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MakerFaire Pittsburgh!

MakerFaire Pittsburgh and Robot

This past weekend I attended MakerFaire Pittsburgh along with the company I now work for, WARDJet. We brought along our brand new show truck with one of our waterjet CNC machines in it! It was awesome talking to a lot of excited makers, both about the waterjet we brought with us and their own projects. I tried to take as many pictures as possible of things that I thought were particularly neat.

The WARDKit Show Truck at MakerFaire Pittsburgh

The company I work for recently built a show truck to show off one of our new offerings. What offering is that you may ask? Well, its a water jet CNC machine in the form of a kit! We fabricate the parts and then you assemble it. This isn’t meant to be a sales pitch though, but if you want that, just check out the WARDKit website. Sometime in the near future, I’ll do a post about water jets: what they’re capable of doing and how they work. That post is will be linked HERE (once its actually done). What I’d rather talk about in this post is my experience at the MakerFaire.

MakerFaire Pittsburgh was a two day event going from 10a-5p both Saturday and Sunday and boy was it busy. We drove over to Pittsburgh Friday night after work and decided to head straight to our truck to do a little more preparation. While the rest of the makers were gathered having dinner and drinks we were outside drilling holes and hammering carriage bolts into place! We wrapped up Friday night around 11p and took a couple pictures of our display, including an aerial video from a go pro mounted on my co-workers drone.

Friday night preparations.

Friday night required a little bit of work to get everything ready.

Saturday morning required an early start to get everything else at our display in tip-top shape. There was an impressive amount of stuff to take care of. We started up our intensifier pump, charged our air tank, filled our water reservoir and ran the machine through its paces to get ready for the day. We set-up a table with all the information, business cards and sample cuts for people to look at. We finished setting up right around 9:30a, which provided me with a little time to walk around before it started. This is when I got to talk to Bob, who was printing and vacuum forming chocolate molds (see more on this later in this post).

Saturday was definitely the busier of the two days. We had the water jet under motion and running in low pressure, water only mode, at about 12,000 PSI. We were running cutting demo’s every 45 minutes or so, mostly cutting out makerfaire robots out of red craft foam. We were handing these out all day as key chains, and people seemed to love them. Grab the .DXF here and cut out your own! The event opened up at 10a and really kicked into high gear right after lunch time. We had a pretty steady surge of people coming by to watch the cutting demos and it was great to see our show truck full of observers.

Foam MakerFaire Robots sitting on top of the Water Jets crossbeam.

Foam MakerFaire robots sitting on top of the water jet’s crossbeam.

The people who were stopping by ranged from children to makers to engineers. Almost everyone was excited to watch a huge machine move around and cut stuff with WATER! I got to practice my sales pitch and generally just talk to excited makers of all types. Kids went wide eyed and some people said “I have to have one” as soon as they saw it. My favorite reaction was probably a guy who saw it and looked intensely interested in how he could get one into his garage. Even better, was his wife hearing the price, shrugging, and then saying that it really was quite reasonable!

Excited onlookers watching the water jet cutting.

Excited onlookers watching the water jet cutting.

We also cut out the MakerFaire Pittsburgh logo and our logo during one of our demo cuts. We cut it out of the same red craft foam as we did for the robots. We also cut an identical copy of this out of 1/8″ Stainless back at our facility on Friday afternoon. When we weren’t cutting foam during a demo, we were running the same logo program tracing over the stainless steel one.

Logo Demo cut out of foam and stainless

We also cut a pear that we just happened to have!

Water jet cut pear!

Water jet cut pear!

Sunday wasn’t as hectic, but we had a hiccup with our intensifier pump that rendered us unable to do any cutting demos. Thinking we were set for the second day, we had showed up a little closer to opening time. Fairly quickly, we discovered the unfortunate situation with our pump and tried our best to fix it. After about two hours on the phone with tech support we found out that it was out of our power to make it work that day. It knocked the wind out of us a little bit, but we still talked to a lot of people and everyone was still excited to see it move.

Water Jet Cut Samples

Some samples we had set out, including: craft foam, carbon fiber, aluminum, granite and a large chunk of steel.

However, it wasn’t the end of the world! I managed to decipher our G-code files and determine what the M-code for water jet on/off was. Knowing this, I opened up the g-code files in Notepad++ and did a find/replace all for the on/off commands with a Z up/down move. Doing this allowed us to zip tie a dry erase marker to the water jet nozzle and turn the whole thing into a draw bot! We couldn’t cut foam, but we could at least draw on a white board and show how our tool paths worked… mostly. Draw bots usually have a spring loaded marker end to account for variation in the drawing surface. Our marker was only zip tied though, and while our machine is rock solid repeatable and square, white boards are, unfortunately, not rated for flatness. This experience proved to be pretty awesome though. I knew a little about g-code and such before this, but I had never done any post-processing manually like this. It was very rewarding figuring it out and seeing it work while working under the gun WHILE the MakerFaire was going on!

Sunday wrapped up and and we had to pack up the truck. The event ended at 5p and it took us until about 7p to strap everything down and button up the truck.

All packed up and ready to return to Ohio.

All packed up and ready to return to Ohio.

Other Highlights Around the MakerFaire

While both days were quite busy, I did get a chance to wander around the rest of the MakerFaire a little bit. Some of the highlights I saw included: a rubber band Gatling gun, a cardboard velociraptor suit and a guy printing then vacuum forming chocolate molds!

The booth next to us was RealBotics, a group of people who made a software platform for controlling robots over the web or via direct connection to a computer and an arduino. They had a spotter scope that was attached to a series of 3D printed racks to control its motion and a webcam where your eye would normally look into it. Even better, they had an air cannon that you could aim and fire! At it’s core, it looked like a simple pneumatic potato gun, but it was much more than that. You could control the pitch angle and rotation of the whole thing with their software, and it was also breach loaded (actuated by a pneumatic cylinder)! They were firing tennis balls all day and at the end of the day on Sunday, they were firing cupcakes!

Cupcake Shooting Cannon!

Cupcake Shooting Cannon!


Catty-corner across from us was the HackPGH booth and one of the makers there had a beautiful electro-mechanical clock along right beside a large rubber band Gatling gun and a wooden music box. The clock used a solenoid and an arduino to keep the pendulum moving indefinitely. Really makes me want to get to work on my own mechanical clock (which will hopefully be water jet cut out of granite!).

These projects were top notch.

These projects were top notch. The size of the rubber band gatling gun alone was impressive!

There were hoverboards everywhere. Here seen in an interesting application of moving around this makers music box.

There were those hoverboards everywhere. Here seen in an interesting application of moving around this maker’s music box.

Pittsburgh TechShop was directly across from us doing some forging! It was quite chilly on Saturday morning, I bet that little furnace came in handy!

TechShop Pittsburgh Forging in Action

The aforementioned cardboard veliciraptor: KitRex. What’s pictured below is actually a suit! Someone got in it and walked around the faire at regular intervals. Also of note, were the enormous googly eyes. Definitely the largest I’ve ever seen!KitRex Velociraptor Suit

A bad picture, but this stringed instrument robot was really cool to see in action. The four strings were selectively tensioned at different points by computer controlled carriages to create different notes and a guitar pick was turned to make music by strumming the string. Eric Singer of singer robots was the creator of this awesome, robotic musical instrument.Singer Bots Musical Robot

I forgot to take any pictures, but I did spend a bit of time talking to Bob of who was printing  objects on his 3D printer, vacuum forming them into molds (using an awesome & simple laser cut vacuum former) and then casting chocolate bars out of them! It was great talking with him and it gave me some ideas of my own. I will definitely be looking over his blog and hopefully making some chocolate molds of my own in the near future! At the very least I will be making a vacuum former like he was using. Too cool of an idea to pass up.

A sampling of Bob’s work (borrowed from MakerFaire Pittsburgh’s website).

The whole MakerFaire Pittsburgh Experience was awesome. In 48 hours I got to talk to so many excited makers and see so many awesome projects. I really enjoyed the experience but man was it exhausting. Once I finally got home on Sunday it sure did feel great to sit down and relax.

This event has got me back into the maker mood. It’s been a little while since I’ve done a project and going to this MakerFaire snapped me out of my slump. Keep an eye out for some projects in the coming weeks!