Design Log #3: Laser Cut Custom Parts

A project log for Laser Cut Cardboard Robot Construction Kit

Laser cut cardboard and wooden pieces for making animatronic robots. Open source templates and activity guides for educators.

simonsimon 06/04/2018 at 08:361 Comment

We recently created a worksheet that allows visitors to draw custom chassis boxes interchangeable with those used in the cardboard robot construction kits and have them laser cut.

car worksheet

A copy of the worksheet we use for plywood cars at the OSC, along with the two sides of the chassis this design creates.

Over the past year, STEAMLabs has maintained an ongoing maker-themed exhibit at the Ontario Science Centre (OSC). A major feature of the exhibit is the option for OSC visitors to draw a design in pen on a worksheet, have it scanned, and watch it be laser cut for them by a technician. This popular activity allows visitors to almost directly translate their experience with drawing into the operation of a laser cutter, making the machine more accessible but also offering an alternate approach to design for the experienced.

happy visitor

A visitor with her custom worksheet and the freshly laser cut parts scanned from her design.

For our new chassis box activity, visitors are invited to draw one side of the finished chassis in black pen, including an exterior edge and interior cuts as well. The finished design is scanned with our desktop Fujitsu ScanSnap and the resulting file is placed in Adobe Illustrator. We then apply an Image Trace filter that converts the pen lines in vectors. After connecting any unfinished lines and creating a duplicate of the design to act as the other side, we cut it out on our laser cutter.

Adobe presets

The Adobe Illustrator image trace preset we use to turn black gel pen drawings into clean vector lines.

All of our worksheets feature minimal guidelines to ensure that any interacting or structural parts work properly, such as mating slots. For the custom chassis worksheets, there are two such guidelines: 1) the bottom seam of the chassis box and 2) the two slots where the end squares fit. For further customization, we allow visitors to draw an “X” wherever they want an axle hole placed. Slots for servos and DC motors can also be indicated by participants.

finished custom car

The assembled custom car, with a geared DC motor added in as an engine and a servo motor serving as a crane.

The custom design system allows visitors to create personalized and technically unusual designs. Moreover, because they follow a few basic rules, these custom parts can easily integrate into our wider system of interacting generic parts.


Mark Eno wrote 05/20/2022 at 06:25 point

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