Manufacturing

Make Your Own

3 May, 2007 By: Jeffrey Rowe

Resources and ideas abound for rekindling the creative spark in all of us.


I grew up in a town just west of Detroit, Michigan, and needless to say, when I was a kid growing up (OK, in the 50s) I was around a lot of stuff being built. My father and most of my friends’ fathers worked directly or indirectly for an automotive company in some capacity or other, and just about everyone designed and made something. Back then there were literally thousands of tiny shops around the area that made everything imaginable for cars, whether it was manifold gaskets or little electric motors for cooling fans that sat on top of a dashboard.

I feel fortunate to have grown up in such a creative environment because it instilled in me a lifelong desire to make things. It’s probably the reason, too, that I got college degrees in both mechanical engineering and industrial design.

During the past few years, there has been a resurgence of the DIY (do it yourself) movement and a shift away from simply buying things to actually modifying or making things.

I realize this isn't directly MCAD-related, but I know a lot of you engineers and other readers out there are creative and inventive, and I'd like to take a diversion into a fun topic this week. I hope these resources will inspire and support your own home-grown designs and manufacturing. Don't forget to share your love of DIY with a child -- maybe your enthusiasm will light a passion in a future engineer.

DIY Sources and Resources

Today, there many sources of information and other resources for those with an interest in making things. Below are just a few.

DIY Network

DIY Network is a television source for know-how and how-to when it comes to many types of DIY projects. DIY presents 90% original programming across a broad range of categories including automotive, crafts, woodworking and home improvement. Informational and entertaining, DIY's programs and experts answer a number of sought-after questions, plus offer creative projects that might inspire you to do something yourself. DIY's Web site features step-by-step instructions for all that you see on-air, totaling more than 15,000 projects online.

Nuts and Volts

The first issue of Nuts & Volts was published in 1980. It was originally designed as a newsprint, all-advertising publication that was mostly given away. The magazine continued to grow in readership and advertising, but not much changed until February 1992, when it began to shift to a more content-oriented publication. New editorial features were added, including monthly columns and projects for electronics DIYers. Since then, it has grown into one of the nation's most popular and relevant magazines for the electronics hobbyist.

Now only a few magazines are written for the electronics community with Nuts & Volts being the highest readership, longest running electronics publication left in the United States. Nuts & Volts is written for the hands-on hobbyist, design engineer, technician and experimenter. The diversity of subjects appeals to all levels of experience and spans many topics.

Instructables

Instructables is a Web-based documentation platform wherein people share what they do and how they do it, plus a place to learn from and collaborate with others. The seeds of Instructables germinated at the MIT Media Lab as the future founders of SQUID Labs built places to share their projects and help others. Instructables is sponsored by the partners of SQUID Labs, a company that makes all kinds of stuff.

In 2000-2001, Saul Griffith and collaborators at MIT launched www.thinkcycle.org, a collaboration system for people interested in aiding technology development for developing countries. That community has grown and has had many successful offshoots, including www.designthatmatters.org. The idea was that invention and innovation would benefit from the distributed processor approach: put enough eyes on a project and someone will have an idea on how to improve it. Also around that time Saul Griffith, Eric Wilhelm and a handful of others played with www.zeroprestige.org using a blog interface as a method for documenting how-to projects.

These experiences, as well as the involvement of other SQUID Labbers in both the open-source software movement and hardware hacking, led us to a new perspective on physical objects, hobbyists, DIYers, and people who want to share their knowledge on how (and often why) they did something. In late 2004 iFabricate was released, and was an early pass at what is now called Instructables.

Make Magazine

Make Magazine is devoted entirely to DIY technology projects, and it unites, inspires and informs a community of people who undertake projects in their backyards, basements and garages. Make is actually a do-it-yourself technology magazine written by makers that tells the story behind a project. There are four types of content in Make:

  • Reviews. Though more recommendations and experiences than true reviews, these focus on a user’s involvement with a product or technology.
  • Projects. Everything needed to recreate a project explained in these sections. Make has two kinds of projects. DIY projects are shorter projects (like swapping a battery out of an iPod, or installing open-source software on a TiVo.) The second type is a Major Project, which is more complex and can require at least several hours, if not days, to complete.
  • Features. Interesting things made by people or groups of people are described in feature articles.
  • Everything else. Ideas that involve DIY technology but don't fit in any of the above categories are included here.

Maker Faire 2007. Sponsored by the publishers of Make Magazine, the Maker Faire is a two-day event that celebrates arts, crafts, engineering, science projects and the DIY mindset. It's for creative, resourceful people who like to tinker and make things, and like calling themselves Makers. Two Maker Faires are coming up this year: Bay Area, May 19-20, 2007, San Mateo Fairgrounds and Austin, Texas, October 20-21, 2007, Travis County Fairgrounds.

Alibre/Popular Mechanics

Alibre recently announced that the company is working with Popular Mechanics to make interactive 3D models of the magazine’s regularly published DIY projects available on its Web site. The new 3D models, along with 2D construction plans and instructions, are available for download.

The magazine has offered standard 2D prints and fabrication instructions for years, but now, via Alibre’s 3D capabilities, readers will also be able to spin models around, zoom in on details and animate an assembly to see all the component parts dynamically.

All models published in PDF format are also fully parametric 3D models in Alibre Design, meaning that they can be easily changed to a different size or shape. The combined 3D and 2D projects are available in the Adobe PDF format and can be viewed and manipulated with the free Adobe Acrobat Reader. In addition, a new feature of the Adobe PDF format makes it possible to add mark-ups and comments, perform measurements and section or slice the 3D model.

These are just some of the DIY resources that I’m aware of and check out from time to time. I know there are tons of other ones out there, and I’d really like to hear from you about some of your favorites. So get to the workbench and create something!


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