Sunday, October 22, 2017

Getting started with OtherMill / Bantam CNC mill

My OtherMill CNC router (now called Bantam Tools) came in this summer right before TechSavvyGirls Summer camp.  

TechSavvy Girls 2017 and EMMA (mobile studio for creating and making)

I didn't have time to play with it, so I threw it in the back of EMMA (mobile studio) and brought it to camp. I was eager to show it to our cadre of young women and share with them the story of female engineer Danielle Applestone - the maker of The OtherMill

They were inspired and McKenna, one of my TechSavvy junior leaders who  has a real maker mindset and experience with 3D printing was eager to unbox it. She grabbed some friends and they ripped the box open!

They explored the machine and materials.

And read through the instructions carefully completing each step.

They especially  loved adding the Googley Eyes!

Unfortunately our HELLO WORLD project (our first CNC make) was cut short by a broken bit!  Unfortunately we didn’t have an extra bit to use and had plenty of other technology projects to explore, so we packed the Other Mill back up. Meanwhile   I ordered more bits!

Unfortunately, the summer was jammed packed and I was unable to get back to The Other Mill until last night!   Encouraged by a friend who has 30 years of experience in electrical engineering,  I pulled out the Other Mill and the new set of bits and we started to tackle the starter directions.  The first step was to reacquaint ourselves with the new website, since the Other Mill had been purchased by a new company - Bantam Tools.   I couldn’t find the Hello World Project I was so eager to make, but settled for the similar Rooster PCB starter project.

We  replaced the broken bit, downloaded the Other Plan software,  measured our materials, inserted the info into the software,  added the double sided tape to our PCB and followed the directions as close as we could!  

Unfortunately when it came to the last step -  START MILLING -- that option was greyed out.
We kept checking and double checking our settings and realized that we had confused where to put the z axis information (I’m thinking that  the software would be less confusing had they not used the word PLACEMENT twice in the interface.)  Perhaps they could call one Material Placement and the other Plan Placement.

Unfortunately, even after we corrected our errors,  the Start Milling button was still greyed out!

Scratching our head for several minutes,  we finally noticed that only 3 of the plastic safety guides were installed and there was a 4th one buried on the work bench.   Sure enough -- adding the 4th guide did the trick!  My engineer friend immediately started to examine the OtherMill more closely looking for the sensors!  ;-)

We were so excited to see see our PCB board cut into!  

But  much  less excited at the results!   Another broken bit !  
And this!   YUK!  We could see the toolpath which clued us in that the  Z axis was not calibrated!

We reinserted the bit and realized that there was no ‘stop’  to guide us,  so surely there must be another way to calibrate the z Axis.

After much more looking  through the directions I spotted the step we had missed!

To load the 1/32” flat end mill into the machine, if you've never done this before, refer to the Inserting and Locating a Tool Guide.
Next to "Tool" on our software, click the Change button, select “1/32” Flat End Mill,” click Continue, verify tool position (it should be above an empty area of the spoilboard), and click Locate Tool. The end mill will lower until it touches the spoilboard, pause, then retract upwards. Now the software knows where the 1/32” flat end mill is located in space.

This is a HUGELY important part!    I would certainly suggest that the instructions HIGHLIGHT this section!   The step makes a LOT of sense!   I’m not sure why we missed it!   Perhaps our aging eyes!

Fortunately I had ONE more extra bit.  NOTE TO SELF (order more bits!)
We secured another piece of PCB and followed the Locate Tool directions.
Watching the Other Mill calibrate the Z axis, we were convinced that this time it would work!  

Crossing my fingers, I hit the START MILLING button!

And this time - we were smiling at the results!

I’m so appreciative that smart experienced engineers are willing to spend their time with newbies like me when we’re needing a confidence boost!  

And I can’t wait to tell my middle school group of TechSavvy Girls - that we MADE the same mistake they did and to show them MY FAIL  and my SUCCESS…. And to give them an experience that will lead to their first successful CNC cut project

Friday, October 20, 2017

Vinyl Cutting in a Maker Space

When you think about maker spaces one often imagines  tools like 3D printers and laser cutters.  And even though I would eventually want both of these tools in a school maker space, there is a starter tool that I would get in my school maker space immediately - a desktop vinyl cutter!

My first impression of a vinyl cutter was that it was 'just' a sticker machine;  but that was BEFORE I saw it in action!     Here is a quick video of what happened when I brought a desktop vinyl cutter to Tech Savvy Girls Camp! 

The AHA I got from that experience is that this tool INVITED these middle school kids to make in ways that I think MANY maker spaces are looking for. 

The experience with the vinyl cutter left our users wanting to MAKE more! 

  • It was easy to learn - low threshold.
  • It sparked the imagination into thinking of possibilities. 
  • It provided students with an opportunity to practice creative thinking by thinking of constraints and how to work with and around the constraints.
  • It helped students gain confidence working with both manual and digital tool and processes. The students got a chance to build skills  measuring,  working with precision,  planning carefully,  and using design tools. 
  • It provided a quick win -  that had them thinking of new ways to use the tool.
  • It made learning personal!  
  • It naturally lead to the EMPATHY stage of design thinking - How might I make ____ for _____. 
  • It lead to thinking  about  sustainability in that they could repurpose, redesign, recycle many objects using their new skills and available tools and materials. 
  • It provided  a first experience with design tools and the process of designing for computer controlled machines.  
With their new understanding of how design tools can be used to create and send information from the computer to control a piece of equipment they not only provided foundational skills but also confidence to venture to other cutting tools that have require a bit longer on boarding like a laser cutter or CNC router.

Although Vinyl Cutters often have their own software to control the cutter itself,  we encouraged students to design on tools like Google Draw  or -  both of which can export as SVG.

In this short video,  CeCe shares how she designed her water bottle using Google Draw.

While an entry level machine like the Cricut or Silhouette provide an easy entry point for smaller school maker spaces,  increased use  may lead a maker space to look at more serious vinyl cutters like the Roland cutter found in Leah Joly's classroom/maker space. 
     Leah's students weeding vinyl designs for
     classroom stool facelift project

More student projects below:

Looking around at her classroom and the student projects on her blog is evidence that this tool can really make a difference when working with students on putting forth and sharing quality work. 
Educator Ron Berger essay on creating a classroom culture where students are given the tools and time to do BEAUTIFUL WORK  is one of the justification I share for including a vinyl cutter in your classroom/ maker space. 

Student work from Leah Joly's students 

Is there a more profound lesson than taking pride in creating work of importance and beauty for a real audience?  .... Ron Berger (Beautiful Work)

Once a Vinyl Cutter becomes part of an available set of maker tools, it will work its way in other maker projects adding elements of 'beautiful work" to the project. Imagine your students putting their maker skills to use to Rebuild a Kid’s Bike like this project by @Woodshopcowboy