By Andrew Wyne
If there is one thing you should know about while attending Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC) and studying architecture is that there is a Digital Fabrication Lab (DFL). On most projects you will end up making a model, whether it is a mass model or finish model, and that takes time to cut material. At SIUC we have a nifty machine that can cut most any type of material in seconds. The cardboard that would have taken five hours to cut out will now only take twenty minutes to cut out. It is easy, simple, and worth the money for the amount of time that you save.
http://siucfablab.wordpress.com/ is the website that will help guide you through the process of getting a time slot scheduled, as well as providing a template for the laser cutter. You need the AutoCAD template so the laser cutter can know what to cut out. The laser cutter has the ability to cut out 24”x12” sheet of material, anything from plexiglas to cardboard to wood. It can handle up to 1/4” thick material. There are many different scales set up on the template that are usual for models (i.e. 1/16”=1’0”) and you take your full scale drawings and place them into the designated boxes on the template. There are also different layers for cutting and scoring. Some layers are also designated for cutting before others. The system is easy use and is well explained. There is also a staff of student workers that are available to help with AutoCAD and the laser cutter.
As the laser cutter cuts there is no fire, yes it is a laser, but that could usually be worked around and not something you have to worry about. But being a laser it will char the edges and you may need to sand and/or paint your model in the end, which is not a bad tradeoff for the amount of money you will end up saving in the end. The above website has everything you need with information about the whole process as well as resources.
Now, there is a cost. There is a small fee to counter the cost to maintain the laser cutter. The cost is $0.75 a minute for the first fifteen minutes and then $0.50 a minute after that. The LFD is open in the evenings. Please consult the website for specific times and details.