This page is devoted to helping you adapt what we do to your own projects. It is divided into sections on hardware and software.
In the hardware section, we provide a link to our description of setting up a desktop CNC router and describe a couple of low-tech methods for fabricating aluminum plate.
In this section, we discuss the kinds of software used in our projects, where to download the programs and the source code, and how to get started modifiying the code we wrote.
Low cost aluminum plate fabrication.
When making something, you frequently will want a plate to bolt stuff to and aluminum is a good choice. The best way to fabricate plate is with a CNC mill or CNC router. If you do not have access to CNC equipment, there are still ways to make accurate plates. We describe a few approaches below.
We spent less than $1000 to set up a CNC router based on a kit from OpenBuilds. The $1000 figure includes all mecahnical hardware, the router, the electronics, a selection of endmills and software. We have written up some of our experiences and observations in a white paper that you can find here. We use the free program Sketchup Make to do design work and the free plugin Sketchucam to convert the design to g-code.
Low Tech Methods:
If you do not have access to CNC equipment, you can still make something with fairly tight tollerances.
One approach that I have not tried, involves using a drill press vice with an articulating stage. Look on Amazon for "Wilton drill press vise". You can get a vise that can handle 3" stock and can be accurately moved in two dimensions (Wilton 11693) for $85. You can get other brands on Amazon cheaper. Another thing that has caught my eye is a vise that will rotate stock about 90 degrees. You can get that (Wilton 11753) for $60. While we have not tried this approach, it seems reasonable and can be accomplished on limited budget.
A method we have had some success with involves generating templates to guide drilling and cutting. To help lay out something with fairly tight tollerances, we generate full scale pdf files to use as templates, print out the template and glue it to the aluminum stock. This allows us to cut and drill the stock based on the template. To generate the pdf file, we write sketches in the program Processing. Check out the video link to the right to see how it all works.
Software (aka, hacking our stuff)
All our hardware and sofware is open source and should be available from our GitHub page. That means you can get in and modify it to meet your own requirements. Looking at our YouTube channel may help you figure out whether our products fit your needs. If you want help deciding what files to use, let us know. If you do make substantial improvents to one of our designs, please consider contributing your modifications so that others may benefit.
To modify our designs, you will need to download the programs and the source code. Typically, a project will consist of (1) electronic hardware driven by a Texas Instruments Tiva LaunchPad microcontroller board, (2) microcontroller software and (3) a graphic user interface. Source code for our microcontroller and GUI programs can be found on our GitHub page (see button below). If you don't see what you want on GitHub, send me an email from our contact page.
If you would like to make something that you see on this site and would like help, let us know. If you have a suggestion for something that you think would be useful, let me know. We might be helpful. If you see something on another maker's site that you would like us to fabricate, let me know and we can talk about what would be required to make it happen.
We write our microcontroller code using a program called Energia that can be downloaded for free from www.energia.nu. Energia is an easy to learn language that is very similar to Arduino. Our graphic user interfaces are written in a language called Processing that can be downloaded for free as well. Processing is somewhat less user friendly than Energia. Electronic hardware is developed using the program Cadsoft Eagle.
Design files making 3 dimensional objects (3D printed or milled with our CNC router) are developed using Sketchup (free download). For 3D printing, these files are translated into printable STL files using Simplify 3d (not free). If I were to do it over from scratch, I would use a free program called Cura to generate STL files. For CNC milling, we genereate G-code using the phlatboys Sketchucam plugin for Sketchup.