New Project: 3D Modeling an Open Source Lathe

In May I saw this Tweet from engineer4change:

Pat Delaney, the designer of the MultiMachine, has been tinkering with an idea for the design of a cheap lathe made out of concrete and scrap for about 8 years now.

I’m an engineer, but a specialty of mine is 3D modeling. I’ve used Sketchup and Blender at work, and I spend so much time in Revit MEP that I often dream in it (funny story about that: ask me sometime).

I got in touch with Pat Delany, the genius behind the project, to figure out what he was about and what he was looking for. Check out this post at for a quick introduction to the idea, but here’s the Cliff Notes:

Imagine a lathe that can be constructed out of scrap for a few hundred dollars and used to fix things like truck rotors, water pumps, windmill parts, or even a better version of itself. Self-replicating homemade machine tools that improve every iteration.  

Pat has a potentially great idea but communicating a technical design solution to the world at large is never easy. The quality of your drawings can make or break the perceived legitimacy of your design, and that’s a obstacle that needs to be overcome before someone tries to use your drawings to actually build something.

This works both ways: good designs can appear bad if the drawings suck, and artful drawings can make even the worst designs appear compelling.

The goal is excellent, compelling visual communication paired with brilliant design.

My task, then, is to work with Pat and the others working on this design to:

  1. Create dimensioned living models to serve as a common reference point for the ongoing design work on the project.
  2. From the model, extract images and/or animations that will clearly communicate how the design will be built and operated. i.e., a visually based how-to-build manual.
  3. Create compelling visuals that clearly establish the narrative of the design. This is half design communication and half marketing, I think.

Right now I’m nearing substantial completion for task 1. I’ve got a lot of ideas for the next steps in this process and I’m itching to get to them.

This is the current model for the full-size lathe. Still some kinks to work out, but it’s starting to take shape:

As of 2011-07-05

I’m jumping into producing a smaller model that will be used to make the first small-scale lathes used as proof of concept.

I’m no machinist, so you won’t find much detailed discussion of the design principles of the lathe here (check out the Yahoo group for that). What I hope to do here is explore the use of visual communication skills and tools for the design and sharing of open source hardware projects.

We’ll see where it goes.

One Response to New Project: 3D Modeling an Open Source Lathe

  1. Regards for this marvelous post, I am glad I observed this site on yahoo.

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