We are often contacted by our customers about making custom enclosures for their electronics projects. An enclosure might be needed for a custom keyboard, Arduino based game machine, radio transmitter, or any of the hundreds of other electronic projects built by imaginative Big Blue Saw fans.
Occasionally we'll hear from people who feel that Big Blue Saw's waterjet and laser cutting services can't make a custom enclosure. But those in the know realize that you can use the stacking technique to build a custom three dimensional case out of parts cut from thin, flat sheet.
Take a look at the CAD layout of the parts below. These pieces are intended to be stacked together to make the final enclosure.
You can see this design cut from 3 mm thick clear acrylic below.
The pieces stack together so that the piece with the circular cutouts for the controls is on the top and the solid piece is on the bottom.
The pieces in the center have slots in them so that there is an opening for wires or a connector.
Components such as connectors, switches, buttons and indicator lights can be installed on the top piece. This panel can be customized with openings to match the components you need in your application.
We've made the pieces in acrylic here so you can see how it all fits together.
Here's how this as yet unnamed technique works. One piece is placed perpendicularly to two pieces whose faces run in parallel. The perpendicular piece has tabs which match slots on the other two pieces. Unlike in the t-nut technique, the perpendicular member is not bolted to the other two pieces. It is instead held in place by compression. The two parallel pieces provide the compression by being held together with long bolts.
This technique lets you use larger bolts than tab and slot for greater strength. The tabbed piece is also free to have other features on it without you having to worry about the location of the fasteners.
We don't have a name for this construction technique yet. I feel it's very useful to give these things a name so we have a convenient shorthand to refer to when building this way. Any suggestions for a name? Let me know.
We recently got the following message from Aptyx Designs, currently the #3 seed and a semi-finalist in this season's BattleBots.
Want to see how our frame was built? We designed all of our aluminum unibody frame to be waterjet cut by Big Blue Saw! The frame is all 1/4", 3/8", and 1/2" 6061 aluminum plate. By designing the parts with interlocking puzzle tabs, there is a strong mechanical joint even before welding!
This method allows for super fast construction, accurate jigging for welding, and a strong mechanical joint by having the zig-zag weld area, and lots of filets for welding.
If you design parts, you can upload them to Big Blue Saw and get instant quotes, including the material costs, and see how your design affects the pricing! No need for sending out for quotes and waiting, they are super easy to work with.
After all of or parts were waterjet cut, we were able to do minimum fit up work, jig everything together, and get Applied Welding in Mountain View to weld everything up for us! Welding thick aluminum requires a very experienced shop to ensure proper penetration and minimal warping. Eddie Irlanda is our man for welding everything!
When it comes to custom parts for musical instruments, Big Blue Saw is the top choice for the instrument makers and musicians in the know. Over the years, we've made specialized guitar capos, sitar bridges, replacement accordion parts, and much more.
I've never seen an entire musical instrument using waterjet cut parts, though, so I set out to create one. After considering several possibilities, I decided to build a simple thumb piano. A thumb piano consists of a set of tine each tuned to a different note. When plucked, the sound of each tine resonates in a chamber to amplify the sound.
I started by using the free xylophone bar length calculator from Windworld. I input the longest bar length of 4 inches, and the calculator spit out the lengths of all the bars such that they would form an octave plus one higher note. The shortest bar was 2.83 inches accoding to the calculator. From there it was easy to design a "comb" with the various tines.
Next, I needed a resonating chamber. The best way to do this with waterjet cut parts is via the stacking technique, described in its own article. I designed a plain flat piece for the bottom, pieces with cavities for the middle layers, and a top with a resonating hole for the sound. I added holes so that I could bolt all of the pieces together, including the comb. Finally, I added two more small spacer pieces so that the comb could rest slightly elevated from the top of the resonator.
With this design, I could use just about any material and thickness that would be stiff enough for the tines to vibrate. I chose 1/8" thick aluminum 6061 alloy as it's relatively inexpensive and this was just a prototype instrument, after all.
After the parts were waterjet cut, I bolted them together using #10-24 machine screws.
Now it was time to play. How does it sound? Check out the video below.
OK, it's a little out of tune. This is partly due to the calculator I used being designed for free floating xylophone keys, not tines which are all connected on one end. The higher notes sound more musical than the lower notes, so if I had to do it again, I'd start with the longest tine being around 3 inches. I would also consider using more and thicker bolts to hold the case together, as I noticed sublte rattling of the layers when the notes are struck. Plucking one note can cause the others to ring a little bit, so I would change the design to isolate the notes a little better, perhaps by using multiple combs. Finally, brass might make a better choice than aluminum for the material, as it's a more "musical" metal.
If you've got any more ideas for improving this thumb piano, let me know in the comments section or by e-mailing email@example.com.