Many schools in our own neighborhoods, let alone around the world, struggle to provide their students with the resources to encourage creativity, teach engineering, and ultimately enable the next generation of global leaders. Currently, the best funded of schools spend many thousands of dollars on laser cutters, industrial CNCs, or other devices that are unapproachable as they are ineffective in the classroom. Many more are left with little more then aging wood shops, or no shop or art resources at all. The Cardinal provides an affordable $100 fabrication hub for classrooms that is both entirely assemblable from local electronics parts, and large enough to cut out entire sheets of plywood.

What it does

The Cardinal CNC allows users in just a weekend to go from a $100 in parts to a fully capable CNC machine capable of cutting large sheets of plywood, and even working as a large scale pen-plotter. With no intense software setup, complicated fabrication, or rare parts, we believe our CNC to extremely accessible.

How we built it

The CNC is built with two Stepper Motors wired into DIY Arduino motor shields, each spool is connected to a repurposed 3D printer spools which drive a router/other-tool-head on a small wooden sled. All electronics are breadboarded, no custom PCB's are required, and all electronics parts are available off the shelf at a MicroCenter or from similar vendors.

Challenges we ran into

One of our largest struggles was finding a way to drive our 2.1 amp motors with the small (1 amp) stepper-motor shields that are most commonly available. Despite taking nearly fourteen hours, and what felt like hundreds of circuits, we were finally able to find a simple electronics trick to make the motors work.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

Due to the two spool scheme, we had a very difficult challenge in transitioning from Cartesian (flat, X and Y coords) to bi-polar or n-polar coordinate schemes necessary for the machine to function. As part of this we developed a handful of what seem to be entirely novel schemes to convert cartesian g-code into n-polar coordinates, which may have uses in industry.

What we learned

While we pushed to be able to have a CNC that could cut as close of to a full sized sheet of plywood as possible, and ultimately fell a bit short-- we wish that we could have started dramatically smaller and gotten a small working prototype working before scaling up. The scale of the final build made certain things like testing algorithms impossible until hours before the deadline.

What's next for Cardinal CNC Machine

We will be spending time in the next few weeks refining our machine, scaling directly up to a 4'x8' sheet of plywood, and improving our documentation to make the machine more accessible.

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