Beginner's Guide to 3D Printing with the Objet Connex 500: How to Build a Missile Launcher Tank (and Clean the Mess you Made in the Process)

The Objet Connex 500 3D Printer... an arcane, magic and amazing Hi-Tech masterpiece, capable of 3D printing high detailed prototypes. Knowing how to operate this marvelous device is a secret only known by a few chosen ones. And now you, my fellow reader, have this mystic guide in your hands...

Yes, you, the person who is saying "this instructable is not for me. I don't have a 3D printer and probably I won't have one, because it's a very expensive and complicated technology". I have some news: 3D printing is here to stay for good. In the same way of most of the modern technologies, 3D printers will be accesible for the average person in matter of years. Remember: the first computers were very expensive, huge, with low capacity and only operated by a few scientists for solving important problems. Now you have an infinitely more powerful, less expensive and smaller computer in your own smartphone (and you are using it for shooting birds at green pigs and taking duckface photos. Shame on you!).

Who knows? Maybe one day you will find a 3D printer near the copy machine of your office (and then, you will 3D print your duckface photos. WHEN WILL YOU STOP?)

Or maybe, the future is already here and you are lucky enough to be in the Instructables new offices in Pier 9 (San Francisco, CA), where you can find World's most advanced laboratory for makers. And being on Instructables without 3D printing something is like being in the Navy and never travel in a warship: you are missing all the fun, dude!

My previous projects were focused in CAD (Computer-Aided Design). I showed step by step how to make a Transformer and a jet. I made the designs and then... HOCUS POCUS!, the prototypes were already 3D printed! A lot of persons asked "how did you 3D print it? What 3D printer and materials did you use?". So, this instructable will be more about CAM (Computer-Aided Manufacturing) using the fantastic Objet Connex 500 3D printer. For this purpose, I designed a basic toy tank capable of launching one missile (well, technically it's a projectile, because missiles are self-propelled. But, come on! It's a toy!).

Ladies and Gentlemen: I give you this G.I.JOE inspired action vehicle, codename: "Artic C.A.T." (Cool Acronym Tank).

I will show you step by step how I used Pier 9's high technology for bringing to life this big toy and besides, you will have a quick guide of how to use the Objet Connex 500 for 3D printing a project, what are the basic materials, how to clean the Objet Connex 500 when you finish and how to clean your project.


Ok, let's suppose the only thing you know about 3D printing is what media says: a devilish technology that uses black magic for instantly making one-bullet, nigh-undetectable, easily-exploding toylike guns for terrorists and criminals. (Because they don't know more practical, less expensive and faster ways for making evil deeds)

Then, one day, you have this Objet Connex 500 in front of your eyes, and you see you can 3D print a lot of amazing things: toys, crafts, jewelry, prototypes, prosthesis for human limbs, gears, robots, everything you can imagine. And then you realize something: is it a miraculous process? Absolutely YES! Is it quick and cheap? HA! You wish...

In simple English, a 3D printer works this way: you introduce your 3D design into the machine and then it starts to add successive thin layers of hot materials (polymers), taking the shape of your design (yes, I remember "The Fifth Element", too. No, you can't print your own Milla Jovovich... yet.). But hot materials don't levitate so, in order of keeping them in their places until they cure, the 3D printer adds a disposable support material in every layer, that fills the voids and keeps the shape of your project.

Do you want to know more about this technology? Patience, Young Grasshopper! your 16 steps journey into the basic professional printing is just beginning!


3D printing is a fun, magical and exciting process where you can create something awesome that materializes before your eyes. But, like all activities in human life, you have to keep some basic precautions for a better experience:

  1. Safety first. Use latex or nitrile gloves everytime you are exposed to chemical products, like when you clean the prototype (3D printed material) or the machine (alcohol). Wash your hands after manipulating 3D printed stuff. 3D printed material are not recommended for human or animal consumption. Don't try to introduce your hands in the machinery when operating. Always follow the safety indications in the workplace.
  2. This instructable is not an official protocol and is not intended to be replacement for the advice of the shop manager. It's only a quick reference guide. If this is your first time operating this kind of machines, follow the indications of the shop manager or the competent person in charge.
  3. Before 3D printing your project, check your design looking for possible failures. And then... check it again.  In this moment of human history, professional 3D printing is an expensive process that takes a big amount of time (this project lasted 54 hours in the Objet) and money (don't ask). If you don't solve the issues before printing, it will be very complicated to solve them during or after 3D printing, and building an extra prototype just for an easily preventable failure in the first one, represents time, materials and money wasted.
  4. Objet Connex 500 price is US$250.000. So, think about it before trying something dangerous, non-standard or foolish in the machine (I can't judge you because I love to do dangerous, non-standard or foolish things, but NOT IN A QUARTER MILLION DOLLARS HI-TECH MACHINE!).
  5. Don't turn off the Objet Connex 500! If you have any problem, ask your shop manager first.
  6. This instructable applies for projects made in 123D Design. The 123D products were developed for an easy 3D printing. Conditions may vary if you use another design software. Ask your shop manager for a further advice.
You will find additional warnings and some useful tips along this instructable.


I want to thank the following people, who helped me in this project:

Steve Delaire: Shop Manager in Pier 9 and an awesome teacher. He had the patience to show me all the 3D printing and cleaning processes. His advice made this instructable possible.

Ed Lewis: I had to change the missiles design (shape and color) and material (lighter, more economical and durable), so Ed helped me with the Makerbot Replicator 2 3D printer (step by step process not showed on this instructable). By the way, the missiles red color was an idea from Lauren Gerber.

Audrey Love: She took the pictures of the finished tank. An awesome job as always!

Wade Wilgus: He checked some parts of this instructable and gave me advice of how to improve the content. If you don't like my "funny" comments, say thanks to Wade: could have been worse!

And finally, Instructables.com: for allowing me to put my hands in this fantastic machine!

Ok, let's get some 3D printed fun!

How much would you say this costs in parts and energy in order to build? I know the machine itself is expensive... but was this a $20 tank? $200 tank?

honey1813 months ago
Very informative instructable. And it seems you had a great fun learning bout this wonder machine! :)
M.C. Langer (author)  honey1813 months ago
Thanks Honey181! Indeed, it was very funny!!! Great times!

Really cool!

M.C. Langer (author)  firefightermeyer3 months ago
mdkdark1 year ago
i would like to know the price of the differnt Materials Cartridges, i checked on net and i can't find the price anywhere ! the thing is i'm thinking of getting a objet connex500 so i'm trying to check everything about it before i invest my money on it, also i want to know it's working speed and if it's suitable for mass production
nlaux mdkdark1 year ago

If you're planning on investing into a Connex500, be prepared to spend a lot of money initially. Material cartridges run around $1000 each and support cartridges run around $450 each.

The working speed greatly depends on the shape of what you're trying to build. There is no concise way to determine how long a build will take without knowing the general XYZ max lengths of the part in question. I work in Rapid Prototype and I can tell you that the majority of our builds complete in less than 8hrs. I have had some run as long as 40, but this is usually for extremely large parts.

As for mass production, you might want to check into Stratasys' FDM printers. They are much better suited for Production purposes. That being said, I have used the Connex to create batches of 100-200 parts before but it just isn't cost efficient compared to actual tooling.
M.C. Langer (author)  mdkdark1 year ago

Sorry, I don't have the cartridges prices. But I know the Connex 500 price is more or less $250.000.
35Timmy1 year ago
I just wanted to ask for your help on a question, I wanted to know how much grams per cubic cm is in each material and how much volume is in each cartridge of each material , I'd appreciate it
nlaux 35Timmy1 year ago
a cubic cm estimates at ~30g for material and ~10g for support.
Material and support cartridges range from 1Kg to 3.6Kg depending on which model printer you use. The Connex 500 uses the 3.6Kg cartridges, but I believe the 1.44Kg cartridges are the same size, but filled less. The Connex 500 has 2 material loading areas and 2 support loading areas.
M.C. Langer (author)  35Timmy1 year ago
Hi 35Timmy! Sorry, I don't have that information. Have a nice day!
HollyMann2 years ago
This looks very cool!
M.C. Langer (author)  HollyMann2 years ago
Thanks Holly! and using the 3D printer was a lot of fun!
3D Rog2 years ago
Very nice guide, thanks for posting it.

I'm lucky enough to be working on this equipment every day (I'm a Stratasys certified support engineer working for on of their European dealers) and the range of applications that my customers use these machines for never ceases to blow me away,

There is just one error in your guide that you might want to correct, you are right to point out that the machine needs to be left powered up all the time but it's not because of the temperature, the reason the heads are heated is to ensure that the model and support resin is at the correct viscosity for printing, the resin wont solidify if it cools down (it;s UV light that cures it) and an idle machine will drop down to room temperature after a short period anyway.

The reason it needs to stay powered up is because there is a vacuum pump that runs constantly to keep the reservoir of resins in and around the heads at a negative pressure, without the pump running there is nothing to keep the resin in the heads and it will slowly drool out and there is then a risk that it could polymerise on the heads and destroy them (not to mention the mess it makes).

I hope that's helpful to you.

M.C. Langer (author)  3D Rog2 years ago
Give me this weekend. I need some answers from one of my advicers, then I will answer you properly. Thanks for your comment.
wow thank you so much mario, you are magical *** !!!!

i have been wondering  about how the printer works with different materials in one model and you helped me and taught me so much more !!
i laughed so hard starting at the first 3 paragraphs, and your humor and passion carried me all the way through the end. thank you for making such a technical subject a joy to read!!! =)
M.C. Langer (author)  blissful20152 years ago

I loved your comment so much! Thanks for reading my instructable! I'm happy to know you like it! :-)
wilgubeast2 years ago
Thanks for getting into the nitty gritty details of cleaning, maintenance, and safety. It's tough to focus on those while still creating an interesting project, but this is easy to read because of your enthusiasm and knowledge. And the Ghost and Doctor Who references.
M.C. Langer (author)  wilgubeast2 years ago
Thanks a lot, Señor Wilgus! I am an huge admirer of your particular way of writing stuff, so it's an honor to be reading for someone like you. Muchas gracias!
SHIFT!2 years ago
MC, much like Stumpchunkman's instructable on laser cutting is a testament to Epilog, yours is truly a must read for any 3D designer.

Tell me- does 123D allow you to alter the number of vertices and faces on an object? I'm looking for a program that will reduce a high K polygon count to a lower one in the hundreds.
M.C. Langer (author)  SHIFT!2 years ago
Thanks a lot Shift!!! Your words are awesome!

And about your question, exactly I don't know. But I let me see. What is a "high k polygon"?
lindarose922 years ago
Wow, thank you so much for this great 'ible, there's a lot to learn here!! :)
And I also loved the quote...perfect ending! :D
M.C. Langer (author)  lindarose922 years ago
Thanks to you, Linda! This instructable was an awesome experience! :-)

PKM2 years ago
I used to avoid writing instructables using rapid prototyping equipment because I felt like it excluded the people who don't have access to these wonder technologies, but I think you've got it right in your intro step. The more we show that 3d printing can be used for productive purposes, the more we can (hopefully) drown out the sensationalists focusing on a single firearm-related frippery which risks bringing the entire technology into disrepute.

I'm going to brush up on my Sketchup skills and design something functional that I can 3D print :)
M.C. Langer (author)  PKM2 years ago
Thanks PKM! I'm happy to hear that! :-)
BrittLiv2 years ago
Wow, awesome writeup! Very helpful. I wish I had a 3D printer (It's been the number one thing on my wish list since I first saw the MakerBot Cupcake in 2009).
M.C. Langer (author)  BrittLiv2 years ago
Thanks BrittLiv! And yes, the 3D printers are awesome machines!
seriously awesome, are there any other 3d printer types that use extra material as a support which is then removed after printing? never knew there was quite so much work involved in the print process.
Thanks!! Well, we have Objets and Makerbots (that use the same PLA as support material). And yes, it involve so much work, but is not complicated. Only, you have to be careful and... get fun! :-)
erik_amico2 years ago
Love the Doctor Who quote at the end :3
M.C. Langer (author)  erik_amico2 years ago
Thanks Erik! At least, one person readed my instructable until the end... :-)
sunshiine2 years ago
Awesome! You rock!
M.C. Langer (author)  sunshiine2 years ago
Thanks Sunshiine! :-)
Dude, this is awesome! This will serve as an excellent resource for all of the future AIRs that come to the lab. Great work, and KEEP IT UP!
M.C. Langer (author)  audreyobscura2 years ago
Thanks a lot Audrey! And thanks for the awesome pictures!
Natalina2 years ago
This is an excellent resource. Nice work!
M.C. Langer (author)  Natalina2 years ago
Thanks Natalie!! :-)