E.Louise Larson
Jan 15 · 11 min read

Spring A3, A4 2019

Course Description

This IDeATe course is an introduction to the fundamental concepts, processes, and procedures needed to utilize rapid digital fabrication equipment within the IDeATe facilities. Students learn to create accurate drawings in 3D CAD, then laser cut and 3D print their work to make it real; the course also covers the philosophy and culture of fabrication. Students learn to operate in a safe, responsible, and efficient manner. Topics covered in the course are useful for all creative disciplines, and at completion, participants are certified for future fabrication equipment access.

Learning Objectives

Provide an applied overview on various methods of fabrication within the digital realm. Create a fundamental understanding of CNC project planning, available fabrication technologies, and basic techniques. Implement best practices for safety and efficiency of relative workflows. Specifically, students enrolled in this course will engage with all following IDeATe common learning goals…

  • Demonstrate an appreciation for and ability to participate in critique of one’s own work and the work of others
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the role of reflection in learning and designing (begin to become a reflective practitioner)
  • Demonstrate an ability to articulate the story (visually, orally, verbally, aurally …) of one’s own work and one’s own learning
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the history, cultural context and social implications of digital fabrication.
  • Demonstrate the ability to work in a multidisciplinary environment
  • Demonstrate technical and creative skills in laser cutting, 3D printing, and CAD modeling.

Class Topics

Documentation & Planning

Written and visual documentation for a variety of audiences. Develop portfolio piece, process documentation, presentation, project planning.

Vector & CAD Environments

Available software, workspace and operation fundamentals, technique, 2D/3D curve and line geometry, parametric modeling.

Laser Cutting and Processing

File preparation and development for laser cutting/engraving, laser safety and work methods.

3D Printing

File preparation and development for 3D printing, successful production, 3D printer safety and work methods.

Philosophy & Culture

Readings and class discussion on fabrication, why we makes things, and for whom.

Course Method

The course begins with introductions to the facility, portfolio expectations, project planning tools, and prototyping methods.

Digital fabrication relies on digital development — CNC projects are 90% digital design and file preparation. Within the first unit, students begin to work in the 2D and 3D environment. From this stage, we transition into expected safety procedures, then file preparation for digital fabrication.

Moving forward, we introduce relevant philosophical materials, 3D geometry creation, development, & editing. Users will be introduced to CAD software options and methods. This information not only influences proper modeling techniques, but also applies to 3D Printing and laser cutting. CAM processing environments are discussed, and users will 3D print/cut forms of their own creation.

Students are required to complete multiple projects, with complete documentation, for this class.

Equipment training will cover policy, procedure, and safety. All users will be expected to exhibit proper equipment utilization under supervision before they are approved for continued access.

Operations, Methods, & Procedures


Projects are expected to be original, unique, and aesthetic designs. Projects are graded on 1) your safe operation of equipment for fabrication process through completion 2) originality, aesthetic, and inventiveness of design; and 3) thoughtful completion of IDeATe project portfolio with documented process and photos. More specific details in next section. Rubrics will be provided.

Project Portfolios

All students are required to keep digital project portfolios for this course. The preferred location for these portfolios is Medium.com, or the IDeATe gallery (public or privately shared). If a student wishes to use a previously existing portfolio site or platform, those requests must be made within the first two weeks of class.


This class heavily relies on computer use. Maintain your focus on class content. Email, messaging, and social media are a distraction for yourself and your classmates in class.


Please notify me as soon as possible if you are going to miss a class due to religious holiday, sickness, or emergency. I require a doctor’s excuse for sick days. I will provide assistance with missed instruction dates to any student who has notified me in timely manner. I do not recognize field trips as acceptable excuses.


If you have an accommodations letter from the Disability Resources office, we encourage you to discuss your accommodations and needs with instructors as early in the semester as possible. We will work with you to ensure that accommodations are provided as appropriate. If you suspect that you may have a disability and would benefit from accommodations but are not yet registered with the Office of Disability Resources, we encourage you to contact them at access@andrew.cmu.edu.


Students will not be charged for taking this course. There are, however, consumable charges that are affiliated with projects. The estimated costs for the holder project is between $20-$35.00 per student.

Equipment Policy

Equipment within the IDeATe Facilities features unique policy per specific process. It is important that all users follow equipment-specific policy and procedure at ALL TIMES. Encouraging this culture is essential within this environment.

Attendance & Daily Exercises

You are required to be present in class for five mandatory days. Additionally, daily CAD exercises comprise a portion of your grade. If you miss an exercise, it is your responsibility to finish outside class time. Attendance on non-mandatory days is highly encouraged. Remember, you can only gain the most benefit of the class by attending it regularly and contributing to all the activities.

Late Work Policy

During the semester, you will be asked to submit assignments and projects. No late work will be accepted for any group assignments. For individual assignment, late work may be submitted within two days of the due date for 50% point eligibility.

Academic Integrity

Any work that you submit should be your own work (i.e., not borrowed/copied from any other source, including our assigned readings and your classmates). You are allowed to use external resources while creating your projects, however, make sure that you are references the sources appropriately.

Any act of cheating or plagiarism will be treated in accordance with Carnegie Mellon’s Policy on Academic Integrity, which can be found here: http://www.cmu.edu/policies/student-and-student-life/academic-integrity.html. Depending upon the individual violation, students could face penalties ranging from failing the assignment to failing the class.

Evaluation & Grading

Attendance & Participation — 20%

Attendance demonstrates a willingness to learn the process and progress on course work. Daily CAD exercises are a portion of this grade. If you miss a day/exercise, it is your responsibility to complete outside of class time. Students are required to attend five mandatory days and are strongly encouraged to attend all class sessions.

Equipment — 15%

Laser Processing — 5%
3D Printing— 5%
Fusion 360—5%

For each machine covered in class, students must demonstrate:

  • Understanding: project planning, safety best practices, available software options, problem solving
  • Digital Preparation: working in appropriate software to create/draw/model project, file setup, preparation and transfer, processing in secondary application
  • Operation: safe equipment operation and use
  • Documentation: process, problem solving, and outcome

Project: Holder — 40%

Solve a problem related to the act of holding. This capstone project combines your knowledge of all course materials. It must be a unique, aesthetic, and complete holder that demonstrates your abilities to plan a digital fabrication project, sketch and 3D model in CAD software, and prepare the model in a secondary application for 3D printing (NVBots Cloud) and laser cutting (RDWorks). Thoughtful completion of your project portfolio (written and visual documentation). This project is 40% of your grade. Rubrics are here, subject to change within first few weeks to meet unique needs of class.

  • Creation of project plan — worksheet here
    This worksheet is a tool to create an ideal plan. That plan will change. Your portfolio showcases what actually happened.
  • Prepare a CAD file in shared Fusion360 project folder
  • 3D printed components should be no larger than 4x4x4"
  • Successfully export from software into readable file type (.stl and .dxf)
  • Geometry must be incorporate laser cutting, engraving, and scoring processes
  • Successfully prepare model in secondary applications (eg: NVBot Cloud, Adobe Illustrator, Fusion360, Inkscape, CorelDRAW)
  • Properly prepare RDWorks file settings and preferences. Including layers, closed geometry, sizing, and correct power and speed settings.
  • Complete and appropriate finishing (sanding, painting, staining, etc)
  • Exhibit understanding of Equipment Policy & Procedure
  • Successfully pass the Fire Extinguisher Identification and Use Training, provided by Environmental Health & Safety (Fire Extinguisher Use pt. 1 in Bioraft, Part two is an in-person training)
  • Successfully pass the Laser Cutter Safety training in Bioraft (https://cmu.bioraft.com/node/2008052).
  • Provide portfolio of written and photographic documentation of your work on Medium.* Portfolios must include must include:
  1. Completed descriptions in template
  2. Project plans and sketches
  3. Cardboard Prototype
  4. Redefinition of 2 key terms from readings
  5. 4 renderings
  6. 7 semi-professional images
  7. Final presentation link or PDF file

*unless alternative portfolio has been discussed and approved by professor

Articulation — 25%

The final deliverables for this class articulate your making process. We will go over expectations for each deliverable in class. These deliverables are:

  • Finished Object
  • Portfolio
  • In-person presentation
  • Final Presentation Slide Deck PDF

Tentative Schedule

This schedule is flexible and dependent on class progress. Class time is tailored to meet needs of students. Schedules and deadlines may adapt and shift to meet the needs and pace of this unique group of students.

**It is your responsibility to allow for adequate time for 3D printing. Give yourself at least an extra TWO DAYS to print so as not to monopolize the 3D printers or overwhelm last portion of class.

Take Care of Yourself

Take care of yourself. Do your best to maintain a healthy lifestyle this semester by eating well, exercising, avoiding drugs and alcohol, getting enough sleep and taking some time to relax. This will help you achieve your goals and cope with stress.

All of us benefit from support during times of struggle. You are not alone. There are many helpful resources available on campus and an important part of the college experience is learning how to ask for help. Asking for support sooner rather than later is often helpful.

If you or anyone you know experiences any academic stress, difficult life events, or feelings like anxiety or depression, we strongly encourage you to seek support. Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS) is here to help: call 412–268–2922 and visit their website at http://www.cmu.edu/counseling/. Consider reaching out to a friend, faculty or family member you trust for help getting connected to the support that can help.

If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal or in danger of self-harm, call someone immediately, day or night:

CaPS: 412–268–2922
Re:solve Crisis Network: 888–796–8226
If the situation is life threatening, call the Police:
On campus:
CMU Police: 412–268–2323
Off campus: 911

IDeATe General Information

IDeATe, the Integrative Design, Arts, and Technology network at Carnegie Mellon, offers undergraduate minors and courses in Game Design, Animation & Special Effects, Media Design, Sonic Arts, Design for Learning, Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Intelligent Environments, and Physical Computing. These areas merge technology and creativity and provide learning opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration. IDeATe minors and courses are open to all majors. We welcome students from every discipline to the unique learning environment that exists at Carnegie Mellon.

IDeATe offers several types of courses:

  • Portal courses serve as prerequisite, cross-training courses for interdisciplinary work, enabling you to understand the disciplinary competencies and perspectives of the students you will be collaborating with through a design inquiry process.
  • Collaborative courses are project-based courses that IDeATe has developed within departments. They focus on creating together in emerging, complex, and unstructured problem-solving domains and are structured to accommodate students from any discipline who have passed the portal courses.
  • Supportive courses are departmental courses that existed prior to IDeATe. They have these collaborative elements and are options for your IDeATe work. Please note that the supportive courses tend to have other prerequisites and may have registration restrictions.
  • Micro courses are short but intensive skills-based experiences that give you a basic understanding of some of the techniques and equipment used in many IDeATe courses.

IDeATe is not its own department. Rather, Carnegie Mellon’s departments contribute faculty and courses to the IDeATe curriculum. Therefore, IDeATe does not have its own course number prefix. You can find the IDeATe course offerings for the upcoming semester by going to the Courses section of https://ideate.cmu.edu/.

If you have questions or need advice about IDeATe minors or courses, please get in touch with Kelly Delaney, the Assistant Director of IDeATe. Her office is in Hunt 246 and her email is kellydel@andrew.cmu.edu.

IDeATe Facilities and Resources

Facilities: Most IDeATe facilities are located in Hunt Library. Lending, Physical Computing Lab, Media Lab, the laser cutters, 3D printers, woodshop, and CNC router are on the lower level. Some of the equipment requires special training which you will receive either in the class that requires it or in a micro course. If you are unsure of how to operate any of the equipment or are unsure how to use the equipment safely and effectively, please send email to help@ideate.cmu.edu.

Safety: Report all fires and emergencies immediately to University Police at 412–268–2323.

  • Emergency response: University Police412–268–2323
  • Building maintenance: Facilities Management & Campus Services — 412–268–2910
  • IDeATe-related inquiries — help@ideate.cmu.edu

IDeATe Lending: Once you are enrolled in an IDeATe course, you will have access to IDeATe Lending. You will maintain your access through the rest of your time at Carnegie Mellon. You must present your CMU ID each time you borrow an item. You will also be able to purchase a limited number of consumable items (such as plywood and acrylic) for projects. Please visit https://resources.ideate.cmu.edu/lending/ for more detailed information on available resources, to review the IDeATe Lending Borrower Policy, and to find hours of operation.

Classroom and Lending access: If you are enrolled in an IDeATe class at least a week before the start of the course, you will have access to IDeATe Lending and (if applicable) have keycard access to the classroom door on the first day of class. If you add a course during the Add Period, you may need to wait a few business days to receive access while the lists are updated. If you add a course after the last day of the Add Period, email help@ideate.cmu.edu with your name, Andrew ID, and course number so we can add you to our systems.

Laser cutter access: If you are required to use the laser cutters for this class, you have provisional access for the duration of the class. Until you have been trained on the use of the Rabbit laser cutters and have completed the fire safety requirements, you may only use the laser cutters under the continuous supervision of your instructor, TA, or other qualified person. To maintain access to the laser cutters after your class is over, you must complete Environmental Health & Safety training on Fire Extinguisher Use, available at https://cmu.bioraft.com/.

IDeATe advising: If you have questions or need advice about IDeATe minors or courses, please get in touch with Kelly Delaney, the Assistant Director of IDeATe. Her office is in Hunt 246 and her email is kellydel@andrew.cmu.edu.


digiTOOL is a mini course offered in Carnegie Mellon University’s IDeATe department. This course is an introduction to the fundamental concepts, processes, and procedures for laser cutting, 3D printing, and CAD modeling.

E.Louise Larson

Written by

Easily excitable. Carnegie Mellon University School of Design. IDeATe adjunct. CEO and co-Founder @ Prototype PGH.



digiTOOL is a mini course offered in Carnegie Mellon University’s IDeATe department. This course is an introduction to the fundamental concepts, processes, and procedures for laser cutting, 3D printing, and CAD modeling.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade