A few years ago, I wrote a short document on methods for rapidly fabricating elements of mechanical systems entitled How to Build Your Robot Really Really Fast
. It was catered towards students in MIT's 2.007
introductory design and manufacturing class for which I was a lab assistant at the time. The basic premise of the document was ways to build the structure and framework of a robot quickly using the tools available in the class, such as basic 'garage' tools like drill presses, saws, and sanders, as well as rapid prototyping and digital fabrication tools like abrasive waterjet cutters and laser cutters, weighing the tradeoffs of 'build it now' versus 'design it now and have the machine make it later'. At the time, it was a compilation of my own experiences with those tools up to that point, and so its scope was fairly limited.
However, times have changed, and so have my experiences and views on the applicability of the methods presented in the document. New ones have been tried, and old ones have been refined. With access to the aforementioned digital fabrication processes by more makers and students proceeding at a ever-expanding pace, I decided it was perhaps time to rewrite the document in a fashion that made it more generally accessible to mechanical project builders.
And because I was sick of getting questions asking about why my t-nuts
are no longer flat-bottomed. If the answer interests you, then keep reading!Organization
The underlying message will be techniques used in design for assembly
. Now, strictly speaking, I use the term it in a much different context than the manufacturing industry's usage. But I believe the intents are the same: to design parts which are easy or quick to put together into the final product without complicated assembly steps. While for Sony it might have meant making all the parts of the Walkman insert and mate vertically, for hobbyists and "one-off" makers, this means trying to reduce the amount of hand-filing and fitting and drilling things in place, making "one way parts" which do not function if oriented incorrectly, etc. Common problems that many project builders run into.
So, this Instructable will be organized into several larger sections that address categories of challenges. For example, attaching parallel plates or making pinned joints. From there, there will be pages as necessary to demonstrate specific methods and parts usage techniques. I'll try to include content that spans the spectrum of tool accessibility - from simple garage tools to a full RP facility including laser cutters and waterjet cutters. On each page, I'll try to discuss a little about the recommended tools.
Periodically, in the sections, I'll link to a resource that is useful on its own. For example, I'll most likely link to Professor Alexander Slocum's Fundamentals of Design
many times - it really is a treatise on the principles underlying mechanical engineering, focusing on machine and mechanism design. It's unproductive, then, for me to merely repeat his words. Other sides like roymech.co.uk
are historical favorite go-tos for me, and will also be linked profusely.
The methods and examples presented will be primarily conceptual in nature, because they are generalizable to assemblies of different scales. I'll include generous amounts of finite element simulations of structures and components in order to show the concept isolated by itself. As with all of my writings, math and formal analysis is only brought up when needed to cement a concept or is critical to preventing massive systemic failure. Your mechanical engineering and manufacturing professors will likely be disappointed.Caveats
By no means is this going to be comprehensive overview of all design and assembly techniques. That's practically impossible, and I believe also counterproductive. Part of the joy of engineering and building & making is the discovery of your own "style", the compilation of your own set of favorite techniques for approaching a problem. Inevitably, you will come up with a new custom solution to a problem. Hence, trying to list exhaustively how to mate thing A to thing B will artificially limit the search space of solutions, and make it very easy to 'pick one, copy, and paste' without understanding why a certain action is needed.
It is also not intended as a totally fresh introduction to mechanical engineering. That is, the question "what is a screw?" will not be answered. I am assuming that you have at least a passing familiarity with engineering terms like bolts, screw, axles, washers, nuts, and some knowledge of what machining processes do such as turning and milling. If you don't, well, perhaps the substantial links and resources presented will change that!
All documents of this format will inevitably be clouded by the author's style or flavor, and I make no pretensions to the contrary. The methods and parts used will be reflective of what I've done personally and what I've seen done by others in my local peer cloud, and the pictures and diagrams will probably be from my own past projects or those of my peers. It's not my intention to make sure all of these become widespread, but more information and knowledge transfer is preferable, in my opinion, to less.
It's important to note that practicians of classic 3D subtractive machining will probably not gain much from this Instructable. In my opinion, 3D machining (e.g. milling, turning, manual or CNC) is an entire means of building on its own, since it has very high equipment capital costs and associated learning curves. 2D production techniques are still substantially easier for people to gain access to, or hire out for lesser cost than having a machine shop. So, this will not be a "how to machine" guide.