Making Things

Why did Aggregate.Org wait until 2013 to get involved in research about making things? We started making stuff way before that. However, we believe that making things, even at the hobbyist level, has finally become largely a computer engineering problem. We're really good at those...

Introductory Talks

NNCI Nano + Additive Manufacturing Summit, July 25, 2023
A Design For An Object To Be 3D Printed Should Be A Transformable Parametric Program
KY Nanotechnology and Additive Manufacturing Symposium, July 31, 2019
A Computer Engineering Approach To Design For 3D-Printing Manufacturability; start with these slides to understand why 3D printing is a computer engineering research area.
Presentation for Henry Clay High School STEM Club, May 11, 2016
A little presentation on computer engineering and 3D printing; here are the slides used.
STEM presentation at Tates Creek Middle School, March 14, 2013
Professor Dietz, assisted by Paul Eberhart, demonstrated our MakerGear M2 printing a Tates Creek logo medal. Here are overview slides (PDF).
YMCA Black Achievers presentation at Lexington Traditional Magnet School, September 28, 2013
Professor Dietz, assisted by Paul Eberhart, demonstrated 2D paper cutting to make parts for an operating iris card and 3D printing using our MakerGear M2 to build a hingebox and a printed-assembled prosthetic hand. Here are overview slides (PDF). This went well despite having students actually build both the iris card and the hand, but the iris card was difficult for students to assemble (using a stapler might help?).
EPICS (Engineering Projects in Community Service), August 26, 1996
Professor Dietz was one of the founders of the EPICS program at Purdue, and he created EPICS Project Management and Resources as an overview of how to make things. Start here if you have no idea how to approach a making project. It is wildly out of date, but gives a nice insight into how things used to be done, as well as what sorts of things you should still be thinking about in any making project.

Some Noteworthy Software

Arguably, the main reason 3D printing has taken off is software. Machines using G code have been around for a long time. Prof. Dietz first wrote software to generate G code for Bridgeport Series 1 CNC Mills (in particular, the ones shown on the right) way back in 1977 -- first simple stuff that ran on a HeathKit H8 and then more substantial things that ran on NorthStar Horizons. Back then, it was common that folks would directly write G code, and even the interpretation of G code took a fairly substantial machine; the Series 1 Mill used a DEC LSI 11 that was about the size of a dorm refrigerator. Dietz's fanciest software allowed generation of G code toolpaths from intersections and unions of simple solid objects, internally using a voxel model... nowhere near as smart as modern slicers. So, what is the smart software now?

Is there anything that Blender doesn't do? It's mostly know for making "organic" 3D models and rendering videos, but it actually contains a Python scripting interface that is at least comparably nice to OpenSCAD for expressing parametric designs. There even now a 3D Printing Toolbox offering a bunch of useful tools. Back to the original question, the only thing that Blender doesn't do is become comfortably familiar in a short period of time -- learning to use Blender is neither quick nor easy.
This is a programming language for defining parametric 3D models. There's a lot about it that isn't great, including really long processing times, but it is free open source and fundamentally a very powerful way to make parametric designs.
This is a fitness-based AI optimizer creating OpenSCAD designs to detailed specifications. For example, it can design springs with specific stiffness, lifetime operation count, etc. This is a great example of what should come next in 3D printing...
FullControl GCode Designer
This is another vision of the future of 3D printing software. Rather than defining a 3D model and slicing it, this suggests directly designing the tool paths to make the desired 3D structure. There's an online version with examples at, and it is stunningly effective. I strongly recommend the Nuts and Bolts example and the Pin-Support Challenge. The catch is that it's a huge pain to do infill this way, but the bolts are actually accurate and quite strong without any infill.
This is the dominant open source slicer upon which many others are based. It's a tad less friendly than some of its forks, but it tends to be where new ideas get implemented first. For example, there is a version for non-planar slicing.
This is a fork of Slic3r. It really isn't better than Slic3r, but it is better resourced with pre-defined configurations, etc. In sum, it's a little nicer to use than Slic3r.
Ultimaker Cura
Cura is the main competitor to Slic3r, but it has a tightly integrated user interface (sort of like PurusaSlicer). That has actually started to get in the way more than it helps... but Cura is still a freely-available top-quality slicer.

Our Making Equipment

The University of Kentucky has a manufacturing center with extensive facilities. However, our group also has been accumulating mostly hobbyist-level equipment for a long time. In fact, our facilities led to the creation of two now better-equipped makerspaces within UK:

  1. ECE Engineering Prototyping and Invention Center (EPIC lab) is a makerspace for ECE students and faculty
  2. Innovation Center is a makerspace for the entire College of Engineering (and happens to be run by an ECE faculty member)

The key additive manufacturing devices to use in our Marksbury 108 lab are:

The key subtractive manufacturing devices to use in our Marksbury 108 lab are:

Paul Eberhart, a long time member of the Aggregate.Org group and a highly skilled maker, has been posting lots of maker-related stuff for many years. Among his posts you'll find a lot about most of the maker things our lab has tried, including experiments with each of the above tools.

Some Of Our "Things"

We've designed and built a lot of things. Here are some of them grouped by catagory....

Puzzles & Fun Stuff

Calibron Twelve Block Puzzle (Calibron 12)
A very difficult 12-piece packing puzzle
Tunable Tolerance Tetrahedron Twist Timewasting Toy
A two-piece puzzle that's really just a funny-shaped screw
Flat Neighborhood Network Puzzle
Build a cluster computer from six PCs and six network switches
Hanging Gardens Replacement Playing Piece
3D-printing lost board game pieces
Triangular Dovetail Joint Microbox
An apparently impossible dovetail, solved with a turn
Flatfish-ish 3D-Printed Lure
A simple 3D-printed fishing lure
3D PRINT STRONG locking bracelet
A bracelet, but really a demonstration of how strong 3D-printed parts can be; this simple clasp can hold 30 pounds! We use this as our new filament test print...
This Old TARDIS, 3D-Printed Parts
A TARDIS lock and key the 4th Doctor could love; "Bigger" on the inside
MakerGear M2 simplified toy model ornament/keychain
Simplified MakerGear M2 model
Ring Area From A Chord
What is the area of the difference of two concentric circles if the length of a chord tangent to the inner circle is 10cm?
Triangle "Missing Square" Puzzle
Arrange the four pieces, no holes; rearrange, one hole?
Sun Medallion
A sun that refreshes some Tangled memories...
Die Puzzle
An awesome little puzzle making a die out of 9 pieces; even the box for it is a puzzle!
IEEE SoutheastCon 2014 Keychain
A simple keychain made for IEEE SouthEastCon 2015
SC13 Aggregate.Org/UK 20th Year Refrigerator Magnet
Commemorating our 20th SC conference since we built the world's first Linux PC cluster supercomputer
SC13 Aggregate.Org/UK Dovetail Puzzle Keychain
An apparently impossible dovetail keychain
Make fun not a gun
It is not a gun, but it is "A gun" keychain
3D-Printed Birdhouse, A Sign (version 3)
A "bird" + "house" birdhouse, improved version
3D-Printed Birdhouse, "bird" House
"bird" house
3D-Printed Birdhouse, A Sign
A "bird" + "house" birdhouse
Tiny 4-Ball Maze
A sealed four-ball maze that's about the size of four pennies

Tools & Parts

HingePliers (a metamaterials experiment)
An experiment in complex metamaterials design, inspired by research at the Hasso Plattner Institute.
Rackmount Stud Adapter Plate
A plate for adapting to Dell rackmounts
Fencepost Solar Light Mount
Mount solar lights on a fencepost, rather than with a ground spike
MakerGear M2 Ducted Fan Mount
Several alternative fan shrounds for the MakerGear M2 3D printer
Improved Replacement for Reading Lamp Shade
This lamp shade has vents that the original didn't... which is why the original failed
MakerGear M2 Z Adjustment Wrench
The M2 has somewhat awkward access to the Z stop adjustment screw; this odd-shaped wrench makes adjustment easy
Double Cup Holder for a Porch Swing
Two drinks are better than one...
Cup Holder for a Porch Swing
One drink is better than none...
Mount for Impulse Sprinkler on Green Metal U Post
Mount your sprinkler a little higher
Poster Display Monolith
Very neat little corner clips that allow building a display monolith out of three 4x8 foot sheet in a minute or less; great for poster display
MakerGear M2 Printer Spool Holder -- 3/4" End Caps
There's a nice design for a MakerGear M2 spool holder, but the rod is too thick for some spools; this allows a 3/4 inch rod to be used instead
SC13 Aggregate.Org/UK Page Holder
A useful little holder for individual sheets of paper
Prosthetic/Robotic Hand Printable As An Assembled Unit Without Supports
Designed mostly as a demo, this uses our print-assembled hinge to create a print-assembled prosthetic hand... which prints in about 45 minutes on our M2
HingeBox Printable As An Assembled Unit Without Supports
Our ever-popular print-assembled HingeBox; as seen on Tested: Smart Cookie
Hinge Printable As An Assembled Unit Without Supports
The inital demo of our print-in-place vertical-pivot hinge
Versatile Stand for Nabi Jr
It's a stand! It's a handle! It's here
Doorstop for Indoor/Outdoor Carpet
Shockingly more effective on indoor/outdoor carpet than commercial doorstops
USB Webcam Bracket for MakerGear M2
Simple mount for a $3 USB camera on a MakerGear M2

Camera Stuff

Minolta/Konica-Minolta/Sony A Lens To Leica M Body (Techart Pro LM-EA7) Adapter
A lens to M body -- or autofocus using LM-EA7
Canon FL/FD/FDn Lens To Leica M Body (Techart Pro LM-EA7) Adapter
FL/FD/FDn lens to M body -- or autofocus using LM-EA7
Minolta SR/MC/MD Lens To Leica M Body (Techart Pro LM-EA7) Adapter
SR/MC/MD lens to M body -- or autofocus using LM-EA7
M42 Lens To Leica M Body (Techart Pro LM-EA7) Adapter
M42 lens to M body -- or autofocus using LM-EA7
Kiev 10/15 Lens To Leica M Body (Techart Pro LM-EA7) Adapter
Kiev 10/15 lens to M body -- or autofocus using LM-EA7
Anaperture Single-Shot Anaglyph Apertures
Customizer application that designs filters that allow a camera to capture an anaglyph stereo image in a single shot, or even anaglyph stereo movies
3D-Printed Screw-In Front Lenscaps With Optional QR Code
Customizer application that designs screw-in lenscaps, with optional text and QR code labels
Camera Obscura for Canon PowerShot ELPH115IS
16MP digital pinhole imaging using an unmodified Canon PowerShot
Bird's Eye Camera Stand
Mount for a Canon PowerShot to capture a 360-degree view in a single shot reflecting the scene off a Christmas-tree bulb
Kiev 10/15 Lens To Sony A7II-series Body Adapter
Kiev 10/15 lens to E body
Focusing E-Mount For Ultrafast Lenses
Various special-purpose ultrafast lenses to E body; focus by turning in a screw thread
DupliHood: a 3D-printed slide copy attachment
An attachment that screws into the filter thread of a macro lens to allow copying of slides or negatives
3D-Printed Screw-In Front Lenscaps
Customizer application that designs screw-in lenscaps, with simple labels
Mount For Fisheye Converter Lens On Canon PowerShot A4000
IPIX 185-degree fisheye converter on Canon PowerShot A4000
Minolta SR/MC/MD Rear Lenscap
SR/MC/MD rear lenscap
Meade telescope to Sony FE/E-mount Adapter
Meade telescope to E body
Kiev 10/15 Lens To Canon FL/FD/FDn Body Adapter
Kiev 10/15 lens to FL/FD/FDn body
Minolta SR/MC/MD Lens To Canon FL/FD/FDn Body Adapter
SR/MC/MD lens to FL/FD/FDn body
M42 Rear Lenscap
M42 rear lenscap

Other Stuff

Instructable: Making Your Mini Laser Engraver Safer And Better,
Here's how we modified our mini laser engraver to be both much safer and and a significantly more effective tool.
Instructable: Prosthetic/Robotic Hand Printable As An Assembled Unit Without Supports,
Here's our 3D-printed prosthetic/robotic hand for which all the printed parts print assembled without supports in less than an hour. You still have to thread some fishing line and rubber bands through it, but from print start to working hand is easily done in less than 90 minutes using a total of about $1 worth of materials! Makes a great demonstration piece, although it would have to be tweaked for use as a real prosthetic. this cap is an easily-printable thread compatible with standard metric M42x1. The outside is a grip pattern similar to that used on the focus ring of many M42 lenses.
Instructable: 3D-Printed Birdhouse, A Sign,
A fully 3D-printed birdhouse the entry/donation to the annual Birdhouse Display and Benefit Auction, May 24-June 2, 2013, at The Arboretum in Lexington, KY,
Instructable: 3D Printed Maze,
This is a very small toy (not for young kids). This maze is designed to take four balls, with the goal of simultaneously moving all four balls from their start to end positions by tilting the maze. It also is a nice demonstration of thermally bonding a different material to PLA -- a sheet of overhead transparency material is used to make the transparent cover of the maze.
Instructable: Printable Camera Mount for MakerGear M2,
This bracket allows a $6 webcam to be very inobtrusively mounted on a MakerGear M2 to provide a (low resolution) live video feed of the part being printed.
Instructable: Use Your Camera To Capture "3D" Anaglyphs
This describes how to capture analglyphs directly with a single shot through a special anaglyph filter -- which is most easily cut using a programmable paper cutter.

Our New Making Technologies

Print-in-place Hinges and Metamaterials
It started with Hinge Printable As An Assembled Unit Without Supports, but continued with HingeBox Printable As An Assembled Unit Without Supports, Prosthetic/Robotic Hand Printable As An Assembled Unit Without Supports, and HingePliers (a metamaterials experiment)
Our first print-in-place vertical-pivot hinge led to some other applications and a horizontal-pivot version.. along with treatment of printed parts as metamaterials
Trace2SCAD: Converting Images Into OpenSCAD Models
A simple tool to convert images into OpenSCAD programs
Welding Plastic With A Soldering Iron
Not much to say here, but it's a trick we use often. This is particularly good for PLA, because very few materials react with PLA, making gluing difficult
Thermal Bonding With A Clothes Iron
For building the tiny 3D Printed Maze, we 3D printed the maze, but needed a way to seal the balls in. The answer we came up with is thermally bonding a piece of overhead slide material to the maze using a clothes iron. It's shockingly simple, with heat set on around 2-3.
USB Webcam Monitoring Of MakerGear M2
This Instructable, Printable Camera Mount for MakerGear M2, explains how to make a mount for a $6 webcam -- so it can be watched. I wish I could say we only watch the M2 because it is hypnotic, but it also is very common that prints fail. Reasons it fails (decreasing frequency):
  1. Bad first layer (usually due to bad leveling of the base).
  2. Bad bond with the base causes part to slip late in construction.
  3. Twist in filament spooling causes feed to jam & extrusion stops.

General References

Note that being listed as a reference here does not imply an endorsement by the University of Kentucky... but our group has found the following sites to be useful.

Some Personal Background

Henry George Dietz founded a manufacturing company in 1947... so it isn't surprising that, as a kid, Prof. Henry Gordon (Hank) Dietz, his eldest son, grew-up spending a lot of time learning drafting, machining, tool and die making, injection molding, and all the other skills associated with manufacturing. In the late 1970s, Hank Dietz learned to program the Bridgeport Series 1 CNC Milling Machine, and ended-up writing various software to ease the process of converting 3D designs into physical things. In fact, Hank Dietz started out as a double major between ME and EE... So, the technologies for building things have always been of interest...

The Aggregate. The only thing set in stone is our name.