Shopbot

Posts about the Shopbot

BecauseWeDynamo, a set of Fabrication Nodes for Project Dynamo and Revit

We here at Because We Can love leveraging technology and creating our own unique way of working to make great things. While we’ve developed a decent amount of in-house software to help our work over the years, I’m very excited and proud to begin sharing some of that work with you, with the initial release of “BecauseWeDynamo”.

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It’s a set of custom-made Nodes for Project Dynamo focused on fabrication. You can find it in the Package Manager in Dynamo under BecauseWeDynamo and the open-source code is hosted here on GitHub.

A wonderful example of what this is all about is shown with the complex triangle walls of our recently completed Shipping Container Lounge project. The organic, flowing interior walls are made up of hundreds of unique triangles joined together to make a fluid, undulating, expressive (yet affordable!) surface.

Making something like this without some automation is almost impossible; the complexity can be hard to manage both in the design and in the building. So we used what’s called in our industry “Generative Design” where the combination of parametric 3D models and intelligent functional programming are used together to have the computer generate the design for you. You set up the rules and the smarts, and let the computer figure out the rest.

Autodesk Revit is wonderful at producing parametric models. We used it to made a special triangle object or ‘Family’ as they are called in Revit that you can flex using math into whatever size and configuration you need. You set the location of it’s three corner points, and the Family produces a flat triangle with radius tips, an offset ‘gap’ between it and the triangle next to it, and even proper placement for the joining hardware and more. This let us ‘hang’ these Adaptive Families off of 3D splined curves, making it easy to control the complex surface of the wall. Rather than model every triangle, we simply can push and pull control points on the splines, and have all the triangles model themselves.

However, just having a nice model of something is only the first 1/3rd of actually getting it built. Managing the production and assembly of hundreds of unique parts can be very daunting! This is where automation via functional programming is a huge help. We needed some way to export every triangle in a format that works with our CNC Router, and we need to label every triangle for ease of assembly. Doing it manually would take forever and is error-prone. Much better to produce a ‘script’ and let the computer automate that task for us!

Project Dynamo is a ‘functional visual scripting language’ for creating, manipulating, and automating all sorts of design data by non-programmers. Rather than write code from scratch, or call on existing libraries, and produce a stand-alone application like a software developer might, tools like Dynamo let us easily create one-off workflow solutions to automate small repetitive tasks and model impressively complex objects. It works fanatically well with Autodesk Revit, and thus was an obvious choice. Plus we really dig it, and dig the people working on it, so it was a joy to use.

Rather than write code, where the ‘flow’ of the program is abstract and non-visual, tools like Dynamo let you ‘draw’ your program. Perfect for visual designers like us! By connecting various Nodes together, you ‘wire’ together a solution for your project-specific problems, iteratively working your way through it as the code runs live and you see the immediate results.

Now, Dynamo is rather new, and it didn’t have all the Nodes we needed for this project. So we decided to create our own custom Nodes to scratch our own itches, and shared them openly for other designer-fabricators to make use of. For as we have for years now we release most of what we do under a creative-commons license.

So one thing our custom Nodes help do is parse the Revit model, label every triangle, lay them all out flat, and then export them to our CNC router for production. Every triangle is not only labeled, each edge of the triangle is labeled so you can easily figure out what edges go together. It made short work of this problem, and helped us make this wonderful and complex design efficiently and effectively.

Within BecauseWeDynamo you’ll find Nodes for part labeling, DXF exporting (with proper true curves!), mesh topology walking, edge labeling, and even our own custom old-school line-based pen-plotter style font suitable for CNC production. We’ve also got some auto-sectioning tools ala 123D Make, and are currently working on Nodes to help automate shop drawing production and development of complex surfaces. You’ll find on the GitHub site some great working examples, and we’ll be developing more samples, how-tos, and actual physical case study objects as well.

Our ongoing goal with this project is to make the fabrication of elements in Project Dynamo and Revit easier and more efficient; thus empowering all designers to be able to make great things like we do.

Shopbot Acquired. Bonus x1000. Again.

So just a hint over eight years ago, we ordered a Shopbot. Bragging about it is actually the very first post on this blog. We got it running, named it Frank, and started making stuff.

First we made stuff for ourselves, then our friends and family, then friends of friends, and next thing you know a year after Frank arrived in our lives we quit our day jobs and jumped in with both feet. The last seven years have been very busy indeed! Since then we've delivered on many wonderful projects for some really great people and companies.

So I'm very proud to say that we just ordered another Shopbot. Slightly larger than Frank, but twice as fast, twice as strong, and much stiffer and more accurate. Technically, it's a PRS Alpha 96x60x12 with a 4 HP spindle. Shopbot has been one of the best vendors we've ever worked with, and we've very excited to get one of their new awesome machines!

Frank is far from being sent to pasture, however! He's busily cutting a job as I post this, and after eight years is still a wonderful, capable, dependable machine. We're going to run them side-by-side, in parallel. In time, we'll probably convert Frank into something that's even better for big 3D carving, maybe even convert him into a 4 or 5-axis machine maybe.

Now the only problem we have is what to name the new robot. If you've got a great idea for a name please let us know!

Shopbot's new Handibot!

Shopbot, makers of our beloved and tirelessly working robot Frank, have launched a Kickstarter to fund the development of their awesome new little CNC machine, the Handibot!

If you were at Maker Faire this year, you got to see this impressive little portable CNC router. Perfect for jobsite work! I'm expecting a big future for this little guy.

Great thing is that if you know how to use a Shopbot at all, you already know all you need to use this new robot. And if you don't, Shopbot is looking to team up with various app developers. I can see lots of small apps for this; apps to route door latchset pockets without having to take the door off its hinges, cutting perfect circles for bathroom fixture install (like they show in this video), and a whole lot more!

So you should help back their Kickstarter and put these empowering CNC tools into more people's hands!

Come see us at Autodesk University 2011. Because we're keynote speakers!

We're very proud to announce that our own Jeffrey McGrew will be giving one of the keynote presentations at this year's Autodesk University.

With over 9,000 people attending, this is very exciting news indeed! We'll be briefly sharing the story of Because We Can and some of the work we've done. Buy a robot and change the world!

We're also giving a more formal hour long presentation on 'The Five Myths of Digital Fabrication'. We'll cover the five most common mistakes (and how to avoid them) that we see people make when they first get into making things via Digital Fabrication.

We'll also be doing a bonus talk, more informal, in The Lounge about how we made the tails for the Serpent Twins (that we made a recent Instrucable for).

We hope to see you in Vegas!

We got interviewed on Adafruit's Ask An Engineer!

Last week while in NYC we dropped in on Adafruit Industries. Run by the brilliant Limor and Phillip, they design and make and sell kits and parts for all your electronic project needs. We're big fans! We're excited they had us sit for a short interview for their great "Ask An Engineer" weekly internet show:

Ask an Engineer 3/19/2011 from adafruit industries on Vimeo.

Thanks Adafruit Industries! Totally inspiring to see you guys. They were nice enough to also give us a copy of the latest Wired that Limor is on the cover of (go Limor!) and a Ardino starter kit that we can't wait to begin playing with.

If you want to jump ahead and just watch the interview with us (and not the whole show above) then watch the video below instead. But the whole show is way better, we're so totally buying some of those new color-changing flexible LED strips for our private office library project...

because we can from adafruit industries on Vimeo.

Thanks again you two!

October 14 2010 EatFoodTalkShop - Frank the Robot's Fifth Birthday Party!

Please join us for a happy evening birthday celebration: Frank, our trusty CNC machine, is turning five!

It's time for our regular 2nd-Thursday-of-the-month open house / project salon / OMGBBQWTF called EatFoodTalkShop! We're celebrating the fifth birthday of the beloved robot that changed our lives, launched our business, and has made many wonderful things for us all. I don't know what five is in robot years, but he's well deserving of praise for reaching an important milestone. So we're getting him a cake, and letting him blow out the candles (but NOT cut it).

Please come! When was the last time you went to a birthday party for a robot?

Please drop by and help us eat food, drink libations, and share project stories. We'll be showing off some big new exciting projects we're up to. Frank will strut his stuff as well with a few demos.

Kids welcome, but it is a shop and a party. Lots of sharp corners. And they might learn some interesting new words.

Thursday, October 14th 2010

6:30PM - 9:30PM

Please note that we've moved!

2500 Kirkham St

Oakland, CA 94607

(510) 922-8846

Click here for the Google Map.

Hope to see you there!

Lost? Lonely? BWC help line: 510-922-8846

ComBots - Oct. 23-24th - discount tickets for our blog readers!

So we're pretty crazy about robots. But not as crazy as our good friends Dave & Simone! They organize all sorts of amazing robot events, and we're very excited to announce a special deal they are doing for our blog readers: a 20% discount on advanced tickets for their next event! Robot combat is way fun, it's too bad our robot is a Maker, not a fighter.

Here's the lowdown from Dave:

ComBots invites all BecauseWeCan readers to discounted tickets to "ComBots Cup V", the fifth annual heavyweight robot combat championship. This event highlights the best combat robot teams in America and their 220 pound flame-throwing, blade-spinning, titanium shearing robots of destruction! This year's event is Saturday/Sunday, October 23-24th from 2-7pm at the San Mateo Event Center.

Whether you're a sports fan or techno geek, ComBots puts on the best robot events in the world! If you missed seeing fighting robots at Maker Faire this year, or are longing for RoboGames, here's your chance to see them again. Full details at http://combots.net

ComBots is pleased to offer BecauseWeCan readers a 20% discount on ticket prices (adults normally $20, kids $15). Coupon is only valid for advanced purchases until Oct 20th. Buy tickets at http://combots.net/buy-cc.php and use the coupon code below for your discount when you check-out!

super-sekret robot code: BecauseWeCan

Jeffrey McGrew wrote a chapter for Mastering Autodesk Revit Architecture 2011, which is now out!

The wonderful Mastering Autodesk Revit Architecture series is one of the standard books on Revit. Highly recommended. Put together by this crew of knowledgeable folks, it's currently available from amazon and soon as a downloadable version.

In additional to all the BIM basics, there are extra chapters on all sorts of great work being done via Revit. The one on Revit in the movie industry for set design is stunning! We got to help out on this one too, in that we wrote the extra chapter on BIM-to-CNC fabrication.

So go and grab your copy today!

Frank gets some new mods

Quick update on how Frank is doing! While we got him back online right quick after the move, the move did give us a chance to address several small gremlins and design flaws in his old base design. Nothing too dramatic, but he's more square and solid than ever now. After that came getting the vacuum system back online:

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Again, slight changes. We went from a setup of progressively smaller zones, with the smallest being about the size of a sheet of paper near the X/Y zero. We found we never used the smaller zones by themselves, and that our system doesn't have the pressure to hold things that small anyways. So this time we went with eight big square zones, and it's working wonderfully. Also Frank's gotten some new stickers. Someday we should give him a flame job! Next up are a new system of adjustable stops:

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These adjustable stops allow you to setup Frank so that you can simply push a sheet of plywood onto him from the in-feed table, and it's stopped in the same place every time as well as held in place. These in combo with the vacuum system make production cutting a snap, such that we made twenty-four desks in two days.

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But by far the best recent upgrade is our new spindle! A spindle is a special cutting head used by CNC machines. It's a motor (a huge servo motor, kinda-sorta) that can turn at very precise speeds (even very slow speeds) with lots of torque. It's also got a neat trick: it hooks to Frank's brain, allowing Frank to control it's speed and power. This will not only make for cleaner and faster cuts, it will also let us cut aluminum and other metals much more easily than before. But it's greatest feature is that it's much, much quieter than our old router, making the shop a much better work environment!

We'll be showing off the improved Frank next month at our forthcoming June open house. Still planning the exact date, but keep mid-June open!

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