The Innovation Tank -3D Printed Treads-

Design and develop a tank with additively manufactured thread and re-using filament spools as wheels

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The Innovation Tank is a caterpillar single rider vehicle developed at UCLA Innovation Lab from scratch. The caterpillar belts and all the joints were 3D printable, and we re-used filament spools as wheels.
The tank employs total 3kw motors with 40Ah batteries, which brought it to drive at a maximum of 15mph and duration of a few hours depending on drive conditions. Tested on campus with a human driver on it, and now working on some minor improvement on this vehicle.
We are planning on new tank designs to drive on the beach or to climb stairs.

Belts consist of two parts: Thread parts (PLA or ABS) and gripper (TPU) connected with zip ties.  Belts employs lattice structure (HoneyComb) in order to optimize the amount of material used (reduce calculated density), while maintaining structure strength.

8 filaments spools (MatterHacker) were used as wheels, each of which contains two bearings and attached on a fixed axis.  

Entire frames are made of T-slotted aluminum which was used in a class at UCLA and we re-used them since they were supposed to be thrown away after the class ended.  We didn't cut the aluminum, but picked size we want from those scraps or adjusted our design correspondingly.

Two 1.5kw e-bicycle motors were powered by 40Ah Lithium-ion battery, which were from a previous thesis project.  

Demonstration on north campus

Maximum speed test (About 15mph)

Version 2 belts (in videos) use PLA mostly because of material availability at UCLA Innovation Lab (makerspace), but the new design belts are now printed in ABS for better shock registance.  

There is one ongoing upgrade project on this tank to improve the belts.

We also working on a failed 3d print recycle project, and old or damaged belts were melted to a PLA board so that we can laser cut and use for other purposes.

This project is not funded, but using our makerspace is free for all students.  

**************Organic Design Throttle Fixture*************

Throttle fixture rendering for our tank.  (Black handle in the tank picture)

******************* Version 3, Robust Belt ******************

V3 Belt improved hinge designs which was previously limited due to the size of each belt.  Now the belt is thicker and wider, and pitch (belt hinge eye to eye) is 1.5 times larger to reduce number of components.  V2 belts only had one tooth per belt, but V3 consists of 3 teeth per belt to spread shear stress due to the motor.  

Honeycomb size is increased since the V2 honeycomb trapped small pebbles.

Now made in ABS.  1.5kg for one set of belts

And now we are RECYCLING used belts and other makerspace 3D print waste into beautiful plate for laser cutting.  Visit the project for more pictures


STL files and Material selections


Material: ABS or Nylon (PLA if you are fine to replace the belt occationally)

Infill: 100% 

For the best shock resistance, Nylon is a better choice, but we decided to use PLA  for the fisrt versions and ABS for the latest version (which uploaded here). simply because we mostly stock PLA (and recently a lot of ABS too).  We didn't want to use up some other precious material just on this project.   

We founded that some filament brands were significantly less durable.  We recomend Hatchbox and avoid bright or transparent colors which are brittle ususally.

If someone interested in comparison between the brands (PLA), I can make a list next time

Thread grip:

Material: TPU

Infill: 20%

The grip can be attachec on the belts using two zip ties.  Infill is 20% to make it squishable a little.  Not mandatory to have this grip, but it will protect the belt honeycomb from trapping pebbles and make the tank quieter.


Material: NylonX or (ABS)

Infill: 100%

Used to connect 1 inch t-slotted aluminum in 90deg.  it'll be fine to use ABS if the joint is used on where it does not experience torque. 

Other Joints:

Material: NylonX (Highly recomended)

Infill: 100%

Any other joints should be printed in Nylon and recommends NylonX, which is nylon reinforced with carbonfiber.  (Note most of carbonfiber filament is PLA based and not suitable at all for our purpose)

It's possible to use ABS if you are not riding much or think they are...

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JPEG Image - 216.82 kB - 12/06/2019 at 01:22


JPEG Image - 55.16 kB - 12/06/2019 at 01:22


Standard Tesselated Geometry - 2.79 MB - 12/06/2019 at 01:22


Standard Tesselated Geometry - 2.22 MB - 12/06/2019 at 01:22


Standard Tesselated Geometry - 703.99 kB - 12/06/2019 at 01:22


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AVR wrote 12/05/2019 at 01:40 point

this is awesome and I love the printed tread implementation, keep up the great work!!!!

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Yusuke Tanaka wrote 12/05/2019 at 02:10 point

Hi AVR, thanks for visiting our project!

We'll keep updating!

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elizabeth.a.greene wrote 12/04/2019 at 17:45 point

Those tank treads would be a great application for non-planar 3d printing. 

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Yusuke Tanaka wrote 12/04/2019 at 18:04 point

Yes.  Actually, I printed on my delta printer and it printed the honeycomb a lot faster.  The drawback was I could only fit one or two treads in my 200mm diameter print beds.  Prusa can prints 9 to 6 belts at a time.

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Maximilian Laurenz wrote 12/04/2019 at 17:30 point

Cool project, I think it's great for a small group of tinker adepts in a FabLab like ours. I hope you will be able to add up some more detailed descriptions about the used materials and STL files.

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Yusuke Tanaka wrote 12/04/2019 at 18:00 point

Sounds great!, let us have time to share more with you!  We are fine to share STLs.  

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Mike Szczys wrote 12/03/2019 at 19:06 point

Fantastic build! I know this is a serious project... but for some reason I really want to see "Innovation Tank Polo" become a thing where each player has their own tank. Maybe "Ultimate Tank Frisbee"?

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Yusuke Tanaka wrote 12/04/2019 at 17:05 point

Hi Mike thanks for visiting us!

Actually, we have another sets of motors and hoping we have a chance to make one more.

And we're working on a turret!

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