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 

 

Elliptical Laser Cut Boxes

Using Inkscape plugins to round out those boxed corners 

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We all agree that laser cut boxes are handy to use as enclosures for DIY electronic projects and for storing little keepsakes. Adding your own personal touch gets a whole lot more interesting when you can break away from the traditional rectilinear form to create elliptical laser cut boxes.

Once again, the magic happens thanks to some clever programming in the form of a freely available Inkscape plugin. Instructables user Bas van der Peet has compiled an extensive guide to using this plugin, with a number of fun examples of what you can achieve when you round off a few corners here and there.

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If breaking out of the box sounds like fun to you, head over to Instructables and follow Bas’ guide, then let us know how you go with the plugin in the comments below.

Make your elliptical laser cut boxes using the Ponoko Personal Factory.

Elliptical Box Maker via Instructables

 

Ponoko Customer ‘Catapults’ Past Kickstarter Goal With Ease

Another Kickstarter success using Ponoko

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Office wars don’t always have to be nasty email battles. Sometimes they can be fun too! Armed with this idea, Apptivus – a collective of creative thinkers came up with ‘PennyPult’.

Presenting, the PennyPult

The team at Apptivus has a successful history of designing exciting products including mobile apps and games as well as physical goods. The PennyPult is miniature siege weapon. By definition, it is a trebuchet or a gravity-powered catapult. The kit comes with everything you need to build your very own desk sized trebuchet. All you need is a flat surface and 16 pennies.

Apptivus believes the PennyPult is a step above the other trebuchet kits on the market because it’s smaller, easier to build, and more fun. Additionally, it has a unique design they claim you won’t find anywhere else.

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The PennyPult gets its special look from the stacked counterweight design. Unlike a traditional trebuchet, the counterweight is positioned above the throwing arm. In addition to having a unique throwing action, it actually increases the throwing distance. The PennyPult can throw a projectile up to 35ft! Not bad for a machine that stands only 9 inches tall. Plus, it’s easy to load and fire and you won’t have to deal with finicky slings, tangled lines, or misfires.

Designed with precision through Ponoko

Using laser cut parts from Ponoko, constructing a working trebuchet has never been easier. A PennyPult can be constructed in less than 15 minutes and without the use of tools. It requires no glue, no sanding, and no knowledge of woodworking. The precision laser-cut pieces simply snap together. The other pieces are made of brass, copper, rubber, and acrylic ensuring you wont be disappointed with its quality.

Blowing the roof off Kickstarter funding goals

 The first PennyPult was created in January 2015. Since then, it has gone through countless iterations and improvements. Months later, the team at Apptivus had something they were really proud of. After a first production run in May and having received positive feedback from friends and family, they decided to take the project to KickStarter. Their goal was to raise $2,000 from August to September.

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 4.19.57 PMYet, nothing could have prepared them for the overwhelming success they were about to witness. They breezed past their original funding goal and saw the figures increase by a whopping $6000 in just one weekend.

And with a few days still to go, they have exceeded their original budget by 15 times to raise an astounding $37,989 and the money is still pouring in.

The PennyPult is available through Kickstarter at a discounted price, with kits ranging from $25-$150. And if reading this has inspired you to launch your own hardware idea, make it and sell it with Ponoko today!

How To Make Custom Bokeh Lens Filters

Give your photography a boost using laser cut filters

Techniques for taking dramatic photos often rely on fancy (ie expensive) equipment, but as this little project from Jin Tsubota very effectively demonstrates, you can achieve some impressive results on a tight budget thanks to the Ponoko Personal Factory.

Watch the video above to see Jin’s step-by-step walkthrough of the remarkably easy process he used to make custom laser cut Bokeh Filters for a friend’s wedding.

“…I thought it would be fun to surprise him and his bride by shooting their wedding with these DIY bokeh filters.”

For those not familar with Bokeh, it refers to the aesthetic quality of the blurred elements that are captured through a camera lens. Bokeh filters take advantage of this, by controlling the shape of these areas using a physical filter attached to the front of the lens.

Inspired by these results, we had a quick go using the Ponoko logo! While our outcome isn’t quite as impressive as Jin’s, it is still fun to experiment with this technique.

Ponoko-Bokeh-lens-filter

You can see a photo with no filter on the left, then the filter with laser cut Ponoko logo, and the effect it creates on the right of the above image.

DIY Bokeh Filters make for a great low-cost laser cutting project, and the results can give your photography a unique, eye-catching personal touch. Have you made your own laser cut camera filters? Let us know in the comments below.

Laser Cut Bokeh Filters via YouTube: Jin Tsubota

 

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

DIY Laser Engraver can be made for just $20

Build your own 3D printed laser engraver

With the smooth geometry of a classic arcade machine, the Photon Printer 3D printed laser engraver is a tiny technological wonder. Built as a DIY project by New Zealand engineer Stephen Brockett, the fully functional etching machine was put together using selected DVD burner components and just a few purchased items to fill in the gaps that could not be 3D printed at home.

In part, the project was made possible by salvaging the impressive innards of a standard optical drive, but don’t let Stephen’s modesty fool you… there are a lot of other clever design decisions that kept the total build budget at just $20.

“Optical media drives are actually pretty amazing, they have linear rails, stepper motors, lead screws and even end stops inside them… They’re pretty much an entire axis of a CNC machine ready to go!”

Keeping a healthy respect for the laser at the heart of the machine, a number of safety features were built into the Photon Printer. Nifty inclusions made possible by 3D printing like a roller shutter and angled rear vents (to stop reflected laser light escaping) can be seen in the video below.

The whole journey is fully documented on Thingiverse where it has sparked up a spirited discussion from other makers using the detailed instructions and downloadable files to print out their own versions. Perhaps you could even build on this design further using the Ponoko Personal Factory…

via 3Dprint

Ponoko’s Google Cardboard Gives You Virtual Reality For < $10.

Virtual reality from Google, with laser cut parts from Ponoko

Google Cardboard is a virtual reality kit that starts with a simple viewer anyone can build or buy. It works by turning your phone into a virtual reality headset using a sheet of cardboard, two plastic lenses, a magnet and a bit of velcro.

Using laser cut parts from Ponoko, you can get started with Cardboard for less than $10.

So far there have been a ton of apps released for the platform including test drives, roller coaster rides, and mountain climbs. But it’s not just games and rides- People are finding new ways to use the kit – from campus tours to marriage proposals to vacation planning.

Anyone can build their own Google Cardboard – there are no official manufacturers and the whole kit is open source. Want to engrave a VR code that opens up your app? Go for it. Want to add custom branding? No problem. Want to design a shiny gold mirror headset? The sky’s the limit.

Since the kit is made up of inexpensive cardboard, it’s perfect for experimenting and creating your own version using laser cut parts from Ponoko.

To get you started, we’ve put together a handy instructable that walks you through how to laser cut your own Cardboard headset with Ponoko for less than $10.

Got an idea for your own custom-made Google Cardboard compatible headset? Let us know in the comments below!

How To Make The Most of Inkscape’s New Features

Long-awaited updates make Inkscape better than ever for laser cutting

Inkscape users have been on the edge of their seats for some time now, waiting for the feature set of  this exceptional free design program to catch up with some of its more costly competitors.

With Inkscape 0.91, the first major release since August 2010, a ton of fixes and features have been introduced… and we are excited. For a full list of the new features you can check out the release notes, but we’ve picked out a few that are relevant to Ponoko makers:

Measurement tool – The Measurement tool is a new feature for the artist to measure the elements in their drawing. To use the measurement tool, simply choose the tool, click anywhere on the drawing and drag the ruler out. The measurement tool will live-update with measurements of length and angles as you pass over objects in your drawing.

Trace Bitmap – Trace bitmap preview updates live and is resizable.

Select Same – a new feature that allows an artist to select objects that have the same properties as the currently selected object. For example, you could select an object that has a fill of blue. Then, using the new feature select all other objects in the drawing with a fill set to that same shade of blue.

OpenMP multithreading – No idea what this is but it makes Inkscape substantially faster.

New & Improved Guides – Including quick toggling of guides, changing the color of a guide & labelling guides.

Improvements to Text toolbar – Text toolbar shows full list of font style variants for that font (used to be just bold, italic and normal. Hooray for extrabold and hairline fonts!

Improvements to node editing – The tool control bar for the Node Tool features a new dropdown to insert new nodes on the selected segments.

New Layers panel – Reorder your layers by simply dragging and dropping them.

Sounding good so far? For budget-conscious professionals and makers not using Inkscape yet, consider the difference a seriously capable (and free!) software such as Inkscape can make as an alternative to, for example, the Adobe move towards subscription pricing. Don’t forget about Ponoko’s handy free Inkscape Starter Kit, a valuable resource that can really help to save time and money.

Watch the following clip for a neat overview of Inkscape’s new features and let us know how you go with the new updates in the comments below.

Discover more: Inkscape 0.91 release notes

Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #10

High making costs? Try Ponoko Prime

Laser cutting with Ponoko is a great way to have small items like coasters or jewellery cut and shipped to you for little more than the price of a hearty meal. But what happens if your appetite for laser cutting means designs that are bigger than bite-sized? Ponoko has a solution for this, and we call it Ponoko Prime.

Existing as a monthly subscription, Ponoko Prime members enjoy a range of benefits including lower making costs, volume discounts and free shipping for orders over $100. There are other perks to being a Prime subscriber, just check out the FAQs to see if you can save money by using Ponoko Prime.

  • With a Prime account: EVERY Prime order costs 32.5% less to make than Free account orders.
  • Making in Large Volumes: EVERY Prime order over $1,000 cost up to 51% less to make than Free account orders.

Consider your requirements and time your upgrade to Ponoko Prime. There are some serious savings to be made.

With these Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs, the key considerations of making, materials and shipping have been optimised to give you the best possible outcome. So keep this list handy and follow the advice; ask us questions if you get stuck on anything… and we look forward to seeing what you will make next.

Do you think we covered all of the important tips when it comes to reducing laser cutting costs? Let us know in the comments below if you think there is anything we missed…

Top 10 Ways To Reduce Laser Cutting Costs:

1. Digital Prototyping

2. Paper Prototypes from your home printer

3. Make a cardboard version first

4. Start small

5. Keep Details Simple

6. Avoid Double Lines

7. Group Parts Together

8. Line vs Area Engraving

9. Material Thickness

10. High making costs? Try Ponoko Prime

Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #9

Material Thickness

How flexible are you on material choice for your design? To cut out a shape, the laser is burning through the material. Different materials burn at different rates, and also the thinner a material is, the faster it will cut. For example, 4mm cardboard cuts very quickly, and 9mm acrylic cuts very slowly.

Choosing the right material can reduce laser cutting costs considerably. If your design allows for it, create prototypes in paper (Tip #2) or cardboard (Tip #3) before moving on to thicker or harder materials. You can then have greater confidence in a successful outcome once you move up to the premium materials for your final design.

Have you had experience where changing the material thickness helped reduce laser cutting costs? Let us know in the comments below.

For more complex designs or projects that have a larger vision behind them, it’s time for Tip #10: Ponoko Prime.