Accessible Technology, Personal & Community Fabrication

Professor Lizbeth Goodman (BA, MA, MLitt, PhD)- Director, SMARTlab

The MAGICbox workshop is a SMARTlab research and development centre located in the MAGIC room. MAGICbox enables fabrication of computer-generated models, with the goal of developing accessible systems for desktop manufacturing, peer production and digital materialization. We are interested in the application of this technology to disadvantaged population groups.

The workshop explores the capabilities of desktop manufacturing using systems adapted from industrial Computer Numerical Controlled (CNC) machines. CNC machines have been developed to replace assembly line mass production with a flexible, scalable alternative allowing economical, fast turnaround manufacturing. This same technology has been scaled down to the size of desktop units with the similar capacity of creating physical objects from virtual models.

The ability to examine a virtual computer model before committing to a physical model outstrips more traditional prototype development and one-off product creation. Similar to the way computer word-processing software allows infinite editing of a text before printing, Computer Aided Design and Manufacturing (CAD/CAM) allow a virtual representation to be revised and tested to see if all the component parts fit together prior to committing to a physical output.

The computer is the tool required for the majority of the design work, as more people have access to a computer than to a traditional fabrication workshop. The designs can be transported as effortlessly as any e-mailed file and generated on an offsite machine.

The MAGICbox workshop is equipped to demonstrate design using this technology. Once a workshop participant is introduced to the capabilities of the machines this enables them to familiarise themselves with the tools on their own computer in their own time, and return with preliminary or completed designs.

The MAGICbox facility, under the auspices of SMARTlab Digital Media Institute (KD 1.21), is a free and open source unit and as such will collaborate with interested individuals or groups. Our directive specifies that access to design tools and equipment should be available to a wider cross-section of community. The prerequisite is that an individual is committed, interested and willing to adhere to basic safety requirements. The laboratory has full disability access and local community groups are exceptionally welcome.

Free as in free beer?

The laboratory conducts research into peer manufacturing CAD-CAM tools and open-source peer fabrication techniques. One of the aims of the laboratory is to study the shortcomings of current design methodologies and to examine the tools used by independent innovators. You are expected to contribute towards materials you may use and your assistance in furthering the research objectives of the laboratory would be greatly appreciated. The MAGICbox promotes a constructionist learning philosophy and encourages open collaboration from participants. MAGICbox participants are encouraged to help and facilitate other participants.

Intellectual Property protection?

While you may be participating in a project with an explicit open source (GPL) commitment you can expect to retain IP confidentiality. The use of Non Disclosure Agreements (NDA) is discouraged as it is hard to prescribe the legal and technical boundaries in advance, however it is possible to legally protect the claims of an invention as described. If you are at a sensitive stage in the development of an invention, please consult us for further details. Please note that the ethos guiding this laboratory specifies developing tools for independent innovation; not profiting from independent innovators.

MAGICbox equipment

The MAGICbox workshop is outfitted with several computer-driven development tools, namely:

Epilog Helix Laser
This device enables accurate patterns and images to be cut or etched in a variety of materials. This machine can cut or mark most plastics (excluding PVC), paper, wood, fabric, glass, card, rubber, leather and a limited variety of coated metals.

The laser cutter is used to cut precise two-dimensional shapes that can then be assembled to form three-dimensional items. It can be used to selectively remove a protective mask from a metal to allow chemical etching of the exposed surface; this technique is used in printed circuit board artwork generation and “chemical” milling used to produce thin sheet metal profiles.

Roland Modela MDX-20 3D Plotter

This machine functions as a lightweight computer-controlled mill. It can carve three-dimensional shapes to a high level of accuracy. The Modela is of desktop proportions and best suited to cutting modelling materials such as engineering wax, wood, high-density foam, plastics, aluminium and brass. Objects machined in the Modela can serve as masters to create accurate moulds or can be used directly. The Modela can also engrave printed circuit boards in a rapid and chemical-free fashion, a function that lends itself best to once-off boards.

The Modela is supplied with a touch-sensor head that can be used to scan complex 3D objects and create a virtual representation.

Roland CAMM-1 servo GX-24 vinylcutter

This vinyl cutter accepts a range of adhesive coloured vinyl films, foils and card. The design is cut with a computer-controlled swivelling knife blade. Any film that resists wrinkling and is reasonably easy to cut can be fed through the machine. These machines are traditionally used for producing signs and decals but can also be used to create conductive foil patterns that can then be used as circuit board.

The workshop also features electronics test and assembly equipment, an oscillating fretsaw and a range of hand-tools.

Prospective Laser cutter/engraver users: please download and read the laser_bed.dxf file. This file will prepare you for the most effective use of the machine from a CAD drawing. If you have never heard of CAD or Drawing Xchange Format files, do not fret, come and learn.

If you wish to use the Epilog laser from AutoCAD, please download this DXF file (if the file saves as a text document, re-assign the file modifier laser_bed.dxf to it; *.dxf is a text based format). There are instructions on the file which outline the sequence of steps required to successfully use the AutoCAD driver.

The ethos on which the MAGICbox facility is founded can be read here.


Demonstration of SMARTlab projects at UCL
Demonstration of SMARTlab projects at UCL

Demonstration of SMARTlab projects
Demonstration of SMARTlab projects at UCL

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