Tag Archives: CNC

Announcing a New Partnership between Harris Educational and ShopBot Tools

It is with great pleasure that I announce a new partnership between Harris Educational and ShopBot tools of Durham NC. I will be applying my skills and experience in instructional design, educational development, and K-12 science and technology education to help ShopBot create a unified, modular STEM curriculum about Digital Fabrication related to their popular and successful CNC routers and other tools.

ShopBot Desktop CNC Router Digital Fabrication Tool

The New ShopBot Desktop CNC Router Digital Fabrication Tool

ShopBot Tools of Durham NC designs, manufactures, and supplies digital fabrication tools such as 2D/3D CNC Routers, 5-axis CNC routers, and related equipment. They are committed to making these tools at a very high quality but also at a very affordable price. I’ve met the folks from ShopBot, toured their facilities, sat in on some of their training, and observed them at two Maker Faires and I can tell you they are a different kind of company! I’ve found them to be very open and very forward thinking. Every employee is enthusiastic and committed to what they are doing. As one of their motto’s says, they build the tools for building the future!

Digital Fabrication covers a wide range of technologies that have evolved from expensive specialized industrial machines and processes to affordable and flexible solutions that are now well within the reach of individuals, students, schools, and small businesses. These tools and techniques allow a person to go from a digital design created on a computer and translate that it into a real working physical object.

ShopBot Buddy Mills out 3D Replicas of attendees of the San Mateo Maker Faire

ShopBot Buddy Mills out 3D copies of attendees of the San Mateo Maker Faire

Digital Fabrication tools can be subtractive (like CNC routers, milling machines, or laser cutters) or additive (like plastic extruders and deposition printers) or even a combination of the two. Just as the PC and then the Internet have revolutionized how we create and share information digital fabrication technologies are revolutionizing how we create and distribute physical objects and products. To translate an idea into reality in the past would have require a workshop full of tools as well as a great deal of experience, skill, and patience. These new tools such as ShopBot’s CNC machines free anyone to focus on design while the machine does the work.

President Obama views a ShopBot in Action at Loraine County Community College

President Obama views a ShopBot in Action making wind turbine parts at Loraine County Community College in Ohio

Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success. But if we want to win the future—if we want innovation to produce jobs in America… then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.”              … President Obama (State of the Union Address, January 2011)

STEM stands for “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics” and is a new way of looking at education. Instead of teaching concepts like science and math separately in a vacuum or without real world application or reference STEM seeks to integrate other disciplines including Engineering and Technology with Science and Math. STEM tends to be more hands-on and draws from other areas to create learning experiences that are closer to what a person might expect to find in the real world.

The U.S. now ranks 60th in the world in producing scientist and engineers; it has fallen 22% in just the last decade. Our high school students rank 23rd in science and 30th in math. To continue to thrive in a modern world and to prepare our children for lives, jobs, and a culture which increasingly depend on an understanding of science and math, we need to be making a stronger investment in education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)” … Quoted from the ShopBot Website (ShopBot in Education)

Harris Educational shares ShopBot’s views on Education and the need to improve skills and knowledge, and make more young people aware of and enthusiastic about STEM related career paths. Every person does not necessarily have talents in any given area, but every human being is creative! We are all innate problem solvers and we all invent and create the world around us every day. Digital Fabrication is a great platform to unleash the creative side of every person. Through their ideas and designs young people can build a desire to go a bit further and investigate “how does that work?” and “how can I improve that?” and “how can I share that?” To go further they can learn the geometry and science and other “hard stuff” that helps them get to their goals.

ShopBot Tools are already in use in schools around the world serving a wide range of rolls from educational platforms to job training to tools for art and architecture projects. Many teachers, students, and others have already shared lesson plans, information, instructions, projects, and designs with each other and with ShopBot. ShopBot’s and Harris Educational’s goal is to leverage this material and add to it in order to create a complete modular curriculum that meets the needs of STEM educators for students in Middle School, High School, and College.

Harris Educational will be producing educational materials and publishing them through ShopBot for free distribution and use by anyone that desires to teach Digital Fabrication as part of their STEM educational program. At first we’ll be producing PDF materials that educators can download and use. As time goes on we’ll be producing videos, animations, e-learning modules, and other materials. I’ll be creating teach-the-teacher materials, teacher classroom materials, and student materials. We’ll also leverage the extensive training materials and actual projects that are available through ShopBot for users of their tools.

Work on this project is beginning now and we’ll be publishing materials as they are available so that teachers can begin working with them as soon as possible. This is an ongoing, evolving, and living project! We’ll be working with educators for suggestions, peer review, and feedback. We’ll then improve and add to the content as time goes on. If you use a ShopBot in your school (or are considering it) you can contact us to help with our project! You can contact Harris Educational at info@harris-educational.com or through our website at http://www.harris-educational.com You can contact ShopBot tools at http://www.shopbottools.com (for questions about ShopBots or Purchasing a ShopBot please contact them, to be a part of the curriculum project please contact Harris Educational)

Stay tuned to our blog for further information and updates. We’ll make announcements as we publish and make new materials available.

If you are a STEM educator reading this blog, then please also consider “liking” us on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/HarrisEducational)… we are building a community of people who are interested in STEM including students, teachers, and every day people including some leading figures in the worlds of Science and Technology. We also have a LOT of free resources for educators available at our website at: http://www.harris-educational.com/resources/index.html

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Harris Educational’s New Computer

With the purchase of my new CNC Router added to the fact that my old workstation had developed a mother board problem and the fact that I want to create and edit more video for Harris Educational it was clear that it was time to build a new workstation. To that end I’ve created a new computer from scratch including the custom case and component selection. I’ll use this new computer to help design and produce new Reinventing Science Kits as well as new video and other creative projects. (I’m writing this blog with it right now!) Stay tuned for another blog related to this custom PC showing how I built it and the CNC and Design lessons I learned. In the mean while here is my new creation the “Ingenematic Visitron” by Bennett M. Harris of Harris Educational.

Front View of the Ingenematic Visitron our new custom PC

The Ingenematic Visitron designed and built by Harris Educational

Specifications:

  • Processor: Intel i7 2600K (unlocked) 3.4Ghz Quad Core (hyperthreading) Sandy Bridge LGA1155 with stock Intel cooler
  • Motherboard: Asus P8P67 Deluxe with EFI Bios, DIGI VRM Voltage Control, 4 USB 3.0, 8 USB 2.0, 4 6 GB/s SATA 4 3 GB/s SATA, Dual Ethernet, 4 memory slots, built in bluetooth, and on board diagnostic LED display.
  • Memory: 8 GB (2x4GB) Corsair Dominator Dual Channel DDR3 PC12800 1600Mhz (includes heat sinks)
  • Power Supply: 850 Watt Corsair HX850W Modular Power Supply
  • Video Card: Asus GeForce 560 Ti overclocked with 1GB 256-bit GDDR5 Memory dual DVI output and HDMI out (Nvidia Graphics with CUDA engine, with cooling block and dual fans)
  • Monitors: 2 Asus VE247H Black 23.6” 16:9 Widescreen LED Backlit Monitors (with Splendid)
  • Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB 7200 RPM 6GB/s 64MB cache SATA
  • Optical Drive: Asus 24X DVDRW Multi-format SATA
  • Card Reader/Front Ports: Ultra USB2.0 MD3 Multi Function Panel (with LCD and Fan Control) with Multi Card Reader, 2 USB 2.0 ports, 1 Firewire port, 2 powered eSATA ports, and headphone/microphone jacks. Also: Asus front panel USB 3.0 with 2 ports (part of the mother board package)
  • Sound: On-board Sound via Realtek Adapter, Speakers are recycled Boston Acoustics Digital 2.1 with sub-woofer.
  • Cooling: Air Cooled, 2 80mm blue-led lit top cooling fans (controlled via the Multi-Function panel), Power Supply Fan, and backup 80mm bottom fan. Ultra Hard Drive Aluminium Cooler.
  • Keyboard: Microsoft Natural Ergonomic (USB 2.0)
  • Mouse: Logitech Cordless Optical Trackman
  • Operating System: Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit dual boot along with Ubuntu Linux 10.10
  • Spare Bays: 1 full size drive bay, 1 mid size drive bay, 3 HD slots, and extra room for expansion.
  • Case: Custom Case built with my CNC machine, metal work by hand, and some recycled ATX case parts, Aquarium style with transparent front and rear panels. Front/Side facing drive bays and custom power controls and power/hd light. 1 inch bottom air gap and bottom air vents, top mounted fans with custom cutout grills, and built in carry handles. Dimensions: 24” wide x 9.75” thick x 21” tall.
  • Software: Mostly Open Source (Open Office, The Gimp, Inkscape, Audacity, Notepad ++, VLC, and many more) Closed Source includes SwishMax, Microsoft Visio, and Sony Vegas.

Closeup of the PC Installed on my desk

Closeup of the PC Installed on my desk

The Intel Chipset Problem

Literally two days after I ordered my motherboard online news came out that the first revision Intel chipset used for the new Sandybridge processors has a design flaw. Data corruption was likely over time on the 3GB/s SATA ports. I ordered my motherboard via Newegg and I was very pleased with their reaction to this problem. They gave the option of returning the motherboard with no questions asked for a full refund OR keeping the motherboard and then replacing it with a revised model once they were available via RMA. Initial assumptions were that new boards wouldn’t be available until April (maybe late April) however I got word late last week that mine was available. This weekend I’ll be installing the board that just came via UPS this afternoon! (all in all great customer service from Newegg, great reaction time, and good options to fix a problem that wasn’t really of their making)

Closeup view of the inside of the case

Closeup view of the inside of the case

About the Case

The Case is constructed from one piece of high density solid core extruded PVC Lumber (8 feet long by 3/4” thick by 9-1/2” wide) {available via most home centers}. Its a material that is meant for replacing wood trim lumber in exterior home applications. I’ve checked with the manufacturer and the plastic does not contain softening agents or plasticizers that include lead or lead compounds. The front and back panels are made from 24” x 18” x 0.080” clear plexiglass also machined with the CNC Router.

Down shot of the case showing the top air vents and carry handles
Down shot of the case showing the top air vents and carry handles

The PVC Lumber was cut to length (two side pieces, two cross beams, and one remaining piece used for the front drive bay bezel) on an ordinary sliding miter saw. Each piece was then machined via my CNC Router based on designs I created on my old workstation. The top and bottom cross beams fit as mortise and tenon joints that extend half way into each side piece. I did this instead of a rabbit joint to maintain some of the structural integrity of the plastic lumber and also for aesthetics so that from the front/back the joints look more like butt-joints.

Front 3/4 view of the Custom PC case

Front 3/4 view of the Custom PC case

The ATX Motherboard Tray and the Drive Cage for the Optical Drive were salvaged from an old ATX computer case. Harvesting them simply required drilling out the rivets that held them in place. The drive cage for the hard drive(s) was made from a piece of recycled galvanized sheet metal. I didn’t have a bending brake so instead I used two clamps, my bench-top, and a 2×4 to bend all hand-made metal components. These also included the strap that holds the power supply, a bracket that holds the drive bezel, and a trim piece on one corner of the exterior of the case. Holes in the sheet metal were done with a step bit in my drill press. The drill press was also used for a few other hand-drilling operations.

Rear View of the custom PC Case showing the ATX MB Tray

Rear View of the custom PC Case showing the ATX MB Tray

Left side view of the case showing the Power Supply

Left side view of the case showing the Power Supply

The CNC Router was capable of doing quite detailed work and so I created a slot to hold the power supply on the left top side of the case. The slot is machined down leaving less than 1/8” of material as a lip for mounting the supply. The back side of the supply is supported by a sheet metal strap. The power supply vents hot air out of the left side of the case. For additional cooling (and for case lighting) I included two additional 80mm LED lit fans in the top of the case. One is centered in the case and the other is set above the hard drive cage to assist with hard drive cooling. Each fan is mounted inside a pocket and has custom grills machined into the cross beams.

Closeup of the Top Fan Vent Detail

Closeup of the Top Fan Vent Detail

Fans Lit in Operation, sorry for the blurry photo

Fans Lit in Operation, sorry for the blurry photo

I knew my computer project needed a name, and that I had to use the CNC Machine’s capabilities to engrave that name. I also wanted it to have a retro style to it. I finally settled upon “Ingenematic Visitron” for “Ingenious Ideas made Automatic” and Vision/Video – tron (as vacuum tubes often in in “tron” names) since it will be used for a lot of video editing.

Closeup of the Name Plaque: Ingenematic Visitron

Closeup of the Name Plaque: Ingenematic Visitron

Closeup of the Drive Bay Bezel with name Plaque

Closeup of the Drive Bay Bezel with name Plaque

The Power and Reset Switch are simple momentary contact push buttons from Radio Shack (they were actually recycled from an old science project). They are mounted into recessed holes. The front bezel was machined on both sides in order to accomplish this. The Hard Drive and Power Lights are mounted behind a Fresnel style lens that was scavenged from a Sylvania Console radio from the late 1960’s (the radio and its case had too much water damage to be salvageable otherwise). I really like the effect of having multiple lights behind this one lens.

Closeup of the user controls

Closeup of the user controls

Overall I’m very pleased with my new PC and its design. Creating the case was a great way to learn the capabilities and quirks of my CNC machine and its related software. If you would like to see more photographs of the PC (including photographs of the CNC machine in operation) check out our fan page on Facebook and check out the photos section. Feel free to become a fan while you are at it, or leave comments or questions. Here are a few more shots of the PC in action.

A view of the custom PC In operation above my desk

A view of the custom PC In operation above my desk

The Whole Computer Desk with PC on Display (I built the desk too)

The Whole Computer Desk with PC on Display (I built the desk too)

A closeup of the front of the case showing the piping detail in plexiglass

A closeup of the front of the case showing the piping detail in plexiglass

Stay Tuned for more CNC Router Information in a future Blog.

Thanks for reading!

Unboxing the CNC Shark Pro Plus CNC Router

Today I’ll be discussing the unboxing of Harris Educational’s new Shark Pro Plus CNC Router manufactured by Next Wave Automation and sold by Rockler Woodworking and Hardware. I’ll also go over my initial impressions of the machine. Stay tuned for future articles including why I chose the Shark Pro Plus for Harris Educational’s manufacturing needs as well as assembly and use articles.

The CNC Router Arrives (checked in by Sundance the English Setter, our receiving clerk)

The CNC Router Arrives (checked in by Sundance the English Setter, our receiving clerk and quality assurance manager)

At Harris Educational we are a small business that manufactures science kits like Reinventing Edison: Build your own Light Bulb and Reinventing Morse: Build your own Telegraph. Up until now we’ve done all manufacturing processes totally by hand using traditional power tools and various jigs and fixtures. As we’ve expanded (and hopefully plan to expand more) its become clear that we need a CNC Router in order to produce more complex kit components, save on labor costs, improve prototyping for new kit design, and most importantly keep high quality standards. After a lengthy research process I settled on the CNC Shark Pro Plus by Next Wave Automation as sold through Rockler Woodworking and Hardware. (more on the decision making process in a future article)

CNC Shark Pro Plus is VERY well packed
The CNC Shark Pro Plus is VERY well packed

The CNC Router comes in three boxes, two of which are packed full of Styrofoam. The first box is the heaviest at 92 pounds and contains the table/Y-axis. The second box weighs in at 49 pounds and contains the Gantry (with X and Z Axis), the controller/power-supply, and a box with hardware, software, and instructions. The last box is the Bosch Colt 1.0 HP trim/panel router.

The Bosch Colt Panel Router
The Bosch Colt Panel Router

The CNC Shark Pro Plus comes with a tool holder that is designed to accommodate the 2-3/4” diameter body of the Bosch Colt trim/panel router. Its possible to make your own custom tool holder for any applicable tool of similar size and weight. The screws holding the machine together are either torx or phillips head and are secured with locking nuts to avoid loosening from vibration and continued use. I love the quality and flexibility in the design of this machine.

Closeup of the tool holder on the gantry

Closeup of the tool holder on the gantry

The Gantry is fully pre-assembled and simply bolts onto the Y-axis carriage with 12 bolts. Movement along each axis is accomplished by high speed stepper motors that drive precision modified stainless steel lead-screws through anti-backlash nuts. The gantry (like the base) of the Shark Pro Plus is made out of a sturdy black PVC plastic. In my opinion the black plastic looks a lot more professional and serious than the off-white color plastic in their older Shark and Shark Pro models. Parts for the unit were machined and shipped with the scratch protection film still in place which is a nice touch to help the machine get to the end user in good condition, another of the quality packing touches.

Front view of the Gantry Assembly

Front view of the Gantry Assembly

Rear view of the Gantry Assembly showing the manufacturer's logo machined into the cross beam.

Rear view of the Gantry Assembly showing the manufacturer's logo machined into the cross beam.

The work table/Y-axis also comes completely assembled in its own box. The work table measures 28-1/2” wide by 36” long. The router itself can be moved over a 25” x 25” work path centered on the table. With its open end design work pieces longer than 36” can be placed into the machine, and continuous machining is possible with careful indexing of the workpiece. The table is much improved over the original Shark and Shark Pro in that its made of a blue anodized extruded aluminum channel which allows for great flexibility in clamping down workpieces. Obviously you’ll need to add a sacrificial piece of MDF underneath any workpieces that you intend to cut or drill completely through. Another design improvement that I like is the fact that the over-width table covers the Y-axis stepper motor which helps prevent any kind of accidental damage to this expensive component.

 

The Work Table / Y-axis

The Work Table / Y-axis

Closeup of the Y-axis prior to mounting the Gantry

Closeup of the Y-axis prior to mounting the Gantry

Next up is the controller and power supply unit. In the Shark Pro Plus the design for the controller has been greatly improved by including the power supply and controller inside one enclosure that also includes a new E-stop (emergency stop) button for the machine. In their older design emergency stop could only be accomplished through the software interface. The control box measures 10-3/4” wide by 8-1/2” deep by 3” tall and is made of brushed aluminum.

 

Front View of the Controller Box showing LED's and E-stop

Front View of the Controller Box showing LED's and E-stop

The front of the controller contains three LED’s on the left (that I’m assuming indicate pulses being sent to the X/Y/Z steppers) and the Emergency Stop button on the right. The back of the case contains the power connector and connectors for X, Y, and Z stepper motors. An additional axis (hopefully for future use in a rotary fixture) is also available. The back also has an unidentified connector (possibly for use with the optional 3D scanning probe?) as well as the USB connector and a slot for a micro-SD memory card. The Shark Pro Plus’s controller also offers automatic on/off control for the router via a switched power connector on the back of the unit, another improvement over their earlier design that required manually turning the router on and off.

Rear View of the Controller Box showing connectors.

Rear View of the Controller Box showing connectors.

I wouldn’t be a true DIY’er if I didn’t open up the hood and look inside the box, and so with six screws removed I took a quick look inside. By building the switched mode power supply into the case of the unit the end user is spared an extra wiring step as well as additional clutter in their workspace. Cooling is accomplished through a thick aluminum slab heat sink located underneath the power supply and main circuit board. Extra cooling for the motor driver transistors is accomplished with a secondary heat sink, another aluminum slab bolted to the top of the circuit board and vented to outside air via the only cooling slots in the case. Dust is the enemy of moving parts, especially cooling fans. Common sense says that eliminating the fan is therefore a good design choice. Actual use will tell if the cooling is adequate. To avoid dust issues I’d still recommend that heavy users of the machine consider isolating the controller box and PC from the shop area and/or frequently blowing/vacuuming out these components. Another design improvement over other similar CNC machines is the use of 9-pin D style connectors for the stepper motor wiring. This makes wiring quick and fool proof, and while wiring four or more color coded wires to a terminal block for each axis might not present much difficulty to many DIY’ers its still a nice addition considering the cost of the machine.

 

Inside the Controller Box

Inside the Controller Box

In addition to the larger main components of the CNC Shark Pro Plus is a box that contains all the other odds and ends needed to bring the machine to life. Included in the box are 12 torx-head bolts with lock-nuts used to connect the gantry to the work deck, two Rockler hold-down clamps with T-slot bolts, the power cord, USB cable, a V-carve router bit, software discs including V-Carve Pro, Cut 3D, and a 3D Graphics Library, and the Instruction Manual. The instruction manual is one area that I can find some fault with, weighing in at 12 pages its a bit thin on information… there are wonderful online forums for the machine, and additional materials online but for the cost of the machine it would be nice to have a little more printed matter included in the box and more illustrations of the hardware, for example a diagram of the controller box with info on the extra jack and axis control connector.

 

Contents of the parts box including the Software

Contents of the parts box including the Software

So far I’m pleased with my decision to purchase a Shark CNC Pro Plus over other alternatives on the market. The machine shows thoughtful design and a definite evolution from earlier products made by Next Wave Automation. The machine was well packaged and assembly and setup is straight forward and easy. I especially applaud the new design of the controller and the inclusion of Vectrix CAM and 3D design software (a major factor in my choice to purchase the Shark). The one area that might need some improvement, especially for the casual home user, would be a more inclusive user manual. Stay tuned for future articles about setup and use, the CAM software, and more about CNC in general.

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Also don’t forget to check out our website at:

http://www.harris-educational.com