As 2017 comes to a close, we reflect back on the past 12 months and set our sights on the year to come. Our aim has always been to dramatically increase the accessibility of CNC machines, and we're deeply inspired and driven by what our machine has been helping folks accomplish out in the wild. In particular, we're proud that the Bantam Tools Desktop PCB Milling Machine is an integral part of the tool array of many an educational institution. We hope to increase that access in 2018. To celebrate, here are six of the many schools who have used our mill to teach, learn, research, and discover in 2017.
In the stories highlighted below, you'll see our mill referred to by its previous name, the Othermill. Of course, our big news in 2017 was that after five years as Other Machine Co. (OMC), we were acquired by Bre Pettis and became Bantam Tools in September. As our CEO Danielle Applestone explained in our announcement post:
We chose "bantam" because it is the name of the small-but-mighty roosters known for competing well above their weight class. They are a great underdog animal, but much like our "adorable" milling machines, don't underestimate what they can do!
Moving forward, the Othermill Pro is undergoing some modifications and becoming the Bantam Tools Desktop PCB Milling Machine. The machine still works great for small mechanical parts, but because so much of our community is using it for electronics prototyping, we wanted to level up in that department and let potential customers know about its primary use case. We have been extremely busy since our acquisition in May and have added a handful of hardware and software features that make our machine even more primo for prototyping:
Without further ado, here are six inspiring stories of how our mill was used in educational settings in 2017. Click the link at the end of each story to read our full post.
Teaching Electronics: California State University Maritime Academy (Cal Maritime)
One of only seven degree-granting maritime academies in the U.S., Cal Maritime is also the only one on the West Coast. They offer degrees in three branches of engineering: Facilities Engineering Technology, Marine Engineering Technology, and Mechanical Engineering.
Two years ago, Cal Maritime acquired an Othermill, and it has been primarily used by students in two courses: ET 370 Electronics and ET 350 Electro-Mechanical Machinery. At the end of each ET 370 course, students host a Final Project Fair to show off their innovations, on average between 15 to 18 projects.
At the time we spoke with Associate Professor Dr. Evan Chang-Siu, the winners of the fair included a reaction wheel inverted pendulum where the students balanced an unstable pendulum using a flywheel, a servo-driven 3D-printed hand driven by a glove outfitted with flex sensors (pictured at the top of the post), and an automated drink dispenser called the Tiki Train.
Dr. Chang-Siu shared:
The Othermill has allowed the students to create much more reliable, compact, and professional-looking circuit boards. For example, one of the projects was an LED and EL wire helmet that lit up different segments based on the frequency content of the music. While the original circuit worked, it took up three and a half breadboards with wires everywhere. With the Othermill, the circuits were heavily condensed into two stackable PCBs and could be easily mounted to the back of the helmet.
I really appreciate the workflow efficiency built into Otherplan. It allows me to go from and EAGLE CAD file directly to Otherplan, which creates its own toolspaths. I also really love the auto-z and bracket-location features and the fact that all drilled holes only require one flat endmill. This saves a lot of time not having to manually locate and switch out tools.
Interdisciplinary Programming: University of California Berkeley's Jacobs Institute
In August of 2015, UC Berkeley opened the doors to Jacobs Hall, home of the College of Engineering's Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation, described as their "interdisciplinary hub for learning and making at the intersection of design and technology." The 24,000-square-foot building houses a wide variety of creative spaces and tool labs, including individual dedicated labs for wood fabrication, CAD/CAM, electronics, A/V production, and advanced prototyping, as well as all-purpose makerspaces (with Othermills proudly among the tool offerings). At the root of the Jacobs Institute mission is to create spaces that invite collaboration between multiple disciplines.
In our feature, Jacobs Institute's Technical Lab Lead Joey Gottbrath and Communications & Programs Officer Laura Mitchell shared insights on the nuances of creating cross-curricular programming and the types of projects students have created to date:
As an interdisciplinary hub, we see projects that span fields, focus areas, and experience levels. Students in our entry-level prototyping and fabrication course gain hands-on skills through projects like making Bluetooth-controlled vehicles, for example, while students in more advanced courses create projects like Helios (a connected device focused on firefighter safety) and Carpt (a concept for an autonomous platform).
With courses from a wide range of disciplines taking place here, we see projects ranging from Pum, a relief package airdrop device modeled after mono-wing maple leaf seeds (created as part of an integrative biology course, Bioinspired Design), to PESES, a proof-of-concept system focused on post-earthquake structural evaluation (from a civil engineering course, Design of Cyber Physical Systems).
Accessible Microfluidics Research: Boston University's CIDAR
Boston University has long held a reputation as one of the most respected research institutes in the U.S. One branch of the intriguing work being done stems out of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering’s CIDAR (Cross-Disciplinary Integration of Design Automation Research) lab, which focuses on advancements in synthetic biology and microfluidics. As CIDAR graduate researcher and mentor Ryan Silva explains it:
Microfludics is nothing more than moving small amounts of liquid from one place to another; it's plumbing at the micro-scale. Fluids at small scales can behave in useful ways. The life of a wetlab biologist is dominated by the mundane task of moving small amounts of liquids from one place to another by hand (e.g., by using a pipette). Microfluidics have the ability to automate the most routine, as well as the complex, aspects of daily life in a bio/chem lab. In this regard, it’s easy to see how the field can be attractive to a bio-design automation lab like CIDAR.
One CIDAR project in which the Othermill served an integral role is called Neptune and is a complete, end-to-end microfluidic design suite that provides researchers and microfluidic designers all the tools needed to design, fabricate, and control microfluidic devices. The team explains:
Neptune saves money by using an alternative microfluidic fabrication process (utilizing the Othermill/desktop CNC mill) as well as an alternative fluid control process (using custom 3D-printable infrastructure for low-cost servo-syringe combination pumps to sit in). The costs of the desktop CNC and 3D printer are almost negligible compared to the costs of contemporary microfluidic fabrication equipment (~$70K).
Without the availability of affordable, high-precision desktop fabrication tools like our mill, though, this revolution in microfluidics wouldn’t be possible.
Meeting Industry Need: University of California San Diego's EnVision
In January of 2016, University of California San Diego opened the doors to their nearly 3,000-square-foot makerspace classroom called the EnVision Arts and Engineering Maker Studio. Fully stocked with a wide variety of design, fabrication, and prototyping tools, including Othermills, EnVision is housed in UC San Diego’s Structural & Materials Engineering building.
The space was intended to increase the hands-on educational offerings available to students in both the visual arts and engineering. As described on the site, “It's an experiential teaching facility where both engineering and visual arts students are empowered to think, design, make, tinker, break and build again.”
In our interview, when we spoke with EnVision director Jesse DeWald, he shared details on how the space was originated:
A few things converged to make this happen. Industry was asking for engineers with more hands-on experience right out of school. Engineering students were asking for the same thing. At the same time, this was an opportunity to bring engineering and visual arts education together in interesting ways. We wanted to create an environment where students could supplement the theory they’re learning with hands-on projects in the classroom.
For the engineering curriculum side of things, Albert Pisano, the dean of UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering, invited faculty to create hands-on classes that would be held in the 3,000-square-foot space. The EnVision Maker Studio is mainly a classroom, though, not a traditional project-based space.
The space is fully integrated with six engineering departments and the visual arts department. They’ve all designed at least one freshman course for the space, and some have sophomore courses as well. There’s a lecturer section of the space, and the rest is dedicated to tools. We have a faculty committee dedicated to advocating for the space, and about 50 faculty members who are dedicated to using it. Having this much faculty support has been critical for getting the space established and well-used.
We're proud that our mill is among the tools available to introduce students to hands-on learning and digital fabrication.
Low-Cost Microdevices: University of Southern California
In 2017, University of Southern California’s Prof. Keyue Shen was awarded the prestigious Trailblazer Award from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the latest in a long line of recognition he’s received for his groundbreaking cancer and stem cell research. Dr. Shen specializes in studying cell and tissue microenvironments, the ecosystems that cells live within in the body. By studying how to better control these microenvironments, we inch closer to being able to suppress the cancer cells’ ability to metastasize.
With a background in mechanical engineering, biophysics, and biomedical engineering, Dr. Shen is an Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering at USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering, an Associate Member of the Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, and a Principle Investigator of USC Stem Cell. He also leads the Laboratory for Integrative Biosystems Engineering (the “Shen Lab”), which has four PhD students, one masters students, five undergraduates, a technician, and an array of tools, including an Othermill.
Dr. Shen’s team published a paper in the journal Technology entitled “A cost-effective micromilling platform for rapid prototyping of microdevices,” in which they characterized the Othermill and assessed its applicability to microdevice production. The paper is freely available on the Technology and NCBI sites.
In our interview with Dr. Shen, he shared more details on how the mill is used in his research:
Milling is one of the techniques that we use to fabricate microdevices for our studies. Some of our devices are directly milled, while others are created from molds made by the mill. These devices perform a variety of functions, such as trapping cells for culture in specific areas, flowing antibodies past cells to label them, and so on. As such, we largely focus on operating our Othermill at high precision and accuracy to produce the complex micro-scale features of these devices.
We became interested in 3D milling because we were looking for flexible fabrication techniques for organ-on-a-chip devices. Soft lithography, which is most commonly a combination of photolithography and polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) molding, has long been the golden standard for fabricating microdevices, but it has limitations in the material properties. We're particularly interested in the fast prototyping capabilities, relatively high-precision (although not as high as photolithography), and flexible material options of micromilling, and thus, we decided to purchase our own milling machine to serve our production purposes.
We discovered the Othermill in our search for a suitable entry-level 3D mill for our purposes. We did a comparison of different options on the market and eventually settled on the Othermill for a number of reasons:
- We had an impressive demo at the Westec tradeshow;
- The software interface is really intuitive and has good compatibility with CAD software;
- There is a large collection of training videos on YouTube and knowledgebase on OMC’s website to provide superior training and learning experience; and
- OMC seems to be working on establishing a vibrant community to facilitate idea exchanges.
High School Robotics: Central Columbia High School Jaybots
By day, Bloomsburg, Penn.-based educator Tom Gill teaches physics and astronomy at Central Columbia High School. After school, he mentors two robotics teams: the Jaybots and the Jayborgs, the names a nod to their school mascot, the blue jay. In 2016, Tom added an Othermill the teams’ tool arsenal. He recalls, “I was inspired to get one because of the variety of tasks that it can perform and how it complements our other equipment, such as laser cutters and 3D printers. Another big factor was its small footprint and relative quiet operation, so it can be run during the school day next to the library.”
The Jaybots and Jayborgs, ranging in age from 14 to 18, have used the Othermill to make a variety of projects under the tutelage of Gill. For their robots, they’ve made custom connectors to join the 80/20 aluminum and to support their wheels and motors. Bonus points that the aluminum sheet they used was salvaged from last year’s robotics competition field. For Christmas in 2016, they even made circuit board holiday ornaments for a tree that was then donated to a local family.
With the Othermill, Gill says, “Circuit boards are so much nicer. I used to use photoresist and etching solutions and then drilling. The Othermill does everything in one step. The parts we made for the robot are a huge improvement, as well, because the accuracy is much better than what we could achieve by hand (by drilling, for example) since multiple holes must line up exactly in order for the parts to fit properly.”
His favorite thing about the Othermill? “Its versatility. It does what the other machines I have can't.”
As we transition to a new year, we're excited to see what brilliant minds in education and beyond create using the enhanced capabilities of the Bantam Tools Desktop PCB Milling Machine. Here's to 2018! Happy New Year!