Pocket Factory On the Road, Dispatch #1

Here is the first dispatch from Bilal Ghalib and Alex Hornstein as they head out on their epic adventures to spread the gospel of desktop manufacturing/3D printing, design and make some cool stuff, and hopefully, make a few bucks selling what comes out of their “Pocket Factory.” – Gareth

It’s five in the morning and I’m in a freezing Seattle basement designing 3D printable molds for a customer. In the next room, a trio of 3D printers are whirring away in the warmth of house’s heater, printing products we sold earlier that day. Bilal, Sarms, and Ilan are sprawled out next to me on the floor, and everything I own in the world is packed away in duffels on the roof of my car. It’s dark in this basement, and I can’t help but grin.

Two months ago and half a world away, my good friend Bilal and I were standing on the roof of my house, grilling portobellos, and marveling at Rancho, my MakerBot Thing-o-Matic, cranking away next to us. Bilal had just finished a project and I’d just quit my job. We spent our days playing with the MakerBot and our nights worrying about what we’d do next. In-between mouthfuls of mushrooms, we started talking about how there are lots of low-cost 3D printers in the world, but very few people selling the things they printed. Come to think of it, we could think about people printing kits for more printers, but we hadn’t heard of anyone designing products specifically to print on these cheap printers. “Holy crap!,” shouted Bilal, spewing spores and portobello gills. “Why don’t we just do this?” I took a gander at Rancho, who’d just spat out another part for a robot I was building. “I bet we could fit this in the trunk of my car and run it off an inverter while we drive,” I said. “Why not take the show on the road?”

And so, buoyed by optimism, incredibly powerful technology, wanderlust, and a world of possibilities, we dreamed up what to do next–we’d fill my car with low-cost 3D printers and drive around the country designing, printing, and selling what we made. You hear about technomads–computer programmers who wander the world with their laptops, programming and making a living wherever they can find internet access and a power outlet. The way we saw it, a community of talented makers had taken a powerful technology–3D printing–that was capable of making any imaginable shape, and they’d democratized it, engineering and re-engineering to make it cheap, simple, and good, until it came within the grasp of unemployed 26- year-olds. The machines were out, and they’d only get better and cheaper. The only question remaining was, what are we going to do with them?

So we planned our trip. Ten cities in a month. We’d release a new product every week while we traveled. We’d keep a spot in our car for a Passenger-In-Residence to drive parts of the trip with us and help us create designs. MakerBot donated a couple printers to the cause (thanks, guys!). We stole an Up! printer from Carl Bass’ desk. And we had Rancho, my MakerBot. We looked up craft fairs, flea markets, and coffee shops where we’d sell our wares. We wrote blog posts and fired up CAD software to design products. We kept our printers running around the clock, printing different designs, seeing what printed well, how the printers would fail, how to keep them purring happily, and how to tweak our designs so they’d print cheaply and reliably. I drove my MakerBot across the country and down into Baja on a test drive. We prepared for the trip from opposite ends of the country, and in our Skype calls, we’d ponder the same questions over and over–would anyone actually want a product that comes off of a $1000 printer? Would anyone care how the product is made? What does 3D printing add to a product that other production techniques can’t?

We started our trip with three products that we knew how to make–iPhone cases, belt buckles, and 3D portraits. IPhone cases were a serendipitous stroke of luck. We’d originally wanted to make more niche products–3D printable robots, software that takes a scan of your head and turns it into a geared object a la cube gears. As it so happened, I was describing this to my relatives over Thanksgiving and watching their eyes slowly glaze over. My grandmother started brandishing a broom at my MakerBot, threatening to sweep it off the counter and out of our conversation, when my aunt asked, “Could you print me an iPhone case?”

Out came my calipers, up came my CAD software, and an hour later, the machine was printing out an iPhone case, layer by layer. My family was captivated. My 14- year-old cousin kept watching the build progress meter and shouting requests for things to print on a case for his phone. This phone case has been our bread and butter product for the past week. There’s a very special thing that happens when a customer can pop an object out of our printers and into their pockets; into their cars or clothing or wrists or lives. It took me a while to recognize it, but this idea of immediate utility was my first glimpse into the future of 3D printing, a future where technology is cheap but utility is rare.

Well, we left San Francisco a week ago and just about everything went wrong. My old inverter breathed its last, and we weren’t able to power the printers in the car. The colder air up north made our prints warp and fail often, causing our yield to plummet. I took on a custom design job that payed too little for far too much work. Seattle got hit with its largest snowstorm of the last millenium and the city shut down just as we rolled into town. Hello Pocket Factory, goodbye power. Our printers needed some tweaking, but so did the web page, the products, our schedule and our social media. There were three of us, but it felt like we were outnumbered. It’s hard to start a business, and we were starting a factory, a product design group and a road show, all at the same time.

We didn’t really have a plan for how to sell parts at first, and it showed. We’d set up the printers in public and start cranking out prints. Sure enough, we’d draw a crowd–the printers are mesmerizing to watch, and as soon as we turned the printers on, people would gather. But for all the conversations we had about the technology, people didn’t really want to buy our products. At first, we tried to sell customization–we’d work with a customer to tweak one of our stock designs to something that was uniquely their own. In practice, though, it was too open-ended, and we didn’t really capture customers’ imaginations. We’d show examples of stuff we’d done–putting profiles of our faces onto phone cases or debossing text into the case, but it was hard to to get people excited about the open-ended world of possibilities. The customers came, they chatted, and they walked away.

But in the midst of all the chaos, some things went right. We met some extremely welcoming hackerspaces, cafes, and art galleries who gave us great places to print and helped us pull in people. Somewhat to our surprise, most people on the street had seen 3D printers–”Cool, that’s a 3D printer. Just like on TV!” was a chorus we grew to know well. Some customers got it right away–they were thrilled at the idea of having their products made right in front of them. They were excited to work with us to customize their designs, and the look of delight as they watched their prints grow on the printers was straight from my cousin’s face.

And now we’re in Seattle. The streets are covered in snow, and we’re heading up to Canada tomorrow. We’ve been doing this for a week, and it’s damn hard to make things on these machines that sell. But it’s not impossible. We sold $250 worth of products we designed, perfected, and produced. We covered our gas and some groceries. And we’re getting better. We’ve got great Passengers-In-Residence helping us (Sarms “The Hammer” Jabra can smooth-talk our printers into any cafe in the country, and Ilan Moyer is a designer extraordinaire). We’re constantly aided by an incredible community of enthusiastic makers and friends who keep us printing, housed, and fed. We’re designing and making new, great things on our printers daily. And we’re loving it.

Like everything, 3D printing is a world of possibilities, of distractions, promises, and excitement. The more we print and the more we talk to people, the closer we get to the juicy nuggets of truth found in 3D printing: the intersection of printers, people, and ideas. We’re getting better at using these tools to make things that people love. And the more we understand that, the clearer we can see a future where designers are no longer constrained by money or connections or resources–a future where the only thing standing between a great idea and its impact in people’s lives is a little white button labeled “print.”

We’ll be posting weekly here on MAKE about our progress, and we’re posting daily updates on Check out what we’re making in And if you glance out your window and see a beat-up silver Prius covered in snow and heading East, would you be a dear and mail us that roll of ABS filament that fell off the roof rack? We’ve got got a factory to run!

The Pocket Factory Takes to the Road


Tool Review: Vaccon Venturi Vacuum Pump


If you’ve got a shop, you’ve probably got some source of vacuum around, even if it’s only a residential vacuum cleaner for tidying up the floors. And in a pinch, a home or shop vacuum cleaner will do for light duty vacuum applications like running a small vacuum former.

If you’re doing chemistry, however, and may be dealing with organic solvents and their vapors, a vacuum cleaner is not only unsuitable, but unsafe: The plastic parts will degrade in the presence of many organic solvents, and the electrics—which are almost certainly not explosion-proof—may ignite their vapors.

But a proper laboratory vacuum pump is a pricey space hog. Whether you opt for the cleaner, lighter duty diaphragm-type pump or the top-of-the-line heavy duty rotary vane oil pump, you can expect to be out a few hundred dollars, a couple cubic feet of storage space, and several hours a year in maintenance time. If you’re just performing vacuum filtration, stripping solvent, or keeping a dessicator pumped down, it’s not really worth it.

A water aspirator is a common and effective compromise solution. Attached to a faucet, a water aspirator uses the Venturi effect to produce vacuum at the sidearm from the downward flow of water out the bottom. It’s cheap, effective, and reliable, with no moving parts to wear out or maintain. But there are some drawbacks: You need to work near a sink with a faucet and a drain, you have to keep the water running to maintain the vacuum, and all that can make it difficult to maintain dry conditions if your chemistry requires it.

If your shop has an air compressor or other source of compressed gas, however, you can use an air aspirator, also called an “air ejector” and a “Venturi pump,” to create vacuum for light duty lab work. An air aspirator works just like a water aspirator, in principle, but it uses high-pressure air as the working fluid, instead of water. Air aspirators offer all the benefits of water aspirators but with few, if any, of their drawbacks. Analogous devices are used in some vacuum clamps marketed to woodworkers for holding down flat stock during routing or sawing.

I’ve used several of these. The particular model shown here is a Vaccon FastVac VP10-150H that I bought used as part of a mixed lot of ten. Running compressed air from my Makita MAC2400 at 80psi, it works at least as well as any water aspirator I’ve ever used, and better than most. Comparable models are currently selling on eBay for $50-$100, which is only a bit more than a top-of-the-line water aspirator.

If there is a major drawback, it’s that this beastie is loud. Mine came with a detachable silencer, shown removed in the photo above, and it helps quite a bit, reducing the white noise level from “obnoxious” to “bearable.” You’re still not going to be carrying on any intimate conversations with this thing running nearby. The neighbors probably won’t come over to complain, but they probably would if you turned the music up loud enough to enjoy it over the din.


EL Wire Project Sampler

As Advanced Materials Month enters its final week, we’re gathering together some of the coolest projects from the dusty archives of MAKE. Next up, projects using electro-luminescent wire! Above, check out this bicycle with pedal-powered EL wire!

EL wire barbershop pole…

Neon Surfers Bring EL Into the Waves

How-To: Tron bag with EL wire (also, learn how to make it in Make Projects)

How-To: EL Wire Wings

“Nixie Tube” from EL Wire

Grown-Crystal and EL-Wire DNA Lamp

These EL Wire Glasses Would be Kanye-approved

Arduino-controlled EL wire coat

EL-wire “Jacob’s Ladder”

If this post has you hankering to create your own EL wire project, be sure to check out the EL Wire Starter Pack in the Maker Shed!


Early Russian Hydraulic Computer

In the heyday of analog computing, Vladimir Lukyanov designed an advanced computer that used water as the storage media. Various tubes, tanks, valves, pumps and sluices churned out solutions for the user based on variables such as changing tax rates or increasing money supply. From the Russian magazine Science and Life:

Built in 1936, this machine was “the world’s first computer for solving [partial] differential equations,” which “for half a century has been the only means of calculations of a wide range of problems in mathematical physics.” Absolutely its most amazing aspect is that solving such complex mathematical equations meant playing around with a series of interconnected, water-filled glass tubes. You “calculated” with plumbing.

[via Pruned]



Core77 Design Awards – Open for Entry

The Core77 Design Awards are back for a second year.

Recognizing excellence in all areas of design enterprise, the Core77 Design Awards celebrates the richness of the design profession and its practitioners. For our second year, we present 17 categories of entry, providing designers, researchers and writers a unique opportunity to communicate the intent, rigor and passion behind their efforts. From client work to self-initiated projects, entrepreneurial to pro-bono engagements, we embrace a wide diversity of enterprise: commercial, cultural, social, environmental and discursive.
Both the Professional and Student Winners of each category will receive the C77DA trophy, and all honorees will be published in the Awards Gallery, Core77 and the awards publication, and celebrated at our New York event. Be part of the most inclusive and celebratory design awards platform of the digital age.

I’m happy to be the jury captain for the DIY category, classified as follows:

Any personal project that is self-directed, self-produced and self-funded. DIY implies you came up with the idea and saw it to fruition yourself using do-it-yourself know-how, whether it’s the modification of an existing system or artifact or the creation of something new. The spirit of DIY is also about sharing the process, and we can accept projects that are plans or instructions showing others how to make the object by themselves. (Note: special reduced entry fee and no Professional or Student distinctions.)

Examples include: hacks, mods, upcycles, recycles, crafts, digital fabs, etc.


Gorilla Glass

Reportedly, fully 20 percent—some 200 million—of the world’s mobile devices incorporate a clear cover made of Corning’s Gorilla Glass brand toughened aluminosilicate glass. Depending on the particular test used to make the determination, Gorilla Glass is seven or eight times stronger than the common soda-lime glasses used, for instance, in most windowpanes.

The exact formulation of Gorilla Glass is a trade secret, but Corning acknowledges that its 1960s-era Chemcor aluminosilicate glass formulation was used as a starting point. Comparing a typical Chemcor formula to that of a typical soda-lime window glass highlights a key difference: Gorilla glass includes much more aluminum oxide than “everyday” glass, and much less calcium oxide.

Gorilla Glass is cast from a hot melt using a special “fusion draw” process, aka the “overflow downdraw method” (Wikipedia), which was also invented by Corning. It improves upon the traditional float glass process (Wikipedia), which is dirtier and less precise than desirable for modern flat-panel display applications.

After Gorilla Glass is cast, it undergoes a critical chemical strengthening process consisting of a potassium nitrate bath at 400°C. Under these conditions, sodium ions in the glass surface exchange with potassium ions in the salt bath. Potassium ions are physically larger than sodium ions, and their introduction into the atomic lattice generates a layer of very strong compressive stresses at the glass surface. This “compressive armor” both resists tensile loads and helps prevent formation of scratches and other small flaws that, as in most glassy materials, are the starting points for major failures.

Corning has just announced the introduction of Gorilla Glass 2, which touts the same performance as the original Gorilla Glass formulation at 20% reduced thicknesses. If you’d like to read more, HowStuffWorks has a good general overview, and Corning’s official literature page is rich with technical detail.


iOS Communicating with Arduino Demonstration

This video from oscon featuring Alasdair Allen, author of iOS Sensor Apps with Arduino, gives an inspiring overview and demonstration of what is possible using the Maker Shed’s RedPark Breakout Pack for Arduino and iOS. While the video doesn’t rank high on the excitement scale, it gives great insights and project ideas to anyone interested in combining iOS devices and microcontrollers.

Redpark Breakout Pack for Arduino and iOS Features:

  • Enables development of iOS apps for private use in homes, schools and offices
  • Connects iOS devices to RS-232 serial devices.
  • Designed for use with iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPod touch (fourth generation), iPad 2 and iPad.
  • Used in conjunction with the Redpark Serial Cable SDK and sample code. Together these tools enable you to write iOS apps that communicate with serial devices.
  • One meter long cable.
  • Male DB-9 connector.
  • Supports communication at speeds up to 57.6 Kbps.
  • Requires iOS 4.3.x or later.
  • Mintronics Survival Pack.
  • P4 RS232 to TTL board.


RGB POV in a Tube

I love this RGB POV in a tube created by rucalgary.

There are 64 RGB LEDs spinning around on an aluminum frame, spun by a motor picked up at Princess Auto for $20.

I control everything via an ATMEGA1284p microcontroller, as it was one of the only micros that had the memory space I needed for images.

I hope to get some more color out of the system by PWMing the color output, but we will have to see that later. Right now I am displaying images just by changing the source code, but I hope to get wireless updates working over Zigbee or Bluetooth.

You can download the code and Eagle files if you want to learn more. [via EmbProj]


DIY Phased Array Radar From Pegboard and Wi-Fi Antennas

Yes, you read that correctly.

No hard technical details are out yet, but this amazing project from MIT radar hackers Drs. Bradley Perry, Jonathan Paul Kitchens, Patrick Bell, Jeffrey Herd, and MAKE regular Gregory L. Charvat is soon to be published as part of MIT’s open courseware initiative. Cost of parts is about $950. The course abstract describes a “laptop-based phased array radar sensor capable of imaging moving targets in real-time, like a ‘radar video camera’.” [Thanks, Greg!]


Worlds Largest Game Controller

According to Guinness Book of World Records Gamer’s Edition 2012 the team of engineering students Benjamin Allen, Stephen van’t Hof, and Michel Verhulst from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands have created the Worlds Largest Game Controller. Weighing in at 265 pounds, measuring 12ft X 5ft 3 in X 1ft 8 in, costing upwards of $6000, and taking close to four weeks to assemble, the massive user input device is a whopping 30 times larger than a default NES controller. ↑ ↑ ↓ ↓ ← → ← → B A Start indeed! [via DT]


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