Pensa is an eight-member NY-based design consultancy founded in 2005 by Marco Perry and Kathy Larchian. They’ve done product design work with major brands like OXO and Samsung mobile, and first appeared on our radar back in May of last year, when they first announced plans to develop a low-cost, open-source, maker-friendly version of the industrial CNC bending tools used to both prototype and mass-produce bent wire goods.
For all the excitement DIWire has generated online, Pensa has been fairly close-lipped about new developments. I got a rare opportunity to catch up with Marco, last week, and ask him some straight questions about DIWire’s past, present, and—most importantly—what they’ve got coming out next.
What inspired you to produce the DIWire machines?
When you look at the world of 3D printing, all machines work essentially the same. They take a volume, slice it into thin planes and print them one by one. The only difference between SLA, FDM, SLS, DSLM, polyjet, Z-corp, etc. is the material and the way the material is adhered (binder, heat, chemical reaction, etc.). These machines are great at building volumes. Laser cutters and routers are great at cutting planes. We thought, “What about all the lines we need to make?”
How long have you been working on DIWire?
DIWire was an idea we had at Pensa in the early spring of 2012. By late spring we made our 1.0 version and put it out for the world to see. It was a proof-of-principal machine that could bend soft aluminum wire. We got so much interest in the original DIWire, we spun out Pensa Labs to focus on its development. By the fall of 2012 we had a refined 2.0 version.
How is DIWire 2.0 different from the 1.0 version?
2.0 still works on the Arduino, but we dialed back to a 2D bend. When using a fully 3D bend, the rod can hit the machine in-path. The way we made the 2D version, the wire always passes over the machine, so it’s not possible to hit it. Additionally, it is far stronger and stiffer, which makes it possible to bend 1/8″ steel rod. It is calibrated to use a galvanized steel rod that is easy to solder or spot-weld, so you can build 3D volumes by cross sections (radial cross sections like a bird cage or rectilinear sections like a shopping cart), surface panels (triangles, pentagons or hexagons – like the faces of a soccer ball or buckyball), or trusses (like wire shelving), or any other pattern you want.
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What’s the coolest thing you’ve made with DIWire?
We have made test shapes of faces, trusses, soccer balls, spheres, lamps, and we are working on making a bunch of other things to demonstrate the usefulness of the machine. We are especially inspired by all the things people told us they want to make. Chandeliers, puppets (either as armature wire or scaffolding for paper mache), giant parade floats, dental braces, custom trophy shelves, hydraulic tubes for robotics, brake line tubes for their vintage automobiles, cable conduit routing for machines, jewelry, models of folded proteins, art, reinforcement (re-bar) for cement patterns, and the list goes on. We want to try all of those.
What kinds of reactions have you had to DIWire? What’s been your favorite?
Perhaps the best thing has been the volume of reactions. Pensa first made the DIWire as a showpiece for our consulting byusiness, and people told us they wanted one for all sorts of reasons. So we open-sourced the hardware and software, but people told us they wanted us to ship a complete product. A few people wanted to make their own to learn electro-mechanics, but most wanted to just use it. We were getting e-mails every day, and we just kept pointing people to the source files. We weren’t doing any promotion, but there was this sustained interest, so finally we decided to give people what they want.
What’s been the most challenging technical part in the development of the DIWire series?
Making something bend is not so hard, but we wanted to make something that that didn’t require special training and was a joy to use. Today, 3D printers have set the bar high because they are almost as easy to use as laser printers. On the other hand, CNC equipment (mills, routers, benders) take engineering, programming and shop skills. For Pensa Labs, the vision is to make a bender that works like this – turn it on, load your file, press print, and enjoy. We are pretty close right now and getting better every day.
What are you bringing to the Faire?
We will bring the 2.1 version bending 1/8″ rod and if time permits, a peak at the guts of the next version.
What do you imagine for DIWire in the future?
Pensa Labs is working on our 3rd version which is similar to 2.0 but more reliable and repeatable output. I would call it a more of a 2.1. We are also working to leap frog that machine with a 3.0 version with new electronics, motors, mechanisms and programming that can be even more reliable, capable and easier to use.
Our first goal is to create a machine we can ship at a reasonable price. Then we will focus on adding capabilities to the machine. We are also in the process of designing an ecosystem of products that support the creative process as a whole – such as accessories that help you assemble the wire output into a shape, and eventually devices that can help you with inputting your idea into the a computer. The easier it is to go from input to completed output, the more people will enjoy using the DIWire and the better it will fit into your workflow.
If you’re coming to the Faire this weekend, look for DIWire’s exhibit and personnel at the Motorola/Spark CNC pavillion.