It’s exciting to be able to offer classes again, even though with a reduced size and constraints due to Covid. Introduction to 3D Printing will be offered on January 23rd at 1 pm and our popular Introduction to Laser Cutting/Engraving on February 20th. We’re hoping there’s also interest in some micro:bit classes, refer to our classes page for more information.
We’ve continued to experiment, a lot, with the micro:bit since giving them away to youth in the fall of 2019. The micro:bit capability is still impressive for a device that size. In the window of our Franklin Street location you can see several micro:bit projects, including some that have been written about before.
One of the more mysterious window projects uses the micro:bit’s internal bluetooth radio. There’s been a micro:bit for some time that sends scrolling text and can control a string of lights and a rather loud alarm bell if the right text is sent wirelessly from another micro:bit to the window unit.
Hint: the words to send are obvious, it’s easy to program in MakeCode, and use Radio Set Group 1. It even works from outside! I’ll link later to some more detailed additional help.
This year we decided to pitch in and help Main Street Greencastle’s Santa in the Park project by making holiday ornaments to give away in Santa’s gift bags. We’ve held classes in making holiday ornaments before, so it seemed like a natural fit with one big difference. Instead of making 5-10 ornaments designed by class attendees, we needed to make 500 ornaments for the gift bags in 2 weeks or less!
3D printing the ornaments, which we’ve done in our classes, was out due to the time constraint. Recently I helped a local entrepreneur make his parts for a new product idea on our laser, creating a little over 150 pieces in 15 minutes. They needed to be extremely precise and were slightly smaller than ornaments, but that had me thinking this was the way to go. What we needed was a simple to engrave & cut design that could be done in a reasonable length of time.
A local high school student, Hyrum Hale, came up with design that with a few modifications we could use. Our first prototype in green acrylic looked nice but wasn’t really visible on a tree, plus enough acrylic was hard to find due to Covid. Getting it to engrave/cut quickly required additional work; size of the ornament, material choice & availability, laser settings, and laser bed calibration/set up all were factors that determined time per ornament, quality, and repeatability. Making 500 items of anything means you learn a lot!
Although the cutting/engraving time was still substantial, we made the deadline and are really excited for our first time doing this. There’s a few extras at the Makerspace if you’d like one. We’re also already thinking about a new design for next year…
One of our more prolific makers, Ian Girvan, recently created a 3D printer using mostly scrap parts found at home and at Castlemakers. It’s impressive, using old computer CD-ROM and DVD drives for their stepper motors and mechanisms along with a second hand computer power supply.
What a great way to learn about 3D printers, brings to mind how the first consumer level 3D printers were created in the early days of the RepRap movement. I’ve been watching in awe the last few months as he figured out how to make the old parts work, only buying a very few new items like the hot end. He’s detailed some of his work for us on this webpage, it’s definitely worth a look!
Thanks to a generous gift from the Walmart Foundation and our local Walmart Distribution Center, we’ve been able to build on our previous electronics experience and add to our capabilities. In September we received a grant to expand our electronics and single board computer/IOT equipment (like the micro:bit) at Castlemakers.
In the back of the makerspace we’ve added a new electronics workbench area plus will soon be adding more soldering equipment to teach people about electronic components, circuits, and their repair. For several years now we’ve taught a learning to solder course for youth and adults, plus often had youth programs where they can experiment with electronic devices. Not all of the equipment is in yet, but we can already now work with small circuit components and perform troubleshooting.
Part of our mission is encouraging new skills in the community through projects and hands-on classes. Are you or a group interested in learning more about electronics? Contact us, perhaps we can work something out for you or your group here at Castlemakers!
We’ve still had projects at Castlemakers this summer, even with the Covid shutdown hampering our hands-on education efforts. One that I’m excited/impressed with is a high school student built project that includes programming, electronics, 3D printing and using a laser cutter – all made with items at the Makerspace!
Ever since we gave every 6th grader in Putnam County a micro:bit last year, we’ve wanted to do more micro:bit projects to help youth and adults see the power of microprocessors and IoT devices. And to get a chance to expose and use some of the some different fabrication tools often found in a makerspace. This summer Hunter Miller made a really interesting project, an edge lit sign controlled by a micro:bit. It looks a bit like an emergency exit sign with a disco like effect and instead our logo on it.
The design and case was modified from something created at the Cambridge UK makerspace, who was looking to create something to experience the different makerspace tools. We used our 50W CO2 laser to cut and etch an insert for a 3D printed case that with led lighting on the edge makes our logo stand out. Hunter, who was looking for something else to do this summer, then cut a section of a 2m LED strip and after some soldering connected the wires directly to a micro:bit. Then he wrote a micro:bit program using MakeCode that makes the LED strip change color and intensity.
It’s on display right now in our front window on Franklin St. Stop by and take a look or come in and we’ll show you how it works – the different lighting modes may have you dancing!
With the Covid-19 virus slowing down our activities, we’ve used the time to make some additions and upgrades at Castlemakers. Plus catch up with some of the work it takes to keep an all volunteer, non-profit makerspace running.
One of the more exciting additions has been a larger Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine, a Shapeoko XXL. CNC’s have been used in manufacturing for years to make things in factories. More recently, like 3D Printing, the design, control, and cost of CNC machines has gotten to the point where desktop units are feasible. Although our latest addition is awfully big for a desktop with a 3.5×4’ (1×1.2 m) footprint!
Prepping the room downstairs has taken some time, including improving electrical, airflow/dust control, and creating a big sturdy table to hold the unit when cutting/machining things. After cutting our first piece on it, the potential is very exciting. Most folks will use it for wood and plastic materials, but the rigidity, precision, and end mill rotating speeds makes metal possible. There’s already at least one member who’s planning to make guitar bodies our new one. And of course we’ll be offering community classes once we can start those again.
We’re given a lot of different things at Castlemakers, from old scrap electronics to tools, often so they don’t go to waste or for kids to tear down and learn… and maybe a few adults. Sometimes we can even retrofit the parts into something more current.
In March, Sam Williams of Cloverdale, who had brought his son to our CoderDojo, dropped off a box of parts that included a no-name, imported desktop CNC that hadn’t been run in several years. Where he works, a Terre Haute CNC shop, several folks had bought a few to learn CNCing. He no longer used his so gave it to us for parts or to use. It was an older model that used a parallel printer port and special control box on a Windows XP machine he also gave us.
One of our members, Ian, decided to get it running. By using an Arduino and a $15 controller shield, he’s been able to get it machining using a laptop and free open source software via a USB port – a big improvement! He even designed and 3D printed a case which has a print-in-place button to press the onboard reset button.
You can see it if you look at the table through our front window; adding limit switches is the next addition. After that we’ll put it in the front window on Franklin St. for a while before using it in classes, it’s a pretty good machine to learn about CNC’s.
Thanks to a gift from SeeMeCNC in Ligonier Indiana, we’ve been able to donate an extra 150 face shields to Putnam County Hospital in case they’re needed for a Covid-19 case surge.
Last month we started making face shields for those that needed them, but 3D printing can be a slow process. You can do some things to speed up/optimize print time, but if you need a lot of something it’s often not the way to go.
Steve Wygant at SeeMeCNC/Blackpoint Engineering, who makes 3D printers and designs plastic injection molds (among other things) recognized that problem and did something. Within hours he took an open source face shield headband design used in Europe and turned it into an injection molded piece. Then they took their in-house machines used for 3D printers to make headbands and face shields for others. They even started gave away cases of the injection molded parts to groups like Castlemakers who were making and donating face shields in their local community.
We took their headbands and then created face shields by cutting overhead transparencies and report covers to make the shield. Thin clear plastic is in short supply everywhere! Our lasercutter works well to cut overhead transparencies quickly, but the slightly thicker clear report covers us a material (PVC) that’s not safe to lasercut. For those we developed a template we could use with our Cricut Maker. I’ll add some details on our covid-maker webpage.
Our blog posts have been running behind lately, but we’ve been busy the last few months. We’ll update with some older entries since like many folks we’ve had more ‘stay at home’ time with the COVID-19 mess that’s been going on.
Even though we’ve stopped having public events since mid-March, there have been things going on inside (using recommended guidelines). Our main 3D delta printer has never been worked so hard in such a short time since we got it 3 years ago.
The picture to the right has some examples of what’s been made there to help first responders and others with the COVID-19 battle. We can’t make things in large quantities, but we can fabricate and adjust quickly – plus worldwide the makerspace community has rapidly stepped up to help people where they can. Longer term existing manufacturers will and are already starting to fill the gap, but it sometimes helps to do locally what can be done until the gap is eliminated. We’ve got a special webpage with some local covid making projects in Putnam County and more details about how the face shields, face masks, and ear savers can be made.
The PCMI started in 2018 from internal discussions about the technology gap in rural communities and how to get more folks interested in technology and coding, especially youth. PCMI was born after seeing a demo of the BBC micro:bit at the 2018 Hackathon in Indy – it seemed like a potential solution! Thought why not put a simple-to-use single board computer, in this case a micro:bit, into the hands of Putnam County youth so they could learn and use them?
After researching the micro:bit further and writing a Techpoint Foundation for Youth grant to get 10 for first hand experience in our CoderDojo, we decided to use a variation of what was done in the United Kingdom. We would give them directly to all 6th graders in Putnam County. The device is already being used in some US school systems, including NYC’s Computer Science for All and some Project Lead the Way classes, but with Indiana’s computer science curriculum under revision we were hoping for a quicker jump start so folks could recognize the significance of physical computing and that it doesn’t have to be difficult!
Luckily for us the Putnam County Community Foundation understood the importance and was willing to fund our idea. All four school systems were also willing to help – so we’ve been rolling out micro:bit kits to the 6th graders in Putnam County during October. Our last distribution, to home school kids at Putnam County Public Library, is on 11/4 and we’ll also be having a community session for parents and anyone else interested at Ivy Tech Community College in Greencastle on Monday November 4th at 6:30 pm. Seeing the excitement of the 6th graders getting and exploring their devices has been a real treat!