MakerBeam Comes of Age

makerbeam pieces

Back in 2009, we helped support the launch on Kickstarter of MakerBeam, a miniature open source aluminum T-slot profile construction set. Just a few months later, we wrote about receiving our first batch of MakerBeam parts.  And while there were some good things that might be said about those first-batch parts, there were some not-so-good things as well. For example, custom screws that couldn’t really be tightened and fastening plates made of too-brittle plastic. With some improvement — stainless steel brackets — MakerBeam eventually found limited distribution in 2011 at Sparkfun in the USA and at MakerBeam.eu, but on the whole, it seemed to be fizzling out of existence.

But, things change, sometimes for the better.  In 2012, Terence Tam’s excellent OpenBeam (a slightly larger T-slot profile, also currently sold by MakerBeam.eu) came roaring out of the gate, reminding us of what great things one can build out of extrusion profiles.  Meanwhile, the folks from MakerBeam.eu took hold of MakerBeam and began to run with it — turning a languishing project into an open source hardware success story. They recently sent us a starter kit to review, and we have to say— we were blown away.

makerbeam 2014 20

To begin with, they redesigned the profile itself.  The basic proportions are still the same (10 mm across), but the new shape has a thicker solid core that improves strength, and now allows the ends to be tapped. (The hole does not go all the way through.)  They also started having their profiles anodized, providing a harder outer surface, and tapping the ends.

makerbeam 2014 10 makerbeam 2014 11
makerbeam 2014 15 makerbeam 2014 16

Next up: Nicely made stainless steel angle brackets and fastening plates.  Rock solid when bolted down, although (things being small) you may need to use several of them to get the kind of rigidity that you need for certain applications. We already had some of these shapes from the original MakerBeam makers.

makerbeam 2014 17

Silly: Some of the fastening plates (the ones designed by the original MakerBeam team) are inscribed with the angle in fractions of Tau, as in τ/4 instead of 90°.  Our guess: it’s certain to please many fewer people than it annoys.

 

makerbeam 2014 4
makerbeam 2014 5

And, most important: A fastening system that really works.  These stainless steel M3 screws with modified pyramid-shaped button socket cap heads are simply fantastic.  They slide easily into and out of the MakerBeam slots, and lock into place perfectly with a simple hex nut on the exterior.

There are arguments to be said for and against putting screw heads in the channels, but if you’re going to do it, you had damn well better do it right. And, finally, someone is doing it right.  You can read about the evolution of the fasteners on the MakerBeam.eu blog, here, here, here, here, and here.

 

makerbeam 2014 18

 

Old components, Left side:  MakerBeam profile 1.0, old-style screws, machined ABS fastening plate.
New components, Right side: MakerBeam profile 2.0, new screws, stainless steel fastening plates.

makerbeam 2014 8

So, after nearly five years, MakerBeam has come of age, and finally fulfilled its promise of being a really nice miniature construction set.  Our congratulations and thanks to MakerBeam.eu for doing such a great job of this, and especially for making these sets available for everyone else.

EmailFacebookTwitterGoogle+tumblrPinterestRedditStumbleUpon

7 thoughts on “MakerBeam Comes of Age

  1. Any chance these will be available from somewhere in the US anytime soon?

    • I agree; it would be nice to see a comparison of the two. the RepRap Wiki seems to have some good information as a place to start, though not a direct comparison. It appears that the biggest difference is that Openbeam is 15mmx15mm, Makerbeam is 10mmx10mm.

      I’m going to research tonight when I get home to see what sort of accessories exist for each, because I would like to use some sort of prototyping beam to work out the best spacing for LEDs to be used in a light-wash setup; I envision a clip to hold the LEDs at 90* from the beam that I can slide them back and forth to vary the intensity of the wash to get the desired effect.

  2. I thought most extruded slot systems offered tappable ends. It’s extruded into 8020 and Misumi extrusions.

    I do like the bolts. Making sure you get enough thread engagement with T-nuts can be hard.

Comments are closed.