Digital Fabrication: Ponoko

Following up on my work on digital fabrication and related areas, I tried Ponoko’s fabrication service.  I didn’t design anything myself (I’m lazy), but I bought a tabbed Arduino enclosure from their marketplace, cut from 3mm clear acrylic.

Here’s the 20cm x 20cm laser-cut sheet I got from them:

The cut width was very fine (Ponoko says the line width is about 0.2mm):

And here’s the final case (not glued, and assembled not entirely correctly):

Not bad for $5!  I’m impressed.

I think they’re definitely onto something, but there’s still more work to be done.  In particular:

  • The parts took too long to arrive: 19 days.  In a world where you get stuff from Amazon in 1-2 days, this is way too long.  It took four days to start making my part, 8 days to make and ship it, the 5 days for delivery.  Digital fabrication really sings when you can iterate quickly on mechanical designs (like software does).  At some point, someone will do fabrication overnight and offer “designs submitted by 5pm will ship the next day“, with East and West coast fabrication centers and cheap 1-2 day shipping to most of the US.
  • For 2d/sheet goods, support CAD formats.  Ponoko supports EPS and SVG formats — they’re probably targeting hobbyists and artists.   For mechanical design, they need to support DXF and other CAD formats.  And, they should consider the cut line width with offsets, so they can offer “cut to specified dimension“, which will make it easier to fabricate mechanical parts (such as tabbed enclosures).  Finally, please don’t make me lay out my parts in a fixed format sheet.  Ponoko should optimize the sheet layout (across orders) and just cut out my parts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *