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Computer Controlled Cutting Assignment: Parameters and Background

For our first substantive assignment, our task was to design a "press-fit construction kit", using corrugated fiberboard (aka "cardboard"), or other materials such as acryllic sheets, if we chose. The computer controoled cutting aspect would be accomplished by a laser-cutter, using a design we created in CAD or illustration software (since we are designing flat pieces, a vector graphic made in Inkscape or Illustrator would be sufficient for the cutter to use.)

A key aspect of this assignment is designing something to be "press-fit"; that is, held entirely together by tabs, joints, and tension in the material without using glue or adhesives to hold pieces together. In class we were shown several ways of creating press-fit joints using Antimony modeling software, using various designs for tabs, teeth, and slots to secure materials together. A key necessity for the complex designs was flexibility in the material to allow it to bend out when inserting and then spring back to secure the joint. These designs were interesting, but they did not seem like likely candidates for the relatively rigid corrugated fiberboard.

An additional tool we had access to was the vinyl cutter. This could not really make pieces for the press-fit assignment, but it used the same principles for computer-controlled cutting that we would use with the laser, and would be useful for designing custom decals, or printing flexible circuit boards from copper coated vinyl.

0. Conception

several sheets of paper with drawn designs and components. Single paper with drawn shapes, list of parts and features.
Initial sketches - working things out the old fashioned way. Final (paper) schematic: lists features and basic components

I first sat down to start thinking what I might make for this project, I was hunched over at the coffee table making furtive sketches on notebook paper. As I stooped over the table, wondering what kind of useful object I might try to make, my back ached and neck grew stiff, and that's when it hit me that I might build a proper work surface. So I decided to build a desk.

In the earliest purely conceptual phases I thought I would build a full-size desk. Problems I ruminated on ranged from how to make the legs and attach them to a body, how to reinforcing it and make it sturdy under load, and perhaps how it could be designed to be modular, with rearrangable shelves and surfaces to better fit the user's preferences. After about a day of thinking about it I realized I needed to scale back considerably. A full-size desk would consume a great amount of corrugated fiberboard, and the features I had imagined presented significant design challenge (which could be overcome, but perhaps not in the time frame I was looking at).

With that, I decided to build a mini desk which would rest on the lap or a tabletop surface. I made some initial sketches with pen and paper, recording conceptual ideas and came up with an initial plan

Go to next section: 1. Design and Modeling