Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab
Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab

Final Project

For my final project I wanted to reproduce something similar to this art piece made by Ben Young using computerized machinery:

“Stead” by Ben Young

The original piece was made using cast bronze for the “positive” half and hand cut layers of glass for the “negative”. In order to reproduce this in the FabLab I decided to use the CNC machine for the positive half and layers of laser-engraved acrylic for the negative. I started off by using the laser to cut and engrave the sections of my negative half before gluing them together

Sections of the negative half fresh from the laser

Layers stacked (pre-gluing)

Layers glued

For the CNC milling I used the Manufacture tab builtin to Fusion360 to generate two passes on the model. From there I sent the tool path to the CNC machine and periodically removed sawdust that accumulated.

Result of CNC milling

CNC Toolpath

Once I completed both the negative and the positive halves of the sculpture all I had to do was glue them together and let them cure. You can see results of the final steps below.

Final Sculpture from Above

Final Sculpture from the Front

The hardest part of this process was the gluing together of the acrylic cutouts. The edges of each piece needed to be filed down with sandpaper on both sides in order to make a channel for the glue to enter and increase surface area. Then each cutout needed to cleaned with lens cleaner in order to reduce the amount of particulate stuck in the final model. Each adjacent cutout was then clamped, glued together and allowed to set for three minutes

Through out my making career in this class and prior to it I have noticed that as soon as I finish a project I always have several ideas about how to improve whatever I just made and make it better or more polished. Because of this, I decided to making one of my learning goals to make smaller prototype versions of both components of the sculpture so that I could learn from them and hopefully produce a higher quality final product.

Front View of Prototype

From this first prototype I learned several things that I implemented in the second revision. One of the things I noticed from my first prototype was that the effect was only visible for about half the depth of the model because the middle of the sphere was thicker than everything behind it. In order to address this I decided to use a cone so that the effect would be visible for the entire depth of the model from the front. Other changes included: wider surface area of each level, thinner sheets of acrylic, a new type of glue, additional tool-paths for the CNC, and a revised gluing strategy. Comparing my first prototype and my second iteration side by side I definitely think I achieved my goal of learning through prototyping.

Since this project was more artistic than my previous ones I also wanted to make one of my learning goals to get feedback from friends in order to involve them in the making progress. The majority of people’s comments were in response to the fit and finish of my first prototype. While this feedback was helpful in the sense that it lead me to make revisions before my second prototype it was not exactly the kind of feedback I was looking for. I was hoping they would suggest ways I could improve the artistic component of the project rather than the process of making the project itself. Perhaps their responses would have been different if I had asked more specific questions like “what emotions does this piece bring to mind?”.

After completing all of the projects this year I have noticed that I learn best when I am free to explore topics or area of topics that are most interesting to me. The freedom within each assignment really helped me engage with the tools being used and learn meaningful skills. The simpler and smaller learning projects that we completed in lab sections were very helpful in learning the fundamentals of each tool area, but the projects we completed on our own each week let me explore the component of each tool that most interested me. For example the name tag assignment let me explore use with acrylic even though what we did in lab section was with wood, and the copper tape assignment let me incorporate electronics into origami which was quite different from what we did in lab.

At the beginning of the semester I considered myself a maker. I had worked with 3D printers quite a bit and had other experience modifying electronics in Nerf guns. Looking back though I don’t think I would consider myself a maker back then. To me being a maker is heavily reliant on engaging with some sort of community. Whether it be a physical maker-lab or an online forum, the ability to share what you are doing, help others, and get help for yourself is really at the core of the maker movement. Additionally, I think that cross discipline thinking as well as the incorporation of multiple mediums or tools is another tenet of the maker movement. Throughout this semester I have learned to use a variety of new tools and have worked with other people in the fablab to create some really interesting projects. Although I considered myself a maker at the beginning of the semester I think now more than ever that is true because of my experiences with this class.