Design Tips

Great! You want to build a thing, and you have a vague idea of what you want, but are a little lost on where to start.

In hopes of making this a little less daunting, we’ve put together some broad guidelines; you don’t have to follow these at all, but if you’re struggling maybe you’ll find them helpful.

First step is probably to figure out if you want to design with software or not.

For CNC machines (laser cutting, 3D printing, ShopBot, etc.), you have to, because otherwise you won’t be able to command the machine; we have yet another hyperlink which explains what you’ll need and where you can get them.

For non-CNC machines, you have the option of using a CAD (computer aided design) software, which essentially allows you to model your parts in 3D on the computer. This can be quite helpful, especially if you have a ton of parts, because you’ll be able to see whether your parts all fit together, and your idea is feasible. As a heads up, though, CAD has a steep learning curve, so if you’re primarily interested in getting to a finished product and your object only has a couple of parts, go for hand drawings. If you’re interested though, check out the CAD page.

Once you’ve got the software sorted, sketch out your idea on paper first. If you’re still unsure of whether it will work or not, try making a quick model out of cardboard or foam, and testing & refining the parts you were worried about. Once you’ve got that, you can do analysis if there’s parts you're worried about failing (check out the analysis tips page), though this is definitely not necessary, or you can just move on to ordering parts and machining.

If any of this feels daunting, you’re really not sure how to proceed, or even have a specific question about a very specific part don’t be afraid to ask! Talk to a mentor, talk to another shop manager, etc. We’re here to help, and want to see you succeed :)

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Some other general design resources:

Charles Guan has a fantastic guide to designing for fast prototyping, that I’d highly recommend.

If you want more of how to design with numbers and analysis, Professor Slocum has an excellent guide to doing just that.