Automated CAD Design for Enclosures

[Jon] a.k.a. [Pedantite] recently added small-scale laser cutting to his business and thought about using that laser cutter to add some value to some of the many project designs he creates. Yes, this means custom laser cut enclosures, but how to go about it? [Jon] loves automation, and that can only mean automated design of laser cut enclosures by reading the board files from his project library.

The idea of automating the design of plastic enclosures was to read the design files, figure out the dimensions of the board and where the mounting holes go, and generate a file for the laser cutter. The weapon of choice was OpenSCAD, a design language that can be highly parameterized, read external design files, and spit out proper DXF files for laser cutting.

[Jon] set up his toolchain as a Python script that reads design files, sends parameters off to a .SCAD file, and generates a DXF for the laser cutter. There’s also a bit that generates enough data for Blender to render a 3D image of the finished product, all only from gerbers, a drill file, and a few user variables.

The source for these files haven’t been released yet, but that’s only because it’s in a proof-of-concept stage right now. You can check out an example of a render of one of the cases below.

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A Folding Laser Cutter

Want a laser cutter, but don’t have the space for one? How about a portable machine to engrave and cut wood and plastics? A folding laser cutter solves these problems, and that’s exactly what Red Ant Lasers was showing off last weekend at Maker Faire.

Inside the team’s Origami laser cutter is a 40 Watt CO2 tube, shooting its beam along an entirely enclosed beam path. The beam travels through the body of the machine, out into the folding arm of the machine, and down to whatever material you’ve placed the Origami on. It’s a 40 Watt laser so it will cut plywood and plastics, and as shown in the video above, does a fine job at engraving plywood.

This is a Class 4 laser device operating without any safety glass, but from the short time I spent with the Red Ant team, this is a reasonably safe device. You will need safety glasses if you’re within five feet, but after that, everything (according to OSHA, I think) is safe and not dangerous. Either way, it’s a tool just like a table saw. You don’t see commentors on the Internet complaining about how a spinning metal blade is dangerous all the time, do you?

The Red Ant guys are currently running a Kickstarter for their project, with a complete unit going for $4200. It’s pricier than a lot of other lasers, but not being constrained by the size of a laser cutters enclosure does open up a few interesting possibilities. You could conceivably cut a 4×8 sheet of plywood with this thing, and exceptionally large engravings start looking easy when you have a portable laser cutter.

DIY Laser Cutter

[Jens] decided he wanted to try building his own laser cutter to see just how much you can actually cut with a fairly low power 300mW laser diode.

He was inspired by a similar project from earlier this year, and chose to use the same LPC-826 laser diode, which you can find online for about $10-30. The cutter itself is has a wooden frame and uses drawer slides on both axes. Threaded M6 rods and NEMA17 stepper motors provide the actuation, and the whole thing is controlled by an Arduino Nano with Easy Driver stepper motor drivers.

So what can it cut? In his experiments he was able to cut through adhesive plastics (sticker paper), EVA foam, and black paper. He was also able to engrave wood and ABS plastic, although the plastic didn’t play too nicely with the laser. He also found it useful for laser cutting stencils, which he then used to create rusty art using hydrochloric acid and hydrogen peroxide.

Considering how cheap you could make one of these, it’s not a bad tool to have. Stick around after the break to see it laser cut a shark!

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Making a UNIX Clock While Making a Few Mistakes Along the Way

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Sometimes the projects we think are easy to design are the ones on which we end up making the most mistakes. The UNIX clock that you see in the picture above is one of these projects. For our readers that don’t know it, UNIX time is the number of seconds since 00:00 on January 1st 1970. The clock that [James] designed is based on an Arduino Pro Mini board, an RTC chip to store the time, a custom made display board and two buttons to set the date/time.

One of the mistakes that [James] made was designing the boards on which will be soldered the seven-segment displays before actually choosing the ones he’ll use, as he was thinking they’d be all the same. The displays he ended up with had a different pitch and needed a different anode voltage, so he had to cut several traces on the PCBs and add another power supply. It also took [James] quite a while to remove the bits that his hackerspace’s laser didn’t cut through. We strongly advise a good look at his very detailed write-up if you are starting in the electronics world.

If you find this Unix time display too easy to read here’s one that’s a bit more of a challenge.

Constructable: Interactive Laser Cutting

constructable-interactive-lasercutting

Do you miss the old days of making things by hand, without the aid of a computer? Do you remember actually drafting drawings by hand? Well, the folks over at the Human-Computer Interaction group from the Hasso Plattner Institute have come up with a rather novel idea, combining manual input via laser pointers, to cut designs with a laser cutter. Sound familiar? A few days ago we shared another cool project on Laser Origami from the same people.

So what exactly is it? It’s an interactive drafting table which can produce very precise physical outputs from a rather imprecise input method. By using specific laser pointers, the user can instruct the laser cutter to cut, trace, or etch designs into the workpiece. A camera picks up the laser pointer and then the software cleans it up, by straightening lines, connecting the dots, etc. While only so much can be determined by the included video, it’s pretty impressive to see what the software comes up with while cutting the design… We can’t really imagine the programming behind it!

Between this and PACCAM: Interactive 2D Part Packing, it looks like laser cutting is going to get a whole lot more user friendly! Stick around after the break to see it in action, the results are quite impressive!

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Laser Origami!

One of our tipsters just sent us a link to some fascinating videos on a new style of rapid prototyping — Laser Origami!

The concept is fairly simple, but beautifully executed in the included videos. A regular laser cutter is used to cut outlines of objects in clear lexan, then, by unfocusing the laser it slowly melts the bend lines, causing the lexan to fold and then solidify into a solid joint. It becomes even more interesting when they add in a servo motor to rotate the workpiece, allowing for bends of angles other than 90 degrees!

Depending on the part you are designing, this method of rapid prototyping far exceeds the speeds of a traditional 3D printer. The part shown in the included image could be printed in about 4 hours, or using the laser, cut and folded in 4 minutes flat!

Stick around after the break to see this awesome demonstration of the technology!

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PACCAM: Interactive 2D Part Packing

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Do you have a laser cutter or CNC router? How much material do you waste from project to project due to inefficient part packing? Enter PACCAM, a software interface designed by [Daniel Saakes] to aid in efficient 2D part packing.

Using a cheap webcam, it is possible to capture the outline of used material, exactly where it is located in the CNC machine. The software then can limit your workspace to the material available in the machine. New parts can then be dragged into place, automatically avoiding interferences — certain algorithms also exist to utilize the remaining material most efficiently.

Looking to engrave custom items? The software can do that too by showing you the material (or in this case, object), you can simply drag your design onto the material available, without having to worry about aligning your object inside the CNC machine!

In the video after the break, [Daniel] shows just how powerful and useful the software is by putting a crooked, cookie-cutter riddled piece of material in the machine, and then using the software to cut new parts out of what would be scrap material in any other shop.

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