The Gerber Behind Gerber Files

When we create a printed circuit board, the chances are these days that we’ll export it through our CAD package’s CAM tool, and send the resulting files to an inexpensive PCB fabrication house. A marvel of the modern age, bringing together computerised manufacturing, the Internet, and globalised trade to do something that would have been impossible only a few years ago without significant expenditure.

Those files we send off to China or wherever our boards are produced are called Gerber files. It’s a word that has become part of the currency of our art, “I’ll send them the Gerbers” trips off the tongue without our considering the word’s origin.

This morning we’re indebted to [drudrudru] for sending us a link to an EDN article that lifts the lid on who Gerber files are named for. [H. Joseph Gerber] was a prolific inventor whose work laid the ground for the CNC machines that provide us as hackers and makers with so many of the tools we take for granted. Just think: without his work we might not have our CNC routers, 3D printers, vinyl cutters and much more, and as for PCBs, we’d still be fiddling about with crêpe paper tape and acetate.

An Austrian Holocaust survivor who escaped to the USA in 1940, [Gerber] began his business with an elastic variable scale for performing numerical conversions that he patented while still an engineering student. The story goes that he used the elastic cord from his pyjamas to create the prototype. This was followed by an ever-more-sophisticated range of drafting, plotting, and digitizing tools, which led naturally into the then-emerging CNC field. It is probably safe to say that in the succeeding decades there has not been an area of manufacturing that has not been touched by his work.

So take a look at the article, read [Gerber]’s company history page, his Wikipedia page, raise a toast to the memory of a great engineer, and never, ever, spell “Gerber file” with a lower-case G.

Up-Close and Personal with Laser Cuts

Plenty of materials take the heated edge of a laser beam quite well, but many others don’t. Some release toxic fumes; others catch fire easily. For all the materials that don’t cut well (PVC and FR4, we’re looking at you!) and for those that do (hello, acrylic and Delrin) they’re each reacting to the heat of the laser beam in different ways. Lucky for us, these ways are well-characterized. So let’s take a look at how a laser cutter actually cuts through materials.

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Autograph: A String Art Printer

“String Art” is the name of the art form that transforms thousands of nails and just as many feet of thread into unique masterpieces. Some artists have developed techniques to create photorealistic string art works, but until now, there was no way around the tedious and time-consuming manufacturing process. Depending on the size, it can take months to complete a single piece by hand.

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Cardboard And Paperclip CNC Plotter Destined For Self-Replication

Last November, after [HomoFaciens]’ garbage-can CNC build, we laid down the gauntlet – build a working CNC from cardboard and paperclips. And now, not only does OP deliver with a working CNC plotter, he also plans to develop it into a self-replicating machine.

To be honest, we made the challenge with tongue firmly planted in cheek. After all, how could corrugated cardboard ever make a sufficiently stiff structure for the frame of a CNC machine? [HomoFaciens] worked around this by using the much less compliant chipboard – probably closest to what we’d call matboard here in the States. His templates for the machine are extremely well thought-out; the main frame is a torsion box design, and the ways and slides are intricate affairs. Non-cardboard parts include threaded rod for the lead screws, servos modified for continuous rotation, an Arduino, and the aforementioned paperclips, which find use in the user interface, limit switches, and in the extremely clever encoders for each axis. The video below shows highlights of the build and the results.

True, the machine can only move a pen about, and the precision is nothing to brag about. But it works, and it’s perfectly capable of teaching all the basics of CNC builds to a beginner, which is a key design goal. And it’s well-positioned to move to the next level and become a machine that can replicate itself. We’ll be watching this one very closely.

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A Polymer Concrete DIY CNC With No Perceptible Budget In Sight

The Jargon File describes a wizard as someone who groks something to a very high degree, or the kind of person that builds a polymer concrete CNC machine with a pneumatic tool changing spindle that they designed by themselves.  It makes you think that maybe Tony Stark COULD build it in a cave with scraps.

It’s a five part video series showing snippets of the build process. The last video gives an overview of the design of the machine. It is all very much in German, so if you speak German and we got anything wrong about the machine or missed anything cool, please fill us in down in the comments.

The machine starts with a 1500 kg polymer concrete pour with some steel stock embedded in it. It is then machined within an inch mm of its life as shown by practically zero deviation over its length when measured against a granite block. The wizard then goes on to make his own spindle, get castings made, and more. We liked his flowery kitchen hotplate, which he used to heat the bearings for an interference fit. It added a certain amount of style.

Unfortunately the videos don’t show the machine running, but we assume this sort of person is happily building arc reactors, power suits, and fighting crime. They probably don’t have time to film “CNC Bearbeitungszentrum im Eigenbau Teil 5”. Videos after the break.

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Designing a 360 Degree All Metal Hinge

Looking for a 360 degree hinge that had no slop was harder than [Mr. LeMieux] thought it would be. Add to the fact it had to be made completely out of metal with no plastic components — and basically fireproof. He was coming up blank.

You see, [Mr. LeMieux] is casting metal components, and needed a hinge to close two halves of a mold. When he couldn’t find anything commercially available, he decided to design his own. Using aluminum, he machined the two halves with an interlocking mechanism between the two. Essentially, it’s a 3-bar linkage, but if he stopped there, it would have too much slop. So he actually designed in two fixed gears that roll over each other — this ensures the hinge stays perfectly smooth throughout its entire range of movement — it’s actually quite ingenious.

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Professional CNC Vacuum Table Holds Workpieces with Ease

If you do a lot of one-off parts on your CNC machine you’ll know setup is the worst part of the process. Usually you’re using scrap material, you have to figure out how you’re going to clamp it, make sure the the piece is big enough to use, etc etc. Wouldn’t it be nice to just throw the material on the bed and start machining? Well, with a vacuum table as nice as this, you pretty much can!

[Jack Black] has an awesome CNC machine. As he’s been expanding his prototyping abilities, he decided he needed a better way of securing work pieces for machining, so he machined a two-piece aluminum vacuum table.
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