Back in June, the Aurora Public Library finished and opened their new Santori building. The most personally exciting addition to the library within the new building is a public makerspace, with plenty of gadgets for making things (and some just for playing around) that I knew I’d want to spend some time with.
In November, I accepted a part-time position at the library helping patrons learn how to use the hardware available both in the makerspace and also in other locations like the media studio. Now that I’ve had a few weeks to become familiar with the new hardware, I wanted to take a moment to discuss what new tools we have available. With that in mind, this week’s project is less about a single physical item and more about the differences between laser manufacturers and some quick exploration into other hardware.
My obvious first stop is at the APL Makerspace’s laser, an Epilog brand Mini 24. It’s 40 watts, so beyond the slightly shorter 12″ Y axis, it’s equivalent to the Universal Laser Systems VersaLaser 4.60 I have at home. The power and technology may be similar, but the actual hardware and software are pretty wildly different.
Featured on the front of the unit is a LED readout and a bevy of buttons that allow the user to issue lots of commands from right there in front of the laser. Compared to the VersaLaser, which only has five buttons, I can move between jobs in internal storage, activate the red dot pointer at any time, and even temporarily disable the motor control on the axes so that I can temporarily move the lens out of the way without needing to turn off the machine.
Another clever addition is an autofocus “plunger” which can automatically find the surface to be engraved and calculate the appropriate focus without any user intervention. Despite these and some other nifty perks of the hardware, I was shocked to discover that the software solution provided, Epilog Job Manager, does not have any way to estimate the job time prior to processing the material. It’s a serious minus for anyone who needs to let their customers or patrons know an estimate for how much their job will cost.
The laser isn’t the only fancy piece of kit in the makerspace. They also have a Roland-brand vinyl cutter. This was a bit of a surprise to me, since my previous experience with Roland hardware was restricted to digital drum kits. It’s a fairly diminutive piece of hardware, looking a bit bony next to the huge laser printer and positively tiny next to the oversized plotter printer.
The plotter printer is so big that it can print four-foot wide banners, and it’s fed by rolls of paper, the actual length of which none of us have yet to discover. Thankfully, it’s very intuitive to use as long as you know how to prepare your documents as PDF files on thumb drives. Anything else and you might need a manual.
Sitting next to the entryway is a really comfortable chair and a large screen, the latter of which isn’t really meant for the person at the station—it’s more for onlookers’ benefit, because the typical user will have their eyes wrapped in vaguely unfinished plastic. While the Oculus Rift station doesn’t yet help patrons make anything, it’s definitely an attention-getter.
Along the back wall (and overlooking the excellent art installation in the back entryway) are a trio of 3D printers. They’re Cubes, by 3DSystems, and they’re regularly the most active pieces of maker hardware in the space. There’s a reason we have three of them, and it’s not just the popularity: 3D printing can take a very, very long time. While it’s super neat that these printers can print from two colors in a single job, I have to admit I’m not sure how much of the trouble I’ve had with extrusion tips jamming and work plate misalignment are just the learning curve.
The Aurora Public Library Makerspace is really cool, and if you’re in the area, it’s a great way to come check out not only a really sleek laser cutter but also 3D printers, vinyl cutters, a VR headset and a lot more. The space is open from noon to 8:30 pm on Monday through Thursday, noon to 4:30 on Friday and Saturday, and for some small period of time on Sunday that I don’t immediately recall. Stop by and learn how to make stuff!
P.S. Please disregard the awful automatic patching on the featured panorama. Trust me, the Santori building is not nearly that broken looking in real life!