CNC Turns Empty Cans into Action Figures

[apollocrowe] at Carbide 3D (a company that does desktop CNC machines) shared a project of his that spent years being not-quite-there, but recently got dusted off and carried past the finish line. His soda can robot action figures were originally made by gluing a paper design to aluminum from a soda can, but [apollocrowe] was never really able to cut the pieces as reliably or as accurately as he wanted and the idea got shelved. With a desktop CNC machine to take care of accurate cutting, the next issue was how to best hold down a thin piece of uneven metal during the process. His preferred solution is to stick the metal to an acrylic wasteboard with hot glue, zero high enough and cut deep enough to account for any unevenness, and afterwards release the hot glue bond with the help of some rubbing alcohol.

Assembly involves minor soldering and using a few spare resistors. A small spring (for example from a retractable pen) provides the legs with enough tension for the figure to stand by itself. The results look great, and are made entirely from a few cents worth of spare parts and recycled materials. A video of the process is embedded below, and the project page contains the design files.

We’ve seen empty soda cans CNC milled into a solder stencil before, but that project didn’t get into how they were securing the notoriously uneven material to the bed. If reuse of empty soda cans is your gig but you lack fancy CNC, projects like this decorative box show that great results can be obtained even with simple tools.

29 thoughts on “CNC Turns Empty Cans into Action Figures

  1. Not really all that new.
    In the 70’s people used to turn empty metal cans into crap like classic autos or rocking chairs. Just twisted together. No CNC, maybe tin snips, no glue.
    I think I may have a few squirreled away

      1. If you are going to try and design these you should look at the unfold add-on in Blender 3D or even Pepakura.

        Otherwise on Archive.org you can find a few (very old-school) books on sheet metal working and constructive geometry and shape development that show you how to merge two or more complex surfaces. They once designed all of their pipe and duct work that way, amazing skills, now it is all CAD and Boolean geometry before automated unfolding and rarely approaches the part count and fold efficiency of the work past masters achieved.

  2. I wonder if a LDF spoilboard + a blower would provide enough vacuum to hold down? Also, assembling those 0.1 mm thick parts is like assembling a toy made out of razor blades. Take care when doing so!

    1. Yes! This may be the solution to the snowflake crisis, toys made out of razor blades! /s

      You saw that /s right? Because there is a /s there, right at end of sentence, here, ^^^^

        1. Maybe not overkill. The joints and use of srpings is interesting, but the value and the nicety in making things from the cans is the manual work and craftmanship associated with it. Making it machine-automated takes out the “wow, it´s hard to do” and turns it in another dollar-store cheap trinket.

  3. After making several of these Robots by hand (@1 hour handcutting time), and with the cnc mill (15 minutes) both take too long.
    However, now that the CAD is proven I can get a roller die (3k) or steel rule die (@$400) made.

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