Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #4


Start small

A great tip for first timers and also just as useful for more experienced makers is to keep things small and simple at the beginning. In short, stick to the Ponoko P1 template. Starting small enables you to test your ideas and be confident before charging ahead with multiple items on larger sheet sizes.

This will keep material costs lower, which is handy not only when experimenting with laser cutting for the first time but also if you are trying out a new material that you haven’t used before.

Make the most of the P1 template size by performing small tests of multiple design ideas. Don’t assume your first attempt will be “The One”. Try multiple cuts, shapes, engravings, etc to see what you like the look of. You are much more likely to end up with a design you are happy with if you remind yourself that it’s not about getting that perfect outcome on the first try.

Keep in mind that with laser cutting, more size or complexity means greater costs. So the smaller dimensions of the P1 template help to constrain the amount of making time, which again means both cutting and material costs will be lower.

What savings have you made by starting small with your laser cutting? Let us know in the details below.

Stay tuned for the next handy piece of advice from the Ponoko team. It’s time to pare things back with Tip #5: Simplify details.

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Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #3

Make a Cardboard Version First

It is an exciting moment when your design is ready to be laser cut, but it can really pay off to do a trial cut in cardboard first before moving ahead with more expensive materials.

Remember, with laser cutting you are paying for the time it takes for the machine to make your design… and cardboard cuts really quickly. This contributes to it being one of the most affordable materials, which means you can get a fast, inexpensive test run of your design. Once you are happy with the cardboard version, you can order your design in a more expensive material with greater confidence that it will come out the way you had hoped.

If your final outcome is to be made from cardboard… well, then kick back and relax because you’re already one step ahead!

Tell us about how trial cuts in cardboard have helped keep your laser cutting costs down in the comments below.

Next up in the Top 10 Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs is a handy bit of advice that is easy to overlook. Tip #4: Start small

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Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #2

Paper Prototypes From Your Home Printer

Even if you are positive that your design is just right, it is always wise to check those details one more time before sending files to be laser cut. There is a very simple way that this can be done, thanks to your trusty desktop paper printer.

Printing out your design on paper is an ideal way to spot sizing or design errors, see whether holes or tolerances are big enough, and get a general feel for what your final result will look like. You could consider this as a free instant first prototype.

Working with digital files can be super efficient but sometimes people do lose track of whether their design will look just as good in the physical world as it does on-screen. So start your physical prototyping at home, and confirm that everything is a-ok before spending time and money on laser cutting. Once you have your details sorted, then take the plunge and upload your files to Ponoko for laser cutting.

Have you saved by making paper prototypes at home? Tell us about it in the comments below.

The next in our 10 rules for keeping laser cutting costs down is an extension of the paper prototype, but this time the lasers are firing. Stay tuned for Tip #3: Cardboard before expensive materials.

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How To Make Glue-less Interlocking Parts

Using the SketchUp plugin SliceModeler for the best friction fit

There are several ways to create 3D shapes from flat laser cut material, and each have their merits. Many Ponoko users ask questions about how to best design for interlocking parts – making this one of the more popular choices for transforming laser cut forms into 3D objects.

Interlocking parts can be mechanically fastened together, but in this tutorial we are looking at how to design friction-fit connections that neatly snap and lock into place.

Pictured above is a laser cut trivet made by Ponoko user Andrew Jones. To produce this form he used the freely available software SketchUp along with the handy SliceModeler plugin. He then compiled a detailed Instructables walkthrough that outlines his design process for interlocking laser cut products.

To achieve the glue-less design, small curved bumps (nodes) are added into each slot. This extra material allows the parts to slide together with enough contact and pressure to fit snugly. This sounds easy enough, but just how to get the right size and number of nodes takes some time and patience. Slot length, material thickness and density are just a few of the factors that need to be considered.

I highly recommend creating parts with different size and numbers of nodes so you can find the best fit that works for you. You might want a very hard fit that needs to be tapped together with a rubber mallet or you might want a fit that can be assembled by hand without any tools. The only way to find the fit that works for you is try different size nodes.

Click through to the full tutorial where you will learn how to create a basic form using Sketchup and SliceModeler, add the nodes, export into Inkscape and then add the final SVG to a Ponoko template ready for laser cutting.

via Andrew Jones on Instructables

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Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #1

Make a Digital Prototype Before You Spend Any Money

When you make something with Ponoko, there are 3 key costs to consider:

Making, Materials, and Shipping.

Making cost is all about labor — mostly machine labor and a little bit of human labor. Think of your design file as a work order; a set of instructions for the machine to follow. The simpler and more efficient your instructions are, the less time it takes the machine to follow them. And that means lower making costs.

Materials vary greatly in cost and your material choice will also have an impact on making time. The general rule is that thinner (and lighter) materials will cut faster, and the quicker your design gets cut the less it will cost you.

Shipping costs can have quite an impact on smaller projects, so see if you are able to combine several products onto a larger sheet size to reduce the per-unit price. For larger or more complex designs, it may be worthwhile taking advantage of Ponoko’s $100 free shipping threshold.

In this series of posts, we expand on each of these areas to give you the 10 best ways to keep your laser cutting costs down.


Tip #1: Digital Prototyping

Before spending any money, you can actually save a surprising amount just by tweaking the order process so that everything works in your favor.

Ponoko users may be familiar with the Product Recipe, a handy Ponoko walkthrough that new users are taken to as an introductory tour after creating an account.

A part of the process that is explained is the concept of Digital (or Zero Cost) Prototyping. How this works is that the Personal Factory is used to price many different design iterations instantly, revealing where the project can be optimised to save money on laser cutting, shipping and more. The best part is that you get all this valuable information without spending a single cent.

As you’ll see in the following results, that’s time well spent.

The Product Recipe example features a laser cut coaster that goes from an initial quote of $5.40 per unit down to $1.64 per unit prior to anyone opening their wallet.

That is quite a saving. Exactly how this was achieved will make more sense as we work through our 10 rules for keeping laser cutting costs down. Stay tuned for Tip #2: Paper prototypes, and let us know in the comments below if digital prototypes have helped you save money with your own laser cutting.

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