About Lois Holman

An exchange student from the University of Birmingham, I am a double major in Mechanical and Materials Engineering.

How to… Soldering

How to… Laser Cutting
How to… Arduino
How to… Soldering (this post)
Soldering… what is it? Soldering connects components together in electrical circuits. It joins 2 parts together by melting and putting a filler metal in a joint to connect parts.

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 17.09.03Soldering iron, and a selection of components to be soldered

For hobbyist project soldering, a tin and lead solder with a resin core is often used. For other projects, different solders can be used. For example, silver soldering is used for jewellery, non-lead solder is used for robotics.

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 17.09.41Tin-lead soldering wire

A rough soldering workflow:
  • clean the tip: bang the handle on the desk 3 times to knock off excess solder. wipe the tip across a damp sponge. rotate iron and repeat.
  • solder connection immediately: feed the solder in to melt on the underside of the tip.
  • dont lift up the iron when it smokes. Pull the solder away but keep the iron tip there so that the solder has time to flow.
  • cut off the excess wire in the soldered region so that it does not accidentally make another connection.
  • oxidation occurs quickly, so clean the iron tip between each solder connection
 The iron heats up to 350 degrees C, HOT.
 When cutting excess wire, hold the end while it is being cut to avoid it pinging.

In our workshop session with Mitch Altman, we practiced soldering on a “trippy rgb waves” kit. With a line of these, the colour reset effect can be seen when the infrared sensor is tripped.
Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 17.44.18 Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 17.45.00
Creating our own “trippy RGB waves”
Playing around with other projects and components:
Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 17.11.40

Here I have soldered together Mitch’s most popular project, the TV-B-Gone

The TV-B-Gone is a project that Mitch developed for his own use, which then gained popularity among his friends and then the whole community. By reading the off sequence for all popular TV brand remote controls, and rewriting it into a light sequence programmed into the microcontroller on this board, the device is able to turn off TVs. It takes about a minute to cycle through all the different remote “off” sequences. More on making it here.

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 17.10.56Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 17.26.27Using some extra components, I made this star shaped “throwie”

Throwies are a popular simple hackerspace project that use a colour changing LED attached to a lithium cell. Magnets can be attached to these, to add lights to any ferromagnet surface. (How to make them, here).
LEDs are really simple devices that could be used in numerous electronics projects. I’m looking to develop my star shaped “throwie” into a disco-lights lamp, using a 3D printed structure to house the LEDs,and with an on-off switch.
Heres some other pretty cool LED programmable projects on the internet:
Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 17.51.59 Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 17.52.50 Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 17.53.58
    LED cube installation              electric umbrella                                 LED signal 
Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 17.53.01 Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 17.53.26Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 17.57.41
     LED placeholders                        live bus times                      LED clock
  Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 17.58.03
This is a favourite of mine- the LEDs light up when electromagnetic waves are detected.

How to… Arduinos

In this set of posts:
How to… Laser Cutting
How to… Arduino (this post)
How to… Soldering 
Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 22.09.07 Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 22.10.22
The arduino is a micro controller. Its a hardware device that has a piece of code written to it, which it executes. External pieces of hardware like motors, LEDs, motion sensors, speakers etc are connected to the microcontroller using IO (input output) pins, and is controlled by the code.
Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 19.49.22
Schematic of the components on a standard Arduino board
In-depth knowledge of coding isn’t required because there is so much open source (free developed software) material available to cut something together to perform the function you want. It uses its own programming language which is similar to C++, and has its own IDE (integrated development environment).
There are different arduinos available, with different hardware components, and good for for different applications.
Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 22.11.59
The circular Lilypad is often used for clothing and fabric applications
For a clearer understanding of how an arduino works and where to get started, here is a step by step overview.

The general workflow process for using an Arduino is:

  • write/find online/adapt a piece of code to be run in the arduino IDE (link)
  • wire up the arduino to create a circuit, using components that the code is written for.
  • power up the device by connecting it through the USB port
  • ‘upload’ the code from the IDE to the arduino
  • watch it work!

In our short session playing around with Arduinos, we got some basic functionalities to work: LEDs, motors, and touch sensors.
Wired up Arduino for lighting an LED. And heres how to do it.
Using a combination of all 3, here’s an LED lighting up and motor stopping, on touch.
Arduinos open up  lot of scope for automated projects. If you can think it, then you can make it happen!
Some creative ideas that I’ve come across online that are all controlled by Arduinos:
3D printers
laser harps
lightning detectors
all kinds of home automation
autolacing shoes
greenhouse monitoring
twitter mood lights (changes colour based on the mood of tweets)
knock detecting door handle lock
tree climbing robots
fire breathing animatronic ponies….
Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 22.34.43
Its just a little programming and automation, all powered by Arduino!

How to…. Laser cutting

In this set of posts:
How to… Laser Cutting (this post)
How to… Arduino
How to… Soldering 

Laser cutting experimentation

Over the next few weeks i’ll be experimenting with laser cutting, arduinos, and programmed embroidery. My aim of these next few posts is to show you the lowdown and the basics, as well as my ideas, inspiration, and experimentation that stem from it.

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 23.01.09

Laser cutting opens scope for many designs and creations. This is a resource available to me through the local Fab Lab. It is a simple manufacturing technique to use, and works though “cutting” or “rastering” on a panel of material. Rastering is the process of engraving and not cutting all the way through.

Intricate designs and patterns can be lasered onto a panel. Depending on the design colours, and the settings on the machine, different cuts and shades can be achieved.

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 21.52.03Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 21.51.03Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 21.50.28

Common materials to be laser cut are acrylic plastic, and wood. Other materials (such as metal) can also be laser cut, depending on the strength of the machine. Materials that give off poisonous gas emissions, or melt too much when under the heat of the laser, should not be laser cut (list of materials you can and can’t cut).


The general workflow process for creating a laser printed piece is:

  • Insert the design/image/shape into a program called Inkscape. (Inkscape is an open source software tool used for image manipulation, download it here).
  • Using Inkscape, convert the image into a vector graphic. Converting the bitmap image into a vector graphic allows things to be scaled up and down without pixilation (more on this).

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 22.38.26

  • Use other tools in Inkscape if necessary to make adjustments to the image. For any line to be cut, the line thickness must be 0.001”. For the rastering, a darker shade of greyscale produces a stronger/deeper raster.
  • When this has been saved to a PDF, it can then be printed on the laser cutter.
  • Settings on the printer can be tuned and adjusted to ensure the laser cuts all the way through the material etc.

To practice the range of techniques that are possible from the laser cutter at the fab lab, I made these:


1) Laser rastered image onto paper (a notebook). Adjusting the gradient of the greyscale of the mountain in the bottom of the picture changed how deep the laser cut into it. Rastering any design, image or phrase onto a notebook is a really great way of creating personalised gifts and products, and so simple to do.

2) This acrylic pendant for a necklace utilises rastering and cutting. The outline of the shape is cut straight through, and the fishbowl detail is restored onto the surface. In Inkscape this is laid up from 2 images, with one doing the cut and another for the raster.


Fun products that can be made from laser cut panels, like these:

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 23.43.56

1) headphone tidy                                                                       2) rastered image illuminated by LEDs

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 23.43.45

3) bookend                                   4) quirky coat hangers            5) spaghetti measurer


Jewellery is also a popular application of laser cutting, with many novel designs that can be created.

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 23.01.25

Most designs can all be laser cut into custom pieces


3D structures can be made from laser cut panels by designing interlocking patterns that can slot together.

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 22.58.49

Aligning slots allows pieces to be joined together


(return to main navigation menu)

Getting going, let’s 3D print!

New CAD software, new ideas, new designs. Part 2 of 2. Part 1 introduced CAD design in Fusion 360.

Mentioned in a previous post (and details to follow in future posts), there are many many materials that can be 3D printed. Available to me right now is PLA printing.

While there are many designs and ideas I could consider of things to 3D print, I want to focus on ideas where the functionality and usability of the item is not compromised by the fact that its made out of PLA. PLA is commercially used for packaging, and works well for small gadgets, cases, shells, toys, in 3D printing [1]. For this reason, I won’t be designing more lamps and headphones, since PLA is not the ideal material to have those made from!

After a brainstorm of ideas, I determined that simple small designs/gadgets would be good if made out of PLA.


These are a few things I think would be very possible to create interesting designs of to 3D print:

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 21.07.10 Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 21.07.30 Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 21.08.03

1: Jewellery stand inspired by forms and shapes from outdoors and the natural world

2: interesting cage jewellery ideas- possible through 3D printing

3: keyholder

I designed my own keyholder here, instead with a climber silhouette. (will post printed pictures later). It also involved using a technique in Fusion360 where you can insert a picture as a template to draw against. (tutorial here).


Looking at other key holder designs:

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 21.07.49

I also came across this key holder design.

I like the use here, of a keyring that slots into place when home. To make this more multifunctional, I plan to redesign this with these considerations:

  • hanging hooks.
  • a clip underneath for clipping onto a shelf
  • Slots/shelf to dock phone and hold wallet/purse
  • hole to allow in iPhone charge wire

Watch this space for 3D printed models and new designs.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polylactic_acid


(return to main navigation menu)

Ready, steady, GO!

 New CAD software, new ideas, new designs. Part 1 of 2. (Part 2 coming soon)
fusion360_facebookFusion 360 Publisher Example


Having been introduced to Fusion360 over the past 2 weeks, I’ve followed a few tutorials to practice the key CAD capabilities available through this software (free to download, have a play around!). (Tutorials here). Most notable about using fusion is that while parametric modeling is still very key to producing most models, there is also a free-form sculpting function where shapes can be sculpted and molded by push/pull actions.



As seen in this tutorial, the free-form tool can be used push pull designs into all kinds of fluid shapes and forms.

Here (below) are some headphones I designed following tutorials, entirely through the free-form sculpting function. The lamp was created through mostly parametric modelling.


Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 03.41.17

Note: when using the free-form sculpting, particular care must be taken to ensure that when molding your shape, not to cross the shape into itself otherwise you’ll receive an error when you get to the end of your sculpt session. Very painful if you’ve spent some time one it. A lot of re-work, and I learnt the hard way.


In comparison to other  Engineering CAD packages (Solidworks, Creo, Catia) that I’ve come across, Fusion is a relatively easy piece of software to use, user intuitive and navigable, but does lack high end features available in the other CAD softwares that I’ve mentioned. It’s probably my go-to now for everyday designing though. Rendering designs also works a treat, with a basic library of materials and full scope of lighting effects that can be utilised.


Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 03.45.08

These are all possible designs in Fusion360. I best get practicing…


So what next? We have 3D printers, and Fusion360. Obviously time to get designing!


Beauty in Equations

Following through from inspiration in class, I want to look at physically rendering mathematical equations, and the beauty of these shapes before moving onto posts on practical applications and innovative creations possible with 3D-printing.
So many forms that we see in the natural world are governed by mathematical concepts, and the Golden Ratio, which is based on a series of numbers.
18f8x3mkekfexjpg 18f8fvb8rc1jujpg5cd515c02e23453c01850ff210264831
Mathematical patterns seen in the world around us
As explained in Wired’s article “This is what math equations look like in 3D”, the philosopher Descartes realised that the geometric shapes that Greeks drew, can be described with “algebraic equations in x’s and y’s”. Hundreds of years later, German mathematician Klein (famous for the Klein bottle), created many 3D models of equations painstakingly out of plaster.
These copies of Klein’s models are in a collection here at UIUC
Days would have gone into manually creating these models while also insuring their mathematical accuracy (See wired article for details). Today, any of these can be created very quickly through 3d printing. Some geometries that were too complex to create before, can also be made through 3D printing. It means that today we have so many available tools to incorporate mathematical ideas and design into things that we create. 3D printing allows us to play around with these equations and create these designs so easily.
f51ef5a7a31cab07fbcb3fe7de41f60f 72ba5af1c50ad264897dbeb46ee865ba
Mathematical designs and shapes can create beautiful pieces of artwork and accessories.
A favourite of mine, is the mobius strip (surface with only one side) created as a set of toothed gears by a Berkelee student (here). He 3D printed it to prove that it was possible.
Drawing inspiration from nature, all kinds of designs can be realised, and are possible with 3D printing:
b44f08bb2aa28171798450aa83da373e-2 387ded897c6c95c82d93fc1aa8405a0bcd4575dee6dc48945b13c4e5246e7598
 A particularly fun application is 3D printing lampshades with mathematical or geometric designs, so that the light shining out casts patterned shadows on the surrounding walls.

‘Hello World’, the maker community world!

Here’s a post on #FirstThoughts, #3DPrinting and #LifeExcitement. Blog post #1 on making things and the super fun stuff that’s related.

Stepping into the MakerLab, it’s like a kid arriving in a candy shop. I’m an engineering student who’s just been given the tools to make ideas a reality. There’s a blank canvas and so many possibilities. The chance to follow any train of thought, develop them into ideas, and have the resources and time to create them is quite a luxury.

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 22.25.03

On the subject of candy shops and 3D printing, 3D printed candy is a thing too!


Surrounded by a room of Ultimakers buzzing away, the excitement is unreal. Yet, 3D printing is old tech. The concept is, anyway. The impression I get is that the forward development of this technology is in creating higher resolution prints, printing in materials other than common PLA and ABS (their mechanical properties are not suited for the more intensive practical applications), increasing print speed, and even combining different materials as they are being printed. From the class skype call with John Hornick, book author of “3D Printing Will Rock the World, he mentioned possibilities of printing in materials with dual/multiple functionality. While 3D printing is paving the way and bringing us closer to a single machine that could create entire multi-material devices like, for example, a smartphone, this technology is still a very long way off. Multifunctional materials were mentioned as a feeder material into 3D printing machines, but having spent my last semester studying research papers on multifunctional materials, am fairly certain that it’s still rather far off. On the other hand, maybe I’ve underestimated quite how far we’ve come in the realm of 3D printing? I guess I’ll just have to read John’s book for a fuller picture.

Where does this leave us with 3D printing then? There’s definitely much scope for research and development from the materials perspective. As a current tool in “making” or creating things, it’s a good prototype, and good for small parts that do not have to withstand aggressive or cyclic structural loading. Complex (and beautiful) shapes are possible, but I wouldn’t say we’re 3D printing items that I’d be happy to seamlessly integrate into my everyday life yet.


3D printed from glass powder, there’s some very artistic designs you can create.


So what are my own goals with regards to 3D printing? Getting involved in the printer material research that will bring about these futuristic ambitions, or/and using that current technology to make small projects and ideas possible.

The real beauty of what we have so far (in terms of 3D printing) is that there are so many possible items and devices to make, which are completely within reach of the average you and me. Looking to the future, we’ll be 3D printing biological structures and mechanical devices on demand. For now though, I’m happy to settle with any shape I want, at the push of a button, right here right now.

          One of UIUC Makerlab’s Ultimakers in action.

(return to main navigation menu)