To Find Or To Fabricate?

I would hazard a guess that most anybody who has ever spent time making stuff is unfortunately quite acquainted with the struggle of attempting to find that premium part. This is a natural when building anything, and it can be quite the creative roadblock (especially when one must turn to ordering online). It can be additionally frustrating to go out of your way to purchase a part just to later discover that it was not even what you needed.

If you are like me and building is an essential part of the design phase it can be very useful to have an arsenal of skills and materials to use for rapid prototyping, to save time and headache later down the line and keep moving forward!

Now if you happen to have a 3D printer and the accompanying skill set, this may not be as much of an issue for you. However for many of us makers out there, jumping directly into desktop fabrication is not always an option. For those of us that need or even prefer to start with more basic prototypes, today we will be sharing some strategies for finding that perfect part, or maybe just a piece that plays the part perfectly (for now)!

In terms of process, when I am starting a build and find myself wanting for material I usually follow the following steps:

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Brainstorm solutions- Write down all viable approaches
  3. Select a methods to start with
  4. Visualize the general form or behavior of what I might need
  5. Identify accessible materials that fit the bill (or are close)
  6. Try it out!

If you get stuck, it is always an option to return to step 2 and pick a different approach.

When I am on the hunt for a part, no appliance is safe.


  • When stuck, just start with any approach- it gets your creative juices flowing and at the very least you can figure out what doesn’t work.
  • Keep a (reasonable) collection of scrap/interesting parts if your space allows. It can be very difficult to pull a random material idea out of thin air, and frustrating to wait for mail or to go to the store so having some sort of archive of materials can a great jumping off point.
  • Feel free to switch out parts or mechanisms at any time- just because you started one way does not mean you are forced to stick with it.

In a similar vein, many people have preferred mediums and materials that they find themselves drawn to, as well as ones that they far stay away from. Personally I find working with anything metal terrifying, since with metal you can’t hot glue your problems and I don’t play well with sharp things. For the sake of rapid prototyping, it can be very effective to stick to what you know, but note the intent of this blog post is not to dissuade from branching out of one’s comfort zone and learning new skills.

In fact, I would go so far as to say most learning starts out with not knowing, so it is just as admirable to tackle a new, potentially terrifying skill set to add to your arsenal.  Personally I find it helpful to keep a list of the number of times I run into a particular skill or tool I could use but don’t feel fully comfortable with yet, and by the fifth or so time I encounter such a foe I usually try to suck it up and set aside time to learn the topic. Currently my list looks something like this:

So when you are expanding your material search, make sure to consider different and new tools. This could potentially solve a problem you didn’t even know you had! And if you are looking for additional materials or have questions, make sure to check out the Digilent Store (as this is a excellent place to find what part you are looking for) and Forum for more resources and support!

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About Miranda Hansen

I enjoy creative writing, engineering, thinking, building, exploring and sharing with people. Huge aficionado of spending time thinking about things that “don’t matter.” I am very interested in unconstrained creativity. I love cross-discipline ideas and all of their integration into complete original systems. And I like things that do things.

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