Customized Laser Cutting for Tech Geeks

Designing Your Own Enclosures for Electronics Projects

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Laser cutting has long been the chosen solution for many DIY electronics project enclosures, and with good reason. By building a custom case using laser cutting, you are able to protect components, give precise access to interface elements, and also add laser etched details that communicate function and branding.

We’ve previously taken a look at how to make a laser cut enclosure using Box Maker and similar plugins for laser cutter-friendly software programs. Another neat browser-based option is MakerCase (screenshot below) where it is easier than ever to enter design constraints, interact with a 3D model of the enclosure and then save a file that is ready for laser cutting.

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These fantastic tools and software solutions go a long way in making laser cut enclosure design accessible for projects large and small. While a laser cut enclosure can be quite simple, the thorough breakdown by Phillip Burgess on Adafruit covers a number of key considerations and comes strongly recommended indeed. The eye-catching rainbow Raspberry Pi case pictured at the top of this post is a prime example of the way that the strengths of laser cutting can be leveraged to produce unique, desirable outcomes.

Personal projects get a serious boost from laser cut enclosures, and the next step is often to produce and sell products that look both professional and highly resolved. A notable example of how custom laser cut enclosures have helped turn personal projects into Kickstarter success stories is the Game Frame (pictured below) from Jeremy Williams.

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So whether you’ve baked yourself a techno treat with the Raspberry Pi, or created new possibilities using the latest boards from Arduino; those electronic projects can get such a boost when a custom laser cut enclosure is added to the mix.

In short, laser cutting enables customization and full control over the following design and interface elements:

Protect components: Boards, screens and connectors can all be housed securely.
Location of openings: Plugs, connectors, lights and vents can all be positioned in exactly the right spot.
Communication: Adding custom branding, labels to ports, and a bit of personal flair.

Be sure to read through the Adafruit Laser Cut Enclosure Design Overview and fire up your Ponoko Personal Factory to get the prototyping process started right away. Let us know in the comments below if you know of any other handy tips and resources for making laser cut electronics enclosures.

 

How To Make Your Own Laser Cut Precision Tools

Taking measures into your own hands

Just Add Sharks Laser Cut Caliper

How do you know if your projects are as precise as can be? While we can get a certain level of control by squeezing our fingers together and taking an educated guess, sometimes you need the cold hard facts. That’s where measuring devices such as vernier callipers come in handy to narrow down the numbers.

Inspired by some 3D printed measuring tools they had seen, the guys over at Just Add Sharks fired up their lasers to cut a set of fully functional callipers (above) from 1.5mm birch ply. The components were laser cut and glued together, and then to round things off an additional set of radius guides (below) allow for internal and external radii to be checked for accuracy.

Just Add Sharks radius guides

Looking for a fun weekend project? The files for these laser cut precision tools can be downloaded from the source article at Just Add Sharks, so head over there if you’d like to make your own laser cut measuring guides in your material of choice from the Ponoko Personal Factory.

via Just Add Sharks

How To Make a Laser Cut Dremel Chop Saw

Industrialize your mini DIY production line

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Repetitive cutting for projects that require precision parts can be a time-consuming process. The need for consistency and accuracy in making several hundred cuts from small diameter pipes prompted sculptor HTMF Metal Pizza to seriously upgrade his DIY production line.

Why not use a pipe cutter?

The usual way to cut sections from the hobby pipe is to use a pipe cutter, however this tool leaves a small deformation around the inner diameter. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but as HTMF’s process requires smooth edges on both inner and outer surfaces, the sections from the pipe cutter are unsuitable for his needs.

Solution: the Dremel abrasive disc

An abrasive disc spinning at high speed will cut with the precision that HTMF is looking for. When controlled in smooth linear movements, the cuts will be quick and clean… so armed with this knowledge he set out to optimise the cutting process to achieve greater speed without sacrificing any accuracy.

“While I tried cutting the tubing free hand, I found I needed a third hand and there was a huge variation in size which required a great deal of re-finishing.”

Introducing the laser cut Chop Saw

The solution was to build a miniaturised ‘chop saw’ mount for his Dremel cutting tool. As well as holding the Dremel and working material securely, the chop saw houses two drawers; one to store Dremel parts and another to catch the pipe sections as they are cut. He also added a scale on the cutting table that aids in achieving consistent lengths with each cut.

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See the full tutorial on how to build a laser cut Chop Saw mount for the Dremel multi-tool on Instructables. You’ll find all the files you need for laser cutting including an adapter for switching between the Dremel hand tool itself and the flexible shaft attachment, depending on which version you are using. The thoroughly detailed assembly instructions are also peppered with tips (and supporting pics) on how to best manage the trickier steps will see you up and cutting in no time.

…and if you’re wondering what’s up with this Instructables creator’s screen name, HTMF stands for Having Too Much Fun! 

 

Entrepreneur turning hobby into novelty toy and apparel company

Robots! Yeah!
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Imagine a community of robots; from helpers to dance masters to happy companions and more. What stories would they tell? What journeys would they embark on, as their world and ours merge into one fantastical creative adventure?

The characters from RoboMustache were created and designed by Charles Wade of Greensboro NC, and they are working their way into the hearts and imaginations of young robot enthusiasts one laser cut assembly kit at a time.

It all started with the Helper Bot

GREENSBORO, NC — After graduating from college, designer and maker, Charles Wade, began his hobby by making unique animal stickers, which later morphed into woodcraft and papercraft creations. During a test for one of his woodcrafts he designed and built a poseable wooden robot. The Helper Bot was born.

With the creation of the Helper Bot, Wade began experimenting with other ideas. After receiving feedback and appreciation for his work, he created more robots and designed assembly kits that would allow others to build his creations.

Resurrected from the scrapheap in a derelict factory

Wade has cultivated his hobby into a career by establishing RoboMustache; a collection of wooden robot assembly kits, accessories and merchandise. More than a collection of novelties, the RoboMustache hints at a rich world of storytelling as well. Coined from a found project in a derelict factory, as the company grows, so will the RoboMustache universe. The story will expand to tell more about the existing robots and bring in new robots along the way.

The most mustchioed  ‘Staff Pick’ on Kickstarter

Wade is crowdfunding the project to take the RoboMustache universe to the next level. The Kickstarter launched Dec. 4, 2015 and runs through the new year. Rewards for backers include assembly kits for each of the RoboMustache characters, laser cut in bamboo ply by Ponoko.

For more information on RoboMustache, visit RoboMustache.com or email contact@RoboMustache.com. To see the Kickstarter, visit RoboMustache.com/Kickstarter

How To Increase Profits with the Best Pricing For Retail

Keep your expectations realistic to secure the highest returns 

Without a careful, methodical approach, it can be difficult for makers (and indeed small businesses) to find the right balance when it comes to pricing their products. Let’s take a look at the considerations and contributing factors, so that this critical part of running a maker business can be controlled to work in your favor.

If you’re making as a hobby, then profits may not be such a priority – but a business cannot be sustainable if it does not turn a profit.

Setting a price for your products

In the creative marketplace, there are 3 key components to consider:

  1. Your cost price
  2. Your wholesale price
  3. Your retail price

This is the simplest breakdown, where the cost price refers to the sum of all the cash costs that go into making each product; the wholesale price is the cost price plus the amount you want to earn for your idea and your time (this can be seen as a ‘creative fee’, but we’ll get to that later); and the retail price is made up of your wholesale price plus the retail margin.

When seen in this way, a general guideline can be followed with the ratio of 1:2:4 where $1 of cost will have a $2 wholesale price and a $4 retail price.

Looking at it from the other direction can also help, as the focus on starting with the final selling price has a stronger connection to the reality of your target market – ie, the price of competing products. There is no point working out a price based on your own production costs, only to find that you are no longer competitive in the marketplace once your product reaches retailers.

Therefore, the simple equation looks like this:

Profitable Retail Price = 2x Wholesale price = 2x Total Production Cost.

How do you calculate your Creative Fee?

The tricky part, particularly when you are just starting out, is how to account for your creative spark and your design/assembly/packaging/marketing/etc time. How long do you spend assembling each product? What about all those trips to the post office? Every moment you spend doing ‘work’ should be accounted for, and given an appropriately proportioned value to insert into your calculations.

There is a handy Ponoko walkthrough on how to calculate these figures that can really help to prevent you from falling into the common trap of under-pricing your products.

Tough negotiations with retailers

Selling direct from your bedroom home office is one thing, but when retailers put the squeeze on you for tighter and tighter margins, the figures you carefully worked to when just starting out can suddenly leave you operating at a loss!

The Ponoko Cost Saving Guide uses a set of laser cut coasters to simulate the full process from initial design through to high turnover retail product. It makes for interesting reading, with a guided navigation through all the considerations that contribute to product pricing.

These include:

Minimum Order Size
Most Profitable Order Size
Minimum Wholesale Order Size
Tough Retailer Negotiations 

Knowing where your boundaries are in terms of lowest acceptable price and also highest realistic goals before you engage in large volume orders can make the difference between whether you actually realise a profit or not.

Making a Profit

Profit is very important, if you are seeing your making as a business venture.

There is no rule that you have to make a profit! It is totally ok to be making for the joy of making, but consider that without profits from your efforts, it can be very difficult to continue your passion for making things for others. When you make a profit, you are also creating new possibilities for yourself… so without a profit, you are not going to be running a business for very long.

Once dollars are involved, rules become very important. In Chris Anderson’s 10 Rules For Maker Businesses, profit heads the list, and with good reason. Reading through these articles will give you many tools and insights that can help to set and maintain realistic goals for your maker business.

“…if you don’t get the price right at the start, you won’t be able to keep making” – Chris Anderson

Let us know in the comments below what your personal experience has been in balancing the tricky task of how to achieve the best pricing for your retail products.

 

10 Rules For Maker Businesses

Ponoko Cost Saving Guide

Stop Under-Pricing your Design Products

 

 

How To Find Open Source Design Files

Design resources that help you get started with laser cutting

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The learning curve can be a steep one for some people when it comes to wrapping your head around digital manufacturing. Not only do you need to understand how to design for CNC, 3D printing or laser cutting; starting from scratch is daunting and design resources can be hard to come by.

In an attempt to de-mystify the process of digital manufacturing, Obrary takes inspiration from the changes enabled by the Open Source movement and has set up a resource supplying design files and code for anyone to use or improve on. Their motto is “Making it easy to make.”  They do that by providing the Maker community with a library full of open designs and a series of eBooks full of information about the making process.  The site has open designs from Makers from across the globe.

“Beyond improved sharing of design resources, new design approaches and engineering patterns are enabled”.

Users are encouraged to make their own tweaks to the designs, learning by trial and error in much the same way that made development for the Raspberry Pi so popular.

Have you ever wanted to build a cage gear mechanism? They’ve got one of those. How about an adding machine or even something simple like a robust shelving system… these are but a few of the designs that have been made freely available to the Obrary community. The design file package includes a number of file types including CAD files, interchange files (DXF, PDF, etc) and CAM files.  So you should be able to find a file format that fits into your manufacturing process.

And one nice feature of the site is that all of their designs and eBooks have the same license – Creative Commons-BY-SA.  This is a truly open license that even lets you sell products made from the designs.

“…making, building, and collaborating, not because we have to, or because it’s research, but because it’s so fun.”

Already a digital maker? Use the comments form below to tell us about other resources that were useful when you were just getting started, and how you’ve taken these skills and design adaptations into the Ponoko Personal Factory to turn them into reality.

See more collaborative designs and handy resources at Obrary.

 

Moodlight, The Worlds Emotions On Your Desk

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Another Ponoko customer has exceeded funding on kickstarter in record time! Conner, the maker of the Moodlight, had originally pledged to raise $935. Within 17 hours he had over achieved funding by 139%! The current total is at a whopping $3,323 with 14 days left to go! Where it will end? It appears the sky’s the limit.

The Moodlight changes colour depending on the aggregate emotions found online. A daily sample of 2,600,000 tweets are used to help determine what the mood is.

lights

This is a great idea and would make a great tool for people who work in the world of Digital Media or Marketing, having a constant update of the emotion without having to stay connected to the twittersphere at all times.

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The beautiful Moodlight is constructed using 5.2mm Birch Veneer Core and 3mm Opal Acrylic from our US catalogue.

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Head over to Kickstarter and take a look for yourself, and why not drop in a pledge while you’re there.

If you’ve got a gem of an idea and you’re looking for advice on how to make it a reality, check out the rest of the Ponoko site and feel free to ask us any questions.

#HolidaySales Tip #6: Breeze Through Black Friday & Cyber Monday

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At first glance, the term ‘Black Friday’ has a slightly menacing ring to it, possibly the title to the latest horror zombie film. On the other hand, ‘Cyber Monday’ sounds like another name for Judgement Day from the Terminator series – a day when the machines finally take over the world. Thankfully, the truth is a lot less ominous but not entirely scare-free, if you’re a seller.

That’s because Black Friday signifies the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season. Held a day after the Thanksgiving holiday, this tradition dates back all the way to 1925 when Macy’s held its first Thanksgiving Day Parade. As for the name, that actually has a reason to make you smile – Black Friday is so named because business was said to be so brisk on this day that it actually pushed many retailers back into profit or into ‘the black’ as they say in business terms.

The term ‘Cyber Monday’ is a relatively new phrase, making its debut on November 28, 2005, in a Shop.org press release entitled ‘Cyber Monday’. Since then though, it has come to signify a push by retailers and marketing companies alike to persuade people to shop online. And from one look at numbers, they clearly didn’t have to push very hard. In 2014, Cyber Monday online sales grew to a record $2.68 billion, compared with the previous year’s figures of $2.29 billion.

Right, now that we have the history out of the way…let’s move to the present. As we mentioned earlier, both Black Friday and Cyber Monday do bring with them a certain sense of apprehension for sellers because come these two days, people don’t just flock to buy stuff, they practically rampage to get ahead. And businesses need to do everything they can to batten down the hatches and prepare for this wave of customers.

Don’t wait to start planning

Just because the sale isn’t for a few weeks, doesn’t mean you can put planning off until later. If you hope to make the most of these two days, here are a few tips to bear in mind:

Customers start researching earlier than you might expect

The holiday season can be as stressful for a customer as it is for a seller. And when you add FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) to the mix, you’re left with an anxious customer who starts scouring the web and stores to fill up his gifting list as early as he possibly can. In fact, according to research from NFR last year, every year , 40% of customers begin researching and doing their holiday shopping as early as October.

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That’s why you need to prepare your holiday sales at least a month or two in advance. And as soon as you do, you should begin letting customers know so that those eager to get a head start on their shopping can begin making a beeline to your business. In fact, don’t be afraid to throw in a few gift ideas of your own. Ideas like these help push the procrastinators into shopping early.

Know exactly what your sale will look like

A holiday sale is not a piñata where you just throw in a bunch of items and let customers grab whatever they can when you open up the sale. You have to carefully consider which products to include based not just on their performance through the year but also based on which items might tend to be more popular around the holidays. One way to do this is by creating a ‘sales map’, which outlines your sale items, lists inventory for each of them and includes approximate shipping costs and delivery estimates.

Learn to create a contingency plan

Now, we don’t want you to imagine the worst, but planning for a few unexpected situations won’t hurt. For instance, what if your website goes down? Do you have social media messages in place to curb frustration and offer an alternate shopping route? What if your shipping company can’t deliver? Do you have an alternate company on standby? Is the email explaining the situation drafted and ready? Without plans like these, valuable hours are lost just reacting to the situation rather than responding to it. Always remember to hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

Be realistic in your ability to handle demand

There’s an iconic scene in the movie ‘Jingle All The Way’ where Schwarzenegger strolls over to the action figure stack and confidently picks up one, only to be blitzed by scores of other dads all scrambling to get their hands on one. While it was funny to see the brawny actor be tackled to the ground, being railroaded by customer demand during the holiday season isn’t as much of a laughing matter. To avoid it, here are a few simple precautions you need to take:

Test to ensure your website can handle a surge in traffic.

It happens to the best among us – too many simultaneous website request rush in at one time and boom! Your website comes crashing down. While this does take a LOT of traffic to happen, it doesn’t mean it won’t. Just to be sure, you should use tools such as LoadImpact.com or Blitz.io to ensure your site is robust enough to handle any spikes in traffic.

Test your brick and mortar store for demand surges too

If you or your team create your product yourselves, then you need to plan a new production schedule to cope with the demand on these two days. This may mean putting non-sale items on a temporary production freeze as a means to free up some time to put together the other items that are going on sale. Alternatively, you may need to ramp up production hours or start working on added production runs right away to keep stock in check.

If you rely on a supplier, you need to have a frank chat with them to ensure they are able to cope with your increased supply requirements. Also, you need to double check on the delivery schedules to ensure there are no bottlenecks, which leave you with shelf stock but limited, inventory.

Don’t be afraid to get creative
Remember, on these two days there are literally thousands of brands competing for the attention of customers. If your brand hopes to stand out from this noise and make an impact, you have to leverage your creative skills. Here are some basic tips:

Build banners and hero images specifically for holiday sales

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It’s a proven fact that people respond better to images. And during the holiday season, showing someone the perfect gifting idea is potentially the best way to lead to a sale. To achieve this, a well-designed and well-placed banner can often help do the trick. Try to use you product as much as possible and keep the copy crisp and to the point.

Another key area to focus on is the header image on your homepage. Given that it is the first thing customers see when they come to your site, it is a great place to grab those first few seconds of attention and guide them to your best-selling products.

And even if you aren’t able to design these banners or site headers yourself, there are plenty of free templates and resources available to help you. Or if you are really pressed for time, consider hiring a freelance designer to put together something creative.

Stay prepared by planning your ads ahead of time

Creativity is not a faucet that you can turn on minutes before you need it. Especially when you need to churn out something really unique and eye-catching for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. That’s why it’s better to plan your banner and search ads ahead of time so that closer to the day, you can spend more time focusing on timing and placement.

It’s also important to remember that bids can get more expensive during the competitive holiday season depending on your niche. This means you may need to increase your bid price on certain keywords to increase visibility of your ads during this time. Now is also the best time to plan your holiday sale ad budgets as well.

Add suspense to your sale and try to build buzz

There’s little fun in just announcing your Black Friday or Cyber Monday sale. This simply lets people know that you are running a sale. But you haven’t given them a compelling reason to come.

Instead, what you can focus on is building anticipation. Start by sending out teaser emails, which offer snippet previews of what will be on sale. Use your social channels to post sneak peeks of your warehouse to show how much your overall stock is or how limited your stocks are for certain products (to drive home the ‘limited editions’ feel). By doing this, you retain top-of-mind recall for your brand and give customers something specific to look forward to at your sale.

Get down to the brass tacks of your website

Both Black Friday and Cyber Monday are now heavily driven by online traffic. This means your website is often the first place customers land. Given the high dependence on this medium, you need to optimize every pixel and squeeze the most value from every corner of your site, not just the shopping cart. Here’s how:

Design an easy-to-use website.

This may seem like stating the obvious. But if you’ve ever encountered a website that’s badly designed or difficult to use, there’s another Hollywood blockbuster which sums up your frustration at that point – Fast and Furious.

To get your website past this obvious stumbling block, here’s a list of the things you need to check for in your usability rundown:

How simple is the navigation? At this stage, you need to look at the design of individual navigational features such as menus, search boxes and sidebar widgets.

Is your site easy to read and understand? This includes every bit of text on your site from the product descriptions to the image text. You need to ensure you’ve used web-friendly fonts and that all necessary text is easy to zoom into. In terms of content, you must make sure all language is simple and the descriptions kept concise because a large percentage of your users will be reading the copy off a mobile device.

Are your design elements consistent? You need to check that all headers, subheads and body text are consistently designed in terms of colours and fonts. Each of these elements should also be placed in the right areas in order to maintain a consistent visual language. Also, they need to be the right size across the various pages of your site and adapt accordingly for different screens.

Is your website speed sufficient? This refers to the average time taken for a page to load on your website. If you have demo videos on your site, you need to check the load times for these too.

Is there a clear access to support? In the event that a visitor has a question, you need to ensure that he or she can easily contact your business for help. This is especially important during the holiday sale season when people have technical or aesthetic questions about your product simply because they are giving them as gifts.

Is your website user friendly? The simple act of being user friendly can have a significant impact on visitor retention. It also has a positive impact on conversion rates and even affects the overall size of checkout.

Keep optimizing your efforts

There is no magic bullet guaranteeing better sales during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The road to success lies in your ability to simultaneously run multiple aspects of your promotional machine and optimise at every stage. Here are some of the things you need to consider for this process:

Focus on creating abandoned cart emails

Shopping cart abandonment is very real and a very serious problem. Especially during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. That’s because given the number of sites a consumers switch between during these two days, their attention span is severely limited and fickle. In fact, according to a report by Barilliance, the average cart abandonment rate during these two sale days was as high as 65% in 2014.

An easy way to short circuit this process is by setting up compelling abandoned cart emails. These emails are targeted based on the product (as much as possible) and offer clear, distinct reasons for them to come back and complete their purchase.

Keep testing your site and getting fresh feedback

Imagine being able to sit behind a potential customer as they navigate your site. Just think of all the wonderful insights you could glean from that process. But since it’s not possible to track down and physically monitor interaction with your site, the next best thing is to use a tool to do the job. One that we recommend is UserTesting. This tool lets you watch a random user go through your website and listen to their feedback. You can also get a video of the process in action. If you can repeat this process a few times, you may spot a few recurring kinks in your site and address them immediately before the sale days.

Get smarter results by using tracking pixels

If you use paid advertising such as Facebook Ads or Google Adwords, you should place retargeting pixels on your website so you can re-market to your holiday sale traffic. This may seem like digital stalking but on a day when every brand is out to get the most share of mind space and share of wallet, tracking pixels help you outsmart the competition.

Build with a ‘mobile first’ strategy in mind

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Consumers continuously shift between smartphones, desktops and tablets throughout the day. This means they expect their digital storefront and shopping cart to sync across all these devices. Proving this point, a 2014 IBM report claimed that mobile traffic surpassed desktop traffic on Thanksgiving for the first time. Plus, according to Custora, Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend in 2014 saw over 26% of orders come through a mobile device. This means if your website isn’t fully set up for a seamless web experience, yow won’t just miss traffic, but revenue.

To minimize the chances of this happening, you need to begin by examining what your website’s UX looks like on a mobile device. You need to begin by ensuring your site is mobile optimised. Because as per a 2015 update by Google, websites that are not mobile optimised will actually be ranked lower by the search giant. Meaning that long before users decide your site is hard to navigate, they move on to your competition because they haven’t even found your site.

You also need to see if your mobile shopping experience is intuitive and leads customers to not just the right products, but also unobtrusively nudges them toward the products you want to push. Finally, you need to check the shopping cart experience to make sure the process is seamless and doesn’t have any glitches, which may lead to cart abandonment.

Mobile ecommerce revenue stood at $42.13 billion in 2014, and forecasts indicate that number could grow to $132.69 billion by 2018. By optimizing your site for mobile, you make it easier for customer to transition their shopping experience across devices and thus increase your chances of closing a sale.

Make social media matter in every way necessary

We now live in a world where consumers are more connected with the brands and the things they purchase, than ever before. The nerve centre of this interconnectedness is social media. But while connectivity is always a good boost for sales, sellers now have to be doubly careful to set the right level of customer expectation (especially on big days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday) and maintain full transparency during the process. Here’s some the key stepping-stones sellers need to tread to nail their social media efforts.

Build a spreadsheet to see the broader picture

Social media is not a one-trick pony. But just because there are multiple channels to choose from, it shouldn’t become a carousel either. To ensure you have the right marketing mix, make a spreadsheet of all the social channels you are present on and the ones you think you need to establish your presence on. Next, put down the number of hours you spend per channel on your active social accounts. Then put down an estimate of how much time you intend to spend on the new channels. This allows you to have a realistic overview of the time needed to maintain a successful social presence across channels. If the number looks too unrealistic given your other time commitments, then (take a deep breath) and consider dropping a few channels from your mix.

Have a mission for each social channel

Your brand needs are bound to change with every social channel. So, it’s a good idea to evaluate your messaging priority and brand objective for all your social media profiles individually. For example: your Instagram profile may be for sharing in-store customer interaction. Pinterest may be your online sale catalogue. And Facebook may be a mix of the two.

Last but not least, do a brand check

During a sale, a customer is looking at dozens of brands. To make sure your brand is not lost in the crowd or worse, giving out mixed messages across different social platforms, you need to ensure all your accounts speak the same language. This includes profile photos, cover photos, icons, bios and product descriptions.

In our next blog of the series, we’ll look at working in seasonal batches and getting your easy-to-ship products out the door faster. But for now, when it comes to planning for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, remember to plan ahead, stay consistent and adapt quickly. Do you have any tips for these big sale days?  Let us know in the comments below.

Building The Ideas That Build Young Minds

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When most people imagine laser cutting, they envision quirky personal projects or grand scale commercial ones. One of the last places you would expect to see laser cut designs is in a Physics classroom. But thanks to the inventiveness and commitment of one teacher, a classroom of students are now able to grasp the more complex fundamentals of Physics bother literally and figuratively, thanks to Ponoko’s laser cut designs.  

In this blog, written by Physics professor Matthew Jacques at Pentucket Regional High School we’ll see how Ponoko was able to build the tools, which enabled him to demonstrate his curriculum and ensure pinpoint precision each time. With Ponoko’s help, ideas that were relegated to just a textbook came to life with tactility and are helping young minds experiment and learn Physics like never before.

(The following blog has been written by Matthew Jacques, Pentucket Regional High School, edited by Samantha Herald and republished here on Ponoko’s blog with his permission)

When I am teaching physics, I always find myself thinking, “I wish there was a lab accessory or device to do this or that.” Most of the time the thought lingers for a moment and I simply push on with the materials we have or ultimately discover with dismay the desired equipment simply does not exist. Such occurred when I began the year examining the core concepts of motion. The unit studies how an object change its velocity and distance from one second to the next when accelerating due to free-fall. It is challenging enough to guide the students to the conclusions through inquiry based labs, but it is even more challenging when the equipment introduces extra variables. I purchased a set of gravity drop kits that operate through an original mechanical release mechanism that drop marbles from rest through two CPO photogates. The mechanical release mechanism did not drop the marble from rest and was terribly inconsistent. If a student was not careful, the mechanism would give the marble an undue initial velocity. I instead needed an electromagnet to drop the marble consistently every time. No such mechanisms existed that could easily connect with the CPO base stands; however these could be specifically tailored by laser cutting sheets of woods.

A few years ago, I created a personal project from ponoko.com, a “maker” service that can laser cut materials such as wood, plastic, metal, and more out of varying thicknesses with, of course, laser precision. The premise was simple: a blueprint design could be created using either Adobe Illustrator, InkScape, or Corel Draw, and if a line was “blue”, it cut the material and if the line was “red”, it would engrave a line. The design process consisted of determining what type of lab equipment was needed, taking measurements to integrate it with existing equipment, and going through design iterations on the computer. Choosing a material and thickness is a critical first step since it drives the overall design and dictates how the sides fit together. I chose a wood laminate, as it was inexpensive, durable, and easily assembled with wood glue.

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The cost of any Ponoko order is extremely variable based on the complexity of the laser cutting and the types of materials being used. Luckily, I was able to have an idea of the cost by uploading designs and receiving an instant quote through the Ponoko website. The quote allowed me to optimize the project and cut down on costs. For example, if you have two objects laser cut, by sharing a “cut line” between objects, you reduce the laser time and thus the cost. Certain types of laser cutting such as engraving an area costs far more than just creating an engraved line. Because I ordered the product through my school, I was given a generous 55% discount and a free subscription to their prime service. All in all, the entire order came just shy of $160 and took about two weeks from the time of order to the date of arrival.

The Ponoko order arrived in large sheets of wood which looked like jigsaw puzzles. After removing the paper backing, the pieces lifted out easily. It was a satisfying experience seeing the design on the screen become real and tangible objects. It is most likely the closest thing we have to the replicator on Star Trek. The parts were exactly as I designed them down to the most minute detail. Aside from some light sanding on a few pieces, the majority of the project fit together seamlessly.

Makerstory

The electromagnetic marble releaser (or EMR) was the most challenging of all the builds due to its technical nature. The EMR uses a momentary switch to trigger an electromagnet and a slide switch to enable an LED indicator. Maximizing its usefulness, the device can fit on either a slanted straight track or vertically on a base stand. As expected, the EMR takes out the human element of releasing the marble and produces a much more consistent release.

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Moving forward, I can only hope to think of and create more laser cut projects for class. No longer do custom solutions need to be haphazardly put together with cardboard and tape; they can instead made with laser precision. If any fellow teachers are interested in learning more or acquiring these designs for your class, please email me at mjacques@prsd.org 

 

Guaranteed Order Deadline for Maker Faire

World Maker FaireHey there makers. If you’ve got something big planned for this year’s World Maker Faire New York these are the dates you’ll need to get your goodies in time for the big event:

Laser Cutting Order Deadlines:

Standard Making & Shipping Speeds: Last Orders by Thursday September 10th 2015.

Upgraded Making & Shipping Speeds: Last Orders by Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015.

Metal Machining (PCM) Order Deadline:

Standard Making & Shipping Speeds: Last Orders by Thursday September 3rd 2015.

3D Printing Order Deadline:

Standard Making & Shipping Speeds: Last Orders by Friday, August 28th 2015.

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