You’re Sitting On An Engineering Masterpiece: Chairs As A Design Challenge

If you move as a hardware hacker through the sometimes surprisingly similar world of artists, craftspeople, designers, blacksmiths, and even architects, there’s one piece of work that you will see time and time again as an object that exerts a curious fascination. It seems that designing and building a chair is a rite of passage, and not just a simple chair, but in many cases an interesting chair.

An American-made Windsor chair from the turn of the 19th century. Los Angeles County Museum of Art [Public domain]
An American-made Windsor chair from the turn of the 19th century. Los Angeles County Museum of Art [Public domain]
Some of the most iconic seating designs that you will be instantly familiar with through countless mass-produced imitations began their lives as one-off design exercises. Yet we rarely see them in our community of hackers and makers, a search turns up only a couple of examples. This is surprising, not least because there is more than meets the eye to this particular piece of furniture. Your simple seat can be a surprisingly complex challenge.

Moving Charis From Artisan to Mass Market

The new materials and mass production techniques of the 19th and 20th centuries have brought high-end design into the hands of the masses, but while wealthy homes in earlier centuries had high-quality bespoke furniture in the style of the day, the traditional furniture of the masses was hand-made in the same way for centuries often to a particular style dependent on the region in which it was produced.

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Innovative Bird Feeder Design Recycles Recycling’s Garbage

Recycling beverage cartons isn’t 100% efficient. The process yields some unusable garbage as a byproduct. Why? Because containers like juice boxes are mostly paper, but also contain plastic and aluminum. The recycling process recovers the paper fibers for re-use, but what’s left after that is a mixture of plastic rejects and other bits that aren’t good for anything other than an incinerator or a landfill. Until now, anyway!

It turns out it is in fact possible to turn such reject material into a product that can be injection-molded, as shown here with [Stefan Lugtigheid]’s SAM bird feeder design. The feeder is not just made from 100% recycled materials, it’s made from the garbage of the recycling process — material that would otherwise be considered worthless. Even better, the feeder design has only the one piece. The two halves are identical, which reduces part count and simplifies assembly.

[Stefan] makes it clear that the process isn’t without its quirks. Just because it can be injection-molded doesn’t mean it works or acts the same as regular plastic. Nevertheless, the SAM birdfeeder demonstrates that it can definitely be put to practical use. We’ve seen creative reprocessing of PET bottles and sheet stock made from 3D printed trash, but recycling the garbage that comes from recycling drink cartons is some next-level stuff, for sure.

The Value Of Cardboard In Product Design

A while ago, [Eric Strebel] created a backpack hanger. The result was great — by just bolting this backpack hanger to the wall, he kept his backpack off the floor and out of the way. There was even a place for him to set his phone to charge. [Eric] is thinking about turning this idea into a product, and just posted a video on his process of making a cardboard mockup.

Since this is a study in industrial design, any mockup will need to keep in mind how the finished article will be constructed. In this case, [Eric] is going to use 4-5mm thick aluminum, cut on a water jet, bent into place, and finally anodized. The finished product will be made out of bent sheet aluminum, so this little bit of product design will use Matboard — a thick, heavy cardboard often used for mounting pictures in frames. The Matboard will substitute for the aluminum, as it is carefully cut, bent, and glued into shape.

The tools for this build are simple, just a hobby knife, razor blade, ruler, and a pen. But there are a few tricks to working with Matboard. To bend these pieces perfectly, [Eric] is painting one side with water. This loosens the fibers in the Matboard, allowing for perfect creases before one layer of the build is glued together.

Once a few layers of this Matboard are glued together, the finished product becomes less like cardboard and more like a very soft wood. This allows [Eric] to use belt sanders and countersink drill bits to give a little bit of polish to this one-off prototype. This finished article works great, and now [Eric] is looking at taking this idea into production.

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Wireless Charger Gives A Glimpse Into Industrial Design Process

Almost every product on the market has been through the hands of an industrial designer at some point in its development. From the phone in your pocket to the car in your driveway or the vacuum in your closet, the way things look and work is the result of a careful design process. Taking a look inside that process, like with this wireless phone charger concept, is fascinating and can yield really valuable design insights.

We’ve featured lots of [Eric Strebel]’s work before, mainly for the great fabrication tips and tricks he offers, like how to get a fine painted finish or the many uses of Bondo. But this time around, he walks us through a condensed version of his design process for a wireless phone charger and stand. His client had specific requirements, like being able to have the phone held up in landscape or portrait mode, so he started with pen and paper and sketched some ideas. A swiveling cylinder seemed to fit the bill, and after a quick mockup in PVC pipe, he started work on a full-size prototype in urethane foam. There are some great fabrication tips in the video below, mainly centered on dealing with not owning a lathe.

The thing for us with all of [Eric]’s videos, but especially this one, is seeing the design process laid out, from beginning to (almost) the end. He sure makes industrial design look like a cool gig, one that would appeal to the Jacks- and Jills-of-all-trades who hang out around here.

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Fingerling Disemboweled For Your Entertainment

Due to the graphic nature of this post, small children and the elderly may want to leave the room. One of the hottest toys this holiday season has been gutted like a fish so that we may better understand the nature of its existence. Or maybe just what kind of sensors and motors the craftsmen over at WowWee managed to cram into a “robot” with an MSRP of only $15 USD.

[Josh Levine] mercilessly tears a Fingerling Monkey limb from limb on his blog, and points out some interesting design decisions made. While some elements of the toy are rather clever, there’s a few head-scratchers to be had inside the Fingerling. It’s interesting to see the final results of a decision process that had to balance the relatively rough life such a toy will live with the ever crucial cost of production.

The eyelids are particularly well thought out, operated by charging a coil under a magnet which is embedded in the plastic. Opening and closing the eyelids without a separate motor or gearbox is not only easier and cheaper, but prevents the possibility of damage if a child attempts to force open the eyes or otherwise manipulate the mechanism.

Other cost saving measures include the use of foil tape as a capacitive sensor, and simple ball-filled tilt sensors to detect orientation rather than an expensive accelerometer.

Interestingly, other parts of the toy seem overengineered in comparison. A cam and limit switch are used to detect when the Fingerling’s head has turned to its maximum angle, when it would have been cheaper and easier to simply detect motor stall current.

If you’re interested in seeing what makes popular toys tick, we’ve got a number of plaything tear downs which are sure to keep you satiated until the next big holiday toy rolls around.

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Design And Testing Of The Form 2

Formlabs makes a pretty dang good SLA printer by all accounts. Though a bit premium in the pricing when compared to the more humble impact of FDM printers on the wallet, there’s a bit more to an SLA printer. The reasoning becomes a bit more obvious when reading through this two part series on the design and testing of the Form 2.

It was interesting to see what tests they thought were necessary to ensure the reliable operation of the machine. For example the beam profile of every single laser that goes into a printer is tested to have the correctly shaped spot. We also thought the Talcum powder test was pretty crazy. They left a printer inside a sandblast cabinet and blasted it with Talcum powder to see if dust ingress could cause the printer to fail; it didn’t.

The prototyping section was a good read. Formlabs was praised early on for the professional appearance of their printers. It was interesting to see how they went from a sort of hacky looking monstrosity to the final look. They started by giving each engineer a Form 1 and telling them to modify it in whatever way they thought would produce a better layer separation mechanism. Once they settled on one they liked they figured out how much space they’d need to hold all the new mechanics and electronics. After that it was up to the industrial designer to come up with a look that worked.

They’re promising a third part of the series covering how the feedback from beta testing was directed back into the engineering process. All in all the Form 2 ended up being quite a good printer and the reviews have been positive. The resin from Formlab is a little expensive, but unlike others they still allow users to put the printer in open mode and use other resin if they’d like. It was cool to see their engineering process.

Is Robot Butter Better Butter?

Humans have been making butter for thousands of years. If you have a cooperative cow or sheep and a means to agitate her milk, butter is not far behind. So why would you employ a $15,000 industrial robot to make butter? Because – robot butter!

Actually, Robutter is a design experiment by [Stephan], [Philipp], and [Jonas] to explore where craft ends and industrial processes begin, and to see how automation adds or removes values from traditional products. It’s a fair question, given that butter can be churned with everything from animal skins to massive continuous churns. So the team programmed [DIRK], a Fanuc LR Mate 200ic which is normally more at home on an assembly line, to carefully agitate a container of cream. After a bit of fiddling they found the optimal position and movements to produce a delicate butter that looks pretty tasty. The video after the break shows the process and the results, but sadly there’s no taste test of the Robutter against grocery store butter.

It may come as a surprise that Hackaday appears never to have featured a butter making project before. Sure, we’ve got a lot of food hacks, most of which seem to involve beer or coffee. But we did run across a recent article on a buttermilk pancake-making robot that you might like to check out.

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