Oct 05, 2018 Written by: Kimberly_Koenig

Celebrating the globetrotting ROG Strix GL502VS with Mexico’s makerspace movement

Article Tags: PC Mods

For some, Mexico City might simply sound like a vacation spot. But this city and others are at the center of a fast-growing Mexican maker movement. In no other place has the maker movement been so embraced, not just as a hobby, but as a way of life. Five makerspaces have sprung up in Mexico City alone in the last five years, not to mention areas like Oaxaca and Veracruz, where makerspaces are quickly becoming educational opportunities for children and their families.

Local makers aren’t daunted by a lack of tools or materials, either. The co-founder of Proyectil Makerspace, who goes by the nickname “Robot,” says scarcity-driven resourcefulness is what sets Mexican makers apart. Mexican makers and makerspaces might not have the best and most-high end tools and materials when compared with wealthier countries, but “we can develop almost anything with almost any material,” he says. This inspires creators to push beyond their limits and introduces unimagined ingenuity to projects.

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With such a vibrant maker culture at the 12th and last stop on the GL502VS’s yearlong adventure, one thing was clear: we needed to make something special to commemorate the GL502VS World Tour. Inspired by the 10th-anniversary laptop cover we saw exhibited in Kuala Lumpur, we worked with Mexican makerspaces to design a decorative laptop cover, learn how to 3D print ROG case mods, and see firsthand how this movement is making waves.

Sharing the love

mexico-city-1Antonio Quirarte founded Hacedores, Mexico City’s first makerspace.

Hacedores, Mexico’s first makerspace, unassumingly perches in Mexico City’s historic center beside a magnificent cathedral and four floors above an old mall overflowing with religious books, artifacts, and herbs. You might think you’re in the wrong place until you ride up the old-fashioned, cage-doored elevator, ring the doorbell, and become immersed in a world of work tables, tools, and toys galore.

Makerspaces can seem intimidating if you've never worked in one before, but never fear. That’s not an issue for places like Hacedores, whose name means “doers” in Spanish. Places like this are as excited working on finished concepts as they are showing newbies the ropes. Even the ROG maker journey began as an idea and a desire to create something with little prior experience.

“We help you to have the first contact with these tools and equipment so you can use it for your project,” says Hacedores founder Antonio Quirarte. But whether you’re fixing something old or creating something new, they offer more than tools—they offer knowledge. To Quirarte, this fundamental difference distinguishes makers and hackers: “[They] share what they do. They don’t have any fear to share their knowledge, experiences, and the things they make with other people.” In fact, that collaboration is what’s making the Mexican maker movement so successful, so quickly. 

In Hacedores’ workshop, makers' low murmurs mingle with the squeal of 3D printers spooling out melted plastic. On weekdays, this space is mellow, mostly filled with people completing personal projects. But on weekends the scene completely changes as children and their parents pack in for educational workshops.

Anyone can do it

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Founder Quirarte promises that anyone can be a maker, even without previous experience, and he ends up being totally right. Thanks to downloadable designs, would-be makers don’t even need to know 3D modeling. In fact, ROG is the first motherboard manufacturer providing ready-made 3D-printable parts and mods. And aspiring makers can find all kinds of other free and open source models online, too.

This made our project simple. Hacedores began by downloading the ROG Rampage V Edition logo and the ROG Strix X99 Gaming I/O cover files. They loaded them into Cura, the software that prepares the models for printing. After scaling up the ROG Rampage V Edition logo 3D model and adding a temporary base, Hacedores set up their Ultimaker 3 with red plastic filament, and the 3D printer loaded the designs straight from a USB thumb drive. In less than 40 minutes, both pieces were done, ready to be gently separated from their temporary bases and adorn an ROG case (or anything else our hearts desired.) 

mexico-city-14ROG’s 3D files make printing your own case mods incredibly easy.

Lean and green

While the ROG case mods used a shiny new spool of red plastic filament, in Mexico it’s as common to see recycled, upcycled, or unusual materials as new ones. This approach is a fundamental part of the culture, where little goes to waste. People here view upcycling as a natural part of an item’s lifecycle. In fact, visitors to Mexico City are very quickly acquainted with the city’s ubiquitous junk trucks. Circling the city and blaring the same pre-recorded message, these private trash collectors buy used and broken appliances for resale and recycling.

This approach began as an economic necessity. But today, both the Mexican government and makers are all-in on going green. Cardboard, MDF, and even plastic bags are key maker materials. And although Mexico was drowning in unrecycled PET plastic 14 years ago, in 2016 they became the world’s biggest PET recycler. Even the local transit system has recycling machines where people exchange used plastic for free or reduced subway fare. 

In areas like Oaxaca and Veracruz, kids learn about technology by taking apart or fixing old computer monitors. Elsewhere, makers use open-source machines like Precious Plastic to recycle any plastic into reusable pellets. For makers, going green isn’t just good for the world, but it’s a fun challenge turning trash into treasure.

From concept to reality

Where Hacedores specializes in community co-creation and education, nearby Proyectil is a place where any concept can become reality. Proyectil's seven co-founders had a shared vision: a space where they could apply their vast expertise in robotics, electrical engineering, and industrial design to help anyone make anything. They’ve designed parts for Corona’s beer factories, helped entrepreneurs with physical prototypes, and even created custom circuit boards for local escape rooms. Today, the space is part engineering lab, part design studio, part hacker incubator, and part coworking space. This made Proyectil the perfect place for bringing our laptop cover to life.

On our arrival, co-founder Diego Alvarado quickly leapt into action. Since we were using acrylic, a giant, computerized laser cutter called a CNC machine was going to do the dirty work. That meant our designs needed to pass inspection, including ensuring the vectors had different border colors for “cut” lines versus “etch” lines. In his CNC software, Alvarado inspected each set of vector files, then calibrated the laser strength and speed for each color (a stronger, slower laser to cut the red borders; a weaker, faster laser to engrave the black ones.)

mexico-city-4After etching the grey acrylic, the CNC laser amped up the power to finalize the outer cut lines.

After about 10 minutes of discussion, calibration, and selecting acrylic colors, we were ready for a test print. Down to the basement, where the giant CNC machine dominates most of the space. Alvarado transferred the designs from a USB thumb drive to the CNC. A few test cuts and laser adjustments later, and we were ready for the real deal. Alvarado selected the proper design layer, put the corresponding acrylic in the machine, and the laser took care of the rest.

It was a surprisingly fast process. After about an hour, the CNC finished. A Dremel smoothed out the rough edges, and then everything was ready for assembly, much like a puzzle. After ensuring it fit together and looked good, we secured it all with superglue. In just a few short hours, concept became reality.

As with many new makers, we also learned some lessons along the way. The “Republic of Gamers” letters were slightly too small for the laser, which led to them being slightly uneven and difficult to glue. And because makerspaces don’t always have all the materials on-hand, we got resourceful by painting clear acrylic grey. However, when the paint didn’t hold up with time, it got some touch-ups that led to a more distressed, two-tone finish. In the end, it’s all part of the maker learning process: improvising and improving with each iteration.

Everyone's a maker

Believe it or not, there wasn’t an official maker community in Mexico five years ago. But even if the official movement is young, making is a longstanding part of the Mexican heritage. “[It’s] something we've had since we are [children],” Quirarte says. They might not call themselves "makers," but people here have been crafting and fixing things their entire lives.

It’s through Quirarte's efforts and other trailblazers like Robot and Diego Alvarado that four other local makerspaces now join Hacedores and Proyectil. Outside Mexico City, there’s Hackerspace in Monterrey, Inventor’s House in Aguas Calientes, and Hacker Garage in Guadalajara, to name a few. And events like Startup Weekend Maker Edition and Campus Party Mexico, now in its sixth year, draw thousands of local and international participants, including speakers like Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Atari founder Nolan Bushnell.

Quirarte's dream of opening the maker movement to everyone is quickly becoming a reality. But he says there’s an important question at the heart of this. "What is a maker?" he asks. "Well, what is an artisan? What is an artist? What is an engineer?” If the desire to experiment, fix, play, and create are fundamentally human, then there’s a maker inside of everyone.

Want to make your own DIY GL502VS acrylic cover? Click here to download our vector files.

Article Tags: PC Mods
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