2D sketch (an outline representing the bottom of the caddy section) over the Z-axis distance between the two sketches.  By doing this I hoped to get a much smoother transition from one surface to the other.  After playing around with this in 123D design for a while, I actually got this feature to work (an unusual occurrence with this program!). The following two images show the basics of the feature – here I have ‘lofted’ an ellipse in the Z=0 plane to a rectangle in the Z=50 plane, rotated about the Y-axis by 20 degrees.

2 different 2D surfaces

2 different 2D surfaces

An ellipse 'lofted' into a tilted rectangle

An ellipse ‘lofted’ into a tilted rectangle

For my purposes, I imported the flap grip and caddy pieces into 123D Design, and used them as patterns for the required 2D sketches.  I still needed to add the connector-guard section onto the front of the caddy section sketch, but this was fairly straightforward using the 123D Design ‘2D polyline’ feature.  Once I had the two surfaces mapped out and placed at the desired heights/angles, I could use the ‘loft’ feature to create a transitional 3D structure.  The first run at this is shown in the following screenshot.

First try at blending the flap grip surface to the caddy surface

First try at blending the flap grip surface to the caddy surface.

This actually worked pretty well, but I realized that the connector-guard portion of the transition structure wasn’t going to be nearly deep enough (in the Z-axis direction) to actually do any connector guarding – bummer!  So I tried again using a 3-surface model, with a middle surface using the non-rotated caddy outline plus the outline of the connector guard.  With this setup, I got a much more radical initial transformation from the ellipse to the caddy outline (not so good), but much more available bulk in the Z-axis direction for the connector guard (very good).  On balance, the need for the additional connector guard material outweighed the aesthetics of the smoother transition, so I wound up with a transition section that looked a bit like some prehistoric alligator (minus the legs) but…

More or less final transition section from the flap grip ellipse to the caddy

More or less final transition section from the flap grip ellipse to the caddy

Caddy, transition section, and cylindrical mating stud

Caddy, transition section, and cylindrical mating stud

The next step was to import the transition section created in 123D Design back into TinkerCad for additional work and tuneup prior to 3D printing.  It was right in here somewhere that TinkerCad (a ‘cloud-based’ application) mysteriously went away for about 24 hours, causing a major hiccup in my project and correspondingly major damage to my Wa (I had upwards of 80 design revisions in the TinkerCad cloud, and if they all went away…).  Fortunately for me and my Wa, TinkerCad came back several hours later, and I was back in business.  The following screenshots show the ‘final’ (as if this project will ever end!) version of the remote caddy section.  The holes in the remote caddy bed were intended to accommodate the remote’s mounting screws (so they could be retained in the remote and not lost), but unfortunately the measurements were a bit off :-(.  The side view shows the tie-wrap attachment ring on the front undersurface, and the mounting plug on the bottom.  Both the mounting plug and the front portion of the caddy underside were shaved off a bit to create a larger attachment area for 3D printing

Final caddy version side view.  Mating plug and front bottom portion shaved off for better 3D printing

Final caddy version side view. Mating plug and front bottom portion shaved off for better 3D printing

Final remote caddy version.  Note holes for remote mounting screws (didn't work)

Final remote caddy version. Note holes for remote mounting screws (didn’t work)

So now it was time to fire up my 3D printer and start making parts.  Unfortunately, in the interim between this version and the last one I had decided to do the long-awaited upgrade to a heated print bed so I could eventually transition to stronger and more resilient ABS plastic instead of only PLA.  The downside to a heated print bed is the much higher power requirements, and a host of other secondary problems associated with heated-bed printing.  As it turned out, I couldn’t get a consistent print of the caddy piece with ABS or PLA using the heated bed, so I eventually had to downgrade my hardware setup and revert back to the original unheated bed, at least for these prints.  The following screenshot shows the problem with PLA on the heated bed.  The heat from the bed causes the PLA filament to stay soft too long and curl upward, even with forced air cooling.

An aborted attempt at printing the remote caddy piece.  Note the curled up edges and numerous print failures

An aborted attempt at printing the remote caddy piece. Note the curled up edges and numerous print failures

Anyway, after getting the hardware restored to its original unheated configuration, I started making trial prints of the remote caddy.  The first several tries were failures for one reason or another.  The first few trials failed because I had inadvertently disabled the ‘generate support structures’ option, and the next few failed because the support structures, when enabled, were too tightly bound to the main structure to remove when the print was finished!  It took some tweaking and print re-orientation to get to a configuration that produced useful results, although I’m still not happy with the ‘final’ (see above) product.   After the caddy piece, the flap grip piece was “a piece of cake”, as its geometry was much less complicated, although physically much bigger.  The final caddy piece took about 1.5 hours to print, while the flap grip piece went for more than 4 hours!


After getting both parts printed, there was still quite a bit of work to be done, especially on the caddy piece.  As it turned out, the cylindrical post on the bottom of the caddy piece was much too long for the matching hole in the top of the flap grip (measurement goof on my part), so the post had to be cut down by hand.  Then I had to drill and tap the post for a 4-40 screw so John can tighten the caddy down on the flap grip when he gets the rotation angle correct for his hand placement.  Then a 4-40 clearance hole had to be put into the top of the flap grip piece, and the 4-40 screw threaded up into the rectangular slot, through the clearance hole, and then screwed into the caddy mounting post (let’s hear it for double-sided tape and long, skinny screwdrivers!).  Also, the bottom surface of the caddy was a lot rougher than I liked (printer misconfiguration?) so I had to spend some time with a file and a sanding block to get this surface even remotely acceptable.  I think I’ll try some more experiments to see if I can do a better job at this, so I’ll be ready when John comes back with the next batch of ‘issues’! ;-).

Stay tuned!








ClearNav Joystick Part 2 – From TinkerCad to Finished Print

At the conclusion of ‘Part 1 – From Clay Model to TinkerCad’, I had finally managed to get a decent 3D model into TinkerCad as a binary STL file.  Now the challenge would be to transform that blank template into something that could actually be printed on my PrintrBot and used in a real glider aircraft.  To get from where I was to where I wanted to go required the following steps:


  • Modify the joystick top to accept a ClearNav remote controller
  • Design in the the ability to install a separate switch, for use either as a ‘climb/cruise’ vario switch or as a separate ‘push-to-talk’ (PTT) switch (the ClearNav stick-top remote controller accessory has it’s own integral PTT switch, but…).
  • Create a 1″ diameter hole to mount the joystick onto the glider joystick handle/tube
  • Create a wiring passageway up to the top of the joystick
  • Print it out on my PrintrBot Simple Metal.


Modify the top to accept a ClearNav remote controller

This step appeared to be the hardest and most critical part of the design, so I decided to tackle it first.

Of course, a fundamental part of this step required that I have precise dimensions for the ClearNav stick-top remote controller, and this turned out to be rather more problematic than I had expected.  ClearNav, Inc didn’t have any technical specifications for the part on its website, and the support crew there couldn’t provide anything either.  The president of the company promised to send me a 3D design of a blank controller part as an STL file, but never delivered anything, even after multiple inquiries.  Fortunately, I had a hand-held remote controller left over from my previous life as a glider pilot, and I happened to know that the outside dimensions of the stick-top and hand-held controllers were identical.  The difference was that the stick-top remote has an extra button to replace the normal PTT button, and the hand-held controller does not.  Another non-relevant difference is that the hand-held remote has a telephone-style RJ-45 connector, while the stick-top version uses a wire pigtail.

So, I was able to use my hand-held controller to produce a blank 3D model for sizing the stick-top cavity.  I started out with a blank that was as precise as I could make it, and then oversized it by about 1mm in all dimensions to use as a ‘hole’ in the design.

Disassembled Hand-held ClearNav Remote

Disassembled Hand-held ClearNav Remote

Slightly oversized blank for joystick ClearNav remote cavity

Slightly oversized blank for joystick ClearNav remote cavity

Then I started trying to fit the blank into the top of the joystick, with very limited success initially.

First attempt at fitting the ClearNav remote into the top of the joystick

First attempt at fitting the ClearNav remote into the top of the joystick

The thickness of the 3D representation of the clay model just wasn’t sufficient to contain the volume of the ClearNav remote, no matter how I moved it around.  So, back to the drawing board (literally!).

I did some more research, and taught myself how to use MeshMixer’s ‘Inflate’ sculpting brush to add some bulk to the top of the joystick, and the ‘Flatten’ brush to slim and smooth the neck area.  After several back-and-forths between MeshMixer and TinkerCad, I arrived at a version that would indeed contain the remote.

Close, but no cigar!

Close, but no cigar!

Remote is completely contained now in the joystick, so this one is very close to final

Remote is completely contained now in the joystick.  Note the neck has been slimmed down as well

Design in the the ability to install a separate switch.

The typical cross-country glider uses a boom microphone and a stick-mounted push-to-talk (PTT) switch for radio communications, and there is often at least one more switch (typically a SPDT toggle) mounted on the forward surface of the stick top.  The stick-top ClearNav takes over the real estate used by the original PTT pushbutton, but cleverly replaces it with an integrated PTT switch on the remote itself (this integrated PTT button isn’t on the handheld version).  However, I still needed to make room for the front-mounted SPDT switch.

The first step in this portion of the design was to create a 3D model of a ‘subminiature’ SPDT switch.  Fortunately I happened to have one in my design shop, left over from an even earlier lifetime as an electrical design engineer.  Now that I have my high-quality Fowler calipers from McMaster-Carr, it was a snap to measure the switch and create a fairly accurate 3D model in TinkerCad.

Subminiature SPDT switch model

Subminiature SPDT switch model

Once I had the switch, I was able to figure out how to shoehorn it into the top of the joystick, in a forward-facing orientation.  This took a while, and involved creating a smaller ‘sub-basement’ cavity under the one created to accommodate the ClearNav remote.

MountedSPDTSwitch2 MountedSPDTSwitch1

Create the 1″ diameter mounting hole and wiring passages

You’d think this would be the simple part – just a couple of cylindrical ‘holes’ added to the part and we’re done.  Unfortunately, life (or joystick design) just ain’t that simple, and what I thought would be a ’10 minutes tops’ job turned into a multi-day headache, and finally into a fun piece of creative work.  The initial 1″ diameter hole wasn’t too bad, but since the joystick body isn’t particularly symmetric, it wasn’t (and still isn’t really) clear where the hole should go.  I finally opted for the placement that would allow the hole to penetrate the farthest up into the joystick body, as that would result in the widest range of mounting options in the actual aircraft.  Then I created a smaller diameter angled cylinder to connect the vertical hole to the top cavity, to act as passage for the necessary wiring.

This seemed to be working really well, until I printed a couple of half-scale models and discovered that both the vertical and slanted cylinders poked through the side of the joystick, even thought the TinkerCad model showed some material thickness all the way around.  I was trying (and failing) to figure out how this could possibly happen when my wife, who knows nothing about 3D printing, pointed out that the minimum printable wall thickness stays the same regardless of scale, so something that shows 2-3 min thickness walls at full scale might not be even one min wall thickness at half-scale – oops!

OK, back to the drawing board.  I played around with this forever, but finally concluded that I was going to have to give up on the linear passageway idea, and go with something curved if I wanted to have decent wall thickness all the way around the passageway for its entire length from the top of the 1″ mounting hole to the cavity at the top of the joystick.  To make this work, I used TinkerCad’s ‘Torus’ primitive, and adjusted the torus diameter and cross-section to get what I wanted.  When everything looked right, I used several rectangular ‘holes’ to cut off the sections I didn’t need.

Final version, showing the 1" vertical cylinder for joystick handle mounting, and the curved wiring passageway

Final version, showing the 1″ vertical cylinder for joystick handle mounting, and the curved wiring passageway

Printing on my PrintrBot Simple Metal

After verifying this hole structure via a half-scale model, I was ready to step up to full scale testing.  However, I really really did not want to pay the time and filament cost for multiple full scale prints, so I decided I would just print the top of the model to verify all the cavities at full scale.  Since none of the hole structures poked though anymore at half scale, I was pretty confident they wouldn’t at full scale.  So, I made a series of full scale prints of just the top portion, and these caused me to make some adjustments in the auxiliary SPDT switch cavity and mounting arrangements.  With these partial full scale prints, I was able to use the actual full scale real-world parts (ClearNav remote and subminiature SPDT switch) to check for fit and clearances.

First full scale print of just the top cavity structure.  Note the top part of the cavity is incorrect.

First full scale print of just the top cavity structure. Note the top part of the cavity is incorrect.

Second full scale print of the top cavity structure.  Note the top portion of the cavity has been corrected.

Second full scale print of the top cavity structure. Note the top portion of the cavity has been corrected.

Final version of the joystick top cavity structure

Final version of the joystick top cavity structure.  This just required a slight resizing of the cavity to accommodate the actual full scale ClearNav remote, and the actual full scale SPDT switch.

After the full scale partial printouts, I was ready to go for a full scale print.  The overall height of the joystick (121.6 mm or 4.8″) would be close to the 6″ maximum for my PrintrBot, so I was a bit worried that bad things were going to happen.  Also, since this was to be such a long duration print, I was worried about filament jams and all the other things that could go wrong on a long print.  As it happened, the print went off without a hitch, and produced a near-perfect model.

 Summary and Lessons Learned

  • Although I much prefer to have a ‘real’ project as a motivator when learning a new software package or skill, I probably overreached a bit with such a complex project so early in the learning curve.  Learning how to capture a 3D model from photos, how to use MeshMixer’s sculpting tools, advanced TinkerCad techniques, and a challenging print size and overhang configuration all rolled into one project!
  • The combination of the Autodesk suite of 3D applications (123d Catch, 123d Design, MeshMixer, and TinkerCad) forms a very complete and rich design suite for capturing a 3D object in a form suitable for further development and eventual 3D printing.  The fact that all of these applications are (at least for the moment) entirely free is amazing!
  • the 3D capture and design application world is changing and evolving at warp speed. All of the above apps have serious bugs, deficiencies, and internal inconsistencies, so staying light one’s feet is an absolute necessity.  If it doesn’t work right now, check back tomorrow!  In my case the 123 Catch application literally changed overnight – on day 1 I couldn’t seem to get my capture to stitch at all, and on the next it was all done automagically!  The downside of all this is that skills and/or workarounds learned today may be irrelevant tomorrow, so the need for constant retraining is going to be a fact of life.
  • As in other endeavors, success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.  I just kept banging away at the problem until it gave up and rolled over.  It didn’t matter to me whether my progress was due to my brilliance or just sheer doggedness – either one was fine with me ;-).


ClearNav Joystick Part 1 – From Clay Model to TinkerCad

In a previous lifetime I was a cross-country glider pilot.  This means I would regularly fly an aircraft with no engine up to six or seven hours and cover hundreds of miles without landing.  Expert glider pilots can do this at average speeds approaching or exceeding interstate speed limits.  Since gliders must stop occasionally to regain lost altitude in rising air currents (called thermals), their inter-thermal speed has to be significantly higher than the average, meaning a glider flying along an interstate will easily outpace the cars and trucks below.

Anyway, a friend from that previous life showed me a clay model of a custom joystick handle he was working on.  The model was intended to incorporate a complex instrument remote control panel in the top of the joystick, where the push-to-talk (PTT) switch would normally go.  When he first showed it to me, I was just thinking about getting into 3D printing and in my ignorance I thought this would be a perfect 3D printing project (little did I know at the time!).  Later on when I had just ordered (but not yet received) my PrintrBot Simple Metal Kit I asked him to send me his clay model, and promised him I would at least make the effort to turn his clay model into a finished 3D printed product.  This is the story of how I went from 3D ignoramus to Joystick hero in a few short weeks.


07/28/14 Capture using Autodesk’s Catch/123d:  I’ve gone through this now a couple of times with BZ’s joystick, and I am now starting to get some clues.

  • The first time through was with just some painter’s tape patches placed on the joystick surface to give some reference points.  This worked, but not very well.  The patches didn’t stick very well due to the oil in the clay, and I got a number of unstitched photos.  Also, I couldn’t manually stitch photos together – just never worked

    Joystick with blue painter's tape 'stickies'

    Joystick with blue painter’s tape ‘stickies’

  • Next time through I used narrow strips of painter’s tape, wound around the joystick in several places.  This worked MUCH better, and in fact I had zero unstitched photos, and was eventually able to generate a full 3D STL file editable in 123d Design and TinkerCad (see below).  However, the only fly in the ointment was that the painter’s tape wasn’t completely conformal with the joystick surface in several places, and this came through on the model as raised ridges.
Joystick wound with strips of  blue painter's tape

Joystick wound with strips of blue painter’s tape

  • The third try was to replace the painter’s tape with felt-tipped marker markings. The thought was that this would be more conformal to the surface, and if done properly would also be appropriate for automatic stitching.  However, what actually happened was that the model came through OK, but with many unstitched photos.  Then when I laboriously manually stitched a number of photos into the model, the re-submission crashed – ouch!  This problem continued even if I re-submitted after stitching only one photo.  This was all done with the PC version, so I tried again with the online version.

    Joystick with Sharpie pen markings for surface contrast

    Joystick with Sharpie pen markings for surface contrast

  • In the online version, I see that I have a number of projects that appear to be ‘In processing’, even though they are older (as in days older) versions of the joystick process, and there doesn’t appear to be any way to remove them!.  The ‘Sharpie’ version is shown to be complete, and when I open it in the online version it looks great, but in the online version there is no ‘lasso’ tool for removing all the background elements.


08/07/14:  Working with a newer version of 123 Catch

  • A newer version of 123 Catch became available in the last few days, so I decided to try a new capture using my photos from the ‘Sharpie’ version of BZ’s joystick.  This time when I  uploaded the photos, I didn’t get any unstitched images – yay!!
  • I discovered the ‘mesh resolution’ setting in Catch, and was able to change the mesh resolution from ‘Mobile’ to ‘Maximum’.  This also takes a selection area as a parameter, and re-meshes only the portion of the capture within the selection, so it takes much less time than doing the entire scene.  Remeshing took only a few minutes with the selection limited to just the area around the joystick.


08/09/14 – Still working on the ‘Sharpie’ joystick:  I was able to print a ½ scale model of the joystick, but I discovered it was all solid inside, notwithstanding the ‘hollow’ attribute advertised by the Catch/3D Print operations above.  Also, I wasn’t able to figure out how to undo the ‘minimum support’ setting that left the joystick on its side.  So, I’m making another try at this from scratch and will try to document the steps more rigorously.

  • Started a ‘New Capture’ in 123 Catch, using the 07/28/14 Sharpie photos.  This took a long time to process.  Catch asked for a Capture file name, and suggested ‘Capture_2014_08_09_06_17_31’ (date and time).  When it completed, I was presented with the constructed model as shown below.

    First successful capture of the 'Sharpie' model

    First successful capture of the ‘Sharpie’ model

  • I did an immediate ‘Save As…’ at this point, and noticed I already had a ‘Capture_2014_08_09_06_17_31’ folder and .3dp file saved in the same folder as the original Sharpie photos (140728_Sharpie Photos).  I have seen this before, but AFAICT, this folder and file aren’t usable later – can’t figure that out.  I cancelled the ‘Save As…’ operation.
  • I found a 2011 tutorial at http://aucache.autodesk.com/au2011/sessions/4056/class_handouts/v1_AC4056%20-%20It%E2%80%99s%20a%20Snap!%20Take%20a%20photograph%20and%20create%20a%203D%20Model.pdf.  This was apparently a presentation at an AutoDesk conference.  This tutorial explained things like the ‘photo lock’ mode (constrains the scene view to just the available discrete camera locations), but wasn’t all that helpful for my purposes.
  • I somehow got into ‘Photo Lock’ (PL) mode and now I can’t get out again!  If I disable PL, I get a blank screen with just the camera locations and the coordinate axes shown.  Hmm, I clicked on ‘show mesh’ and now I have the scene back – weird.  Yep – confirmed that you have to have ‘show mesh’ checked to get *anything*!
  • OK, selected the lasso selection tool and deleted everything around the joystick.  Shit!  I deleted a small section of the mesh, and *then* got a dialog warning me that I needed to make sure I was in the correct mesh quality setting, or edits might be lost.  So I tried to undo the mesh edit, only to find there’s no UNDO function!
  • Used the rectangle selection tool to select just a small area around the joystick for re-meshing (including part of the deleted area from the previous bullet) as shown.  Note that I rotated the view to a fairly high angle so that my selection was restricted to just the newspaper around the joystick – omitting any of the office background.

    Remeshing a selection of the original Sharpie model

    Remeshing a selection of the original Sharpie model

  • Selected the Remesh icon and selected ‘Maximum Quality’.  This produced a dialog with the original capture name (Capture_2014_08_09_06_17_31) which I assume is a reference to the previously uploaded photos.  Curiously, this field is editable, giving the impression I could have used another name – maybe then it would have saved the re-mesh into a different capture structure?
  • OK, the remesh finished successfully, leaving me with a rectangular patch from the original scene.

    Sharpie model after remeshing a selected portion of the original scene

    Sharpie model after remeshing a selected portion of the original scene

  • I saved this result as ‘140809 Sharpie Capture After Remesh.3dp’.  I don’t really know if this will actually save anything or be useful later, but I thought it couldn’t hurt.  I also saved it as an .OBJ file, which might actually be more useful/permanent.  By default, both these files were saved in the same folder as the original capture photos, i.e. ‘F:\3D Projects\Joystick\140728_Joystick Sharpie Photos’.  The .3dp file is only 5.3KB, indicating that (as noted in the 2011 presentation) it only contains references to the online location of the Capture files, not the files themselves).  The .OBJ file is a more respectable 4 MB.
  • Back in Catch, I used the lasso tool to further refine the mesh to just the joystick, and saved this in both .3dp and .OBJ format.  Even after being very careful with the lasso operation, I wound up with a big hole on the right side of the joystick base.  I saw this before on a previous run through, but found that the 123d Print application was able to ‘repair’ the hole – strange.

    After the 'lasso and delete' operation, I have a big hole in the bottom of the joystick!

    After the ‘lasso and delete’ operation, I have a big hole in the bottom of the joystick!

  • Saved this as ‘140809 Sharpie Capture After Remesh And Lasso’ .3dp and .obj.
  • Clicked on the ‘3D Print…’ button to launch the AutoDesk MeshMixer app.  By default, this opens with the joystick in the ‘minimum support’ orientation – no idea how to change it back to the upright orientation (note – as it turns out, this isn’t the ‘minimum support’ orientation – it just looks like it).
  • Clicked on the ‘Modify’ icon and got a warning message about losing unsaved changes.  Clicked OK, and got the following:
  • After fooling around in the MeshMixer for an hour or so, I finally gave up on this model.  I couldn’t figure out a way to add surface material to repair the hole.   Still fooling around, I selected ‘Edits’ and ‘Overhangs’ and MeshMixer crashed – oops!
  • Back in Catch, I opened the file ‘140809 Sharpie Capture After Remesh.3dp’, and it indeed opened the correct project, as shown.
  • This time I used this model to go to ‘3D Print…’, (which launches Autodesk’s MeshMixer app) and got the following default layout.MeshMixerDefault2
  • This is actually a bit nicer to work with, as the section of newsprint gives me a decent X-Y plane to work with for transforming the joystick to the upright position.  After rotating 270 deg around X axis, and then ‘Move to Platform’ to move the base down to the Z = 0 level, I got the following.

    After a 270 degree rotation around the X axis and then 'Move to Platform'

    After a 270 degree rotation around the X axis and then ‘Move to Platform’

  • Hmm, I tried to go back to the ‘Modify’ mode in MM and discovered you can’t do that.  Apparently there are two distinct MM modes – ‘Modify’ and ‘Print’ and they aren’t integrated.  Transforms/Translations in ‘Print’ mode don’t flow back into ‘Modify’ mode – bummer!  To get to ‘Print’ mode, click on ‘Send to Print’.  To get back to ‘Modify’ mode, click on ‘Modify’.
  • OK, finally figured out Rot/Translate in ‘Modify’ view.  The center ‘box’ is for linear scaling for all axes.  The colored arcs are for rotating about the various axes, and the triangles are for translating.  After figuring this out, I was able to rotate the joystick to an upright orientation, as shown.  I still have no idea what the ‘L’, ‘S’, ‘A’, and ‘W’ labels are for.
  • Exported the model as ‘140809_MeshMixer_Rev3.stl’ in Ascii STL format and tried to import it into TinkerCad, but it doesn’t seem to want to import at all.  Imports easily into 123D Design, however.  Tried this trick again with the binary formatted STL file.  The binary version does import into TinkerCad (and 123d Design) OK – yay!!
  • OK, figured out how to use the Select tools to delete the newsprint mesh, leaving only the joystick (hopefully), as shown.

    Joystick after newsprint removal

    Joystick after newsprint removal

  • After this I was able to use the transform tools in ‘Modify’ mode to rotate/translate the joystick into a more understandable orientation, and saved the model as ‘140809_MM_Rev5_RotXlt_bin.stl’.
  • Next I tried using the Edit/Plane Cut tool to cut off the garbage at the bottom of the joystick, as shown below.  I accepted the transform, which gave me just a disk – oops!
  • Tried again, with the cut plane rotated 180 degrees.  This time things worked out much better.  The selection and the result are shown below.

    Plan cut operation with the plane rotated 180 degrees from the original

    Plan cut operation with the plane rotated 180 degrees from the original

  • After proper plane cut selection, the joystick bottom is nice and flat

    After proper plane cut selection, the joystick bottom is nice and flat

Saved this as 140809_MM_Rev6_PlaneCut_bin.stl.  Then I opened it in TinkerCad successfully, as shown below.  Note that the joystick in TinkerCad is still laying on its side, so  maybe the transformations in MM aren’t getting into the export file?


TinkerCad model after successful Plane Cut operation.  Note that the model is on its side

TinkerCad model after successful Plane Cut operation. Note that the model is on its side

  • Tried undoing the rotation transformation in MM and re-exporting.  OK, this worked!  Apparently, the coordinate systems in MM and the rest of the world are defined differently – so if going from Catch to MM to TinkerCad, don’t have to rotate in Meshmixer.

    After undoing the rotations & translations

    After undoing the rotations & translations

  • After this, I went back into MM and used the ‘Flatten’ brush to smooth out some of the rough spots, saved it as Rev8Flattened, and imported that back into TC

Summarizing lessons learned so far:

  • MeshMixer can be used to remove the newsprint background from the Catch export
  • No need to rotate/translate in MM when going from Catch to MM to TinkerCad
  • Probably need to establish a scale in Catch, as the resulting model winds up being very small in MM and TC (3.5 x 6 mm).  OTOH, I can just as easily establish the scale in TC (this is what I wound up doing).

08/09/14:  Starting from ‘140809 Sharpie Capture After Remesh.3dp:

  • Click on ‘3DPrint…’ to launch MeshMixer and load the file:  Opens as ‘2014-08-09-13-06-47_8466_41.obj’ in MM, with the ‘Print’ mode active.
  • Click on ‘Modify’ to get into that mode.
  • In ‘Modify’ mode:

o   Analysis/Inspector/Auto Repair All

o   Edit/Plane Cut & adjust as low as possible with a solid bottom.  This should also remove much of the newsprint area.

o   Choose Select tool with Unwrap Brush active and double-click anywhere in the remaining newsprint area to select it all.  Then hit DELETE to delete it all.  Save this state as a .MIX file, and export it as a binary STL.  Check in TC to make sure it can be imported properly (140809_MeshMixer_Rev4_JoystickOnly_binary.stl)

o   Choose ‘Sculpt’ and the ‘Flatten’ brush.  Run the brush over the entire surface, flattening out minor bumps and wiggles.  Spent some quality time on the top surface, flattening it out for future work.  Went through a bunch of revisions, but saved the last one as 140809_MM_Rev9_Flattened_bin.stl.

08/09/14  – in TinkerCad:

  • Imported 140809_MM_Rev9_Flattened_bin.stl.  This was very small, but it was properly oriented with the joystick upright – yay!
  • Found the ‘all axis scale’ function – Alt-Shift-Corner resizer.  This allowed me to scale all axes until the vertical dimension matched the measured 121.5mm from the original clay model.  Saved this in TinkerCad to ‘140809 Rev 9 Scaled to Clay Model’

Next up – Modifying the basic model in TinkerCad to incorporate the mounting hole for the joystick, wiring passage to the joystick head, and mounting arrangements for an auxiliary switch and the ClearNav remote  head.  Stay tuned!