My Experiences in BUS 358: Innovation, Design, and Prototyping

Archive for the ‘Programs & Software’ Category


Ardiuno is referred to in the “Getting Started with Arduino” booklet as, “the open source electronics prototyping platform that is taking the design and hobbyist world by storm.”

While I found “Getting Started with Arduino” and our class sessions on Arduino to be intimidating, I did learn a few things about Arduinos. I learned that Arduinos have many uses (including fun things like making LED lights blink) and that while they are complicated, they are useful.

The first thing I saw an Arduino do “in action” was Dr. Grout’s hand-sanitizing gate invention, which utilizes an Arduino to operate a simple switch that raises when hand sanitizer is dispensed and lower a few seconds afterwards (once a person has had time to walk through the “gate”).

In class, we used Arduino “Board Model UNO”, and used the common Arduino programming software available online for free. Through the Arduino session in class, I learned that you can program an arduino board and its attachments (i.e. – LED lights) to do the same program again and again whenever you plug it into a power source (like the USB port on a computer). You can also use one Arduino to connect multiple “breadboards” and make large connection systems to do really neat things.

Vinyl Cutter

The Vinyl Cutter is awesome. It is similar to the laser cutter in that it cuts things out that you design in InkScape, but it is sort of cooler since you can adhere what you cut out to pretty much anything (a sticker).

The Vinyl Cutter operates off of “Sure Cuts a Lot Pro”, however you still use the InkScape program that you use with the Laser Cutter in order to design your vinyl cut-out.

The Vinyl Cutter can hold two rolls of colored vinyl, but can only “cut” one color at a time. All you need to do to use the vinyl cutter is load your InkScape design into Sure Cuts a Lot and hit “cut” once you are sure you have the color vinyl that you want to cut into loaded into the vinyl cutter.

Once you have your design/image printed, you can choose what is “negative” and what is “positive” space. So, if you printed something along the lines of a circle with letters cut into it like a quote, you could choose whether you wanted to the circle and filling (say it’s red) to be the positive space and have the letters cut out, or you can choose to have just the letters remain as the positive space. So, you have the option to have a red circle with the shapes of the letters missing, or you can have the letters cut out with the outline of a circle. It’s really pretty neat, but sort of hard to explain in writing.

Laser Cutter

The third program that we discussed and experimented with in class was the Laser Cutter. This is a pretty sweet machine that can etch, cut, and shape wood, plexiglass, plastic, and pretty much anything else (except for metal and glass). As a matter of fact, when we were learning about it, we learned that one of our lab assistants, Harrison, etched an image of Daft Punk onto a PIZZA CRUST. And it worked.

The laser cutter is slightly “hidden away” in the lab, but it is off on its own for a few reasons, namely because it isn’t just a laser cutter. It is connected to a filtration system that collects and “cleans” the smoke that the machine emits through a water reservoir system. Since the laser cutter is a relatively small but totally enclosed machine that emits a laser (therefore producing smoke) it is essential that it be plugged into a machine to deal with the smoke since the lab is a small place and the smoke not only smells gross, but is also dangerous if inhaled. When learning about the machine we were even told to know where the fire extinguisher was at all times (which almost came into play for me and one of my projects – more on that later).

There are 2 different types of images that you can create for use on the Laser Cutter:
1. Rastor Images
a. Created in a grid (bit-map, JPEG)
b. The majority of images are Rastor
2. Vector Images
a. The cut begins at a set point and goes a certain distance again and again (follows a path, not a point)

There are 2 programs that we explored for use in our laser cutting experiences:
1. InkScape
a. Has Rastor and Vector options, so we use it to design and then save as a .SVG file
2. RetinaEngrave
a. A full-spectrum laster that engraves rastor images and cuts vector images

Although laser cutter designs and templates exist on Thingiverse, it was made clear in class that using pre-existing designs on Thingiverse is complicated because of file format, sizing issues, and other complications.

CAD Programs

The second program (or rather, programs) that we discussed in BUS 358 were CAD Programs. CAD stands for Computer-Aided Design and refers to the multitude of purchasable and free programs available online for drawing, designing, sketching, etc., 3D designs and printable objects/things.

We discussed many CAD Programs in class, including:
— Blender
— 123D Design
— HeeksCAD
— Google SketchUp (my personal favorite)
— Autodesk MYA

While all CAD Programs have the same basic idea – create things that you can print on a 3D printer – they all operate slightly (or largely) differently, which makes it interesting when you are trying to figure out which one is best suited to your needs, experience, and knowledge.

I downloaded all of the programs mentioned above and attempted to design the same thing on all of them – a coaster for a table – and realized pretty quickly that Google SketchUp was my favorite, as I found it to be the most intuitive and logical to me. I know that several of my classmates prefer 123D Design and Blender, but I just could not make myself like anything more than I liked SketchUp, and it became my poison of choice at some point shortly after my first independently-drawn project.

The important things to note with CAD Programs and the printers in the BUS 358 Lab (we’ll talk about the different printers in another post soon), is that you have to ensure that whatever you download from Thingiverse or design in a CAD Program is saved in .STL format in order to be compatible with the printing platforms we have access to.

Meet Thingiverse

Thingiverse ( is not actually a program, but is instead described on its own website as “a thriving design community for discovering, making, and sharing 3D printable things.” So, an online universe of things…hence the clever naming. It is “the world’s largest 3D printing community,” and they “believe that everyone should be encouraged to create and remix 3D things, no matter their technical expertise or previous experience.” Thingiverse is also open to all and FREE to use – just create an account and get moving, or rather, get making J

Thinigverse enables you to “make” (print something that already exists, remix an already existing design, or personalize a pre-existing template), “share” (upload a custom design for others to print/remix/personalize), and “discover” (see what’s out there in the realm of 3D design and printing).

Thingiverse is a great site to visit to “dip your toes” into the world of 3D printing with little to no previous knowledge/experience and little commitment. If you have a 3D printer, all you have to do is upload whatever file you download from Thinigverse onto the printer platform, select your filament color and load it into the printer, and hit “print”, “make”, or whatever the command for you 3D printer is.

The universality and easy-to-use features of Thingiverse made it a logical first-choice for us to use in BUS 358. Our first project was to print something, anything, off of Thingiverse.

The Printers

In the BUS 358 lab, there are three different 3D Printers, and each one utilizes different printing software to do its job. You can use any of the CAD Programs available to print on the printers as long as your file is in .STL format, but we’ll discuss the CAD Programs in a later post once I know a little bit more about them.

  1. PrinterBot Junior
    1. Uses “Repetier-Host” printing software.
      1. “Connect” to connect to printer. “Load” to load your object. Once it is there, you can “run job” or “slice.” If you “slice” (and you always should), you hit “run job” after “slice.”
      2. This printer runs on G-Code (x & y coordinates) so use the coordinates.
      3. To change filament, go to “manual control” and then to “extrude.”
      4. The “manual control” tab shows as it prints – bottoms-up.
  1. Replicator 2X
    1. Uses “MakerWare” printing software
      1. “Add” to drop object for printing, hit “put on platform” (a yellow line on the bottom means there is contact – you need contact, as you can’t print in mid-air) and then hit “make” to begin printing.
  1. Afinia
    1. Uses “3D Afinia” printing software
      1. “Open” to select file, and it will show up. “Print” and it prints. “Scale” to make it bigger/smaller. “Place” to put object on platform. (Make sure it fits in the frame – if you need it bigger, you need to print in parts and then glue it).
      2.  This printer is very accurate – so if you need facets or whatnot, use it.

There are three ways you can “design” a file:
1. Download It (Thingiverse)
2. Scan It (Kinect, 3D Catch)
3. Draw It (CAD Programs)

The lab hours are:
Monday – Thursday, 8p-12a (objects started at midnight print overnight)
* Sign-up for print times on the large schedule on the whiteboard.
* Be respectful.

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