Utilizing the equipment in University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

Jenna wearing the C-Leg protection we’ve designed.

Hi guys, as the semester is over, I just wanted to tell you guys about the awesome equipments that are located all around our school! When I first took this class, I wish I had knowledge to these equipment, instead of searching for them here and there. I have a list of equipment that you guys can utilize to create prototypes in the future! Even though you are not an art major like me, you will have full access to these equipment I am going to be telling you guys. This process is based on my process of our group project, the C-Leg protection. I will take you guys through each step and how we came to our final prototype at the Make-A-Thon.

Located everywhere:

  1. Brainstorming and Ideation:
Jenna’s C-Leg sketch.

This is the very basic and most important step when it comes to design. In order to create a successful design, you need to specify the user and start brainstorming for opportunities. Come up with a few questions and search for your target user. Then ask them those questions and try to find an opportunity. For an example, our group found an opportunity to create a prosthetic leg protection for our user, Jenna. Based on the interview, you will start brainstorming different ideations. This process should be very quick and should always be open to opportunities. For me, the most important part was to keep in touch with the target user, so we know we are in the right track. So, our group drew a picture of Jenna’s leg and constantly referred back to the picture, to make sure we were on track. Throughout our entire process, we had to revisit this step multiple times, because we had to change out design. And this is natural. Do not rush this step, since you might get inspired by the most unexpected ideation.

Located in the Maker’s Lab:

  1. 3D scanner

After you have a good insight of your direction, the next step is to make a 3D model of the product you are basing off of. For my case, we had Jenna come in with her prosthetic leg and we had it scanned using the “Occipital Structure 3D Sensor with Precision bracket”. This program allows the user to scan an object and turn it into an Obj file which could later on be converted into a stl file by using “Scrulptris”. The more complicated the object is, the more time the program needs in order to read the data. For the prosthetic leg, it took us about 15 minutes in total to scan the entire leg. It is really cool to see the model slowly mold into a 3D file while you are scanning.

2. Fusion 360 and Cura

With the obj file is converted to a stl file using “Scrulptris”, you can open the file in “Fusion 360” if you need further modification. For an example, you can add more bulge to a certain area or fill in the holes of the object. If the file has a rough texture, “Scrulptris” will be able to smoothen out the rough surface of the object. This is very important. If you don’t smoothen out the surface and make sure you have no holes, the 3D scan will fail and you will have to start over all again. So, you should always make sure you do it right at the first time. After you send the file into Cura, you can change the density of the object. For my model which does not have a lot of body structure, I have a 15 percent density which is enough to be used as a model. You should ask the workers for better insights on which density to use because it will determine how long the 3D print will take. For our C-Leg model, it took us a total of 10 hours to print out the three separate models. This may not be applicable for everyone but with this C-Leg model, our team saved a lot of time and effort to make it accurate as the actual model. At the end, even without Jenna at the Make-A-Thon, the model fit Jenna’s C-Leg perfectly.

Located in the Fab Lab:

  1. InkSpace and Laser Cutting

InkScape is a digital program that is used in the Fab Lab in order to use the Laser cutter. If you have any experience with any of the Adobe Suite programs, it is very easy to learn. But even without any experience, you can learn how to use it within 20 minutes. The most important part is make sure the lines that will be laser cut should have a stroke of 0.01 mm and colored in red, RGBA: 255,0,0,255. If you would like to have vectors, just change the color to blue, RGBA: 0,0,255,255. Then save the file to a SVG format and print your file on the laser cutter. For my project, I used the laser cutter to cut the Acrylic according to our design. The laser cutter saves a lot of time and cuts the pieces precisely, so there is no wobbly cut strokes. Also, the laser cutter is great for anyone who is using brittle materials such as acrylic and glass. I think our team saved a lot of time during the Make-A-Thon by using the laser cutter.

2. Sowing Machine

Yishou using the sowing machine.

The sowing machine is great when it comes to sowing fabric pieces together. I used to learn how to sow my pants in fourth grade using my hands. But after learning how to use the sowing machine, I now only use the sowing machine to sow any embroidery pieces. When you use the sowing machine, you need to first feed the thread through the holes according to the numbers and make sure you have the feeding thread underneath as well. Pulling back both threads, you can then start using the sowing machine. With enough practice, the final product will turn out to have clean seam or even seamless if you flip it inside out. For our C-Leg protection, we flipped the seamed side inside, so the product looked very clean without any seam to be shown. You can use the fabric as a pocket. For an example, our group inserted foam pieces inside the two fabric and made it accessible with velcro.

3. Acrylic Bender and Heat Gun

Lastly, the heat gun is my favorite equipment to use in the Fab Lab. It is also one of the most dangerous equipment to use, due to how hot it could get. With maximum heat, it could burn your skin very badly, so it should be always be used with heat resistant gloves. Another similar product is the acrylic bender. This product only applies heat in a straight line, so it takes longer to bend objects. I found out that this equipment is best when it’s used to precisely bend an object in a certain angle. For our project, we first used the acrylic bender to get a general shape of the mold. Then we used the heat gun to warp the shape according to the 3D scanned C-Leg. When we were using the heat gun, we had to make sure we protected the 3D scanned C-Leg with fabric, so the 3D canned C-Leg won’t melt. With enough caution, the acrylic bender and the heat gun is a great tool to use.


Throughout this semester, I’ve discovered all these gems located in our campus. And it was an awesome opportunity to learned how to use all of these equipments. I don’t think I would’ve been exposed to any of these if it wasn’t for BADM 357 class and the Make-A-Thon. This course has definitely made me hungry to explore other equipments located around the campus and I am going to give it a try. I will continue to use these techniques I’ve learned and use it create other prototypes as well. I also hope that this guide will attract other non-designers to take a chance and explore the beauty of designing prototypes.

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