It is not often here on the BitBuilt forums that we like to hear the word “emulation” being used to describe fully portable gaming consoles. However, we thought we could make an exception for the opportunity to display the incredible craftsmanship and attention to detail by Dmcke5 in his latest project – the Switch Lite Raspberry Pi portable.
Dmcke5 joined the BitBuilt forums in late February of 2020. The way in which portable cases have been printed has transformed over the years in the modding scene, with the meta continuing to be challenged on a regular basis. 10 years ago, portable cases were frankencased out of whatever spare parts you had lying around in your garage. This was obviously very time consuming, messy and required a lot more precise measurements to cut holes and add features entirely by hand. Vacuum forming also came along as a popular alternative to mold thermal plastics to the shape desired. These two methods eventually lost their momentum with the introduction of 3D printing technology, whereby reasonably affordable FDM hobbyist printers like the Ender 3 and Prusa i3 started to become available for the masses, allowing modders to create unique, personalized cases in more efficient time. Dmcke5 challenges the status quo of portablizing with his latest CNC machinied marvel.
Dmcke5’s portable houses several different intricate parts that went into his build, including the following:
- A Raspberry Pi Zero W
- 800×480 5″ screen
- Arduino Pro Micro for controls
- PSP Joystick
- 2000 mAh Li-ion battery
- Aluminum casted shoulder buttons, ABXY and Dpad
- Overall weight of 292 grams
Below is Dmcke5’s prototype build. This one used acrylic buttons and allowed him to test fit all of his parts to make sure they were within tolerances before moving on to the back half.
The pictures below show the difference between pre/post polishing and sanding. No matter what method you are using to print your case, whether it be 3D printing, frankencasing, or CNC, painstakingly sanding your case goes a long way to providing a beautiful finish to your portable. If you really want to create a professional product, the small details really do matter, and Dmcke5 put in 110% to the finish. This is its state before is goes to be anodized, which will provide the shell with a very tough coating on the outside to protect the underlying aluminum whilst also reducing its conductivity to prevent shortages with the internal electronics. This casework is truly outstanding.
Despite all of the talk about outsides thus far, Dmcke5 demonstrated that he is skilled with more than just his CNC. He is very neat with his wire routing on the inside of the portable. Talk about fine pitched soldering! He removed the HDMI port and rewired it directly to the Raspberry Pi inputs, a testament to his soldering abilities. Not an easy feat, but perhaps easy for Dmcke5!
Thoroughly impressed with Dmcke5’s painstaking attention to detail and unprecedented case work, I reached out to him to interview him about taking the leap from FDM to machining tech, asked him a few questions about his future plans on BitBuilt, and whether he had any advice for those who have perfected their designs and want to take them to the next level with machining. We hope that this interview will be useful to people who are looking to learn more about CNC machining and how to make the transition from more conventional 3D prints. This interview really shows how Dmcke5 developed his machining skillset, and will hopefully give users who are unfamiliar with the technique a taste into getting started on machining their own portable cases. Be sure to have a read below!
StonedEdge: Dmcke5, once again, thanks for your time today on answering some of my questions for the BitBuilt community. We were truly gobsmacked at the introduction you gave us on the forums. It is not often that someone joins and blows people away on their first post! Could you tell us a little more about your first portable console?
Dmcke5: StonedEdge, thanks for honoring my latest project on the home page. I started my first build roughly October of 2019. This was my first gaming project ever actually. I made two revisions, something that you should always do when CNCing to make sure you iron out any issues.
StonedEdge: Have you been using CNC machines for a while? How did you begin with CNC and improve your skills? Could you give a word of advice for people wanting to make the jump from FDM to CNCing their cases?
Dmcke5: I’ve been involved with CNC machining for roughly 8 years. I was thrown in the deep end at work with no prior experience and learnt on the job from one of the other guys as I went. I switched over to a drafting/design role about 3 years ago, but have continued working with CNC machines in my spare time and occasionally still at work. My quality of work has improved greatly in the last 6-12 months or so and that was only due to finally building a decent machine for myself at home. Before that, all of my projects were rushed out in a half hour lunch break at work which always made for sub-par results. As for anyone who wants to make the jump to 3D printing over to machining, my best advice would be to start with some small simple projects (not a handheld case or something!) and work your way up machining smaller little pieces. Machining is not like 3D printing where you can easily do thousands of smaller test prints to see if the end result works. The cost (in both time and resources) is much more costly than 3D prints. You will need to adjust your design style to accommodate a CNC machine, but the best way to understand the limitations is to have a go, like any skill. Make sure you have realistic expectations of your machine, a little $200 china desktop mill isn’t going to cut aluminum anywhere near well enough for a big project like my portable, but it is definitely enough to get your feet wet and teach you the basics – you need to walk before you can run. I can give some general tips for any CNC machine, though.
- You need to make sure there are no hard internal corners as you can’t cut a square corner with a round tool, that is the most important thing. Everything has to have a radius (on deeper parts, the bigger the radius the better). I would aim to be able to get a 4mm tool into as much of the job as possible.
- Try and keep everything accessible from as few sides as possible. Every time you have to turn a job (also called “indexing”) it becomes significantly more time consuming. The exception to this rule is with a 5 axis machine center, but my machine is only 3 axis which means it can only work from the top down without having to set the job up again in another orientation. Generally speaking you will need to work from at least the top and the bottom. If you can avoid working from the sides, it will make things much, much easier. I position all of my ports/buttons etc on the center line between the two halves of my cases so that I can machine them out from the top, rather than try and mount them up sideways on my machine.
- You’ll want to allow at least 0.1-0.2mm tolerance on most things. This is just a general rule!
Dmcke5: The case has been anodized which is a form of electroplating. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I’ve had my portable finished for long enough to tell you how the anodising will hold up. Generally, its a pretty tough finish so it should be fairly resistant to scratches and even if it does scratch, you should be able to polish most of them out. There’s no risk of paint rubbing through from wear so as long as its cared for it should look this way for a very long time!
StonedEdge: We are certainly excited here at BitBuilt to see your next project. Can you tell us a little bit more about your future plans in the portablizing scene?
Dmcke5: Obviously, my immediate next project is my competition entry (linked below) but there’s plenty of info on that in its thread so I won’t go on about that too much here. Once it is complete, I’m planning to sit down and learn how to use some proper PCB design software. I’m aiming to then use that to design an Arduino powered Gameboy pocket style handheld a bit like the arduboy (just not so damn tiny!) and muck around coding some games for it for a while. Probably using a Mega 2560 or an STM32 based processor and a 320×240 colour LCD so it has enough power and a decent screen for some more interesting games. Might even put a wireless module in it for some multiplayer action!
StonedEdge: Of course we love any gaming console to be shown on the BitBuilt forums, but could you tell us if you are planning on doing a portable with real hardware at some point? How about a Nintendo Wii or a PS2 portable, for example, any plans there?
Dmcke5: I’m definitely considering doing a portable console at some point too, at the moment its a toss up between the Nintendo Wii and a PS2. Still haven’t done any research on that yet though, so I really don’t know how much work is involved. Luckily BitBuilt has a plethora of information available for the inexperienced like myself to get started – I certainly am grateful for the great guides and help we can receive here on the forums, its a great community.
StonedEdge: Finally, could you tell us about the CNC machine you used for the Switch Portable? Was it a publicly available machine?
Dmcke5: As a matter of fact, this portable was built using a CNC of my own design. My aim was to build a machine that was capable of machining aluminum whilst still only using hobby grade parts. The entire unit is 600x600x600mm in size, and I estimate it weighs about 150kgs (based on the CAD model and what parts I could weigh separately). It uses 25mm linear rail and 16mm ballscrews, which is a bit heavier than what most hobby machines of this size use. I’m running Nema 23 stepper motors from a Geckodrive G540 and using an Ethernet smooth stepper for control. I’m running a 1.5kw air cooled spindle which has a maximum tool size of 6mm.
It is a fixed gantry design to help try and minimise the load on the stepper motors, this also allowed me to attach the 2mm thick steel housing to the gantry to help make the machine more rigid. I don’t have an overall cost but I would expect a similar setup to cost somewhere around the $2500AUD sort of mark if you’re paying to have all the parts made for you. Certainly not cheap but I wouldn’t expect anyone to build their own machine right from the get-go, particularly for just building consoles.
StonedEdge: Thank you very much today for your valuable insights into the world of CNC machining and telling us a little more about your portable. We are all looking forward to seeing what you bring to the table next!
Dmcke5: Thank you very much!
Dmcke5 said it himself, but despite his unbelievable introduction to the forums, he did mention that he did not achieve success on the first try when machining his case. Rather, it took him three complete failures, resulting in starting again from complete scratch! Talk about dedication and persistence in achieving beautiful results. Sometimes the 3rd time is the charm. Be sure to check out Dmcke5’s awesome worklog below to follow his journey on building his Switch Lite Raspberry Pi Portable, and be sure to follow him to be on the lookout for more awesome projects coming from Dmcke5!
Summer 2020 Contest Entry – Concept UFO: https://bitbuilt.net/forums/index.php?threads/diy-concept-ufo.3339/page-4#post-40149