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A physical interface for parametric 3D modelling.

Parametric modeling software, such as Solidworks, is crucial for product design due to its intricate computational power and precision. Nevertheless, the drawback of this potent capability is a confined 2D interface that represents the design being constructed. Enter ClayCAD, the next generation of hardware prototyping tools that aims to make the process of rapid prototyping in the digital age more tangible, while retaining the numerous advantages of computer-aided design software features. Although ClayCAD is still a work in progress, its future versions will have a different form factor.


"With current digital tools, we can argue that the value seen by the “workmanship of risk” as described by Pye is nonexistent or, at best, it is re-created artificially. What replaces this important concept in current digital tools? "


After delving into the works of Pye, Sennet, and McCullough, I was motivated to investigate the palpable aspects of modern industrial design, which are predominantly dominated by software applications. As a hardware designer proficient in 3D printing, I was convinced that the hardware design and prototyping process should involve physical elements. While CNC and 3D printing are available tools, their utility is mainly confined to the final phases of design.


Current design work flow

The typical workflow for hardware product design involves several broad steps, with the prototyping stage and CAD modeling process being the most time-consuming. This is because the designer needs to scrutinize the physical model and make corresponding changes to the digital CAD.

Time consuming

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CAD modeling


ClayCAD early concept 

The inception of ClayCAD aimed to explore the feasibility of designing a tool that combines the tangible characteristics of mediums like clay with the parametric capabilities of a CAD interface.

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Concept drawings

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ClayCAD boasts a gantry-like system that allows the user to perform operations manually with their hands. The encoders in the stepper motors accurately record any movements made by the user, as seen in the example above of the main wire cutting tool.

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On the other hand, ClayCAD is also capable of executing computer-assisted operations, offering users the flexibility to switch between manual and automatic operation modes as desired.

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ClayCAD comprises various modules that users can interchange for different operations, akin to the features available in Solidworks. With ClayCAD the user can quickly evaluate the physical design in real life.

Prototype 1

The first concept prototype was made with Makeblock plotter kit running laser GRBL.

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Prototype 1 problem: cutting plasticine (15).gif (6).gif

The system had a hard time cutting a stiff chunk of plasticine. (1).gif (2).gif

One way to resolve this issue is by keeping the plasticine warm. During the first prototype, I heated it up in a crockpot, but future versions will incorporate continuous heating. (7).gif (3).gif

A clay caddy hold the soften plasticine to help it remain in place during cutting. (9).gif

Place the clay Caddy on the cut platform and open the flaps.

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Prototype 1 was able to cut pretty well. The hardware needs to be more ridged to evaluate the preciseness of the cuts. 

Prototype 2

The second concept prototype used custom cut 8020s for a more ridged build, and a more compact form factor.


Test cuts

ClayCAD is still in development, next version will implement more features for the user work flow.

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