Imagineering 2014

This month I attended the annual UK Imagineering Faire at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry to show a variety of computer and electronics projects (including several demonstrating the principles of CNC) as part of Vectric’s long-standing support of this very worthwhile charity.

The Imagineering Foundation’s primary aim is to encourage an interest in engineering in young kids (from 8 and up) through a network of school clubs, which are run by volunteers from industry throughout the UK. Alongside these traditional engineering clubs, Vectric is currently sponsoring a local secondary school’s computer club aimed at older kids (11 and up) with a focus on programming and electronics.

The Games Creators’ Computer Club is run in the evenings at Kenilworth School and it is an opportunity for kids to learn solid computer programming skills from local professional programmers, as well as introduce them to a wide range of electronics and computer-based projects. This term we have been looking at VR, computer controlled motors (for robots & CNC) , as well as the ubiquitous plastic-extruder 3D printer technology. The club makes extensive use of Raspberry Pi computers, as well as more conventional PC’s and Mac’s, so that every child can have direct access to a computer on which they can develop their own ideas.

The CNC machines on display on the stand were all controlled by Arduino prototyping boards running open-source software. One was a Shapeoko running using an Arduino Uno & GRBL software. This machine was creating line drawings in pen on a wipe-clean whiteboard. The drawings could be selected and the ‘toolpaths’ run by the kids using a custom, touch-screen, application created specifically by Vectric to allow kids to run toolpaths in a safe and intuitive way at events like this.

The other machine was a recently purchased MiniCNC 3040 – retrofitted with a more powerful Arduino Due running G2. This is a newer open-source controller by Synthetos, which is still in relatively early development. In both cases the stepper driver support was provided by a simple to fit GrblShield (also from Synthetos). This machine was fully enclosed and so was able to cut a variety of projects and materials over the two days of the event.

The big hits this year were simple Minicraft creeper mug-mats created with a simple pocketing and profile toolpath, and a V-bit carved Star Wars Stormtrooper mug mat (image top-left), cut from an off-cut of whiteboard – which turned out to be perfect for recreating a Stormtrooper’s shiny white armour.