Meet iStill, the desktop distillery

This special gift for corporate executives shows off good 3D printing design.
26 July, 2017
There's a globally recognized additive manufacturing specialist in Sweden named Olaf Diegel, and he's been in love with 3D printing and its possibilities for 20 years.
He's brought some 60 products to market, including theater lighting, home health care items, and – the one thing he's most famous for – a series of all-aluminium, 3D printed guitars. Those guitars grabbed a lot of headlines, but Diegel may have outdone himself with his latest creation, a fun novelty project with the tongue-in-cheek name iStill.

The iStill is a desktop distillery, designed to work in miniature as well as the real ones do. The project was launched when Lasertech, a metal additive manufacturing company in northern Sweden, asked Diegel to design an executive gift for the man who has everything. So the Lund University professor brainstormed a bit and decided to make the miniature stills, because who wouldn't want to have one?
As much fun as Diegel and his ideas are, the iStill also proves a point. Companies like Daimler, EOS and Premium AEROTEC agree that about 70 percent of the cost in metal 3D manufacturing is in the pre- and post-processing. Metal parts require support structures to transfer heat to the build plate and anchor them to it when printing, and they prevent the often complex parts from warping or distorting. Yet when the work is done, those supports must be removed and the surfaces smoothed by milling or filing. It costs time and money to use the supports, and then they become material waste that can be avoided.

"I treated the small still as a design challenge, with the goal of using little or no support structures, other than what is required to attach the still to the build plate," Diegel said. "For this project, I chose aluminum and made certain that features did not exceed a 45-degree angle."
That's because of the support structure problem he was seeking to solve: Parts with features produced at angles exceeding the 45 degrees need them, he explained. The iStill was manufactured without using the supports, demonstrating that 3D printing with aluminium and other metals can be done with minimal or no extra processing expense using good design technique that's reflected in the still barrels.

The miniature barrels are 117 by 58 millimeters, with tiny walls inside to support the spiral pipes. A small arched wall looks attractive on the outside, but it also connects the barrel system below the horizontal pipe. Only the bases, where the still was anchored to the 3D printing plate, had supports.
Once the printing was complete, the aluminium was shot-peened to finish it and the barrel system was set up on a matching industrial-inspired table, with a concave arc so that a drinking glass has a snug fit and the still spout pours into it. Beneath the barrels is a second shelf for the heat source, which was originally designed for a tealight candle. That didn't quite generate enough heat, so Diegel switched to a tiny alcohol-based spirit burner from a fondue set that works on the same principle as camping stoves.

Diegel says it works, although he tested the distillation with wine and wasn't sure he wanted to taste it. And yet, it was fun. "Though I do love light-weight topology optimized brackets and complex fuel swirlers just as much as the next guy, it was nice to design something slightly politically incorrect just for the sheer fun of it," Diegel says, writing about the experience for his own commercial-product website.
Banner image: Odd Guitars