2016 User Group Meeting Projects


For this years User Group meetings (UK – 28th Sept or USA – 7/8 Oct) we’ve been busy working on a wide variety of interesting projects to demonstrate different software features. These range from in depth 3D modeling examples to a simple 2D part that literally “does nothing”. Over the past few months we’ve been working in the Vectric Labs to cut the finished parts and ensure our ideas work. This adds a layer of practical feedback in our presentations to make them as useful and realistic as possible. In this article Beki, Dan and James summarise what they’ve been making for the meeting…

Beki’s Projects

Slot Together Lamp (VCarve & Aspire)

Slot_Together_Lamp_VectricAs I typically do 3D modeling for Vectric, Vector Art 3D and Design & Make I thought I’d remove myself from the comforts of creating models with Aspire and look at making a project that is purely two dimensional.

In this example I’ll be showing how to make your own slot together light, its a pretty basic project but looks at lots of different areas in the software, from using various drawing tools to create the core slot together components, to looking at ways we can speed up the toolpath setup of the part by associating toolpaths to layers. Conceptually I’ll demonstrate the key things to watch out for in making a successful slot together part. In the image to the right you can see my version I cut for testing that includes some acrylic inserts to add accent to the plywood.

Modeling a Revolver (Aspire)

Model_Pistol_VectricThis project looks at how to model a relief of an old style revolver. I had fun creating this as it was different to the style of 3D modeling I’m used to, where I mostly create organic, natural forms. This example is very much opposite as there are a lot of geometric shapes that need to be modelled along with some tricky shapes that require a little more thought. I’ll be showing how to model the relief version of this in different stages where we create a basic version and look at how to improve the part with additional detail.

The part Ithat I cut (shown in the image above right) was actually a double sided part where I tweaked the original relief file and altered the heights and cross sections, I won’t be covering this 2-sided process but Dan will be looking at it in his demonstration on how to make a cool letter opener (see below)!

To see a speeded up video showing how this was machined please follow this link.

Modeling a Military Emblem – (Aspire)

Military_Emblem_VectricQuite often at Vectric and Vector Art 3D we get asked how you go about modeling from artwork which looks like a cartoon, so we felt it would be something interesting and useful to cover as it’s not a technique we’ve really covered much at past meetings.

Like the revolver example I’ll walk through this starting with a basic version and then show you how you can further improve the part with more complex added details. The image shows the design being applied to a commemorative plaque with added text VCarved into the design around the border.

Assembling Clipart (VCarve & Aspire)Assembling ClipArt

When I’m not modeling I really enjoy assembling clipart, and the projects that are available from Design & Make make the whole assembly process easy and fun to do. In this presentation I’ll walk you through various examples of how you can assemble these projects, starting with a beginner’s project all the way to looking at more advanced techniques using some of the  editing tools available within Aspire.

Dan’s Projects

Do Nothing Machine (VCarve & Aspire)

As a new addition to the ever expanding Vectric team I have spent the last month or two getting to grips with the software range and have already started cutting some VCarve and Aspire projects.

One such project is the ‘Do-Nothing Machine’ that I’ll be running through in one of my presentations at the User Meeting. Not sure what a ‘Do-Nothing Machine’ is – take a look at this video I made of my finished design.  

Although the model being presented at the User Group is just five inches long I decided to ‘go-big’ and machine a model double this size and to experiment with some design iterations by producing duplicates of a number of key components in a range of sizes.

Having spoken to James who had already had a crack at producing this he wished he had spent a little more time understanding the design before diving in. He had experienced a number of issues including ‘binding’ of the pistons against the adjacent inlayed squares and a collision between the pistons where they were originally too long. After a number of modifications and a degree of design ‘fettling’ he did end up with a working part though!

Do Nothing - Machining1Taking this on board I endeavoured to see if I could get mine to work ‘like-clockwork’ straight off the machine. Before I jumped too far ahead I thought it best to create a vector diagram representing the completed assembly and to check that the length of the pistons (also known as wedges) would not violate each other. In an attempt to optimise the design I create three length variants of both the handle and pistons. As an extra I also created one set of pistons with a guide on the bottom to see if I could eliminate the binding issue by keeping the wedge running directly along the centre groove.

Happy with the vector layout I then started to begin toolpathing the job. Using just two tools (a VBit and an End Mill) made for easy programming although my haste would cost me dearly later on.One key consideration was how much negative allowance would be required to enable the pistons to move freely. Too much will create ‘slop’ in the mechanism, too little and the pistons will bind.

Do Nothing - Modelling1With the work piece setup (approx. 3/4in ply) I ploughed on with machining each of the components. As I started the toolpath that was to produce the bevel on the inlayed squares I soon realised that I had over-looked a key variable… stepdown. The large 1.25” V-bit tool has a narrow 0.25” shank and has to be treated with care, something I ignored as I continued to ‘bite-off’ a bit more depth than I should have. Although the stepdown was consistent I failed to realise that with each pass I was cutting with more of the tool surface until… snap. Having realised that my ‘not-so-careful’ attention to my machining parameters had cost Vectric a rather expensive tool I scurried away to recalculate a number of subsequent toolpaths changing both the stepdown and feedrate – a good lesson learned!

Having kept my fingers crossed for the rest of the job it all finished without an issue. I did some light sanding and started to piece the designs together to assess whether my calculations were correct. To be honest I was a little disappointed as I experienced some level of binding on the wedges despite being careful with the amount of negative allowance applied.

Do Nothing - Modelling2However for one configuration, using the pistons with the extra ‘guide’ I soon realised that I need to extend the centre groove on the base in order to allow them to get all the way to the edge and allow a full cycle. Having already removed the work piece I decided to make some manual modifications with an angled file. It actually did a fine job and you couldn’t tell the difference.

So, what worked and what didn’t? The smallest wedges were pretty much useless and bound continually despite the extra sanding. The very long handle enabled small levels of effort to be applied but I needed monkey length arms to work it smoothly. The best ‘combo’ used the medium length handle and the pistons with the extra guides, the action was so smooth that you didn’t need to even hold the base as you cranked the handle – lovely!.

Anyway – as stated above I will be covering this project at the user group and is a great example of vector creation and careful machining considerations.

2-Sided Dagger Letter Opener (Aspire)

Letter - Vectors1With a couple of projects machined (not without issue) I was keen to get stuck into the my latest assignment – to model and machine a letter opener in the style of an ‘antique dagger’. Now I would like to say that this project just ‘walked’ into my head but I would be lying. This was initially created by James although I will be presenting the full project at the meeting. The reason we picked this project is that it shows some neat vector modelling tools and how simple vectors can create a detailed and ornate design. However the key aspect was to once again present an example that dealt with 2-sided machining and all the required design considerations. One area I was keen to understand was how to support the tapered blade – not initially obvious!

Letter - Modelling1With the vectors complete I was able to quickly create the full 3D model in Aspire 8.5 adding the textures onto the handle to complete the design. At this point my crib sheet said to add a zero plane with a base height of 0.0625in. Ah….I can why this is needed now, rather than machine to a fine blade edge we will allow create a flat region between both sides. This will of course ‘thicken’ the design and mean that we will have a sand the blade to a fine edge but and most importantly it will allow me to easily add tabs thereby giving plenty of stability during machining

Programming the job was pretty straight forward as long as I kept to the guidelines James had shown me before, namely….

1) Create 3 dowel vectors on side A (3 eliminates possible part misalignment)

2) Create a toolpath for side A to house the dowel pins

3) Mirror ALL the vectors and models AROUND THE CENTRE OF THE WORKPIECE

4) Using the mirrored dowel vectors create a toolpath for the spoil board dowel holes.

Letter- Machining1Using just two tools I started the Z-level roughing and progressed onto a semi-finishing toolpath using the raster roughing toolpath strategy but editing the pass depth for the tool. This would trick the tool into doing just the one required machining pass rather than multi-level and would clean off the steps left by the Z level routine

Coming from a metal cutting background I was a little dubious about moving straight to a fine finishing toolpath with the delicate tapered ball nose. As a precaution I turned down the federate…..probably a bit too much as the finishing time was longer than I would have expected. At least it was a nice finish and I was ready to remove the workpiece, cut the dowel holes in the spoil board and get started with Side B.

Letter - Machining2Like any newbie the concept of removing your workpiece, flipping it over and hoping it all matches up can be a little unnerving. Having cut the dowel holes in the spoil board and tapped in the dowel pins I then remounted the work piece. I pressed go on the control for the Z level roughing toolpath and the tool moved to the start position and began cutting. With a sigh of relief it appeared to be in the correct place, following the simple instructions had enabled me to easily overcome what appears to be a daunting concept.

After about another hour or so I was able to remove the job and carefully break-out the firmly mounted and beautifully finished model. After a little sanding I was proudly holding my own, personal antique style letter opener…..good job sir!

James’ Projects

At this years meeting I’ll be handing some of the What’s New Presentation looking at features added in V8.5 and also reviewing some Essential Tips & Tricks which will really help newer users with their productivity and act as a good reminder to the veteran attendees. For the main bulk of what I am presenting though I am going to be looking at the idea of making tools with the CNC that can then be used to print, form or mold other materials. These will be presented in two different sessions and I’ll be looking at four different projects as follows:

Making Tools 1 – Print Block (VCarve & Aspire)

Print_Block_VectricMy first tool-making project was to create a print block that could be used to make custom product labels using pre-purchased luggage tags. To accurately align the print block it made sense to also create a jig that could be used to insert the tag and then line up the pare being printed.

This is a fairly simple 2D project but shows a good combination of vector drawing, accurate layout and also re-use of vectors to ensure the different parts that need to slot together accurately will do so. Also it produces a pretty cool finished part and is quite fun to do with kids too (although a bit messy…)

Making Tools 2 – Dragon Claw 2-Part 3D Mold (Aspire)

Claw_Mold_VectricFor the second of these tool projects I wanted to look at the idea of creating a 3D mold, this would show some 3D modeling - adding draft to ensure part release and also demonstrate how to ensure the 2-sides would line up. I decided it would be fun to produce a novelty coat rack where the molded part looked like a Dragon’s claw and had a bolt embedded that could be used to mount it onto a decorative backer.

My aim was to produce something molded that was comparable to what could be home-3D-printed but more advanced because of the embedded bolt and obviously once you have the mold much quicker to make. I made the mold out of plywood (cheap and easily available) and used a product called ThermoMorph as the molding material (also cheap about purchased easily online). This comes as plastic pellets that can be melted in hot water to make a kind of clear (hot) putty. I took the melted material and put it into the vaseline covered mold (the vaseline helped protect the wood and release the part when still warm) and pushed the two halves together allowing excess material to squeeze out the top.

Coat_Rack_VectricOnce the material cools it becomes a solid plastic again and you can trim off the flash with a knife. The bolt was perfectly placed thanks to the design of the mold and to complete the effect I designed a wooden backing plate for the hooks to mount into – you can see them in place to the right. Now all that remains is to paint them to finish it off (If I get time). Although this is a tongue in cheek application it actually has the potential to be used to create all kinds of interested parts for prototyping, model making or other applications.

Making Tools 3 – Solid Surface Wave Form (Aspire)

Making_Tools3_WavePressTool_2For the last two tool-making projects I wanted to play around with something I’d read about a couple of years ago but had not had time to actually work with. That is the idea of thermoforming Corian (solid surface material). I found a paper online by DuPont the manufacturers of Corian on the temperature Corian can be molded at and how much bend it will take at different thicknesses. It also said a standard stove could be used to heat the material. As such I thought I would try a couple of different ideas. The first was to pre-cut a simple blade type shape and then put a wavey bend into it. As I like to have a finished product in mind I thought it might work well to use these to make a decorative candle holder.

Corian_Wave_Candle_VectricAbove-left you can see an image of one half of the mold I created (cut out of MDF) – I put a couple of dowels in to hold the part in place that you can see at the end. To ensure the part could be formed I had to leave enough space for the Corian to fit and form between the waves. To do this I offset the design vectors to accommodate the 1/4 inch thick material before modeling and machining. The heated flat blade is inserted onto the dowels then the other side of the mold fits on top and they are pressed together to bend the hot material. I just used a vice to apply the pressure. Once formed I left them in the mold for a few minutes to start to cool and was then able to take them out and they retained their wavy shape.

To finish off the candle holder I cut a base that the wavy blades could slow into that you can see in the image shown to the right. It produced a nice looking effect and I could see many other ways of forming Corian like this for different decorative applications.

Making Tools 4 – Solid Surface Bowl Form (Aspire)

Bowl_Mould_VectricMy second Corian based project was to create a deep mold to form a small bowl. I decided that 1/4 inch material was probably too thick to form in this way (although I have not tested it) so I decided to machine the circles I cut for the bowls down to 1/8 inch thickness. I also experimented with cutting different types of pattern into the Corian blanks to see how this would look once heated and pressed. More of that in a moment though…

Corian_Bowls_VectricFor the mold itself I thought plywood would work well, rather than glue it up to full depth and then cut it I decided it would be easier to machine if I modeled the shape then divided it into 3/4 inch slices to cut out of a standard sheet of material. This was a bit more work in the software  but definitely reduced the chance of a problem with tool length or collet collision when machining.

I created the model of the bowl and used the 3D Offset tool to provide a space for the material to form into. Then I divided this using Aspire’s 3D model slicing function. I copied the slices into another session and created the vectors for the 2D cuts. Once machined the pieces went together perfectly – I used the corner dowels to make sure everything lined up and glued it all together. Once the pieces were joined a did some light sanding and the 2 sides of my mold we’re ready to go.

For the Corian blanks as mentioned I cut a variety of patterns and shapes into them after machining their thickness down to 1/8 inch. To form them they we’re heated for around 15 minutes at around 325 F. This made the material pliable, the flat blank was placed in the mold – the top carefully put on and then I stood on it to provide some forming force! I gave it a few minutes and then was able to tap the bowl out the mold and leave it to cool. These actually came out really nicely and the selection of patterns created interesting effects. All the designs you can see in the images plus a bunch more will be coming to the meeting for everyone to see and discuss and I’ll be showing the full process to create the bowl model, offset it and then slice it for machining. Again this makes me think of many possible applications, not least of which is bigger bowls (these are about 5.5 inches across)!

So as you can see we’ve been busy and we’re very much looking forward to our 1-day UK meeting at the office towards the end of September and then heading over to Orlando for the 2-day US meeting at the start of October. The videos and finished files for all these projects will be included on the User Group USB disk made available to attendees.

If you are interested in coming to either meeting please use the following links to find out more about how to attend:

USA Meeting – Orlando - October 7th and 8th

UK Meeting – Alcester, Warwickshire – September 28th