Ten magnificent materials stories from 2011

Best of the Blog 2011 – Materials

Digital manufacturing techniques like 3d printing, laser cutting, and CNC routing are pretty amazing, but they’re only as good as the materials they use. Thankfully we live in a time where research efforts are bringing out new materials all the time. Here’s a round up of some of the best news in materials in 2011, including some giveaways and special deals.

1. Molding precise parts with Sugru

Sugru is every hacker’s favourite silicone rubber material. Here’s a story on how you can use it mold precise flexible parts like a pro. And hey, get in quick and you can win a multi-colour pack of Sugru to play with.


3D printer Cubify introduced by 3D Systems

More competition in the home consumer 3D printer market!

cubify printer

Cubify was unveiled at the recent Consumer Electronics Show by 3D Systems (who originally created and developed stereolithography). Cubify USD$1299 with each reel of ABS plastic priced at $49.95. (more…)

Laser cut botanical specimens burst into life in beautiful art installation

a field of steel plants hides a colourful secret

Striking even at first glance, this installation from London-based artist Zadok Ben David features 12,000 steel plants embedded in a thin layer of sand.

Titled Blackfield, the forms are modelled from vintage botanical illustrations, and at first appear as a uniform forest of black that stands out in stark contrast to the smooth white sand.

Yet there is a surprise in store… as the viewer moves to the other side, the plants are revealed in a myriad of colours.

For those fortunate enough to be in Seoul before February 2012, you can see the installation in person at Artclub 1563.

Click through for some more photos of this stunning installation. (more…)

Visualizing Gcode in Windows

No more rebooting into OSX!

Screenshot by Thingiverse user aubenc

If you do a lot of hobbyist 3D printing, you’ve probably run into this issue before: a cool new tool for generating 3D models comes out, but it only outputs Gcode and you’ve got no way to see what it looks like before printing. (For example, the Voice Extruder.) (more…)

3D printing Space Invaders plugs with silver ABS

Silver Space Invaders detected

Space Invaders plug printing on MakerBot #169

I recently bought some silver ABS plastic from the MakerBot store and finally got started printing with it yesterday. Whenever I get a new colour of plastic, I like to 3D print some Space Invaders plugs with it.

Normally I print them in two parts, so that the outside face of the plug is printed “face up” and then attached to the plug piece with a solvent. This time I tried printing each plug as a single piece (“face down”), figuring that I could smooth out the bottom surface afterwards. Here’s how it went: (more…)

Felt – Material of November

Personal Factory big softie

In a forthright expression of bias I announce that wool felt as one of my favourite materials to work with.  It’s dense and soft at the same time, it’s very durable and it laser cuts very nicely.  Like quality leather, it ages with grace.  It’s stable, non-fraying and has a consistent texture.  There are colors for every taste, and they are deceivingly non-toxic and UV-resistant for their vibrant hues.  The 100% merino wool is a sustainable resource that comes from cuddly fluffy sheep.  Every spring they are relieved of their heavy woollen coats, some of which end up felted on an industrial scale.

It’s a good idea to laser cut any felt item well in advance of them being used, as the felt has a strong burnt wool smell after cutting.  The smell dissipates with time, and you can speed up the process by cleaning the felt or leaving it in fresh air.

Some of the most popular applications for felt are jewelry, accessories and homeware.Pictured: Feisty Elle earrings and brooch, Chromatophobic coasters.

Of course, felt doesn’t have to stay flat.  Its soft, flexible quality lends it to 3D forming using sewing or other fastening methods, as seen in the Nervous necklace, the DS4 Design charging stand cover and the Chromatophobic satchel.Felt products are incredibly lightweight, which is very useful for items like earrings and also saves on shipping.

Felt can also be stiffened to become rigid, and this can be achieved with very little other than common wood glue and some patience.  Josh R’s clock faces experiment is a great example of material manipulation.For the month of November, you can get 50% off selected felt!

Wool felt is available from Ponoko US, Ponoko NZ, RazorLab and Formulor

You can also get your own samples of different colours from both the US and NZ sample store.

Join us at the Wellington office ‘early Christmas’ meetup

Kia ora! We’re hosting an early Christmas meetup at our New Zealand office. If you’ve never made anything with us before and are keen to learn all about how Ponoko works, then we’d love you to join us.

Wednesday November 2nd, 6.30pm – 8pm
Ponoko NZ Office
Level 1
27 Dixon Street

This is an opportunity for people in the Wellington region to have any questions you might have answered in person. We’ve asked some Wellington-based makers to come and talk about projects they’ve made with Ponoko Personal Factory, and they’ll bring along their finished designs to look at.

The theme for our November meetup will be ‘Holiday Making’ – decoration ideas for Christmas, as well as great ideas for Personal Factory-made presents for your friends and family. We’re holding it at the beginning of November, so that there’s time for you to create a design and place an order, all in time for Christmas.

You can check out our new material samples, and be inspired by a range of designs on display. If you want to bring along a flat material sample that you would like to have laser cut, e.g. a piece of silk fabric, and if we’re able to cut it, then we’ll give it a whirl. You’ll also be able to see the laser in operation, and watch as it works its magic on some custom-made Christmas decorations.

Places will be limited, so please RSVP if you’d like to come along .

Hope to see you there!

Design by Code

Biophilia Hypothesis in practice.  Beautiful practice.Many designers are inspired by forms or patters found in nature, but few articulate that organic influence through a scientific means.  Paul Krix from Neat Objects creates uniquely individual laser cut jewellery that is aesthetically informed by programming based on an algorithm he discovered some years ago.  The early seeds of inspiration were planted when Paul read a paper that compared city street networks with common leaf vein patterns, concluding that pictures of either were indistinguishable to most people.  Later, Paul came across research on algorithmic mimicking of the chemical process of leaf formation and decided to use that as a basis for a modelling program.

The basic idea is I tell it how I want it to behave and give it a few starting pieces of information, like where to start growing from and the shape of the surface, then it does all the hard work of deciding where the veins will grow.

Paul’s biomorphic inspiration comes from various natural patterns and processes that are both beautiful and complex: crystal growth, moth wing patterns, leaf veins, tree growth, petals, and the process of reaction-diffusion which is behind zoological colourings/patterns.  This design approach is based on the Biophilia Hypothesis that is rooted in the ideas of American biologist E. O. Wilson.

The premise is that human beings tend to like things that remind them of life. An example is if you design a room with high ceilings and exposed beams that look a little bit like tree branches, people feel comfortable and happy there even though they can’t say why.

At this stage all the designs are laser cut, but Paul is creating code for generating 3D printed objects.  All the laser cut pieces require minimal finishing, mostly a spray of lacquer and attaching findings. The packaging is custom cut for each jewellery piece and is designed to keep folding and gluing to a minimum. Most of the jewellery is cut from 3mm bamboo, which Paul describes as “incredible”.

The grain looks amazing and it seems to cut quite well. Bamboo is really strong, and as a plywood even more so. Even at 3mm I don’t have to worry about it snapping. It’s also a very sustainable wood. For me it ticks every box.

He is also a fan of acrylic and regularly works with felt, cardboard and paper.  He has trialled some of these materials for home wares, which is something he’s thinking of designing more of in the future.  At this stage, however, the focus is on making high quality jewellery products that do not rely heavily on prototyping.

I’m terrified of producing something that in a few years I’ll look back at and cringe. Because of that I have a remarkable number of prototypes lying around my house that I may never do anything with.

Paul has been a Personal Factory Prime member for a while, and for him it means creating to his heart’s content (time permitting) without requiring the capital for traditional fabrication methods that rely on economy of scale.  His hometown Canberra is a city of public servants and not manufacturers, and most of his ideas remained in a digitally modelled format until the day he uploaded his first file into the Personal Factory.

More from Paul after the cut:


October PETG

A very userful abbreviation.

You may not realise this, but PET is one of the most ubiqutous plastics around.  Chances are you’ve got it within arm’s reach.  I’m talking about plastic bottles.  PETG is essentially the same polymer, but with a lower melting point, and it’s extruded in sheet form for commercial applications.

PETG has none of the glamour of acrylic.  It doesn’t come in bright colours, it doesn’t feel substantial, the engraving quality on it isn’t amazing.  So why bother? PETG is very impact resistant.  Unlike acrylic, it won’t snap or shatter if you drop it.  You can heat form it, you can cold bend it, you can rivet it and most relevantly, of course, you can laser cut it.  It is available in conveniently thinner-than-acrylic thicknesses of 0.5mm and upwards.  PETG is also recyclable, so it’s better than a Hummer.  Although that’s not saying much.

So what’s it good for?The combination of flexibility and durability makes thin PETG a suitable choice for packaging such as the box above from Chris Lee.  Joe used this material to design and make a surface protector for a turntable, keeping it free from dirt and scratches.  Clear acrylic would be a less suitable choice for this application because it’s brittle.  Thin PETG is a great material for stencils because its transparency helps with the registration.  It is also a perfect choice for flexi-rulers, such as the surfboard-shaping template above from YakasDesign.  It should be noted that engraving somewhat compromises the structural integrity of the material, and that needs to be taken into consideration during the design stage.Josh Reuss designed very useful bookmarks for people who still prefer to read on paper.  These tiny but mighty corner tags will keep books free from unsightly pig’s ears.  The files for these are free to download, so you can make your own with Personal Factory.  These are little, so lots will fit on a P1, and you can make a corner tag for everyone in you book club!  Another free PETG download is a vary-form garment ruler.  This is a standard version, but it can be easily customised to create a ruler for specific proportions that are not catered to by generic pattern drafting equipment.  The engraving can be filled in to make the markings more visible.

PETG is available from Ponoko NZ, Ponoko US and Formulor.

Type a cocktail on this typewriter drink mixer

The machine that lets you taste your words.

This elaborate device by Morskoiboy converts words into a drink through the use of a system of syringes, tubes, and colorful syrups. Each button on the typewriter is a syringe, and when it is pressed it pumps a particular colored liquid into the display. Then it can be released into a glass via the tap. From the maker: (more…)