The car you see in the picture below, was not drawn by a human! No! It was drawn using a pen by a robotic machine made by Thapelo Moeti, the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) in Electronics Student! He calls his machine a CNC Plotter.
“Now that this machine can draw,” he said, “I am already developing a bigger machine, 10 times faster than humans, that will have a capacity to cut clothes, steel, and wood based on computer drawings.”
Goodbye saws and scissors! Welcome the 4th Industrial Revolution!
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Thapelo has made a machine that has left everyone in a “wow-did-he-really-do-it ? mode.”
Supervised by Dr. Matjelo Naleli, he built this machine from scratch, sometimes using materials he found on the scrapyard. It was software, it was hardware. It was design, it was sleepless nights, it was near-obsession—as he brought the machine together.
“We used to think that such machines were supposed to be made overseas, not right here in Lesotho by a Mosotho,” said a clearly shaken onlooker as he watched the machine draw.
Thapelo said he conceived the idea of building this machine for about three years ago. Then he told us what we already knew. “Developing something like this in a country like Lesotho was difficult at best and frustrating at worst.”
But he did it anyway.
Here is how.
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Although he is a BEng in Electronics student, he has a diverse background. Let him surprise you a little bit, “I also have a background in clothing, woodwork, steelwork, and structural design.” According to recent research findings, the most innovative souls among us are, usually, the often insulted “Jacks of all Trades.” It turns out they are the “Masters of All” when it comes to innovation.
“Fortunately, I have a very skillful and talented brother [Mr. Teboho Moeti] who is an artisan. So I have learned a lot about steelworks from him.” Thapelo also said that he takes woodwork as a hobby. He went so far as taking a short course in clothe-Making despite being a student at NUL. As he navigated these many trades, he saw serious problems that made him to be determined to tackle them using his Electronics Engineering skills.
For instance, cutting such things as small nice square holes on a metal sheet is a pain. Some people even use hand-held tools and the results are always less than desired. The same thing can be said about woodwork. Working wood is usually a manual process in Lesotho. The result is that when you see a really good piece of work, you know there is a skilled woodworker behind it. The problem is, skilled woodworkers, die, so do their skills.
“Hee motho o ne a ja lepolanka eo!”
Woodworkers may die but if their designs remain, Thapelo’s CNC will live to reproduce their work.
Now comes clothes-making.
Well, Thapelo knows a thing or two about clothing as well. While he was attending a clothing school, he realized something that took him by surprise. A lot of work in clothing was spent on pattern drafting and cutting. In fact, most students spent hours and some a few days to properly draft and cut a single design. “This drafting and cutting was a mess,” Thapelo said. “I then imagined how hard it might be, for someone already in the market, having to bring up large sums of clothing designs in a limited time frame.”
All these experiences got him thinking.
What if the idea of cutting is not as difficult as it is at the moment?
That thought put him on a journey to do something that almost no one believed he was capable of doing. He was going to design and build a CNC machine. It would just be told how to cut by a computer and it would do the rest of the job.
It was an unbelievable idea!
“Are you crazy?” “What the heck are you talking about?” That’s how people reacted as they listened to his outrageous ideas. However, his brother [Mr. Mathanzima Moeti] never ceased to motivate and support his brilliant idea—not that he really believed it was going to happen but you know a good brother.
During his journey in developing the idea of making this machine, he only aimed for the machine to reach a stage where it could draw on a paper on its own. “That is the basic starting point of a CNC machine. If it can draw, then it can cut almost any shape you want it to cut.”
He started experimenting and researching well before this project became part of his fifth year project.
Already, he is creating a bigger machine that is going to engrave and cut clothes using a laser so that we can throw away scissors. He strongly claimed that the machine would be effectively 10 times faster than humans and that a digital design template would be created just once to generate more clothes at different sizes. “I’m also eyeing the use of plasma for cutting steel.”
The principle is the same. You draw on the computer, the machine cuts it, nicely, precisely… for you!