Tuesday, May 2, 2017

My entry leve #CNC research journey


My entry level #CNC research journey

EMMA - a mobile studio for creating and making
In my search for the right entry point to CNC for EMMA - my mobile studio for creating and making,  I  ended up considering 5 different tools and am finally ready to purchase my first CNC mill!  (note that I said my FIRST, because I'm already contemplating what the second purchase might be)  Thank you to everyone who so willingly contributed to this learning journey!  The #makered community is the BEST ever at “making community”!


When I adopted EMMA, my goal was bring the experience of creating and making to underrepresented populations.  The idea for the mobile studio (E)veryone (M)ay (M)ake (A)nywhere, came  from understanding some of the challenges of living and learning in rural communities  and the challenges that come from the experience gap that women and girls face in engaging in high tech courses and careers.  


EMMA has visited several schools and been part of several community events.  Each of these events has pushed EMMA  and I along an incredible learning journey!   This winter I decided that the next step in our learning journey, was to add a mobile entry-level CNC mill to EMMA!


I had limited experience with CNC, but was ready to dive deeper.  I made my first cut on a CNC machine in 2014 at SxSw in Austin Texas an a Shapeko 2.  



A year later, I bumped into the Shapeko again as Craig and I  joined the community build of the Generator's Shapeko. This was my first communal build at the Generator - our community makerspace.


And then the Shapeko and I had a 3rd date during my CNC certification class at the Generator.  I, also, got introduced to the rest of the CNC tools at the Generator, which honestly were a little intimidating. I knew that I was far away from needing to carve into full sheets of plywood!  However Matt Flego’s introduction inspired me to want to learn more, helped me understand the workflow, and drilled home the role of GCode in the CNC workflow! Here's a quick time lapse movie of our CNC certification class.








The Shapeoko was probably the first contender in my search for a mobile, user friendly CNC tool that would be right for EMMA.

The cost was right! You can purchase the Shapeko kit from  Carbide 3D and Sparkfun for about $1000.
Also, building a tool is a good way to make sure you understand the tool and can maintain it!

My friends and colleagues, Dan Tolle and Eric Hall, at Mount Mansfield Union High School seemed to really like their Shapeoko for their high school students.

If I were to use it in a K-8 environment, I would want to build some type of enclosure for it.  The Easel software seemed like it could work for the entry level use I envisioned.   But in the end, I feared that the Shapeko might not be survive the bumpy back roads that EMMA might find herself on (I’ve already lost two hub caps!  




The next CNC tool that caught my eye was the Handibot  which I had also seen at SxSw the same year.  



In my research this winter, I spotted a Handibot during my visit to a makerspace in Boulder, and got a demo of one in a Tucson makerspace. The $3000 price point seemed in line with my budget.   I was intrigued by the mobile nature of the tool.  You could use it in many positions to carve walls, ceilings, and even move it along big pieces of wood.  But after handling the Handibot, I quickly realized this was a SERIOUSLY heavy tool and not as mobile as it first appeared.  The folks at the Tucson Makerspace had created a serious rolling enclosure for it, and also created a Jig to allow them to move it in a way that they could cut into bigger pieces. The Aspire software they were using seemed a bit cumbersome and not entry level.  Overall, I decided that although this tool would probably be a good match for a more experienced CNC user, it  was not the best entry level tool, and probably not well suited for some of the younger learners/makers I hoped to introduce CNC to. It was just a little too serious of a machine for EMMA at this current state in her journey.

The next CNC tool I got to see in action was the XCarve.


Probably one of the reasons I warmed right up to the XCarve as that I got to see it in action in a K-6 makerspace at  Kailua Elementary School  run by an amazing educator, Greg Kent.
Greg had created an enclosure for it and added a shop vac to the enclosure.   Greg was very enthusiastic about the way the XCarve fit into his “ELEMAKERY”.
Check out the artifacts he and his students created for their School’s Garden project .

 
You can find  more pics of his unboxing and use on his website.  http://gkkent.weebly.com/


Although the XCarve  with its $1600 price would have certainly been a contender if I had my own classroom,  it was too big a unit and not mobile enough for  EMMA.


Eventually the top two contenders in my search for an entry level CNC tool for my mobile studio for creating and making  ended up being The Other Mill and Carvey.  Honestly, I want BOTH of these for very different reasons and might end up with both eventually!  


I got my hands on an  OtherMill while visiting Matt Dillon K-6 Maker Lab  at Iolani School in Hawaii. Matt's use of the tool were so right on pedagogically, it was easy to picture this tool in an elementary or high school makerspace.


I loved how very LIGHT and PORTABLE the OTHERMill was.  The EAGLE software seemed very user friendly.   The $3200 - $4000 price was still within my budget.  Matt’s middle school students were using it to create Circuit boards.  It could also be used for other small wood objects and with other materials (i.e. wax).




I was also quite impressed by the Othermills’s role in the Truss Experiment and the  story about UC Berkeley's CITRIS Design Lab.

If my goal were to start with circuit boards, the OtherMill would be my first choice.  It’s the perfect size for circuit boards and it has the right precision necessary for circuit board design.


Along with wood and acrylic, the Other Mill can also cut aluminium, brass and copper.
But in the end, the 5.5 inch X 4.5 X 1.6 inches working area  was what made me table the Other Mill as my second choice for a mobile CNC mill.


In some ways, I think the constraint could be a good thing, in that we could focus on small projects, thus being able to cut more projects and waste less material.  But I feared that student creativity would quickly bring them to a point where they would want to prototype ideas that needed a little more working area.   


The mobility of the OTHER MILL,  almost won me over!  It is so easy to pack and move!  


The amazing women, including CEO Danielle Applestore who are at the core of The Other Mill are so inspiring to me and match the goals of EMMA so much, that I see an OTHER Mill in our future!   



But since I can’t really learn two tools at a time, my first CNC tool for EMMA will be the Carvey.


The $2500 - $3000 price works within my budget.   The Easel software seemed like a great way for younger or less experienced learners to enter the world of CNC.


The size of the machine allows for a greater work area. However, the Carvey did end up a bit heavier than I had hoped for a mobile unit -- I'll need a cart to move it!


  • Machine Footprint
    • Width: 21.7 inches (55 cm)
    • Height: 16.6 inches (42 cm)
    • Depth: 20.5 inches (52 cm)
    • Weight: 70 lbs (32 kg)
  • Work Area
    • Width (X-axis): 11.6 inches (29 cm) -
    • Depth (Y-axis): 8 inches (20 cm)
    • Height (Z-axis): 2.75 inches (7 cm)
The material options rang from from aluminum and corian, to acrylics and wood.
They say it can also do circuit boards.



I was also inspired by Maker Educator Jim Tiffin’s work with younger learners.
Find-A-Friend sign with grade 1
Bird Restaurants with grade 1 - more images: A Lap with Easel
Fidget Spinners with Grade 2


Jim shared with me everything he loved about the Carvey as a making tool for his students:
  • Simple contained system that is easy to clean and prevents dust from filling your workshop
  • Auto homing feature to help identify the top of the material
  • Software - Easel - is extremely easy to use. It is part of my students’ first lap with computer aided modelling, and they quickly pick up on what all the handles do for resizing, rotating, etc. We begin at grade 1 using the Carvey.
  • There are lots of apps that people create and add-on to Easel to increase functionality, like jigsaw layouts and stamp carving
  • Troubleshooting guide is immediately accessible if something goes wrong, and the Inventables’ Tech Support crew is top notch
  • Software is super easy for students to teach other students - My grade 3 and grade 4 students are self taught, and are now teaching their classmates how to use the machine during their free time.
  • PC and Mac compatible

Jim confirmed that the build area would probably be one students will outgrow.   His students are “hungry to make bigger projects”.   He also confirmed that the machine was HEAVY!  
Also,  thanks Jim for sharing how to Maximize Space on the Carvey


I’m so excited!  My Shipping Confirmation came today, and I should be getting my hands on my Carvey tomorrow!  Stay tuned for an unboxing blog post!