Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #5

Simplify details

We already know that it’s helpful to keep things small in size at the beginning. One key aspect that is often overlooked is to keep details simple as well.

This means sticking to designs that take up as little ‘laser time’ as possible.

So how do you go about optimising your design with this in mind? The short version is that the less time it takes to cut, the less it will cost. You’re paying for every movement the laser cutter makes; whether it is cutting, engraving or travelling between cutting and engraving. Many small detailed forms take longer to trace out than fewer larger forms. Circles take longer than straight lines. Items spread out or are further apart take longer to cut than items located close together.

Dense vector line engraving also comes with the same warning. Remember that with lasers, time really does equal money.

The next handy hint focuses on another way to save time, and therefore cost, with your laser cutting. Stay tuned for Tip #6: Avoid Double Lines

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Ponoko Customer Blasts Past Kickstarter Goal in 3 hours

Another Kickstarter success using Ponoko

Maurice Ribble is the Boston based engineer behind the Electric Eel Wheel – a clever electric spinning wheel that makes it easy to spin the fiber of your choice into yarn.

Maurice’s Kickstarter campaign blew past it’s $5,000 goal in just three hours – and is on track to break $20,000 in under a week.

The Electric Eel Wheel was already a huge hit in the hobby fiber, spinning, and knitting communities, so it made sense to make the jump to Kickstarter. “I figured this would be a good project for it because nothing like it has been done before” Maurice says, ”my wife who’s been helping with this project really liked the idea of doing a Kickstarter so that’s what really decided it for me.”

Traditionally, yarn is spun with a foot powered spinning wheel – a time consuming process that tends to be hard to master. While there are electric alternatives available, quality wheels are costly- with price tags of $800 or more. This gap in the market was part of the inspiration for the Electric Eel Wheel.

Using laser cut parts from Ponoko, Maurice and his wife Emily set out to create their own electric spinning wheel that was affordable, while still being as good or better than the ones currently on the market.

Maurice says using Ponoko made it easy to reduce costs by iterating through different designs. “I was surprised at how much spending some time optimizing the part layout cut my costs.” he says  ”For me it almost cut my costs by half because I was able to share a lot of edges and use the materials more efficiently.”

While this is the fourth commercially available version of the wheel, Maurice was still able to find ways to improve the design and add new innovative features:

“Once I get my hand on the laser cut Ponoko pieces I assemble it and I almost always get ideas on how I might improve it during assembly. When those improvements are getting small I know I’m at the stage where it’s good enough.”

Maurice credits the research he did, as well as the feedback he got early on as the key to Electric Eel Wheel’s explosive success. “I read a lot about how to launch a Kickstarter campaign. Making a good video is important so I spent a lot of time on that.” Maurice says, “I shared it with a few close friends to build my confidence and get feedback on what I might tweak.”

When we asked Maurice what advice he would give to people just starting out with Kickstarter, he warned entrepreneurs-to-be not to let expansion or addition of new features hurt your project:

“Don’t let feature creep hurt your project. First you need to decide when it’s good enough to put on Kickstarter. Some of the ideas that come in are good and I do leave my options open, but you need to always consider pros and cons before adding something.”

Want to get your hands on your own Electric Eel wheel and start spinning your own yarn? The Electric Eel Wheel is available through Kickstarter at a discounted price, with packages ranging from $149-$209.

Got a great hardware idea of your own? Make and sell it with Ponoko.

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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.

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!

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.

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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Software Upgrade for Ponoko Prime

Prime just got even better.

We’ve just finished some major upgrades to the software that powers Ponoko Prime. For those of you not familiar, Prime is a monthly subscription with tons of benefits like:

• Lower cost making on laser-cutting and 3D printing.
• Free making speed upgrades on every order.
• Volume discounts up to 55% off.
• Loyalty pricing with lower per-minute rates for every month you are a Prime customer.

The bulk of the changes we’ve made are behind-the-scenes upgrades to improve stability and make for a better experience. In addition, we’ve added the following features:

• Easily check the status of your account, next billing date, and your Prime Loyalty rate all in one place.
• Quickly change or update credit card information.
• Get email updates when there is a change to your account.
• Better tools for help desk agents to assist with Prime questions.
• General UX improvements.

As always, you can upgrade to Prime at any time.

Not ready to upgrade? Still curious about the kind of savings you’ll get? Just upload any of your designs to your Personal Factory. You’ll be presented with a Prime price along with your regular cost breakdown.

Got questions about these upgrades, or questions about Prime in general? We would love to hear from you!

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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.

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Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands – #3

Laser cut & engraved stamp

The tactile satisfaction of a physical stamp can help give your brand a memorable impact. The example above includes a simple but cleverly designed laser cut ergonomic handle which also has several surfaces where further branding or information can be laser etched.

Whether a laser etched stamp is produced as a promotional item to be given away, or as a tool to apply branding onto media for prospective customers, there is a novel human element to it that can communicate at a deeper level than conventional printed materials.

Creative modern interpretations of seemingly superseded technologies are a great way to make use of the Ponoko Personal Factory. Don’t see laser-safe natural rubber in the Materials Catalog? Make a request here, and your wish is our command…

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How to oven form laser cut acrylic

A handy tip for when flat isn’t all that

Today we are taking a look at one way to give your laser cutting a boost and take it beyond the constraints of two dimensions. Utilising the thermoplastic properties of acrylic, it can be surprisingly easy to apply heat and then carefully form laser cut objects into more complex shapes.

Back in her student days, Kiki Brown Bear fired up the oven in her kitchen to soften her laser cut flatware, and then made use of actual forks and spoons as molds to get the shape she wanted. Follow her process over at Instructables, where you can find step-by-step photos and a brief video of the technique in action.

If you like the sound of this and want to explore further, there are all kinds of objects around the home that can also be used to help shape softened acrylic. We have seen some people laser cut custom profiles in MDF or ply, and then laminate them to create a DIY acrylic mold. To get heat into the acrylic, it is possible to use hair dryers, heat guns and grills (as well as ovens) to soften the material and get it ready for molding into shape. Just be sure to ventilate the area as much as possible, because those acrylic fumes are not so pleasant.

via Instructables

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