DIY Guy8 May, 2014 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin
User Profile: Want to play with the cool toys? Zach Burhop demonstrates how you can build them yourself.
Zach Burhop is one industrial designer who never complains about taking work home. In fact, he’s converted two-thirds of his house into a “secret lab” equipped with the software and hardware tools needed to take a design project from idea to prototype. His projects are many and varied, ranging from a 3D-printed windmill to power a porch light to an Arduino-controlled, color-changing LED Christmas tree. But not everything that happens in that secret Las Vegas lab stays secret; Burhop shares many of his projects, techniques, and tips with the design community through his website, videos, and Twitter posts.
Cadalyst: How did you become interested in design?
Burhop: I’ve always built things. There’s a lot of cool technology out there that’s either too expensive for most people to access or just not developed enough for production. So I started designing and building out of necessity — it’s the only way I could play with the cool toys. For example, I always wanted to play with robots, so in high school I took on the project of designing and building one. The stuff that can be built on a small budget and used by everyone is always the coolest.
I also put great importance on how designs look; there’s nothing better than building something no one’s seen before. So industrial design was a natural fit, since it’s about making technologies look cool and also making them simple enough so that everyone can use them. Specifically, it allows designs to become mass-produced products.
Tell us about your day job.
I currently work in the space industry, but due to the nature of the industry I cannot disclose anything more than that. In past positions I have worked on teams dealing with rocket-powered pickup trucks, water-powered jetpacks, full-sized radio-controlled battle cars, high-tech pizza-delivery bicycles, and a bunch of other weird projects. I spent my college years climbing around rocket engines and doing propulsion testing at the rocket testing company Orion Propulsion.
Which software do you use?
I am a big [Siemens PLM Software] Solid Edge user. I find that I work more quickly with Solid Edge, but I also use [Dassault Systèmes] SolidWorks on occasion. Solid Edge has Synchronous Technology, which allows me to quickly make design changes to parts without having to go through a history tree, as in SolidWorks. I find that creating technical drawings in Solid Edge is much better. I have more control, especially with its Draw in View feature. I like SolidWorks though — I think it deals with extremely large assemblies a lot better.
I also use Repetier-Host to control my Solidoodle printer and Slic3r to carve up all my STL files. I am a fan of Luxion KeyShot for rendering.
Why do you share your work via social media?
When I started making things as a kid in the late 90s, not many projects were shared online. There were pockets of people building cool stuff, but posting pictures and info about what you were building was a pain in the neck, so most people didn’t bother. But today, social media — or more descriptively, Web 2.0 — has made everything really easy. I can even post project pictures with my phone. It encourages people who normally wouldn’t take the time to share their work to do so, just because the process is so quick now.
The way I like to learn is by looking at what other people have built, and now there are millions of projects out there. But it’s more than just looking at photos and videos; I can download files for 3D printing, for example, tweak them as needed, then upload my versions for others to use.
There are also a lot of open-source projects that many people contribute to, such as the InMoov 3D-printed robot project. Anyone can access those part designs and build their own robot. Web 2.0 enables builders and makers, designers, and engineers to work together more easily.
What kinds of equipment do you have in your secret lab?
I am very interested in 3D printing, and I have a Solidoodle 2 3D printer. It’s probably one of the most economical of the 3D printers, but it has done an amazing job, printing nearly 24/7 for the past two years. I also have a 32” vinyl cutter that is really useful: I use it to make printed circuit boards and custom graphics for my designs, and I can also mount a pen on it to create large templates and designs. I do a lot of electronics work, so I have a collection of Arduino boards, soldering irons, multimeters, etc. My shop has a small CNC metal lathe, a plasma cutter, a MIG welder, and a very small production assembly robot that I haven’t found a use for yet.
I am constantly adding new equipment and capabilities to my design lab. I like to be creative, and the worst thing that can happen is having an idea, but lacking the ability or equipment to bring that idea to life. Every now and then I need a tool that I don’t own, such as a laser cutter; for that I just head over to SYN Shop, which is the local maker club in Las Vegas.
How do you choose new projects?
I have no set method for deciding which projects to tackle; it’s definitely more of an art than a science. I love all sorts of projects. If I have an idea or I see something cool I want to try, I usually go for it. I’ve taken on design projects (furniture), fashion projects (shoes and goggles), electronics projects (robots and Arduino stuff), and engineering projects (rockets). If it’s new, unusual, and technical, I’m interested.
Can you give us some examples?
Christmas tree. My birthday is on Christmas, so I wanted to make something cool; I get tired of the same stuff every year! This is a 3D-printed Christmas tree that uses digital LED strips and Arduino to create animated light effects. All of the ornaments are 3D-printed.
Music note sticker. I wanted to find a new use for NFC tags, which are small computer chips that talk to a smartphone when they touch it. I created vinyl wall stickers with these built inside. You can touch your phone to pieces of art in your house that can trigger events, such as turning on lights or playing music. They can even send out a tweet for you.
Power supply. For my projects, I constantly found myself in need of different types of batteries. My solution was my own custom power supply. It takes several 9-volt batteries, and has a dial built in to allow me to select a voltage. It also has several types of switches built in so I can use it with a variety of projects. As an added bonus, it can be used to launch model rockets! The body was 3D-printed and the insides were custom-designed electronics.
LED goggles. I built the goggles as my first project dabbling in wearable electronics. They incorporate a rechargeable lithium ion battery, an Arduino board, and two Neopixel ring LEDs. They can be programmed from a USB port to do cool animations.
3D printer. My current project is building a 3D printer, one part of which is shown below. The printer is based on some open source designs, but is customized in bed size to support printing a 12" shoe. This is an extremely large bed for typical prosumer-level 3D printers.
You’re going to add CAD tutorials to your website. What other plans do you have?
I like to work on tutorials, especially for CAD applications such as Solid Edge. You learn a lot of tips and tricks during your work, and it’s nice to put that information into a format that other people can use. In the future, I’d like to do more electronics tutorials and some on hardware tools, including the lathe and plasma cutter. Eventually, I’ll add all this information to my website. I envision the site as a hub for the projects I’ve completed and those I’m currently working on.
I learn a lot from the Internet, and doing tutorials shares what I have learned and lets others build on it. It’s all about being part of the community.
About the Author: Cyrena Respini-Irwin
Autodesk Technical Evangelist Lynn Allen guides you through a different AutoCAD feature in every edition of her popular "Circles and Lines" tutorial series. For even more AutoCAD how-to, check out Lynn's quick tips in the Cadalyst Video Gallery. Subscribe to Cadalyst's free Tips & Tools Weekly e-newsletter and we'll notify you every time a new video tip is published. All exclusively from Cadalyst!