Hardware Hackers – Resources To Make Your Projects Aesthetically Pleasing

by Joseph Flaherty on April 15, 2009

original-apple-original-imac

Hardware hacking is an exciting field, but somewhat lacking aesthetically. Arduino, Bug Labs, LegoNXT, and similar platforms have made it possible for the open source ethos to permeate the physical world. Unfortunately there is big gap between the looks of an Apple product and the bare circut boards most hardware projects are comprised of. Luckily, there are a number of services that can help beautify your designs and help them better resemble iMac’s than the original Apple. As Apple has shown, an attractive housing can help your product standout in a crowded world.

Also, there are a number of custom manufacturing tools that are affordable enough to be purchased by the serious enthusiast.

ponoko_logo_long

Ponoko is a New Zealand startup that can help you design/manufacture products using laser cutters.

When to use Ponoko: Ponoko’s manufacturing process is idealy suited for the creation of flat or paneled objects. If you want to create a paneled enclosure or a piece of furniture, Ponoko is the clear choice. Ponoko will also help you resell your designs in their galleries and handle payment and fulfillment details. You can also open source your design for others to experiment with.

Your products will look similar to this:

ponoko-parts

Time & Money: You pay for materials, laser time, and shipping. The cost of your object depends primarily on size and complexity. Ponoko offers a pro program which can reduce time and material costs for an upfront fee. A piece of jewelry starts at around $10 and larger/more complex products can cost hundreds of dollars. Products can be had within days depending on your shipping preferences.

Experience Required: Ponoko is the easiest service to get started with, and you can preview your designs appearence and fit by hand cutting pieces of cardboard before ordering. You don’t need to know how to use a 3D CAD program to get started, 2D vector editors like Adobe Illustrator, Aviary Raven, or Inkscape can output the necessary .eps files.

Pros: Vibrant user community, wide range of materials

Cons: Limited to 2D parts, burnt edges on many materials

white_spacer2

shapeways_logo_long

Shapeways is Netherlands based company specializing in 3D printing and community created designs

When to use Shapeways: If you need an organic shape, a 3D enclosure, or something more along the lines of a standard injection molded part, but only need one or two. Shapeways is a great option for early stage prototyping. Shapeways is ideal if you want to offer your product to the market, they have “user shops”, handle CC processing and fulfillment.

Your products will look similar to this:

shapeways-hand

Time & Money: Materials costs range from $1.86-2.90/CM³. Products are available in days depending on your shipping preferences.

Experience Required: You need to know how to use a 3D CAD program like SolidWorks, ProE, Blender, etc. to produce something at Shapeways. You should also be handy with sandpaper and paint since parts that come out of 3D printers are fairly rough.

Pros: Affordable 3D printing, you can sell your designs in their shop,

Cons: Limited selection of machines,  Monochrome parts

white_spacer2

redeye_logo_long

Redeye is a service offered by Stratasys the comapny that makes most of the 3D printers in the market.

When to use Redeye: If you need an organic shape, a 3D enclosure, or something more along the lines of a standard injection molded part, but only need prototype or a small production run. Redeye is a great choice for early stage prototyping and can also do “Direct Digital Manufacturing” a process where you use 3D printers to manufacture finished goods. Redeye also offers other manufacturing services like on-demand jigs and fixtures.

Your products will look similar to this:

redeye-parts

Time & Money: Depending on part size and complexity expect to spend hundreds on rapid prototypes and thousands for Direct Digital Manufacturing. A number of variable can impact your final price, but luckliy Redeye has an instant quoting service on their website. Standard delivery is withing 5-10 business days, but parts can be had next day for a price.

Experience Required: You need to know how to use a 3D CAD program like SolidWorks, ProE, Blender, etc. to produce something at Redeye. You should also be handy with sandpaper and paint since parts that come out of 3D printers are fairly rough, but Redeye does offer a smoothing option to help approximate the look of injection molded parts.

Pros: Affordable 3D printing, Direct Digital Manufacturing, Parts can smoothed before delivery

Cons: Limited selection of machines, No user design galleries

white_spacer2

quickparts_logo_long

Quickparts provides an end to end service allowing you to test an idea with a 3D printout and ultimately have it transformed to a production injection mold.

When to use Quickparts: If you plan on producing your product in significant quantities, need secondary processing like painting, if your project requires a particular 3D printing process, or if you want some guidance on your project from a live operator.

Your products will look similar to this:

quickparts-parts

Time & Money: Quickparts pricing is very competitve for 3D printing and prototyping, but if you plan on making production molds for something like a cell phone or consumer electronics project, expect to spend tens of thousands of dollars. This isn’t unique to Quickparts, manufacturing is just expensive. Prototypes are available in days, but volume production parts take weeks.

Experience Required: You need to know how to use a 3D CAD program to produce something at Quickparts. You should also be comfortable with the mechanical design of your parts.

Pros: Wide range of services/materials, End-to-end production support, Instant quoting

Cons: No user design galleries

white_spacer2

protomolds_logo_long

Protomold is a low cost, quick turnaround service that specializes in injection molded parts

When to use Protomold: If you plan on producing your product in significant quantities, have already prototyped your design and have some knowledge of mechanical engineering.

Your products will look similar to this:

protomold

Time & Money: Protomold is a high quality option and pricing is very competitive for injection molding, but if you plan on making production molds expect to spend tens of thousands of dollars. This isn’t something unique to Protomold, manufacturing is just expensive. For a breakdown of how design complexity impacts price, read this page. Molds can take weeks to prepare depending on complexity.

Experience Required: You need to know how to use a 3D CAD program to produce something at Protomold. You should also be comfortable with the mechanical design of your parts and have an understanding of designing for injection molding.

Pros: Simple quoting, High quality parts, Fast

Cons: Requires specialized knowledge

white_spacer2

emachine_logo_long

eMachineShop aggregates all the services traditionally found at machine shops.

When to use eMachineShop: If you need more exotic processes like steel-rule-die blanking, photochemical milling, or rotational molding. They also do standard machining as well, but their breadth of services is the real value.

Time & Money: Costs and leadtimes are going to vary significantly based on the process you select, but you can get instant quotes using their software. Expect prices to start in the hundreds of dollars for most projects and reach into the thousands for more intensive processes.

Experience Required: A thorough understanding of manufacturing processes is required to get the best value using eMachineShop.

Pros: Wide range of services/materials, Instant quoting

Cons: PC only, Steep learning curve

white_spacer2

There are a number of factors to consider when manufacturing your product, but these services can help reduce the stress and confusion of bringing your project from the drawing board to the physical world.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
  • http://WWW.MYFAV.RO nicu

    Another site with custom make and sell custom products: http://www.myfav.ro
    And photoengraving.

  • http://www.theaffordablehome.com/ vessel sinks

    Shapeways is nice in making new creature type design like zoo zoo.

  • http://www.setpointusa.com/automation-solutions.html Explosives Automation

    WOW that is totally awesome, those machines are really great. Technology is really surprising

  • http://modestadventurer.com Traveller_Adventure

    This is quite impressive, I am pleased to read this post, keep posts like this coming, you totally rock!
    Cheers,
    Curly Wedding Hair Styles

  • Cartridge

    Great post, thanks for sharing and thanks Nicu I had a look at that link that you posted also great. Thanks for sharing

  • http://www.getcellphonenumber.com cell phone lookup

    Woah. I needed a post like this. Those shapeways figurines are cute.

  • max191

    I am about to start a blog and your blog gave me much hint how to do it. I really loved to visit your blog. Hope to see more inputs from you in your blog.
    regards
    charcoal grill

  • http://blog.ponoko.com/2009/04/19/replicators-6-types-of-mass-customization/ Replicator’s 6 Types of Mass Customization « Ponoko – Blog

    [...] another post entitled Hardware Hackers – Resources To Make Your Projects Aesthetically Pleasing, Replicator list off a range of online services for makers to produce their own designs. Here [...]

Previous post:

Next post: