Development Tools of the Prop-Making World

We’ve seen them before. The pixel-perfect Portal 2 replica, the Iron Man Arc Reactor, the Jedi Lightsaber. With the rise of shared knowledge via the internet, we can finally take a peek into a world hidden behind garage doors, basements, and commandeered coffee tables strewn with nuts, bolts, and other scraps. That world is prop-making. As fab equipment like 3D printers and laser cutters start to spill into the hands of more people, fellow DIY enthusiasts have developed effective workflows and corresponding software tools to lighten their loads. I figured I’d take a brief look at a few software tools that can open the possibilities for folks at home to don the respirator and goggles and start churning out props.

Continue reading “Development Tools of the Prop-Making World”

BlocksCAD is Browser-Based 3D Modeling that Teaches You CAD

Considering all of the projects the Raspberry Pi is used for now, the fact that it was originally envisioned to be an educational tool is sometimes forgotten. One of the tools commonly available with it is Scratch, a programming language that is easy to learn and can be seen as a gateway into other computer science realms. Building on this principle, MIT has come up with a new block-based educational tool called BlocksCAD.

BlocksCAD is essentially Scratch combined with OpenSCAD and allows the user to use blocks (similar to Scratch) to build a 3D model. The interface is fairly intuitive, and with some practice even complex shapes can be created using the tools available. Also, everything runs in a browser like the 3D modeling tool we featured a few days ago, so there isn’t anything to download or install.

The key to this project (like the key to Scratch) is that the user isn’t bogged down by syntax, which is often one of the largest hurdles for anyone who is just starting to learn to program. Since it’s possible to avoid syntax but still develop 3D models, this new tool should help anyone interested in the field of 3D modeling or CAD get a start without getting scared away too easily. Of course, if you do end up deep in the field of computer science and want to learn more about this project, the developers have opened up the source code as well.

Thanks for the tip, [Matt]!

Learn 3D Modeling in Your Browser

If you have a 3D printer, it is a good bet you’ve at least seen or heard of Tinkercad. There’s pros and cons to doing your design in a Web browser, but Tinkercad is very easy to use and great for making simple objects. However, there are other 3D object designers you can use in your browser, too. Tinkercad is just the one that everyone seems to know about.

I won’t talk much about Tinkercad, but if you haven’t tried it, it is well worth a look. It has a simple system of drawing things and holes. When you merge holes with things you can make lots of shapes. The alignment tools are good, and since Autodesk acquired them (part of its 123d app suite), it isn’t likely they will go under any time soon (which, as you may remember, almost happened).

If you are designing some great new secret invention you may shy away from cloud-based design programs. But if you are printing out key chains with your coworker’s cat’s name on it, do you really care? Most of these cloud-based programs will work from any computer so you can quickly do a design in a coffee shop and then go home and print it.

Continue reading “Learn 3D Modeling in Your Browser”

Cardboard Aided Design is the new CAD

The term “workflow” gets thrown around a lot these days. For example, say you own a 3D printer and you just came up with an idea. The temptation is to go straight to your favorite CAD tool, start designing the finished product, and then hit print. That, in many cases, can be the worst thing you could do. You would be missing out on all the variation and design choices you can easily try out with a simple series of drawings.

So, you’ve worked out your drawing, played with the design a bit, and now it is time to design in 3D on the computer right?  Not so fast. Depending on the nature of the design, you might want to follow this nice tutorial from [Willy Nicholas] on how to quickly make a cardboard prototype.

Now, obviously this won’t work on all designs. But it’s a tool everyone should keep in their bag of tricks. It allows for basically free, quick mock ups that you can hold in your hand. That last bit is important, because having something you can touch and see is a huge part of the design process.

You can also use cardboard as an excellent device for making templates for working with materials such as sheet metal. In case you have seen it, check out “Project Binky” to see what a couple of blokes in England are able to accomplish with nothing much more than a welder, a grinder and some cardboard.

Otherworldy CAD Software Hails From A Parallel Universe

The world of free 3D-modeling software tends to be grim when compared to the expensive professional packages. Furthermore, 3D CAD modeling software suggestions seem to throw an uproar when new users seek open-source or inexpensive alternatives. Taking a step apart from the rest, [Matt] has developed his own open-source CAD package with a spin that inverts the typical way we do CAD.

Antimony is a fresh perspective on 3D modeling. In contrast to Blender’s “free-form sculpting” and Solidworks’ sequential extrudes and cuts, Antimony invites you to break down your model into a network of both primitive geometry and operations that interact with that geometry.

Functionally, Antimony represents objects as a graphical collection of nodes that encode both primitives and operations. Want a cylinder? Start with a circle node and pipe it into an extrude node. Need to cut out some part geometry? Try defining it with one or more primitives, and then perform a boolean intersection operation. Users can even write their own nodes with custom scripts written in Python. Overall, Antimony boasts the power of parametric design similar to OpenSCAD while it also boosts readability with a graphical, rather than text-based, part description. Finally, because part geometry is essentially stored as a series of instructions, the process of modeling the part does not limit the resolution of the output .STL mesh. (Think: vector-based images, versus pixel-based images).

Current versions of the software are available for both Mac and Linux, and the entire project is open-source and available on the Githubs. (For the shrewd-eyed software developers, most of the project is written with Python that interacts with lower-level routines handled in C++ and exposed through Boost.Python.) Take a video tour of an Antimony workflow with [Matt] after the break. All-in-all, despite that the software is still in its alpha stages, it’s highly functional and (for the block-diagram fans) intuitive. We’re thrilled to put our programming hats on and try CAD from, as [Matt] coins it “a parallel universe.”

Continue reading “Otherworldy CAD Software Hails From A Parallel Universe”

Open Source, DIY Soldering Robot

After [Brian] starting selling his own Raspberry Pi expansion boards, he found himself with a need for a robot that could solder 40-pin headers for him. He first did what most people might do by looking up pre-built solutions. Unfortunately everything he found was either too slow, too big, or cost as much as a new car. That’s when he decided to just build his own soldering robot.

The robot looks similar to many 3D printer designs we’ve seen in the past, with several adjustments. The PCBs get mounted to a flat piece of aluminum dubbed the “PCB caddy”. The PCBs are mounted with custom-made pins that thread into the caddy. Once the PCBs are in place, they are clamped down with another small piece of aluminum. A computer slowly moves the caddy in one direction, moving the header’s pins along the path of the soldering irons one row at a time.

The machine has two soldering irons attached, allowing for two pins to be soldered simultaneously. The irons are retracted as the PCB caddy slides into place. They irons are then lowered onto the pins to apply heat. Two extruders then push the perfect amount of solder onto each pin. The solder melts upon contact with the hot pins, just as it would when soldered by hand.

The system was originally designed to be run on a Windows 8.1 tablet computer, but [Brian] found that the system’s internal battery would not charge while also acting like a USB host. Instead, they are running the Windows WPF application on full PC. All of the software and CAD files can be found on [Brian’s] github page. Also be sure to check out the demo video below. Continue reading “Open Source, DIY Soldering Robot”

Laser-Cut Clock Kicks Your CAD Tools to the Curb and Opts for Python

In a world deprived of stock hardware other than #6-32 bolts and sheets and sheets of acrylic, [Lawrence Kesteloot] took it upon himself to design and build a laser-cut pendulum clock. No Pricey CAD programs? No Problem. In a world where many fancy CAD tools can auto-generate gear models, [Lawrence] went back to first principles and wrote scripts to autogenerate the gear profiles. Furthermore, not only can these scripts export SVG files for the entire model for easy laser cutting, they can also render a 3D model within the browser using Javascript.

Given the small selection of materials, the entire project is a labor of love. Even the video (after the break) glosses over the careful selection of bearings, bolt-hole spacing, and time-sensitive gear ratios, each of which may be an easy macro in other CAD programs that [Lawrence], in this case, needed to add himself.

Finally, the entire project is open source and up for download on the Githubs. It’s not every day we can build ourselves a pendulum clock with a simple command-line-incantation to

make cut

Thanks for the tip, [Bartgrantham]!

Continue reading “Laser-Cut Clock Kicks Your CAD Tools to the Curb and Opts for Python”