What has SLS 3D Printing to do with the Star Wars Universe? Well, if you are a Star Wars fan then you’ll have seen Josh Lee’s props and models work. He has been a senior animatronic designer for Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens; Rogue One: A Star Wars Story; Star Wars: Episode VIII The Last Jedi; Solo: A Star Wars Story; and Star Wars: Episode IX The Rise of Skywalker.
With another couple of Star Wars stories in the offing, he is already hard at work building more droids. These new creations remain under wraps until the films are released, but Lee’s work mechanising security droid K-2SO and designing the cute little BB-8 will already be familiar to fans.
In Episode IX, we meet a new droid, D-0, a friend of BB-8. While the latter’s creation is well-documented, details of D-0’s origins are a little harder to find.
From an engineering perspective, the creation of BB-8 saw multiple components in play. For the visual elements, BB-8 was cast from a silicone mould in a resin that could withstand the rigours of filming in the desert. D-0, on the other hand, was fabricated mainly from 3D printed parts.
The versatility of SLS
Lee is a big fan of SLS (selective laser sintering), a powder bed fusion 3D printing process using a reinforced nylon powder. The resulting prints are tough, durable, and slightly flexible, and the level of detailing can be quite intricate.
Unlike some other laser printed processes, SLS does not require support structures, which considerably reduces the finishing time on parts. When you are up against it – producing models and complex moving parts to meet filming deadlines – every time saving process is welcome.
“The biggest advantage of SLS, in addition to cost, is that there is time saving in both the designing of pieces and in the prep work of parts,” says Lee. “The material has just enough flexibility to enable snap fitting of parts, and at the same time, it is really quite robust.
“To start off with, we used 3D printing in SLS for creating pattern masters, because the printed core can be modified very quickly and easily by gluing modelling clay to the nylon substrate. Most of BB-8 was cast using a silicone mould created around a 3D-pinted core. As we made a number of BB-8s, it was just as quick to 3D print some of the component parts and paint them up.
“We use SLS for end-use parts because once polished up, you cannot see the layering. It’s easy to paint and bonds well with other parts. We’ve also found the slight porosity of the SLS is actually advantageous for us; it grabs our paint system really well and the paint never cracks or flakes off.”