Featured Engineer

Interview with Jamie Cunningham

Jamie Cunningham

Jamie Cunningham - Backyard Mad Scientist

How did you get into electronics/ engineering and when did you start?

I have always loved to take things apart. When I joined the Air Force out of High School, I was guaranteed a job in Electronics and Mechanics and I was excited to finally start learning some of this stuff I had been toying with. So in Tech school for the Air Force was when I really started working with this electronics and engineering. Although after I got out of tech school, I somehow got the job of “Bomb Loader” – not sure how that’s electronics but we did some pretty cool stuff anyway. After the Air Force I got a job working at a circuit board manufacturer, but mainly because I had “Software Development” down as a hobby on my resume and they needed some apps written in addition to some Quality Control work. I worked my way up through the Q.C. department and finally landed a job in Engineering as a CAM operator. My career steered more towards computers and software development after that, but I’ve always had something going on on the side dealing with electronics. Recently, after building my CNC machine in the garage, I’ve started to mess around with micro controllers (Parallax Propeller to be exact)

What are your favorite hardware tools that you use?

That would be my CNC machine (if that’s what you mean by hardware tools) – as far as electronics go the only hardware tools I have for that is a soldering iron and multimeter :) Also, not technically a “tool” but I really like to use my homemade foundry to melt aluminum and cast my own parts (usually that were cut out of foam on the CNC machine)

What are your favorite software tools that you use?

I am using Solidworks / Solidcam a lot lately, and I love the Vectric line of products too for making signs and 3D objects on the CNC machine. For Electronics I have dabbled in Eagle and PCBGcode for making my own circuit boards, but have yet to actually make one.. For work I am writing software using Microsoft’s Visual Studio in C# .NET, I write both Windows app and Web apps.

What is the hardest/trickiest bug you have ever fixed?

Fixing the wracking / twisting of my gantry in my CNC machine was pretty tricky, I ended up using something from “Pocket Door” or “Drafting Table” technology, where pulleys and cables keep things aligned. Again as far as electronics is concerned, when I made the power drive using a stepper motor and the Parallax Propeller, getting the limit switch figured out was pretty tricky for me.

What is on your bookshelf?

Mostly Magazines :) Nuts and Volts, EDN, Machine Design, Guitar World, Shop Notes, a few programming books, and books on film-making (yes another hobby) :)

What has been your favorite project?

Gotta be the home built CNC machine again, I like it best because it has been the most challenging and also the most rewarding, I can make just about anything I can think up (as long as I can figure out how to model it). The first machine I made, helped me make parts for the second machine – can’t beat that :)

Do you have any note-worthy engineering experiences?

I think making my own CNC machine in my garage with regular woodworking tools and parts from the hardware store is a pretty good accomplishment. :) I have made my share of things smoke, that’s for sure, but nothing really noteworthy and I still have all my fingers and toes (for counting) :) and I get shocked all the time, unfortunately LOL

What are you currently working on?

Currently I am building a Prusa model Reprap 3D printer. I was looking at possible adding a plastic extruder onto my existing CNC machine, but in the end I decided to follow those before me, rather than try to reinvent the wheel. At the time of this writing I have ordered all of the parts and they are slowly starting to come in. I’ve also ordered 3 Arduino Megas to use for the reprap and to also start playing in the Arduino world. I figure between the Parallax Propeller and Arduino I’ll have just about everything I would ever need covered – By the time this is read I’ll probably have a build log on my site about the 3D printer… There are also a few projects I am working on, on the CNC machine; I am mostly making parts for people that find me on the internet, for instance I am working on the front display for a word clock, and some parts for a small engine. I also do a lot of movie replica prop making, for instance I have recently made a Xena Chakram and he-man sword hilt! Last but not least I use the CNC machine to make a lot of signs :)

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