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Designing a Parametric Parametric "Print In Place" Hinged Container

Picture of Designing a Parametric Parametric

The eight different size and color 3D printed "print in place" hinged containers appearing in the cover photograph of this Instructable do have one thing in common; they were all printed from a single Autodesk Fusion 360 model using "parametric modeling".

In a CAD environment, a parametric model is a model whose size and / or shape may be altered simply by changing dimensional values. In this model, I specified the dimensional values in the Autodesk Fusion 360 "Change Parameters" menu for the Length, Depth, Height, Thickness and Tolerance dimensions of a simple "print in place" hinged container. I then designed sketches for the base, lid and ball and socket hinges, and extruded the various components, using the dimensional values I entered. Thus to change the length of the container, I simply change the Length dimension, to change the depth, I change the Depth dimension and to change the height, I change the Height dimension. When any of the dimensional values on the Change Parameters menu are altered, Autodesk Fusion 360 rebuilds the container to the new dimensions, creating a new model ready for 3D printing, thanks to parametric modeling.

While designing this model, friends of mine questioned as to why I simply didn't scale the model using Cura (the slicer we use) prior to printing. The answer is when Cura scales a model, it scales everything, including the tolerances (or "clearance") between the parts. Thus when scaled up, the hinge becomes loose, and when scaled down, the hinge becomes tight, or even "welded". Parametric modeling ensures the user specified Tolerance (clearance) dimensions are maintained as the model dimensions are changed.

Now the caveats, the model is not without flaws. For example, no limits have been imposed on the dimension values so entering "reasonable" values is up to the user. I suggest using values greater than or equal to those I initially placed in the Change Parameters menu. Negative values are a definite no-no, and excessive Height values in relation to the Length and Width values will cause interesting and problematic side effects. If "non-reasonable" values are entered, errors may (or may not) appear in the timeline of the model to warn that the model, with the specified dimensions, is not printable, so examine both base and lid components prior to printing. And as testing all possible combinations of dimensional values would require time far exceeding my remaining lifetime, I simply did not have the time to test them all.

I've included the Autodesk Fusion 360 file "Print In Place Parametric Hinged Container.f3d" (UPDATE: a new file "Print In Place Parametric Hinged Container v1.f3d" has also been uploaded, see the final step for a description of the update) which includes the model details, and in the steps that follow are videos showing the steps I performed in creating this model (the videos may be slightly outdated, so stick with the .f3d file for updated details). Familiarity with the Autodesk Fusion 360 environment is highly recommended, and I'm always open to questions, suggestions, comments and criticisms (friendly please) so please feel free to comment and I'll do my best to respond as to why I chose the methods I did in creating this model.

As usual, I probably forgot a file or two or who knows what else, so if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to point them out as I do make mistakes in plenty.

Designed using Autodesk Fusion 360, sliced using Cura 3.5.1, and printed in PLA on an Ultimaker 2+ Extended and an Ultimaker 3 Extended.

Step 1: Dimensioning.

The model design starts with dimensioning, and I recommend starting with the values shown in the video.

JonS1765 months ago
I finally finished my first project. I really like this
little container! Is there a video tutorial that explains how to add the
ball latch that snaps the lid in place?
gzumwalt (author)  JonS1765 months ago
Hi JonS176,

I'm glad you liked it, I use them all the time!

I'm very sorry but I forgot that step in the video and did not make another.

Thanks again!

efoster65 months ago
Is this on Thingiverse
gzumwalt (author)  efoster65 months ago
Hi efoster6,

No, I'm sorry, but I no longer publish on Thingiverse.

Build_it_Bob6 months ago
Hi Greg,
Just curious:
How long have you been working with Fusion 360?
Did you do CAD design previously?
How long did it take to create the design for this parametric enclosure?
I am very impressed, as I have never seen Fusion 360 in action like this.

gzumwalt (author)  Build_it_Bob6 months ago
Hi Build_it_Bob,

I've been working with Fusion 360 for a little over 2 years and my wife will testify how frustrated I was during the first few weeks. Because of its numerous features it does have a steeper learning curve than other cad programs.

Previous to Fusion 360, I used a cad program called Sketchup. It was easier to learn, but much more difficult to model with since, at the time at least, Sketchup was not a true solid modeling tool thus after minor edits, much clean up work had to be performed.

And previous to Sketchup, many years ago, I worked with a cad program called Autocad, primarily for electrical schematic generation.

The parametric enclosure took me about 15 minutes to design, and about 4 hours to record since I kept making mistakes!

Thanks very much, I'm glad you enjoyed it and hope it helped!


P.S. I think I still have a box for you.
JonS1766 months ago
I really enjoy this instructable. Thank you for sharing it! I'm learning a lot about Fusion 360. How do I group the object once I have everything extruded? It seems like the parts are not grouped as shown in the picture.
gzumwalt (author)  JonS1766 months ago
Hi JonS176,

I'm glad you enjoyed this Instructable, and you are very welcome!

I export both the base and lid to separate files, then load both into Cura 3.5.0 (the slicer I use) and select "Select All Models" then "Merge". Cura then places the two pieces together, ready for printing.

You can, however, accomplish the same from within Fusion 360 by selecting the "Modify, Combine" feature. When selected, the "COMBINE" pop up menu will appear. On this pop up menu, simply select the lid for the"Target Body", the base for the "Tool Bodies", "Join" for the operation, then check both "New Component" and "Keep Tools", and finally select "Ok". Fusion 360 will then create a new component with both lid and base bodies.

Hope this helps!

Screen Shot 2019-03-15 at 8.40.48 AM.png
Lorddrake7 months ago
Thanks so much for an awesome explanation of modifying a 3D model. I am very new to 3D modeling and printing so I am still on steep learning curve. That bit about how scaling using cura will change the tolerances as well as the size. I never would have thought of that (at least not until I had wasted alot of filament and said some inappropriate words LOL)
gzumwalt (author)  Lorddrake7 months ago
Hi Lorddrake,

You are very welcome!

I've been using Autodesk Fusion 360 for almost two years, and I'm still learning!

Rouverius7 months ago
The wife loves the first print. I think it's hers now.
gzumwalt (author)  Rouverius7 months ago
Hi Rouverius,

Congratulations, great work!

doncrush made it!7 months ago
Awesome print in place design! I’m curious why you mention the need for breakaway support?

I printed this at .15 mm layers in natural colorfabb pla/pha. Worked great! I used your 2 stl’s and had to translate one of them 31.5 mm to get print in place.
gzumwalt (author)  doncrush7 months ago
Hi doncrush,

Sorry for the delayed response, for some reason my Instructable message service is sporadic.

Support isn't required, sometimes I'm just too picky...

gzumwalt (author)  doncrush7 months ago
Hi doncrush,

Thank you very much, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Breakaway or PVA is not necessary, I just have this "thing" about printing an object as clean as possible, and, well, it's not a good thing. :)

Thanks again,

gzumwalt (author)  doncrush7 months ago
Hi doncrush,

You're prints do look great! Sometimes I get too picky and use PVA or Breakaway for obtain even the slightest increase in quality, and this is one of the times. I printed six of the eight boxes in the cover photograph without support.

Thanks again!

This is great! I'm going to try to print one :)

So if I want I can just scale them up or down for different sizes and they'll still snap together?
gzumwalt (author)  Penolopy Bulnick7 months ago
Hi Penolopy,

Thank you very much, I’m glad you enjoyed it!

Yes, you may specify the length, width and / or height to be any “reasonable” (see the Instructable introduction regarding limitations of the model) value. I use Cura for slicing, so after specifying the container dimensions and saving both the base and lid to a file, I load both pieces into Cura, “Merge” them, then send the merged model to the printer. When the printer is finished, the container is complete, no need to snap them together.

Best wishes and thanks again!

Great instructable. The design walkthrough is a great learning tool for those new to Fusion 360. Voted Favorite. Well done. Would love see some videos of the boxes in action. How well did they "tolerate" the 3d printing?
gzumwalt (author)  ChiefInstructor7 months ago
Hi ChiefInstructor,

Thank you very much, I’m glad you enjoyed it!

Here is a video link that may be of interest:

Many thanks again!

Excellent! The parametric modeling makes good sense for scalable designs. Wishing you well.
ArnieO7 months ago
Great work - thank you for sharing! Is your model on Thingiverse?
gzumwalt (author)  ArnieO7 months ago
Hi ArnieO,

Thank you very much!

No, this model is not on Thingiverse. If you need to access it there, I can create a thing for it, but the interest for my models on Thingiverse has dropped so low that I may stop publishing there. Your thoughts?

Thanks again!

WannaDuino7 months ago
AMAZING and well explained, BUT I NEED A VIDEO to see it in real, please upload it so we can see it. i tried one but yeah......... see this,
audreyobscura7 months ago
So handy for prototyping quick enclosures! Favorited this one - thanks so much for sharing this method!
gzumwalt (author)  audreyobscura7 months ago
Hi audreyobscura,

Thank you very much, I'm glad you enjoyed this model. It was my first foray into a 100% parametric model, and I enjoyed the learning experience.

Thanks so much again, and you are very welcome!