Making Laser-Cut Acrylic Boxes/Enclosures

We often find ourselves needing to make a custom box or enclosure of some type. For example, if we create an electronics gadget, we might need to put it in a housing.  A laser cutter is a great tool to produce these boxes, but you still have to deal with laying out a vector drawing with the right dimensions, figuring out how it’s going to be joined together and all that jazz.

So, I found this awesome online tool that allows you to quickly and automatically produce a vector drawing of a box. The box designs it produces have notched edge,making them really easy to assemble after they’re cut.

You put in your dimensions, configure a few settings, click create, and within seconds it hands you back a PDF with all six sides of your box laid out.  You can then import the PDF into your favorite vector drawing program (we like Inkscape), and customize it further.  For example, you might want to have a cut-out on one side to allow for the USB port to stick through.  Or you might want to have holes drilled (cut) in the bottom to line up with the mounting holes of a PCB board. Check out the picture above to see one I made for an Arduino-based music project I was working on.

You can access the tool here. I’ve also put a permanent link to it in the sidebar of this site. Just put in the height, width and depth of your box and the material thickness (e.g. 1/8 inch acrylic would be 0.125).  For most projects, you can just hit “Design It” at this point and you’ll be fine.  As you get more advanced, you might want to play around with the other options.  The setting for notch width comes in handy when you start producing much smaller boxes.  For example, I did some dice that were only 1 inch cubed and I had to make the notch-width smaller.  Also, if you find that your box fits together too tightly or too loosely after cutting it, you might have to adjust the setting for cut width. For our laser cutter, .007 seems to work well for 1/8 inch acrylic.

To close up your box permanently, what I’ve found that works well is to use a syringe with acetone in it.  You lay down a very tiny bead with the needle of the syringe along the inside seams of the box, and it basically “welds” it together by dissolving a little of the acrylic.

That’s about it.  Happy box-making.


Space reorganization

We decided to stop talking about it and start doing it.  Got some good work done, but there are still some final details and cleanup/setup activities to attend to.

To keep dust down, the wood shop has been moved into a separate room.  The PVC “tent” supports have been removed, freeing up this space.

All of the fabrication stuff (3D printer, Laser Cutter, CNC router/mill) has been moved to a common location. The mill has been checked out and the electronics are sound, so a PC is being set up to get this operational.

The Animation center is now sporting dual 28″ monitors, and its new location is better suited to group presentations.

A presentation machine was moved to the table between the couches and meeting tables to make it easier to make presentations.  The platform on the other end is being cleared so the projection screen can be set up more permanently as well.

Did I miss anything?

Pano Virtual Tours

Over the past few months, I’ve been playing around with using panographic and spherical photography to create interactive, virtual tours. I thought I’d post an overview of the experience here, and provide some details of the tools and process I used.

First, I’ll provide links to three of the test shots I did so you can see what this looks like when it’s put together.

Rome Area

Bird Trail

Industrial Building

Creating these tours is a three step process:

First, you need to create a series of photographic images using a wide-angle lens. For this part, I followed this great tutorial. You don’t need a fancy camera for this. In fact you can use a simple point-and-click, although a nice digital SLR and a really wide angle lens will really make things pop.  And if you don’t use a wide angle lens, you’ll just have to create more images and stitch them together to get a full 360.  For the above, I used a Canon 5D Mark II camera and a Rokinon FE8M-C 8mm F3.5 Fisheye Lens.

Next, you have to do some post-processing of the images captured in step 1.  Basically, you need to “stitch” the images together to create a single panographic image, or depending on your needs, multiple, tiled images that fit together to create a spherical panorama. For this, I used software from PTGui. You can find some great resources and tutorials on that site. There’s also an open source alternative for this called Hugin, but I haven’t worked with it.

Finally, you have to prepare and publish your creation on the web. There are many ways to do this, but I chose to embed them in a Flash Player using krpano Viewer. the same company also provides krpano Tools, which is basically a framework for creating all the controls, screen elements and effects you see in the examples above.

That’s the nickel tour. I hope you’re all motivated to go create your own tours! I’ll be doing some new shoots for one of our customers over the next few weeks and will post follow-up notes.  I’m also hoping to do a spherical video soon.

Parking Nag – Project Overview

OK, I’ve decided to put together a new project. I’m calling it Parking Nag. A wireless monitoring and notification thingy for parking around our makerspace.

Here’s the deal. Our makerspace is located in the downtown area of a small town. While there are a few small parking decks around, they charge for use. The City doesn’t charge to park on the street, but during normal business hours, there’s a two-hour limit. Typical scenario.

Since most of our members park on the street, we could benefit from having some kind of notification that we need to go move our car. We get all involved in whatever we’re doing at the space, and have a tough time remembering to shuffle the vehicle to another spot.

Here’s what I’m thinking. Parking Nag will consist of two parts. A monitor/display that resides inside our makerspace. We have a big table in the center of our space, and it’ll look nice right in the middle. The display will show the names of any member currently “registered” as being parked around the space and the amount of time they have left, or something like that.

The other part will be a small wireless transmitter that our members toss on their dash. When they arrive, they’ll “do something” to start their timer before they get out of their car and head upstairs. That’ll transmit some sort of “start timer” message to the console. In the space, the console will have an LED readout with their name and the amount of time each registered vehicle has left. I’m thinking it will also have an audible or other type of alert to let people know when time is running out. If they don’t respond, a robotic arm will then come out, spray the member with water, and taze them..  no, no, wait…

I’ve got the acrylic box thing figured out already. A cool Box Maker App I found will produce any size box design I want, with notched edges. It spits out a PDF that I can vector-cut on our laser cutter. Works great, and produces awesome enclosures.

I’ve worked out much of the wireless part from a music project I was working on. Thinking of using Xbee, but will have to do some testing to see if the range of my 2.4 GHz radios will be adequate.

Have to think through the monitor/display part a bit. One of our other members is working on a heads-up display for his motorcycle, and I’ll probably bug him for input on the best approach.

Buzz Kill: Well, why not just have someone punch a button when they get into the space? Why the need for anything wireless? Why not just use a mobile phone app? Other than “that wouldn’t be as much fun to build, or to use” I don’t really have answers for those questions.

I’ll post more as the project comes together. Gotta go move my car!

Girl Scouts Savannah T-Shirts

A couple of Girl Scouts came in to do a T-shirt for their trip to Savannah, celebrating 100 years of Girl Scouts.

In fine Girl Scouting tradition, they did all the work themselves.  Created their own artwork, printed, and pressed their own shirts.  We were just there to teach and supervise.