Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Designing Laser-Cut for Flat Pack: Resources & Tools

This post is from my journal on MA Multi-Disciplinary Printmaking.
I am currently working on a project based around games, specifically Pinball (see list of posts about Pinball).  

Previously I had written I wanted to develop the Pinbox prototype into a flat pack Ikea style kit. I'm not sure if that's totally the correct way to describe what I want to do but, basically for now I'd like to create a new prototype of Pinbox which is collapsible, and not just glued together.

Turn's out what I'm trying to say is Press Fit.
"An interference fit, also known as a press fit or friction fit,[1] is a fastening between two parts which is achieved by friction after the parts are pushed together, rather than by any other means of fastening." wikipedia

I believe having a glue-less/slot-able/flat-pack/knock-down/collapsible version will be beneficial for a few reasons:
  • Time (less time building and waiting - potentially - immediately after laser-cut it is ready)
  • Simplicity (well thought out instead of botched together)
  • Storage & transport (when apart can be stored flat)
  • Save materials (eliminate unnecessary parts)
  • Mess (less glue = less mess)  
Storage & transport is a huge issue for me - and is the main motivation for this. I am planning to build four larger games and have no dedicated space to store or work on them over an extended period of time. Also as a possible selling point, these could be stored away when not in use, could this be beneficial for a buyer who has limited space for games?

Each prototype I have produced so far has raised some sort of issue when I go to put it together after laser-cutting - although frustrating, this has been a good process to help me understand what I need to do next, but now I would like to produce a kit which is ready to slot together and works immediately after laser-cutting. I need to learn and research a little bit more before I jump in again.

Few ideas here for slotting together flat material.

Interlocking T-Bolt Construction
A T-cutout in one piece of stock and a receptacle in another piece. These pieces can then be bolted together making a very secure 90 degree joint. Not exactly what I had in mind but it should be considered as an option.

Slots & nodes

Nodes are little bumps located in the slots or on tabs in your product that are there to help compensate for material thickness variations and the laser kerf. This idea is they compress when a product is assembled providing friction at points rather than along the whole surface of the slot. This means the slot can be fractionally wider at the opening allowing the pieces to be slotted together easily but still create a snug joint perfect for flat pack - perhaps with no glue required.

Press-Fit - Pegged Mortise Tenon Joints

I think this is more like what I had in mind. I prefer it from the T-Bolt - although it is kinda similar. Ideally I was looking at using only the friction of the material and no other fasteners - and yet it is deconstructable to allow for flat storage.

Stacking - with alignment Pegs
These square(ish) pegs allow to stack multiple pieces of wood and glue them. I have had some problems with alignment of glued together pieces especially with the Floating Flippers Protoype.
I'd like to use this idea to create a slot for the playfield - it would slide  in from the top, directly into the walls of the game. This would allow interchangeable play fields, which could benefit when prototyping. This does mean there may be some glue but only for wall parts which needs to be built up anyway to gain enough depth.

Planning to design for laser-cut - means you need to keep in mind the "kerf" of the laser cutter (how much material the laser cutter burns away when cutting specific materials) - The staff in the Laser Space will be able to advise me. Worth a look at this post too.
Online tools
As usual I'm interested in finding efficient ways to produce work that is not restricted to the normal go-to design software packages. I have used these tools in the past for project boxes and they save lots of time. I'd suggest altering the basic box designs it spits out to fit in with your requirements.

Maker Case
This one is the most impressive generator I've found and gives a live preview of your box. Although I have not used it yet, I have played around with the app - the benefits I see over the others is choosing the type of edge joint between flat, finger and T-Slot. Another handy little function here is to alter the dimensions between the outside or inside size. I plan to use this box maker to generate the basic artwork for my flat pack design.

Box Maker
I have used Box Maker in the past and been very happy with the outcome. It gives me that simple finger/notched box design, to the specs I give it, as a PDF, which I can customise. I'l probably always use this app when I need to generate simple project boxes.

Make a Box
Similar to Box Maker with slightly more settings - although I have had issues exporting the design.

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