Navigating Material Selection for AI-Assisted 3D Printing with ChatGPT

I discovered a creative application of ChatGPT for assisting with a 3D printing endeavor.

AI technologies like ChatGPT are still relatively youthful in their developmental stage, prompting ongoing exploration into their potentials. Many groundbreaking applications have already emerged, signifying a promising future with numerous possibilities yet to be uncovered.

The focus of my particular project was to create 3D printed “skegs” for an inflatable kayak. The convenience of inflatable kayaks is astounding—they can be compacted into a small backpack for easy transport, yet they expand into a fully-functional 14ft vessel upon setup. Much like how the most useful camera is the one you carry, the same principle applies to these portable boats.

One essential step in setting up the boat involved the attachment of “skegs”, which are fins designed to enhance stability and fit into designated slots at the bottom of the vessel. However, the original skegs proved to be too small, offering limited stability, especially in windy conditions where the boat had a tendency to swivel uncontrollably.

The improvisation involved substituting the inadequate skegs with larger ones. Although these larger skegs were available for purchase from the original manufacturer, I opted to craft them myself. Fortunately, I discovered that a 3D model for these larger fins was already available online for free, sparing me the effort of designing them from scratch.

The next challenge was selecting the most suitable material for 3D printing the skegs. Given the variety of materials I had access to in my lab, the decision was crucial. While using PLA for 3D printing ornamental objects like statuettes might be straightforward because the primary consideration is aesthetics, creating functional items like skegs demanded a more robust material.

Lacking a background in engineering, I turned to ChatGPT for advice on which material to use, initiating our conversation with:

“Of these materials, PLA, ASA, PA6, PETG, PA12, which would be best for a skeg attached to the bottom of an inflatable kayak?”

ChatGPT responded with quite an interesting set of data. It provided pros, cons and a conclusion for each of the proposed materials for this specific application. It did not just dump out generic material properties. For example:

1.  PLA (Polylactic Acid):

• Pros: Easy to print, good surface finish.

• Cons: Brittle, poor impact resistance, degrades in water over time.

• Conclusion: Not suitable for a skeg due to low durability and poor water resistance.

2. ASA (Acrylonitrile Styrene Acrylate):

• Pros: Good UV resistance, impact resistance, and weather resistance.

• Cons: Slightly harder to print than PLA, can be more expensive.

• Conclusion: A good choice due to its weather and UV resistance, suitable for outdoor and water applications.

And so on. ChatGPT’s conclusion:

“Given the requirements for a skeg on an inflatable kayak, ASA and PA12 are the best choices due to their water resistance, impact resistance, and durability in outdoor conditions. If UV resistance is a critical factor, ASA might be slightly better due to its excellent weather and UV resistance. PA12, with its low water absorption and good impact resistance, is also an excellent choice, especially for its durability in water.”

I discussed several variations, including the use of carbon fiber and glass fiber filaments, both of which I had handy in the lab. ChatGPT concluded:

“For a skeg on an inflatable kayak, PA12-CF would likely provide superior performance due to its enhanced strength and wear resistance, assuming you can manage the more challenging processing requirements. If you need a balance of rigidity, impact resistance, and easier processing, PA12-GF is also an excellent choice.”

In the end I used Fiberlogy’s excellent PA12-GF, which seemed to work very well. The more important matter was that ChatGPT was able to help me with my material choice — and this is without any specific training on materials. I didn’t even say something like “Act as a materials engineer specializing in additive manufacturing”.

My application was pretty simple, but the implications are clear: AI tools can provide some useful help to those who now have 3D printers capable of printing unusual materials.

If you’re facing a material choice question, why not give ChatGDP a try? People get it to make recipes based on a photo of their fridge contents, so why can’t it do the same with your 3D print materials?

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