Monday, September 29, 2008

PhlatPrinter: Update - Making Planes Now!

A couple of days ago, the Ruby-scripted Plug-In was released from The PhlatBoyz! This set of tools allows you t0 create gCode for your aircraft (or whatever else you would like to cut on your PhlatPrinter) that you have worked up in Google's SketchUp. Without this Plug-In, you are forced to work up your design in a commercial CAD application, save it as DXF, then import your DXF file into a commercial CAM program to create the gCode. While this is an effective workflow, the Google SketchUp workflow is much better, as SketchUp is free, the Plug-In is free, and if your design isn't too complex, you can even use the free demo version of Mach3! I like free! lol

After watching the tutorial for the Plug-In completely through, I gained enough knowledge of it's use to get started. I watched the tutorial a second time, only this time I went step by step, pausing the video several times along the way.

Since I already had a DXF file worked up for the parts for Tony65x55's BluBaby 24 airplane, I chose this to do the shakedown of the Plug-In. This proved to be a great file to use, since the parts for this airplane all required an "outside cut". After working the file up and saving out the gCode, I ended up with this little jewel!

Not bad, eh? Following my old workflow, it would have taken me at least two hours to get to this point with printing out tiled plans, putting the tiles together like a puzzle and taping them up, cutting out the templates for each part, using those paper part templates to get the foam pieces cut out, and then finally the build of the plane. Using my PhlatPrinter, it took 23 minutes to cut out the plane. The build time was only about 15 minutes, and the gCode preparation was only about 10 minutes. Result? I shaved off about an hour of time on this project using the PhlatPrinter and it's workflow. Not a big time savings, but when you factor in that the hour that I shaved off was the most frustrating part of any build - the cutting out of the foam parts using paper templates! Now, if I decide to build another for myself or a friend, it will take even less time to complete since I already have the gCode processed and saved! It's now just a matter of loading a sheet of foam in the PhlatPrinter, loading the gCode in Mach3, hitting the "print" button, and waiting 23 minutes for all the pieces of the next one!

My next project was an easy choice. Since the indoor flying season is fast approaching, I wanted to get another of SloperSteve's SloFly Micro 22's in the air. This was a great test for the Plug-In (and my skills with it!) since the parts required "inside cuts" and it allowed me to use the "fold" tool, which is where you set up the cut to be a percentage of the foam's thickness, rather than cutting completely through. Again, prep time of the file to get it ready to write the gCode out was less than 10 minutes! My hat goes off to Pete (the programmer of the script) for a tool package so simple that even I can get it figured out so quickly!

Because this is such a small airplane (only 22" wingspan), I was able to lay the parts out to utilize only a half sheet of FanFoldFoam (FFF). The cut time for this file was only 9:52 - less than 10 minutes to have all the pieces to one of the greatest indoor and backyard flyers in the world!

Rather than having the machine cut out the ailerons and elevator, I elected to only "score" those parts at 50% depth using the "fold" tool. The scores turned out great, giving me a guide to cut out those pieces by hand. All I can say here is WOW!

Since this is such a great little plane, and I figure everyone should own one, I wrote another gCode file out so that I can now cut the parts for TWO of these planes out of one sheet of foam. That way, I will have a spare plane next time I cut one out and can give it away to a friend!

Mere words cannot express my satisfaction with this purchase! The PhlatPrinter ( is truly the scratchbuilder's new best friend! Even if you don't like the designing aspect of flying foamie airplanes, you should consider building one of these machines. As the PhlatBoyz customer base grows, more and more free gCode files will become available. This means that there is going to be a large list of free gCodes for you to choose your next airplane from very soon!

If you are already a Google SketchUp user (or you just want to download the application and take a look at my files - hey the application is free, after all!), you can go to Google's 3D Warehouse and search for my files. You can download everything there for free and see how this stuff works! My files are uploaded under the name "Crash-Man", but if you do a search for "PhlatPrinter" you will find mine and others that have been set up for this process.

Fun stuff ahead!!!

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