3D Printing Beginner Wows With Iron Man MK 42 Prototype

James Christianson is a filmmaker, animator, and artist who is fascinated with the potential of 3D printing. Recently, he created an Iron Man MK 42 Prototype boot using the Afinia 3D printer, and some help from friends.

Afinia 3D printed MK 42 Prototype by James Christianson
The completed, painted Version 2 of Christianson’s MK 42 Prototype.

Looking at Christianson’s 3D-printed Iron Man MK 42 boot prototype, you’d never guess that he’s new to 3D printing. “3D modeling and having a knack for designing sparked my interest in 3D printing,” explains Christianson. “When I bought the Afinia 3D printer in 2013, I decided to take on the challenge of creating a mechanized armor prototype as a challenging hobby.”

Self-taught Skills

Christianson's sculpture donated to his high school.
Christianson’s sculpture, created for his high school after interning for a steel fabricator.

The MK 42 may seem like a lofty goal, especially for someone new to 3D printing, but Christianson was determined, and knew he could learn the skills needed to complete the project. “Everything I’ve done with this project is basically self-taught,” he says. “I didn’t know how to 3D print, or 3D model. Over the years, I’ve learned from the internet or talking to people who knew how to do it. I strongly believe the saying ‘If you can dream it, you can make it.’ The resources are more available than ever today. With 3D printing is all about trial and error, it’s all about prototyping.”

“It helps that I’ve always been artistic,” admits Christianson. “In high school, I interned and worked for a steel fabricator, and had access to a gigantic factory of tools. I learned how to do stuff with wood, plastic, and metal. It was a great lesson that with the right tools and some passion, anything is possible.”

Why the MK 42 Prototype?

“When I saw the Avengers it was an incredible experience! I went to the premier with a bunch of Marvel fans. It was exciting… and it planted the seed of interest in engineering Iron Man-like tech. By the time Iron Man 3 came out, I really liked the design of his armored suit, but the original modeler wouldn’t allow me to use his design, so I began modeling a more real prototype myself,” explained Christianson. When asked why he chose the boot, he clarified, “The boot had so many interesting components, and that is also what Iron Man started with in the first movie.”

MK 42 Prototype: Take Two

Electronics in the Afinia 3D printed MK 42 Prototype
Electronics like an Arduino Mini make the boot automatically close when Christianson’s foot is inside.

Christianson only needed two versions of the boot to nail down what he wanted in it. “The first version of the MK 42 boot was basically to see what I could do with it. I tried out some designs I had already created for joints. By the time I did version 2, that’s when I collected a team of people I knew who could help make an entire functioning prototype… If we could generate enough interest and try crowd funding,” says Christianson. “I showed people the picture of what I was doing, and asked if they could contribute. They all thought it was cool and wanted to help. With their help and some electronics, the boot can close and lock automatically. The most recent prototype has more expensive and integrated electronics, joints and separate skeletal and interior components.”

“Version 2 took 60-80 hours of actual design work: thinking about it, designing it, modeling it, and printing it. I took a little break from the project after it was printed, but spent time to learn how to paint. There were many trips to the car parts store to figure out how to paint and finish a car, in hopes of making a painted boot that looks like metal.”

Wowing Crowds

Kid tries on Christianson's Afinia 3D-printed MK 42 Prototype
Christianson displayed both versions 1 and 2 of the MK 42 Prototype at the Greenbrae Mini Maker Faire, inspiring attendees to look beyond the limitations of having a small build space. Here, a boy tries on the version 1 “draft”.

Christianson enjoys seeing people’s reaction to the prototype. “Most people ask if it is real, where I got it, if I made it, etc. Many people are still catching on to what 3D printing is all about. They get really excited, even more so when I show them how it moves and how I can walk in it.”

“I am in the middle of constructing a third version of the boot now. This one with redesigned plate movements, expensive electronics, and constructed from a skeletal frame instead of the outside armor itself. There are six different kinds of bearings involved on twelve joints, servos, linear actuators, lights, new materials etc. Keep your eyes open for when that hits my blog!”

How Christianson Chose the Afinia

Christianson got the Afinia H-Series 3D printer after going to a Maker Faire in San Mateo in 2013. “I visited numerous booths and talked to both vendors and people who were from local Makerspaces and workshops who had hands on experience. Overwhelmingly, people recommended the Afinia.” Christianson shared that he thought the printer was very well-developed, especially compared to other printers at the time. “I needed something that was going to be reliable, accurate, and that printed with ABS. On top of meeting those criteria, the Afinia was affordable, had a responsive support team, and a one-year warranty.”

“When I got the Afinia 3D printer, I liked how compact it was, and that it had a rigid build. It was exciting to be able to start 3d printing some designs that I had already modeled,” says Christianson. “I started pushing the printer to its limits to see what it could and couldn’t do. I printed really small items to see detail, and some structural designs items to test the strength. The test prints turned out good.”

Afinia 3D support material shown on the MK 42 Prototype
Christianson was impressed with the support material: “They come off like ribbon.”
Christianson uses an acetone slurry to bond multiple prints into one solid part.
Christianson uses an acetone slurry to bond multiple prints into one solid part.

Bonding: Beyond the Small Builds

“When I started the first version of the boot, I tried different kinds of glues to put the separately printed pieces together, but then found out about the acetone slurry. I was excited to find it was a strong bond. It opened the possibility to make large parts, which eliminated any drawbacks to having a smaller build platform.”

Solid Performer

“Overall, the Afinia 3D printer is a solid performer. I don’t use it constantly, and primarily I use it to make functional parts. It rarely acts up, and if it does, I can usually work around it. I’m very excited to see the new H800 3D printer with the larger build area. With my current version, I slice the design up into separate prints. With the new printer, I could print the full parts.”