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, 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.


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 


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.

Get Started Here

Guaranteed Order Deadline for Maker Faire

Hey there makers. If you’ve got something big planned for this year’s Maker Faire Bay Area, 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 April 30th 2015.
Upgraded Making & Shipping Speeds: Last Orders by Wednesday, May 13th, 2015.

Metal Machining (PCM) Order Deadline:
Standard Making & Shipping Speeds: Last Orders by Wednesday April 22nd 2015.

3D Printing Order Deadline:
Standard Making & Shipping Speeds: Last Orders by Friday, April 17th 2015.

Fab Academy 2015

Applications now open for the next Fab Academy Diploma

Applications are now open for the fifth edition of the Fab Academy Diploma, the main educational program of the Fab Lab Network.

For five months running between January and June in 2015, participants will find themselves immersed in an advanced digital fabrication program directed by Neil Gershenfeld of MIT’s Center For Bits and Atoms. The diploma is based on MIT’s rapid prototyping course, MAS 863: How to Make (Almost) Anything, and operates as a worldwide, distributed campus where Fab Labs across the globe become classrooms and libraries for a new kind of technical literacy.

Learn how to envision, prototype and document your ideas through many hours of hands-on experience with cutting edge digital fabrication technology.

Take note of the following important dates if you think this sounds like a great way to supercharge your creativity and productivity in 2015:

Application period: October 6th, 2014 – November 20th, 2014
Application revisions: November 21st, 2014 – November 31st, 2014
Application notification: December 1st, 2014 – December 10th, 2014
Classes: January 21st, 2015 – May 27th, 2015

A list of participating labs can be viewed here, and more information is available on the Fab Academy website. Applications are open… apply now for the 2015 course!

via Fab Academy

Laser cut precision

DIY callipers with imperial and metric vernier

Keeping track of precise measurements and the finest details just became a little easier, thanks to Sean Murphy’s updated vernier callipers on Thingiverse. He has come up with an interesting adaptation of a design that was originally intended to be cut from acrylic and then bolted together.

What did he do differently? Well, aside from tweaking the accuracy a little, Sean also laser cut the measuring device from paper and double-sided taped the two halves together.

“The result is a super thin set of callipers that can be slipped in a binder, folder, or book yet still give accuracy down to a few hundred microns.”

Very handy indeed… and because they are cheap, quick and easy to make, you could keep a set within reach at all times for refined accuracy wherever you happen to need them.

via Thingiverse

Manufacturing The Future

How 3D printing went from pipe dream to your desktop

When Ponoko was founded back in 2006, we envisaged the third Industrial Revolution, where consumers of the future can download and make products at home. The road to distributed digital mass production was paved by the pioneering work of stereolithography inventor Chuck Hull and transformed once again with the rise and rise of MakerBot, to name just a few.

In a fantastically comprehensive article over on Digital Trends, the full history of 3D printing has been laid out in detail.

3D printers are all the rage with enthusiasts, but they didn’t just materialize out of nowhere like the sculptures they produce. Here’s the untold story of how the next big boom in technology came to be over 30 years.

It’s a fascinating story where dreams become reality and the stuff of science fiction enters our daily lives. We have seen this first-hand, with over 400,000 custom products produced online via Ponoko’s global network of digital making services.

Click through to Digital Trends to learn how other key influencers have helped shape the strange past and seemingly impossible future of distributed digital mass production over the past 30 years.

via Digital Trends: Manufacturing the Future

image thanks to Pete Golibersuch/Knurling LLC

Cheating the parametric design process

Compensating for different material widths when scaling your laser cut designs

Parametric Design is awesome, and makes for fewer headaches when it comes to changing a few details here and there. Well… most of the time, at least. Sometimes all those numbers can get a little complex but Martin Raynsford has developed a way to ‘cheat’ the parametric design process while scaling down his neat little laser cut catapults.

Because the design consists entirely of laser cut parts, his mini catapult can be scaled using a base version of the file where material width acts as the key piece of information. He explains his thinking and practical techniques in yet another informative blog post, and you can even download the .svg file to give it a go yourself.

If you’ve heard of the term Parametric Design but need a little refresher on just how handy it can be when applied to laser cutting projects, check out this tabbed box maker. It’s a great example of true parametric design in action.

Read more about Martin’s technique at the source article, and while you are there don’t forget to have a peek in the store because his laser cut designs are available to buy in kit form as well.

via Martin Raynsford: Cheats Parametric

Laser cutting 3D forms: 123D Make tutorial

Slicing up a T-Rex for laser cutting that roars

The software options available to digital makers just keeps getting better, and one of our recent favourites would have to be Autodesk’s 123D Make.

Why do we like 123D Make so much? Simply put, it just works and really is as easy as 1, 2… 3. The freely available software takes a 3D model and slices it up, then exports the data for laser cutting.

As you’ll see in the following tutorial, there are several very handy (and quite powerful) capabilities built in to 123D Make that help ensure your final result comes together just right.   (more…)

Laser Cut Turbine Whistle

Shrinking an air-raid siren to fit into your pocket

Quoted as being ideally suited for those looking to be really annoying, this laser cut project by Mark Langford on Instructables might catch your attention. Taking the same principles that give air-raid sirens such an impressive audio impact, he has condensed them down into a neat little package that can fit on a key ring.

After several iterations, the mechanics of the three-layer design were perfected and (as you can hear in the following video) it really does work. Extra points of course go to the fancy eyebrow acrobatics!

Here is how it works:

The air you blow in blows out through the pattern of holes, and at the same time, it makes the turbine spin.

If there was no turbine, the air would just hiss out of the holes, but the holes and blades are designed so that the spinning turbine alternately covers and uncovers the holes, rapidly blocking and releasing the air in a series of pulses that make the noise you hear.

See the Turbine Whistle on Instructables where you can learn from Mark’s thorough project walkthrough. There are plenty of step-by-step photos and of course you can download the files to make a pocket siren of your own.

via Instructables: Turbine Whistle

Laser Cut Typographic Gears

Round and round she goes, and where she stops, nobody knows

Check out this gem of a project from Mario Klingemann, otherwise known as Quasimondo. A few years back he whipped up a Typographic Gear Generator that is able to create pairs of wheels that interlock with mesmerising precision.

The gears can then be laser cut and added to your next mechanical marvel for all to enjoy. There is something whimsical and kind of cute about bundling in this extra layer to an otherwise run-of-the-mill laser cut component.

Pictured here (and in the following clip) is a laser cut geared wheel turning around a quote from the 1950’s tv classic, The Original Amateur Hour. Other variations that Mario has tried out include a Muybridge-inspired horse in motion, demonstrating that the process works just as well with images as it does with text.

via Mario Klingemann