Optimising Materials Use with Ponoko

In order to get free delivery back in January, I rather hurriedly had a variation on Dan’s box lamp cut, and was kicking myself when the pieces arrived for not making full use of the hardboard – I’d overlooked the fact that the box lamp only uses one bit of the hardboard, and should have added something useful as Kyokpaesshowroom (bit of a mouthful I know) did: a wee tangram puzzle. Neat.

It would be great if Ponoko alerted the designer when they are about to waste material. But since we already have a ready-made repository of laser cutting template files in Ponoko, could a program be developed that analyses your .eps file and suggests other designs that could be added to make better use of the material? This could even be done in such a way as to add a little chaos to the process, leading to some interesting mashups of designs in unintended materials, or at unforeseen scales. It seems that Ponoko has provided a great opportunity for improved efficiency of materials in this way. A quick search brings up the imaginatively named Sheet Layout but this seems overly powerful for most people’s needs, and I’m unclear as to whether it could automatically place a cutting path in a given space.
Incidentally, the case of Dan’s box lamp seems to be a good example of “remixing” design data on Ponoko: starting with his floral design;

Dan's box lamp

followed by Kyokpaesshowroom’s dragonfly interpretation;

Kyokpaesshowroom's box lamp

and then my tea-leaf inspired design (a pattern that I pretty much cut and pasted from another of my projects):

My box lamp

As derivatives of a ShareAlike license, all of them are available for free, on attribution and non-commercial terms. Plus there are more lamp designs using similar principles. VodkaandOrange’s Bonsai lamp, below, makes great use of the laser cutter to create an intricate cut-out pattern in the acrylic. Isn’t light brilliant?

Vodkaorange's Bonsai lamp

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