Put It Together: Animating Machine Assembly Instructions for Novices

SMArchS Thesis, 2016

We are no longer satisfied with rapid prototyping machines! The new frontier in digital fabrication is the rapid prototyping of rapid prototyping machines. Using modular electronics and robotic parts, the essence of machine making now lies in part assembly. With the advancement of online education, how will schools teach part assembly? How will Makers share the knowledge of putting things together? 

Traditional assembly instructions designed with text, diagrams, and images are often not effective in showing complex assembly motions, and are poorly adapted to large complex machines. Demonstration videos are expensive to produce, and they are limited to a single camera view. Put It Together is a new digital workflow that consists of two parts: (1) A CAD plugin that allows machine designers to easily create assembly animations, and (2) an interactive web player that allows novices to view the animation. Starting with a CAD model, designers can easily create and edit an animation using a visual graph. The software interprets the graph and creates a step-by-step 3D animation. Novices can view the animation using a web browser, interact with the viewing angle, and progress at their own pace.

The web player was tested, developed, and evaluated through multiple workshops in which students learned machine assembly with successive versions of the player, and proved its value in an educational environment. Other potential applications of the Put It Together approach, beyond machine assembly, include self-assembled furniture, DIY projects and toys.