Thinking with laser cutters

I finally made my first part using a laser cutter.  There’s a period on that sentence because the most exciting event happened 30 minutes later after the second and third parts came out perfectly.  The background: the ion engine needs a test stand for use inside a vacuum chamber.  I decided to make this stand out of clear plastic so all internal parts (especially unwanted sparking) could still be observed.  A laser cutter at the nearby TechShop was the obvious choice.  After some fussing around with 2D drawing programs, I was thankfully nudged into using Inventor to make real 3D parts and to confirm how they fit.  When cutting day finally came the process was flawless and the parts came out so easily that I had 90 minutes of time left in my laser reservation.

There was a class running in the woodshop, which I needed to make holders for the vacuum chamber’s thick-walled glass cylinder.  Looking at the woodshop, looking at the laser, looking at the woodshop, looking at the laser – I had a “2001” moment!  It was suddenly clear that the 1/4″ acrylic sitting right there was perfect for cradling the glass cylinder and a few very simple pieces of 1″ dowel would give all the 3D-ness that was actually needed.  10 minutes of drafting later, parts were coming out.  15 minutes of wood cuts and drilling later, it was done.  That “2001” moment when the mental barriers fell really emphasizes the importance of putting yourself into new situations.

Here are the parts for the support and chamber partially assembled.  Enjoy!


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