Cool Automata/Faux Steampunk Inspired CD Case




Introduction: Cool Automata/Faux Steampunk Inspired CD Case

About: Done lurking, time to create and share!
Once a year I do some contract work for a really cool company that creates “visual wow” for national and international auto shows.  When they announced they were hiring, I decided I needed a creative way to deliver my electronic portfolio CD.  Inspired by automata (think Rube Goldberg) and a touch of steampunk, here’s my mechanical laser cut stacked acrylic CD case. 

As is, this Instructable may not meet your needs, but adjust things to your situation – maybe change the company name to your favorite bride-to-be and put a copy of her wedding video in it :)  - change the shape of the wand to a real one and the company name to Harry and send Daniel Radcliff your video love note – whatever – be creative…

A copy of the generic cut paths for this version of the project are attached, as well as a few "creative starters" ideas for your own projects.

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Step 1: Sketch!

Begin with the traditional “sketch on a bar napkin”  of what you want your case to do – I was hoping that mine would sort of engulf the cd in a pile of mechanical parts, that the user would move out of the way in a certain order to 1) get access to the disk and 2) reveal the company name.  After deciding on what you want it to look like “solved”,  work backwards, working through what each piece should look like, where it should be positioned in the stack, and what slots or holes need to be cut into it to provide pass through for the pins that keep the stack in-tact.  When it became apparent on mine that “more” didn’t necessarily equal “better” the number of parts were scaled back to create a cleaner more efficient design.

Step 2: Layout!

Layout one “master” piece to use as a template - in my instance, the back of the case as it defined the shape and boundaries of the piece, as well as all hardware locations.  Use a piece of software that allows you to draw in separate LAYERS and build each successive piece off that original set of paths, assuring that the exterior edges and knockouts (locations of the pins that hold the stack together) line up. Base your pin holes diameters on standard nut and bolt sizes, as a visit to your hardware will be required to keep your case together. If you're going to do a basic flat stack type case, software programs like Autodesk AutoCAD, or Adobe Illustrator work beautifully.  If you're looking to add little sculptural bits, or do something not so flat, take a look at 123D make on this website.

I found when trying to explain this project to friends, they were having a hard time picturing it -  A quick export of the paths that would be used for cutting into 3d rendering software gave me a feel of how things would line up and perform as well as provide a visual to folks of what I was trying to accomplish. (Gratuitous explosion at end adds no additional value, but was brought to you at no additional cost...)

Step 3: Cut!

Not owning a laser cutter :( I needed to find a company that could help with the actual cutting of the acrylic. 

In searching the web, I found Pololu Robotics and Electronics in Las Vegas, Nevada (  They do a number of really cool things, including sell parts for the sort of projects found here on Instructables. My contact there was Arthur Rodrigues, who was extremely helpful.  After a couple of emails and minor design tweaks, we ran a test cut on Mylar (clear film pieces shown in bottom right photo) to check the alignment of everything.  If you are working on a mechanical project or a project where fit or specific tolerance is a requirement – it is well worth the time and minor added expense to have them run you a Mylar test cut.  While the Mylar was too thin to prove that my item would work mechanically, it did prove that all of my registration holes and slots were going to line up, as well as my bottom window and gear/signature artwork.

There was a one week turnaround time on the parts.  If you’ve never experienced the excitement of waiting for, then receiving a “kit” of something you’ve designed yourself, I have to tell you, it’s pretty awesome.  Everything came with a protective paper coating on it, which I really wanted to take off, but I knew I would be puttering around with this thing for a while before sending it in, so I left the paper on to avoid scratches.

Step 4: Gather!

Now it’s time to select the hardware you'll use to hold your case together and give it a little more awesome bling-ness.

A trip to the hardware is in order.  My piece is made of white, black and brushed aluminum acrylic, so I picked out materials and fittings that complimented those colors.

When searching out fasteners, don’t forget to visit the plumbing section.  There are more interesting chrome, brass, neoprene and paper connectors, gaskets and washers in that section than you can shake a stick at.

In creating my system, I wanted an automated situation in which when I moved the wand, the arrow inside the case would rotate upward and be revealed.  I had seen a number of laser cut business cards on this sight that sandwiched gears between sheets to create motion, but as the look was the important part (applying to a visual company, not an engineering firm) and more parts meant more possible points of failure, I decided instead to use a rotating cam approach.

I'm sure there's a more technical term for it, but basically instead of cutting a circular hole in the two parts that would set on the cam, I cut D shaped keys - the idea being I would ground the side off one of the cylindrical standoffs to create a d shaped cam for them to slide onto.  When the wand rotated, it would rotate the cam and reveal the arrow.

In discussing the best route to grind down the standoff with a friend, he volunteered to actually machine the part I would need our of aluminum stock (thank you Demaro.)  When working on projects like this, let folks know what you're up to - you may trip across the help you need.

I also attached the lens from the magnifying glass to its holder with a two part plastic putty.  Once dried, it was painted to match.

Step 5: Assemble!

Dry assemble everything once to make sure it fits correctly.  Do not remove the protective covering before this step!  You may find yourself assembling and disassembling this thing a number of times before getting it just right and presenting it.  If someone’s going to put a scratch on it – let it be the owner :).  Once you are sure everything is correct – remove the protective paper and wrap it up.

Step 6: Detail!

Just as landscaping creates curb appeal, and accessories complete an outfit - give some consideration to detailing the final look of your case.  If you're doing the bride thing - have a line from their vows engraved into the front plate.  Sending Harry your video love letter?  Bind the case up in ribbon with a box of any one of those awful candies companies were busy recreating from the movies.

The back of my case includes laser etched quotes about creativity and the hardware fittings were picked to accent and carry over the colors in the acrylic.  Originally I was hoping to find an interesting small print cloth to make a presentation bag (sort of envelope if you will) for the case, and was hoping to be able to reproduce the pattern into a file that could be etched on the face of the top piece of acrylic.  I was unable to find the sort of cloth I was looking for, so that detail fell by the wayside, but we did sew a great case (thank you Barb!) to present it in.  My last detail will be to find a lite-scribe capable CD burner and burn an appropriate pattern into the top of the CD so that when inserted into the case, it compliments and adds to the overall look of the project.

Step 7: Why I Would Like to See This Project Win One of the Three Huricane Laser Cutters:

I think sheet plastic is an amazing material – with just a little heat you can bend it into the most amazing shapes.  Unfortunately the complexity involved in cutting it pretty much cancels out its ease of bending.

Ten years ago I fell in love with acrylic and started having companies cut small projects for me,  simple things like letters for a sign over my classroom door (school teacher for 15 years) and the word “CREATE” for a wall in my living room.  A few years ago, I met a college architecture student with access to a laser cutter and we started doing wood projects – models of his building designs, a wine rack for my kitchen, etc.  Now that he’s moved on to grad school, my creativity has no outlet for further explorations in wood.

There are many times like others on this site, that I look at old or discarded materials and think – “wow, I could make that into something really cool…” but for it to be either a reproducible design or have a certain level of sophistication, it requires some specialty fabricated piece to hold everything together.  I watch many folks here fabricate those parts out of wood for lack of a better option. While easy to tool, traditional wood working may not give the required finished result, or may result in too bulky a solution.   I would love to be able to pseudo mass produce those specialty parts (like folks with 3D printers do) so others without cutters could access make my designs.   I’m also a big fan of some of the “flat pack” products I see being dreamed up, where you receive a sheet of wood that has items laser cut out of it, you put them together and “voila!” they are a chair, or a chandelier, or a moss-covered three-handled family credenza.

There are four tools I hope to own some day – a computer driven plasma cutting table for metal, a laser cutter for wood and plastic, a plotter/cutter for working in sheet Mylar and a 3D printer.  Someday I’d like to open a business that’s a shop for creating “things”…anything.  When people say “I wonder if someone could make me a __________”  We’d be the company who could do it – sort of a low cost prototype shop for the common man for those one-off replacement parts for things that break around the house, that piece of art for the back yard, or that sign for your brick and mortar store.  You’d visit us, the way you visit your local hardware store. That’s the long range goal.  Short range, if I were to win this machine, I would start a small number of cottage industries using the cutter so I could bank money for the long term goal and maintain the equipment.  Photo etching wedding gifts, wine bottles as corporate gifts, and modding gaming station covers are three that come to mind.  While letting these events “pay the bills” I would continue to work on my own design ideas – including some acrylic lamp design ideas (see Instructable  )flat pack furniture, and a series of machine cut gear driven wall art projects a la’ Rube Goldberg that incorporate clocks and calendars.
It was a pleasure developing this Instructable.  Thank you for your consideration.

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    9 Discussions


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Unfortunately, due to the economy the company has gone into a hiring freeze, so they havent seen the project yet. Soon I hope :)


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you all for the comments. Im glad my first Instructable is being well received. The case is more art than science, its whole job is to look pretty and grab attention. The end user creates most of the movement by sliding, pushing or cranking the parts stamped with numbers in the correct order.
    When I have time I hope to create another like it that is more mechanical and puzzle like, but the aim for on this one was sort of quick and dirty to get it done.
    Thanks again!

    It looks cool but what does it do? Maybe I missed it but either showing a video of the automata in action or describing it in the intro would be nice. It looks like if I wanted to make this I could follow along but I'm not even sure how it works.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    There's an animation on the next step but it would be nice to see a video of the real finished product in action.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I did miss that! But yeah, awesome animation but the real deal would be nice to see. From what I understand it's an awesome disc holder that will pop up a word.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    wow, this is just simpy awesome. Would be nice if you showed a video of you taking out the cd. But it is a verry nice design and verry creative.