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What Makes A Maker?

The “Maker Movement,” I’m sure you’ve all heard of it, but what exactly is it? I don’t know if there’s actually an official definition, but I think of it as the tinkerers and hobbyists of the past, with access to a whole lot more knowledge and technology thanks to the internet. Now even this is a very broad definition, but I guess you could split it up again into a couple of big categories. Those that make for themselves, and those that make for, or with others.

Maker Faire Image - Pixel ArtCredit: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

It has always blown me away at just how many people are happy to selflessly contribute a huge proportion of their free time to sharing things they’ve learnt with others, for free, using the internet. I consider myself to fit into the “maker” persona, but I often feel the guilt of just how lazy I am when it comes to sharing my knowledge with others. I owe a lot of what I know, to the internet and the people who contribute their knowledge, but yet I give so little back. I made a conscious decision earlier this year, to try to rectify that, and that’s when I started writing articles for Design and Motion. My wife and I live a pretty busy lifestyle, so while the fortnightly posts can occasionally become a bit of a chore, the sense of satisfaction I get when I finally hit the “publish” button is a magical thing. Kind of like that one shot you hit in your last terrible round of golf, which felt so good that you know you’ll be back to play again. This to me, is the essence of what fuels the maker community. People get satisfaction from sharing what they have made with others.

Now there is a dilemma that often arises here, when you want to move from making for fun, to making for money. Many have battled with the balance of how much to give away, versus what they should protect and sell. Creative Commons and the open-source movement had, and still has many scratching their heads, wondering how on earth a business can give something away for nothing, and still make money.

One topic that I often think about, is the future of makers. If we go back in history, humans went from being fairly self-sufficient makers, to fairly dependent non-makers. We outsourced our making to mass-production. If the futurists of today are correct in their predictions, self-making on a massive scale will return to the mainstream and the industrial revolution will effectively be reversed at some point. So my question is this:

What should traditional manufacturers do, to future-proof their businesses?

I don’t have an answer for this, so I thought I’d put it to the maker community from Autodesk, along with some of my other questions.

When I was a student, my visions of my future self always placed me in someone else’s company, designing things to be made for someone else. It turned out, that I have ended up spending a fair chunk of my career so far in self-employment. I often wonder how things would be different if I had focused my energy as a student, on working towards being my own boss. The reason I say this, is with today’s channels for dissemination of information and knowledge, along with incredible accessibility to technology (you can buy just about anything online), small scale manufacturing for a large market is a very real option to make a living. The internet allows people that have “the knack” to learn more about anything they want to, purchase just about anything they need, and sell their ideas, products or services to a potentially huge number of people.

So another question:

What should we be doing to equip today’s students, to go down the path of being a maker, regardless of what sort of scale it ends up being on?

I believe that teaching students to digest and assess information critically, regardless of source, is just as important as sharing knowledge of particular topics. Ask just about any ex-student how much of what they learned in their studies, they actually use in their jobs. Most will say very little. Now don’t get me wrong, I believe that all knowledge is valuable, whether you use it or not. With increasing variety and specialization though, the most valuable skills are being able to learn new things quickly, whilst maintaining rational thought and critical reasoning.

I spoke above, about the satisfaction that can be gained from sharing knowledge with others, which comes naturally for many makers who are proud to show off their creations. The other big maker satisfaction though, is simply just the satisfaction in creating something. Typically, when making something for one’s self, the end result is often a prototype of sorts. Something which was made with the materials that were readily available, using methods that were not necessarily very efficient, but which got the job done eventually. Even though the end result was not arrived at in the most efficient way possible, the satisfaction was still gained. When moving from making for one’s self, to making for others, efficiency quickly moves to the forefront. In my experience, a lot of tinkerer types don’t have a natural ability to find efficiency, or a desire to replicate their making in any kind of volume. Bear with me here, I do have a point, and I’ll get to it eventually.

A few years ago, I was discussing entrepreneurship with my uncle in a broad sense, and various examples of companies came up. We discussed how they differed and what we liked and disliked about each. He told me of a theory he had about a formula for a successful business. He mentioned “the 3 guys (or girls)” that need to be involved. Here they are:

“Ideas Guy”

Ideas Guy never settles for status quo, he is always finding better ways to do things, and constantly frustrating his friends with his practical solutions to everything. “How has no one thought of that before!?” is a common statement from his friends. While he is always asking why something can’t be done a better way, he doesn’t often know exactly his solution will be achieved.

The Ideas GuyThe Ideas Guy (Credit: Sebastiaan ter Burg)

“The Geek”

The Geek is a detail guy. He agonises over technicalities and details and is sometimes mistakenly perceived to be negative or a party pooper, by finding technical problems with proposed solutions. Having said that, he’ll expend a huge amount of energy overcoming the challenges to make an idea work.

“The Other Guy”

The other guy is a very flexible persona who can sell sand to a Saharan, but also has a good feel for legal matters.

Now obviously this is a rather flexible arrangement that could have different numbers or types of people with different strengths. The key however, is that to commercialize a product, you really need a team.

So how do you go about finding this team?

Makers are an interesting bunch, some of them manage to play both the Ideas Guy and The Geek. These guys are off to a head start and often manage to get themselves started using a crowd-funding platform like kickstarter or Indiegogo to get their product off the ground.

For others, they may naturally have the team in a group of people they know, and can quickly get to work turning their elegant solution for a problem they had, into a solution for others who are willing to pay for it, in similar ways.

The vast majority however, are the lonely makers, who make for themselves, quietly share their knowledge/recipes/instructions fairly inconspicuously through blogs and forums, and only dream of one day being able to sell their product. It’s this group that I believe we need to help the most, as students, to find their team.

This brings me onto an idea that I had which would somehow combine the various aspects of commercialization of an idea. We already have great resources for makers, in a number of areas:


You can learn about just about anything online. Whether you’re browsing a maker website like Instructables to learn how to replicate someone else’s idea, or studying towards a degree in a classical subject like physics through an online university, there is no shortage of knowledge that is accessible for free. logoInstructables – a website dedicated to makers


Autodesk are blazing trails when it comes to giving away design software for free, to allow anyone to explore their ideas in an almost limitless number of ways. While all Autodesk software is available to students at no charge, others are even free to anyone. Products like Fusion360 (free for enthusiasts), let people create 3D digital models of their ideas, simulate them, and even run machine tools to create the physical end result. GrabCAD is another company that has provided an amazing free platform, which allows people to share their digital models with others. Why design a certain sub-component yourself, if someone else has done it for you?


If you can’t get access to machines to bring your ideas to life, why not build a machine yourself? Many websites have are dedicated to open-source designs for machines which can be used to make just about anything. Components for making things are also readily available through a huge number of maker-focused websites. An example of this is BuildYourCNC.


Turning prototypes into saleable products requires money, and borrowed money for unproven ideas can be hard to come by through traditional channels. Online crowd-funding platforms like Indiegogo make fundraising for commercializing good ideas relatively easy. Potential customers effectively fund the development of products they like the idea of themselves.

So what’s missing?

“The Team” of course. While sites like allow companies to quickly find freelancers for contract work, I’m yet to see a site whose primary focus is in getting The “Ideas Guy”, “Geek”, and “Other Guy” together to commercialize a great idea. I’m not usually the Ideas Guy, but there’s my idea. Can someone please make it happen already….?


DIY CNC Machining from Scratch | CAM/CNC 101

CAM/CNC 101 – The software side:

For those that have never had any exposure to CAM (computer aided manufacturing) and CNC (computer numerical control), the principles of it are as follows. A 2D or 3D software representation (model or drawing) of a component is interpreted by some clever algorithms in conjunction with some user input inside a piece of software known as a CAM application. These algorithms generate paths in 3D space for a cutting tool to follow.

3D Toolpath in InventorHSM3D T-Splines Freeform CAM Model in Autodesk InventorHSM 2015

Once these paths have been generated, another piece of software called a post-processor converts the paths into another form of code which can be read by a controller built into the CNC machine. This is often of a format known as G-code. There are a huge range of standard G-codes which define different types of movement on the machine. For further detail, see Wikipedia G-Code definition.

Controllers and Software:

I’m going to skip over the CAM step for now, as this is a huge topic on it’s own. I use the Autodesk HSM (high-speed machining) solutions for all my CAM work and I’ll follow up with a post on InventorHSM soon.

In a commercial CNC machine, the controller is usually a self-contained unit with a control panel (see an example from Haas below), that the machine operator stands in front of and has the ability to have control code inputted directly from the panel, or be “piped” to the machine from a computer with CAM software (known as DNC).

Haas CNC ControllerA Haas CNC controller attached to a Haas Vertical Machining Center (3 axis Mill)

For hobbyists, or others on limited budgets, these controllers are very expensive, but other options exist. A common route is to emulate the machine controller with a software based solution that uses a normal keyboard and mouse for input and a computer monitor for visual feedback. There are quite a few options here, but the popular ones are LinuxCNC (formally EMC) and Mach3 (Windows based.) LinuxCNC is a free open-source solution, while Mach 3 is a commercial product. A few years ago, having had a look at both, I decided to give LinuxCNC a go given that it was free, and found it to be brilliant.

GCode program loaded in LinuxCNC machine controller.LinuxCNC Machine Controller with NC Program Loaded

 The flexibility that these controllers provide are amazing. LinuxCNC supports up to 9 axes of motions and has support for various kinematics systems, including robotic arms. I have seen examples of LinuxCNC running hexapod robotic spiders. And this is a free open-source package! To use it, once configured, you simply load your NC code file, review the toolpaths in the preview, check that your tools are in order and hit the Start button. The motors whizz into life and the cutter starts to make chips fly. All going well, you end up with a finished part.

Calibration / Tuning:

To get LinuxCNC to work with any machine, there is a process of set up and calibration that has to be performed. With an enormous variety of motor types, PC specifications, sensors and switches that all provide inputs and outputs for LinuxCNC, you can imagine that hardly any 2 setups are identical. Luckily, the calibration and tuning process for the motors is fairly straightforward. You may remember from Part 1: The Mechanical Conversion, that we calculated the distance that each axis would move for each “step” that the controller sent to the motor. That data needs to be fed into LinuxCNC so that the software knows how many steps to send to the motors, to move the cutter to the correct position.

Configuring X Axis in LinuxCNCStepper Motor Configuration in LinuxCNC Step Configuration Wizard

Step Configuration Wizard in LinuxCNC provides a really simple way to input the required information. After setting up the motors, limit switches, emergency stops and other I/O can be configured with a straightforward pin map for the motor controller. I used a Geckodrive G540 which has preset options installed in LinuxCNC by default. In Part 2: The Electronics, I talk more about the role of the Geckodrive G540.

With all of this set up, the next step was to test the 3 axes and adjust the tuning to get the motors running really smoothly. A trimpot for each of the axes is provided on the G540 stepper driver that allows fine motor tuning. It’s simply a matter of running each axis and turning the screw backwards and forwards until an audible “sweet spot” is heard. Following this, accuracy checks needed to be performed. There are many ways to achieve this, but the process is basically about checking that the machined dimensions of a real component match the modelled dimensions as closely as possible. I often use drilled holes to check this. I drill a hole at one end of a piece of material, and then move a fixed amount in one direction and drill a second hole. Next I measure the center distance between the holes and compare with the commanded distance. Finally I move the axis back in the opposite direction and measure the error between the two. Repeating this a number of times and averaging the error gives me the backlash in an axis.

Sherwin Perez Leadscrew render from GrabCADLeadscrews modelled and rendered by Sherwin Perez, as posted on GrabCAD

Backlash is basically the amount of “slop” in a mechanical system when changing direction, due to clearance in transmission of drive or other “looseness.” There is usually some backlash in any system, and the goal is to reduce it to as much as possible. The remaining amount can usually then be dealt with with software backlash compensation. The way this works, is that you program a known amount of backlash into the machine controller, and the machine compensates for this amount every time the motors reverse direction. This is surprisingly effective. My mill has approximately 0.3mm of backlash in the x-axis, and with backlash compensation in LinuxCNC set up, the resulting backlash error in the part is closer to 0.05mm. Most of my backlash is due to trapezoidal thread leadscrews that drive the 3 axes. I am in the process of designing a conversion to replace the lead screws with much more accurate ballscrews that have close to zero backlash. I’ll make sure to write an update post to cover this.

Giacomo Calzoni Ballscrew renderBallscrew modelled and rendered by Giacomo Calzoni, as posted on GrabCAD

In my next post in this series, I’ll cover the first parts that I machined and the issues with software step generation. I’ll also talk about how I overcame this issue and the dramatic improvement in performance that was achieved through the use of a $180 bit of hardware.

’til next time….


National Manufacturing Week 2014 – Sydney, Australia

The CADGroup Booth at Manufacturing Week, Sydney

Cadgroup Booth at National Manufacturing Week 2014

I was lucky to be invited to National Manufacturing Week in Sydney this week to join the CADGroup guys in their booth at the show. They have recently been appointed as a reseller for the Autodesk HSM CAM products in Australia. Talking to them about the local manufacturing industry revealed some surprising details. The general opinion was that there tends to be a lot of fabrication, but not a lot of machining and component manufacture. I was initially skeptical, until I started to walk around the trade halls and have a look at the various companies displaying their products and services. After doing a full lap of both exhibition halls, I figured that there must be a 3rd somewhere. Where were all the CNC machines!? Not a single CNC mill or lathe in sight. The closest I could find was the Multicam stand who sell various routers designed and built in Australia. Multicam Router

Multicam booth at National Manufacturing week 2014

All the other NC gear was for profiling, waterjets and plasmas at every turn. I was very disappointed. Could this really be the case? If I find a 3rd hall somewhere, I’ll give an update, but I had hoped to write this article about all the wonderful VMCs and mill-turns on display, and now I’m just going to have to talk about 3D printers instead…

Those “other” machines….

Having followed 3D printing for many years, I can’t say I get excited about watching hobby machines turn plastic filament into little trinkets anymore. There must be a large group of people who do however, as there are at least 10 small scale 3D printer distributors flogging their wares within a stones throw of our booth here. After a cursory glance at each, I stumbled across an additive manufacturing machine that did get me excited, a laser based, metal powder fusion machine. Renishaw have a really good name for CNC touch probes and coordinate measuring machines. Now they build metal printers! They had some beautiful samples on display printed in Titanium and tell me that the strength properties of the material are similar to that of the cast equivalent.

Renishaw Booth

Renishaw booth at National Manufacturing Week 2014

Parts printed in Titanium

 3D Printed Titanium Parts

Freeform bodies and Direct Edit.

If you’re a follower of Design and Motion, you would have noticed that we’ve been getting pretty excited about the new Freeform and Direct Edit tools in Inventor 2015. If you happen to be in Sydney, CADGroup’s Technical Head, Deepak Maini will be giving a live presentation at the NMW show on these new tools, as well as some really good stuff on large assembly management and Configurator 360.

By the way…

The first day at the show was a little quiet, so I thought I’d try and break Inventor HSM, just for fun. I created an adaptive clearing toolpath for an entire tractor tyre with a very detailed tread pattern. After a lot of chugging away, I ended up with a toolpath that would run for 42 hours according to the simulation statistics. Now of course you’d never actually run this code, but it was fun to see if I could push the limits of the engine. It completed the task with no issues which was great to see,.

Complex Inventor HSM Toolpath

Ridiculously complex and pointless toolpath – Just for fun

And lastly…. the convention center has a cool roof.

Convention Center Roof Sydney


Morgan Motor Company Design Visualization Competition Winner

You no doubt will have noticed all the Morgan Motor Company posts we ran earlier this year. They were geared towards the amazing Visualization competition ran in association with Talenthouse, Autodesk, Nvidia and HP. The whole team at Design and Motion got involved with reviews and opinion, so it’s with great pleasure that I introduce one of my picks and Mike’s pick for the overall win, as the winner of the competition. Congratulations to Germano Vieira for this truly stunning piece of art:

PIC SIM studio Germano Vieira Morgan Motor CompanyMake sure you click through to the original image above, so you can view it in all it’s glory. Germano has requested we share the following press release:

Germano Vieira, a Portuguese 3D Artist / Architect, CEO and Founder of PICSIMstudio (Architecture and Design 3D Visualization studio), is the winner of the “Design an advertisement for Morgan Motor Company” competition organized by Talenthouse and sponsored by the Morgan Motor Company, NVIDIA, HP and AUTODESK. This design will be displayed in the Morgan Motor company exhibit at a major automotive trade show and will be featured in a Morgan Motor campaign. It will be also published in the Morgan 3 Wheeler´s official website and in the official Morgan Motors Magazine, MOG, distributed worldwide.

“The concept of this advertisement was to emphazise the importance of the Morgan 3 Wheeler’s history in the design of the 2014 model and to draw attention to its technological evolution.”

For those of you who want to contract this man to do some work for you, here are his details:


For more information about the competition please visit:

Thank you for all the support our readership have provided to this competition. It’s been a lot of fun.


Autodesk Inventor 2015 Sheet Metal packs a punch

Autodesk did a bang up good job on the enhancements to its manufacturing product line. Autodesk Inventor 2015 received a lot of important attention. Following up with our recent “What’s New in Inventor 2015” and “Free Your Forms” posts, we continue our deep dive series with some detail on the Sheet Metal enhancements.

Punch Across Bend

Punches are now applied ‘across bends’. This is a bit misleading, as the punches are really wrapped around the bend.

Inventor 2015 Sheet Metal Punch Across Bend

Inventor appears to accomplish this by applying the punch to the flat pattern in the background. This becomes evident when viewing the flat pattern and find the punch geometry shape laid out across the bend there.

This feature is helpful when you need to make punches at a location in the flat sheet before fabrication, but not after. Areas where manufacturers need the ability to press or punch a shape after forming will have to wait a little longer for that functionality.

Window selection of Multiple Points to Place a Punch

Inventor’s default behavior is to apply the punch to any points within a visible 2D sketch. The interface waits for the user after selecting the defaults. Windowing the sketch will remove the default selection and pick any point as well as sketch geometry endpoints that are within the window.

Use Cut Normal in the Cut Dialog Box

The Cut Normal option is added to the Cut dialog. This option projects selected profiles onto the sheet surface and then cuts perpendicular thereto.

Inventor 2015 Sheet Metal Cut Normal

In the image above you can see the difference between Cut Normal on right and Cut Across Bend on the left. Each sketched rectangle is 1.0 units tall. The Cut Across Bend is applied directly to the unbent sheet and then bent; it measures 1.0 units tall in the Flat Pattern.

The Cut Normal projects the sketch to the bent sheet face, and then cuts perpendicular through the sheet. The sketch plane angle is 45°; In the Flat Pattern, this feature measures 1.343 units tall.

The catch here is that Inventor projects to the inside of the bend (opposite of the sketch) and then cuts outward. This appears to enforces the ability for a 1.0 unit tall object to pass through the cut.

A-Side Definition Command Added to the Flat Pattern Panel

Inventor now allows users to define the A-Side of a sheet metal part. This command permits the sheet metal component to control the punch direction.

Inventor 2015 Sheet Metal A-Side Command

Inventor’s new functionality insists that an A-side be selected once the Flat Pattern has been generated. The Flat Pattern command will select an A-Side if users do not. Once selected, the A-side can be changed or deleted, but only by deleting the Flat Pattern feature first.

Unfold/Refold Imported Sheet Metal Part with Zero Radius Bend

Unfold/Refold command allows selection of zero radius bends and flatten zero radius bends when a flat pattern is created. A new face is added to accommodate the Unfold operation based on the user defined K-Factor. After Refolding these references remain.

Additional Enhancements

* Flat Pattern conversion prompts are more accurate

* Folded parts in the browser show EOF (End of Flat) instead of EOP

* Bend Edit dialog automatically expands to accommodate longest property name

* Flat Pattern dialog now includes an orientation rotation angle


Autodesk Vault | To Item or not to Item, that is the question

To Item, or not to Item, that is the question—
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of uncontrolled files,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles with Items,

You are looking at Vault or have just purchased Vault Professional and you have a very important decision in front of you… do we use items?

What are items?

Items represent things within your business, the components that your company manages, assembles, sells and manufactures.

Vault 2015 ItemEach item is identified by its own unique item number (or sometimes referred to as part number). Items can represent a variety of things including parts and assemblies, instructional guides, consumable goods (fluids, lubricants, etc), and any related Bill of Material. Some items might be purchased, while others are manufactured internally.

Do I Need Items?

Autodesk has definitely made it easier to work with items in 2015 (see our post Vault Pro 2015 is da bom!), but this may not be enough to answer the important questions. Do we use file lifecycles and revision management? do we use items and their lifecycle / revision processes, or do we look at implementing both?

Here are three important questions you need to ask yourself, and others within your organization, which will attempt to lead you down the correct path.

Question #1 – Do I need to share my Vault data with my <insert acronym> system?

Syncing the iPad - Lego StormtroopersImage Credit: 713 Avenue

Do you have an ERP, MRP, PLM, CRM or some other business system that you are wanting to link the Vault data with? If the answer is yes then do not pass Go, do not collect $200, and proceed directly to implementing items.

Items form an Item Master and guess what the other systems are based on?

If you do want to link with your business system then the next question is… do you ensure that your vault items have the same numbers as your business system items, or do you have 2 separate systems with some form of cross-referencing?

Vault 2015 Item MasterVault Items can be exported and it will include their property information and BOM Structure. Although you might have to build some type of intermediate process to clean the data before import Item-to-item linking is the easiest path to connection.

Question #2 – BOM Access

Do non-engineering or non-cad people need access to data about my parts and assemblies? Including Bill of Materials?

Items maintain a Bill of Material including where items are used, the quantities, the units, and all the related data. These BOM’s can be created from the associated CAD file or be built manually. You can also manipulate an existing BOM by adjusting quantities and adding extra components.

Vault 2015 Item Bill of Materials

Do you know that although the engineering specified 10-bolts there is no way that it will make it to the customer without losing 1 or 2? Then bump the quantity up to 12. Need packaging information that isn’t included in the CAD model? Then add it to the item assembly BOM.

Question #3 – Revision Management

Do I want a method to manage revisions? And control what downstream users see of my data? Do I want to manage CAD AND non-CAD things? Do I want to release data locking it from access? Do I want to use Change Orders to control and track revisions?

In the Vault Pro Item world, you have files and you have items. Files can be attached to Items but Items are not attached to the files. Consider the following scenarios…

Scenario #1: No File Lifecycling – Item controls Release and Revision Process.

Vault 2015 Item Change State

In this scenario the item is released setting the revision number and locking the files from change. You can configure both the Vault Client and the Web Client so that users can only see Items. Meaning that the CAD data can do its own thing and when its ready be made available to the item viewers, it won’t be until the item is updated and released. When a change is required the Change Order is issued against the item and the change is tracked on the item

Scenario #2: File LIfecycles – No Item Lifecycles

Vault 2015 File Change State

In this scenario you WIP – Review – Release your files, managing the revisions at a file level. The files are still associated to the items so that the BOM is generated and the item data can be shared with your business applications. Change Orders are issued against the files and the change is tracked on the file. The only interaction with the item is to perform an update after changes are completed on the file

Scenario #3: Both File and Item Lifecycles

Similar to #2 except the Items are also Released. This is so that the revision of the file and the Item (BOM) are both tracked, managed, and maintained. There can be some complications to overcome as the dually release and lock systems can overlap and fight for control.

Which is the right choice for my release management process?

Decision Ahead - Proceed SlowlyWhat I’m hoping to show with these scenarios is whether you are currently using file lifecycles or have just started to use Vault, there is a lifecycle option that will work.

Not using file lifecyces to manage change? Then consider skipping it and use Items for this.

Already releasing files? No problem; you can easily implement items with little impact to your current workflows.

Last Steps

“To Item or Not to Item?”, is an important question to ask yourself as you begin your quest with Vault Professional. Not that there isn’t the flexibility to switch or choose different paths, however making these decisions correctly up front can save time and effort. So take the quiz above and let us know how it pans out.