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 

 

#HolidaySales Tip #1: The best sale is a planned one

the best sale is a planned one

“The holiday season is almost here”. If hearing that makes you squirm in your seat, even a little bit, maybe you need to stop working on your next sale poster and take some time to plan out your strategy first. We know the holidays can be a maddening time for retail. But to make sure your business doesn’t get swept up in the oncoming cacophony, we’ve created a 10-part blog series covering each aspect of holiday season retail. Think of it like decorating a Christmas tree – you wouldn’t just throw decorations at it and see which sticks, would you? With that in mind let’s hang our first bauble – planning.

Do you have a calendar handy?

In retail, there’s more than one date you need to keep in mind during the holiday season. Not only because you need to prepare for the added sales volume on those days but also because you need to integrate your sales plan backwards from those dates to be fully prepared. While you might know most of these dates, here is a quick refresher on the ones, which should definitely on your retail calendar for the holiday season:

October 31, Halloween: Each year, about 40% of consumers begin their holiday shopping before Halloween.

November 28, Black Friday: 2013 saw online spending on Black Friday increase 15% to a record $1.20 billion.

December 1, Cyber Monday: Online shoppers spent over 1.73 billion dollars on Cyber Monday in 2013, marking the heaviest online spending day in history.

December 8, Green Monday: Last year, consumers spent $1.4 Billion on Green Monday – a major e-retail day falling on the Monday in December, at least 10 days prior to Christmas.

December 18, Free Shipping Day: Shoppers took advantage of Free Shipping Day in 2013, making 1.03 billion in online purchases.

December 25, Christmas Day: With most shoppers spending time offline, this is one day to (sort of) relax and prepare for Boxing Day.

December 26, Boxing Day: Boxing Day is consistently among the biggest retail days of the year. 2013 saw an overall jump in online sales of 40% when compared to the same day in 2012.

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Start wide but finish deep

Before the season starts, spend time putting together a complete assortment of merchandise across all your categories. But as the season gets closer, start to narrow your assortment and focus only on the ones which have proven to work, the best sellers in your lineup. Since customers have already expressed interest in those items, they more likely to generate sales and have the lowest markdown risk.

Look past the immediate horizon

Even though we’re still in September, you need to start reviewing your sales plans for November and December right away. By now, you should be far enough into the season to project the last two months, as compared to the start of the season. Ask yourself key questions like “how have sales trended compared to last year?” “Which categories have proven to strong?” “Are any weak categories lagging behind in my lineup?” Answering questions like these will help you make more accurate sales predictions for the holiday season.

Do you have enough supply to meet demand?

Most retailers have mixed feelings about inventory around the holiday season. Order too much inventory and you risk significant markdowns later in the season but order too little and customers might go elsewhere in a heartbeat if they don’t find what they’re looking for.

That’s why you need to review your inventory plans for the end of October, November and December. Think long and hard about what percentage of your ending inventories each month you want to dedicate to stocks of your best items. Because irrespective of quantity, the quality of these items ultimately drives your sales in the last two months.

Don’t lose focus on your vendors

While it’s great to plan inventory and sales projections (and feel quite proud of yourself) don’t forget your retail business is not a one-man band. Once you’ve calculated which items you need and what quantities you need them in, the next question to ask is – which vendors? Choosing the right vendor will give you a better handle on delivery dates.

Make sure your vendors are clear with your requirements and if you primary vendor doesn’t have a key item, don’t panic. Someone else is bound to have it and consider yourself lucky you discovered the weak link in the supply chain sooner rather than later.

Keep the phone lines open

Once you’ve got your vendors to agree with your requirements for the holiday season, don’t give in to the urge to kick your feet up and let automation do its job. Think of this as a mission to space. So far, you’ve only gotten past launch. There’s still plenty that could go wrong. Late deliveries in November and December can very easily turn all your hard work upside down and before you can say, “Houston, we have a problem”, you could be looking at lost sales and heavier than anticipated markdowns.

Stay clear of ‘inventory blindness’

When you’re making your list of items to stock for the holiday season, it’s easy to start assuming certain items are going to be a hit. But knowing what you shouldn’t buy is as important, if not more, than knowing what you should.

Take another looks at your inventory and identify those items, which you don’t absolutely have to maintain until the end of the season. These items may have been necessary to complete a full assortment but any money spent on them during the holiday season might not generate the same sales volume as your better performing counterparts and leave you exposed to a greater risk of markdown.

Planning for the holiday season can be a daunting task, but it’s not impossible. All you need is a little foresight and time set aside to get it done properly. In our next post, we’ll go over designing your storefront (both online and offline) for the holiday season. For now, just remember, if you go through planning your #HolidaySales step by step, you’ll end up with a better looking inventory and a cash register that keeps on ringing. In the world of retail, what could be better holiday music?

 

How to Decide When the ‘Price is Right’ in your Retail Strategy

 

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 3.44.45 PMPricing your products can be an exciting time as you begin to imagine the cash registers ringing. But when you actually get down to it, the initial excitement often gives way to doubt and nervousness.

Suddenly your mind is racing with questions and explanations – What if you price too low? You might make a ton of sales but still end up alarmingly short of money to cover your expenses.

On the other hand, what if you price your product too high? You might convince the market you are a high-end, luxury manufacturer. It might even begin to draw a financially upmarket range of customers. The high cost may offset your smaller sales figures, but what if the market shifts? What if a change in manufacturing or a new competitior can match your level of quality and reduce the price? Can your businss compete and survive in a price-sensitive market?

Such questions and more will always be floating around and no one strategy can magically address all your pricing doubts. However, by being aware of the options available for retial pricing, you will be in a position to choose the one which suits your business when the time comes.

Before we go into specifics, there are some basic overarching categories which classify individual pricing strategies. These include:

  1. Demand oriented strategies: In a retail environment, you don’t always have to depend on your skills as a marketer to attract customers. Some porducts, or even categories of products, have such a magnetic pull that setting the retail price for them can be done simply by observing demand.
  2. Cost oriented strategies: This is a more common format for calculating retail pricing and revolves around the relationship and ratio of merchandise costs, operating costs and expected profits.
  3. Competition oriented strategies: These strategies involve observing, analysing and responding to market changes to maintain the perception of competitive pricing at all times in a given market.

Let’s begin by looking at some common demand oriented strategies:

Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
As the name suggests, this is a price manufacturers recommend retailers use to sell their products. This strategy is used by manufacturers to standardize prices of products across multiple locations and retailers.

However, MSRP can also be used in a market where there is high product demand. In such a market, by sticking to the manufacturer’s price, the retailer can drive higher profit sales and determine what the price levels of certain products will be in his store, irrespective of the consumer’s bargaining power.

Demand Ceiling Pricing
In this form of pricing, the retailer takes into account the maximum a consumer will pay for a certain item and as far as possible, try to keep the price up to that level so as to maintain a demand momentum for that product.

Demand Floor Pricing
Here, the retailer takes into account the lowest he is willing to go on price to meet demand for a particular product. This is usually done on lower cost items where a retailer might go lower on the cost to keep the volume of demand constant for longer.

Odd Pricing
Studies have shown that when customers spend money, they actually feel a sense of loss. But if you help minimize this feeling of loss, it is possible to nudge customers into making a purchase. In retail, you can do this by ending the price with an odd number like 5, 7, or 9. For example, using $8.99 instead of $9.00.

Also if you want to know the ideal odd number to pick, it’s 9. A study conducted at MIT and the University of Chicago ran an experiment on a standard women’s clothing item with the following prices $34, $39, and $44. The item priced at $39 outsold even its cheaper counterpart price of $34.

Zone Pricing
It’s no secret that certain suburbs or geogrpahical areas house more affluent people. In such areas, the demand for certain types of products or categories will always be high, simply due to their increased ability and propensity to spend. Using this tactic, retailers can map out certain areas where they can get away with charging more for the same stocked item as compared to stores in other locations.

Now, let’s examine some cost oriented pricing strategies:

Multiple Pricing
This is a common pricing strategy wherein you can sell more volumes of smaller itesms simply by grouping them together. It’s a strategy you normally see in grocery stores and even across clothing brands espcially for smaller things such as socks, underwear and T-shirts.

Discount Pricing

All customers love agood bargain. That’s why sales, discount coupons and even holiday deals are so popular. The only thing to consider is why you’re choosing to discount your products. If it’s for more footfalls, consider going wide with your discounts so as to attract a variety of people. If it is to get rid of unsold inventory, try setting a time limit on your discount (1 day only, flash 12-hour sale) so as to not draw too much attention to the items on sale. And if you’re trying to attract price-conscious customers, club your discounted items together to seem more appealing.

Loss-leading Pricing
If you’ve ever walked into the store because you saw a ‘too-good-to-be-true’ discount sign but walked out with three things, you’ve just experienced loss-leading pricing at work. The idea is once you get a customer in store to buy one item, just looking at other items on the shelves is often enough to drive more sales.

Finally, let’s examine competiton oriented pricing strategies:

Below Competition Pricing
As the name suggests, retailers employing this strategy use a competitor’s pricing data as a benchmark and consciously price their products below them to lure consumers into their store, instead of the competition’s.

Above Competition Pricing
While below competition seems like a no-brainer, retailers need to be cautious before using this strategy. That’s because if your competition is willing to go head to head, he might keep dropping his prices to the point where it’s no longer financially viable for you to go any lower. A good example of this is Amazon who brought the cost of paperback books so low, they put Barnes & Noble out of business.

Instead, retailers can do the exact opposite – benchmark their product at intentionally higher prices than their competition. This forces customers to stop and consider why your prices might be higher. And, not surprisingly the conclusion most arrive at is – your produt must be of higher (and therefore better) quality. A classic case of this strategy working is Starbucks, where people consistently pick them over Dunkin’ Donuts.

One of the most exciting and nerve-wracking aspects of retail is determining what price to sell your products at. However you must remember that pricing is both an art and a science. It requires an experimental attitude and an intuitive feel for how you want your brand and, by extension, your products to be perceived.

Please feel free to share in the comments below other ways you might calculate your retail pricing.

 

Guaranteed Order Deadlines For Halloween!

 

Mod-Podge-Halloween-BannerHey there makers. If you’ve got something big planned for Halloween this year, these are the dates you’ll need to get your orders in by to ensure your goodies arrive in time:

Laser Cutting Order Deadlines:

Standard Making & Shipping Speeds: Last Orders by Thursday, 15th October 2015.

Upgraded Making & Shipping Speeds: Last Orders by Tuesday, 27th October 2015.

Metal Machining (PCM) Order Deadline:

Standard Making & Shipping Speeds: Last Orders by Wednesday, 7th October 2015.

3D Printing Order Deadline:

Standard Making & Shipping Speeds: Last Orders by Friday, 2nd October 2015.

Get Making Here!

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!

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

Acrylic RGB Retro Nixie Digits

Laser cut and etched numbers send us back to the Atomic age

For retro-loving tech-heads, there is almost nothing quite as mesmerising as the soothing glow of those iconic nixie tubes. Their illuminated typography with refined, crisp fonts traced out in delicate filaments evoke an era of technological optimism and mysterious futuristic endeavours.

Inspired by this iconic visual, Thingiverse maker Folker has created a 21st century interpretation using laser cut and etched acrylic. Each number is etched onto a laser cut panel, and illuminated by an individual RGB LED. All characters from 0-9 are then laminated together to form one digit module. Pictured above is a prototype for the resulting clock/calendar device, also published on Thingiverse.

You can click through to see clips of the numbers ticking away as well as the smooth transitions as the LEDs phase through their full color range, thanks to some clever programming. Interestingly, the filament-thin fonts referenced from the original nixie tubes are quite similar to modern design elements that appear on popular i-devices. Those fashion cycles keep on repeating!

As we see here, using LEDs for illumination of laser etched designs can create a bold, distinctive visual impact that is a welcome change from the brightly lit screens we have become used to. How would you use this technique in your designs? Jump into the Ponoko Personal Factory and try it yourself!

via Folker on Thingiverse: Single and Multiple RGB Acrylic Nixies

 

Share Your Google Cardboard Design Idea, Win Your Share of $250 Making Vouchers

We’ve giving away everything you need to create your own custom Google Cardboard

You’ve heard about Google’s VR viewer, you’ve seen the cool things it can do, and you know how to make one for less than $10 with Ponoko.

Wouldn’t it be cool to make one for FREE?

We’ve got 3 Google Cardboard Kits and over $250 worth of laser cutting that we’re giving away to folks with the best ideas for a custom Google Cardboard headset.

Google’s kit is based around making with cardboard, and the manufacturing specifications are open source. This makes it perfect for developing and prototyping your killer idea with laser cut parts from Ponoko.

Maybe one button isn’t enough for the game you’re developing. Maybe you want an oversized headset that works with your iPad. Maybe you just want a shiny gold acrylic VR headset to match your gold watch.

Whatever your idea is, we want to hear it. The folks with the best ideas will get a head start on making their ideas a reality with one of the following prizes:

1st Prize – Google Cardboard Hardware Kit + $150 Worth of Laser Cutting
2nd Prize – Google Cardboard Hardware Kit + $75 Worth of Laser Cutting
3rd Prize – Google Cardboard Hardware Kit + $35 Worth of Laser Cutting

How to Enter:

Simply describe your idea in the comments below. Include a mockup, sketch or other visual aid that shows what makes your idea great. Multiple submissions welcome.

About the Prizes:

Hardware kit includes everything you need to get started: Two 25mm diameter lenses, one ring neodymium magnet, one ceramic disk magnet and a set of sticky-back velcro strips. Free laser cutting is issued in the form of Ponoko Making Vouchers. The original Google Cardboard costs less $10 to make with Ponoko, so the $35 prize is more than enough for three iterations!

Judging Criteria:

Finalists will be selected using the following criteria, in no particular order:

  • Originality.
  • Interesting use of material(s).
  • Production feasibility and/or market appeal.

Submit your idea before next Friday, August 14th. The best ideas as voted by the Ponoko team will be announced on Monday August 17th.

Don’t hesitate to let us know if you have any questions, or things we can assist with.

Good luck!

Update 18 Aug: Congratulations to the winners!

First Prize – Richard for steampunk Cardboard

Second Prize – Tana for a Cardboard with a proximity sensor.

Third Prize – Kevin for a Cardboard stand that allows for time-lapse photos or other similar time consuming techniques.

If you are one of our winners, please check your email for details on how to claim your prize. Thanks again to everyone who participated!

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!

Spend $50 or more at Ponoko, get a FREE $50 Making Voucher

An Independence Day deal for the independent designer

This summer we’re celebrating Independence Day by offering up an independent designer’s favorite deal:

Spend $50 or more at Ponoko, get a FREE $50 Making Voucher.

This is our first offer of the year, and one of only 1-2 per year, so get it while it’s hot!

To get your $50 making voucher:

  1. Log in to your Ponoko account. If you don’t have one, sign up for free here.
  2. Place an order for $50 or more at the Ponoko US or NZ hub.
  3. Type ‘July15’ in the coupon box while checking out, and we’ll email you your $50 Making Voucher.

Things you should know: Offer good for making stuff with laser cutting at Ponoko in the US or NZ. Showroom, Metal, 3D or sample store purchases do not qualify. $50 minimum does not include shipping. Other coupon codes or vouchers cannot be used with this offer. Offer totally valid for Ponoko Prime accounts! Offer ends at 11:59pm pacific time on July 4, 2015

About the free Making Voucher: Promotional making voucher is good towards the making costs of a future laser cutting order, not the initial $50 order. One promotional voucher per account. Promotional voucher must be used before the end of summer, ‘officially’ September 22, 2015. Promotional vouchers cannot be split between multiple orders.