Founded in 1866, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) is not only one of the most well-respected art and design schools in the U.S., but it’s also known for its forward-thinking interdisciplinary curricular offerings and for pushing the envelope on what education in the arts can look like. We’ve previously covered their use of desktop manufacturing tools and are proud that Othermills are among their robust tool offerings.
Recently, Noah Coleman, SAIC’s technology coordinator in the Arts & Technology Studies (ATS) Department, reached out to share two of his Othermill tutorials on GitHub with us:
Coleman’s role at SAIC is to run the ATS department’s digital fabrication lab, ioLab, and to help out with the other shops and facilities in the department. Day-to-day, he helps students realize their digital fabrication projects and keeps the machines in tip-top shape. Though he had used CAM software in the past and was familiar with G-code, previous to SAIC's acquisition of Othermills, he hadn’t really gotten into CNC milling. We connected with him to learn more.
How long have you been using the Othermill? How was the learning curve for you?
I’ve been using the Othermill since last summer, so for about nine months. The learning curve for using the mill itself was not too bad. OMC has done a really good job on UI/UX, and that helped lower the curve a lot! My biggest learning curve was in CAM: figuring out feeds and speeds, creating efficient toolpaths, and figuring out what different machining operations are good for. That being said, I still make lots of mistakes. Last week, I sent a bit right into the spoilboard.
Tell us more about the ioLab.
At SAIC, there are several labs where students can execute their digital fabrication projects. The ioLab is the digital fabrication space affiliated with the ATS department. Because we're affiliated with ATS, we're able to dig a little deeper into the actual technology being used, as well as experiment more with materials and processes. We’ve had a student who made her own filament out of recycled cups and then used it in our 3D printers. We had some students who were using a CNC and a syringe to make drawings with mushroom-inoculated oatmeal, as well as students printing models of characters from games they've created. My favorite part about working in the lab is working with these really bright and creative students to help them overcome technical hurdles and realize their projects.
What inspired you to write and share your tutorials?
A big part of my job is helping the students who use our equipment to do so safely and successfully, so I’ve written a lot of instruction for students, including the Othermill tutorials. A lot of our students are familiar with Fritzing as a way to illustrate circuits. I saw that there wasn’t a step-by-step tutorial for designing in Fritzing and making a PCB on the Othermill, so I wrote one to help students make the jump from designing their circuit on the computer to making it in real life.
What’s your favorite thing about the Othermill?
There are a lot of features that make using the Othermill really easy! The tool length probing is a really nice feature, especially when doing jobs that require multiple end mills. The visualization in Otherplan makes setting up stock really straightforward.
What types of projects have SAIC folks made on the Othermill?
We've made a lot of PCBs. One professor used it to make custom Arduino shields for the students in his class. I've experimented with milling flexible PCBs with surface-mount components. One student made a sculptural LED lamp using the Othermill to make the circuitboards as well as the enclosures. People have made wooden wallets and 3D sculptures. We also made a Euro-rack faceplate for an amplifier board made by SAIC’s Sound Department. We’ve really been putting all kinds of materials and projects in the Othermill.
What projects do you have in the works for the future?
We have an awesome pedagogical display in our Electronics & Kinetics classroom with all kinds of motors, mechanisms, and sensors. We’re adding a couple of updates before the next school year, and I’ve got plans to use the Othermill for a lot of that. One of the new demos is going to be a see-thru stepper motor, so I’m using the Othermill to mill out the faceplate of a NEMA17 stepper in clear acrylic so students can see the magnet turning as the coils get activated.
Note: The last four images shown here are from SAIC student Amanda Yamasaki's project named Framework, an interactive tabletop luminaire that invites the user to modulate space through light and shadow.