Reflections on 2023

As a nonprofit organization we elect our board & officers during January and use the annual meeting to look back to help with planning going forward. The pandemic hit us hard like many organizations that rely on volunteers, people, and contact with others. Even with our conservative nature and financial reserves it was a challenge; we made it through but the aftereffects continued throughout 2022. And like everyone else utility and other costs went up significantly. Sometimes as much as 20%, which is difficult for a small all-volunteer nonprofit. After some downsizing and cutbacks however, by the middle of 2023 it appears we turned the corner – and since seeing more interest, donations, and volunteer activity.

While members help cover our costs, donations from other organizations are critical also. Walmart Foundation‘s Local Community Grants have really made a difference in letting us continue our program efforts – many people don’t realize how Walmart through their foundation helps many local nonprofits. We’ve also received in the last 2 years a grant from Buzzi Unicem and were a Darrell Wiatt Family Philanthropy Essay Contest recipient through the PCCF – both greatly appreciated.

Individual private donors have also made a difference, we’ve listed many of those on our contributors webpage. You can also help – stop by during our Open Shop hours and ask to learn more, or you can donate directly through our website, or help out by volunteering with our organization!

Laser Etching Glass

Glass fusing and slumping equipment
Newly donated glass fusing and slumping equipment.

It started right after some donated glass fusing and slumping equipment, more on that in a future post, that was dropped off at Castlemakers. Troy, one of our more creative members, came in during open shop night with a sheet of glass and asked what our laser engraver/cutter would do to it. Since I wasn’t sure, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to find out.

Etching glass with our CO2 laser.

As it turns out it, it works great for etching! Power settings were modest and it gives a nice frosted look to the glass in a single pass.

Cutting really didn’t work though. We weren’t totally surprised that cutting would be more difficult, so started experimenting with the settings.

With wood or acrylic you can make multiple passes that will continue to cut through the material. A slower process, and sometimes takes refocusing the beam, but you can get the job done.

CO2 Laser Cutting Glass Results

In this case we learned that the glass seems to absorb enough heat that it starts chipping and cracking. Perhaps it was the type of glass we were using, the glass used was a home project leftover. You can see from the picture it was not a clean cut and eventually created a longer crack in the glass. For now we’ll just manually cut glass until we get the new diamond saw setup. But we did learn how to etch using the laser!

Halloween Making at PCPL

For the last several years we’ve been helping out at the Putnam County Public Library (PCPL) with their Scary Science event on Halloween. It always draws a crowd and love making things for the event.

A trick or treater tries on the animated eye mask we made for Halloween.

We usually bring one of our 3D printers to make something there and this year we printed out a mask for an artificial animated eye. And while not original, we made a ghost for a robotic vacuum that was often seen wandering around the library’s lower level cleaning up things.

Topping off our tricks was an updated version of Pepper’s Ghost, an optical illusion that makes animated things appear to be floating, using a tablet and a prism created on our laser cutter. We already have some ideas for next year’s event!

2023 Putt Putnam County

You could start the course by the downtown square.

The First Friday in October is always one of my favorites because of our annual mini-golf hole tournament in downtown Greencastle. We had a record number of holes again this year, with 14 mini-golf holes lined down Franklin Street.

Maker Challenge mini-golf hole at Putt Putnam County 2023
Maker Challenge had 3D printed obstacles.

With so many choices it’s always hard to pick a favorite, plus a few of the most popular mini-golf holes from previous years reappeared. Putnam County Public Library‘s new entry was popular, along with the Halloween themed hole that had a skeleton with light up eyes. Walk in the Park was a new themed hole based on input from Putnam County youth that stopped by our September First Friday project. And the Maker Challenge hole was updated this year to literally include a green castle!

2023 Putt Putnam County Virtual mini-golf hole.
The golf ball traveled through downtown Greencastle.

A personal favorite was the ‘virtual’ mini-golf hole where you hit a physical golf ball that then appeared on a Google map of downtown Greencastle displayed on a TV screen. The hole even had an easter egg where a hole-in-one on the first 2 screens would let you try your hand at navigating the one way streets and road construction in downtown Greencastle. Look for this hole to be back in the 2024 Putt Putnam County event… with a new virtual course and of course more construction obstacles!!

By the end of the evening the skies were clearing for the players on the course.

Resin 3D Printing

Last year we had a Stereolithography (SLA) 3D printer donated to the makerspace and finally made time to get it up and running. The makerspace has been using using fused filament fabrication (FFF or FDM) since we moved into the physical makerspace and myself longer than that, but have resisted making the leap to other forms until now.

Resin 3D printing workstation at Castlemakers.
Our Resin 3D Printing workstation

SLA so far has been pretty much what I expected: really great resolution and detail but it’s more complex dealing with the uncured resin. Post-processing time and especially cleanup is more involved than FFF, so processing 3D prints in batches makes a lot of sense. We haven’t experimented much with different resins, cost of the resin feels like it it is much more than FFF printing, although it’s a difficult comparison since SLA prints use a lot less resin and the uncured resin can be reused if you’re careful.

Resin printed Eiffel tower at Castlemakers
Eiffel Tower Printed at 50 microns

But oh, what resolution compared to FFF printing! You’re hard pressed to see the height layer lines when printing at 50 microns (yes, that’s .05 mm or .002″) and ours will let us print at 20 microns if you’re willing to take the time. X and Y dimensional resolution is at 75 microns (.075 mm/.03″), which is something you’re not going to see coming out of a filament nozzle printer. Of course for those levels of detail it will take longer to print, although the Digital Light Processing (DLP) system helps make the individual layer printing time much shorter.

There’s some other minor differences, like the way you have to think about supports since the prints are pulled out upside down out of the resin tank. But it’s a nice tool and addition to the makerspace. Stop by sometime & we can show you what we’ve printed. We always have a class in November or December for folks to learn about 3D printing by making holiday ornaments, watch our events webpage or sign up for our newsletter to find out that date and more.

Sometimes it takes a pro…

SeeMeCNC injection molding machine
One of the injection molding machines making printer and other parts at SeeMeCNC.

While makerspace folks are all about hacking things, sometimes it’s useful to get someone who makes them for a living involved. Our Rostock 3D printer was an early purchase and with some recent intermittent problems occurring and wanting to do some upgrades, we decided to take it back to the factory in northern Indiana where we bought the kit in 2016 for a tune-up. Besides, we figured it would be a great chance to see some of the latest improvements in 3D printing with a Delta!

Museum of Printers at SeeMeCNC
Steve shows off some previous 3D printer designs.

We scheduled some time with Steve Wygant at SeeMeCNC in Ligonier IN to look over the makerspace upgraded Rostock Max V3.2 to see if he had some clues about the intermittent problems we were starting to see. If you’ve printed a lot, especially in an environment with multiple people using the machine, you can understand why it’s important to have a 3D printer that just prints. And one where you don’t have to keep tweaking settings to get things printed correctly.

Castlemakers Rostockmax V3.2 next to a BOSSdelta printer at SeeMeCNC
Testing our Rostock printer at SeeMeCNC next to their latest BOSSdelta.

One of the first things we learned: all SD cards are created equal. Ours ended up with a generic card in our Duet controller. Steve had a stack of bad used cards pulled from troubleshooting other printers. After upgrading the Duet firmware to the latest SeeMeCNC configuration, we also installed a PanelDue – an upgrade we’ve wanted to do for a while.

A hotend replacement with an improved connector and resetting the Cura settings/configuration finished the job. And after a month of trouble-free and much improved printing quality, I can truly say the time & trip up there was worth it. It’s really nice to have a printer with online guides and the support behind it to keep it running for over 6 years, plus it still makes prints that people are impressed with. And not having to pitch & buy a new printer when it wears or something goes wrong!

Summer First Fridays

Sometimes a simple design is all it takes…

Greencastle’s First Friday’s have become one of our favorites that we look forward to at Castlemakers. It’s become a tradition for us to have a youth-oriented hands-on project on Franklin Street during the event, plus we get to show off projects going on inside the makerspace for anyone interested.

For this month’s creative challenge we chose a 4th of July themed project, challenging people to build a base out of red, white, & blue copy paper with tape to support a Statue of Liberty. The Statue of Liberty was made using our laser engraver/cutter and had a lead weight inside to make it a little more challenging. And photos of the real thing were there to help folks come up with ideas.

More Statue of Liberty base building ideas.
Experimentation & creativity in building was abundant!
Another successful base built!

There were some really creative solutions generated by youth building the base – definitely some signs of potential future engineers. I was expecting to see a few discover and use the edges of the paper since they can add more height than the flat portion. I wasn’t expecting so many different creative ways they would that concept. We even had one young woman create a box, then fold strips of paper inside to provide a very strong, yet clean outside base that looked great!

Our next upcoming First Friday event is Friday August 4th from 6-8:30 pm on Franklin Street. And of course you won’t want to miss our annual Putt Putnam County, where we take over Franklin Street to show off community build mini-golf holes for everyone to play on a Friday night.

The ‘who could build the tallest’ competition went on for quite a while…
This one definitely got the job done.
One of our first entries.

Following Satellites

Last Saturday was Field Day for North American amateur radio, an annual ‘open house’ where 40k ham radio operators get out the radio equipment to make contacts and demonstrate to others how it’s done. We’ve helped out the local group PCAUXCOM the last few years by having a project to build or putting on an education session at their location.

Amateur Radio Satellite Tracker
This satellite tracker was built with 3D printed parts and components from Castlemakers.

Last year we did something on using WSPR with a Raspberry Pi, so for this year we talked about listening to amateur radio satellites and the International Space Station(ISS). Although we don’t currently have the equipment to transmit to a satellite, it’s not hard to listen with a handheld receiver or police scanner. We have hopes of someday acquiring the necessary equipment to be able to actually contact other amateur radio operators using one of the satellites, or one of the radios on the ISS.

We also showed off a prototype satellite tracker that Ian has been designing that was made with 3D printed parts from the makerspace. While it’s still a work-in-progress, the prototype uses data from a satellite tracking app to move a mounted antenna to follow the satellite as it passes the sky overhead. There wasn’t an ISS pass but Ian was able to show how it tracked another satellite during the presentation. The major components were designed in Tinkercad, the same program we use in our Intro to 3D Printing class, and the tracking hardware is moved by software running on a Pi Pico!

Learning at the worksite

This last week I got to do something different during “bring your kid to work day” – provide additional STEM activities for the kids that came to MESH Systems in Carmel, Indiana. The idea came about when a parent in Greencastle, who often brings his child to Castlemakers, wasn’t sure if there would be enough to keep his son interested all day. Since his son really enjoys stopping by the makerspace, and he knew we’ve done many youth programs in the area, he asked if we could do something at his office. After some discussions with their HR person, we were able to put together an afternoon STEM session at Mesh.

Learning how to program a micro:bit using Makecode.
Programming a micro:bit using Makecode.

We began by going over the micro:bit by demonstrating beginning programming on the IoT like device. It’s been one of our favorite single board computers since we gave them away to every 6th grader in Putnam County. The MakeCode web interface, where you can use block based programing or even JavaScript & Python, allows you to accommodate different levels of programming knowledge – important when doing a group of mixed ages kids. As expected, some picked it up quicker than others but there’s enough projects available at different skill levels to keep everyone busy during the time we had!

Introduction to 3D printing using Tinkercad
Explaining how to export 3D printing files for printing.

There was also interest in 3D printing, so we started with a quick overview of the printing process. After starting our 3D printer making some parts and explaining how some of the 3D printed parts we brought were made, we had them design their own part to be printed using Tinkercad. The later afternoon kids were more interested in design, so we focused in on using Tinkercad to create objects and how it differed from other 3D design programs. Those that were left had access to other 3D printers, so we finished up on how to export and print their designs.

Thanks to Mesh Systems for giving us the opportunity to teach some of their kids about single board computing and 3D printing design!

Open Shop Time Projects

On Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings we have open shop time at the makerspace. It’s a time when folks can bring in projects and our members, or anyone who happens to be there, can try and help people create, repair, or build something. It often becomes a fun community sharing time at a spot with lots of maker tools along with various STEAM kits and projects to keep younger kids busy also.

Coin operated riding horse that Castlemakers helped to make the lettering.
Sandy’s horse ride letters created by our laser cutter

Some of the projects that come in are pretty fascinating; ranging from helping restore a coin-operated hobby horse to figuring out how to build a wheelchair cart for a duck(more later on that one!). We also get folks that want help assembling something – those have ranged from 3D printers to even a forge(perhaps a good thing we couldn’t find our propane tanks at the time).

RV satellite tracker
RV satellite tracker brought in that we’ll try to use for ISS tracking.

But often it’s someone bringing in something to give us to fix or teardown later like a bass amplifier or reel-to-reel deck. Even if they can’t be fixed, they make great tear-down items for kids and adults to learn about how things work – we’re big believers in learning through finding out what’s inside. In fact, right now we have a lot of things to tear down for components and/or salvage – stop by and learn something with us!!

Greencastle Indiana's Makerspace!