Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: CNC Becomes Pick and Place

In the 80s and 90s, building a professional quality PCB was an expensive proposition. Even if you could afford a few panels of your latest board, putting components on it was another expensive process. Now, we have cheap PCBs, toaster-based solder ovens, and everything else to make cheap finished boards except for pick and place machines. ProtoVoltaics’ semifinalist entry for the Hackaday Prize is the answer to this problem. They’re taking a cheap, off-the-shelf CNC machine and turning it into a pick and place machine that would be a welcome addition to any hackerspace or well-equipped garage workshop.

Instead of building their own Cartesian robot, ProtoVoltaics is building their pick and place around an X-Carve, a CNC router that can be built for about $1000 USD. To this platform, ProtoVoltaics is adding all the mechanics and intelligence to turn a few webcams and a CNC machine into a proper pick and place machine.

Among the additions to the X-Carve is a new tool head that is able to suck parts out of a reel and spit them down on a blob of solder paste. The webcams are monitored by software which includes CUDA-accelerated computer vision.

Of course a pick and place machine isn’t that useful without feeders, and for that, ProtoVoltaics built their own open source feeders. Put all of these elements together, and you have a machine that’s capable of placing up to 1000 components per hour; more than enough for any small-scale production, and enough for some fairly large runs of real products.

You can check out some of the videos for the project below.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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When you think of a CNC controller you probably think of a PC with a parallel port or some microcontroller-based solution like a Smoothie Board. [Mhouse1] has a different idea: use FPGAs as CNC controllers.

FPGAs inherently handle things in parallel, so processing G code, computing curves and accelerations, and driving multiple stepper motors at one time would not be an issue at all for an FPGA. Most computer-based designs will have slight delays when trying to drive everything at once and this introduces some mechanical jitter. Even worse jitter occurs when you have an old PC trying to run everything when some other task takes over the CPU.

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CNC’ed Business Card

Hobby CNC mills have made rapid prototyping easier and faster for hackers. One really useful application is quickly fabricating your own milled PCB’s. [proto logical] built a Reference PCB Business Card using his CNC mill after repeatedly coming across other hackers who were not too convinced about the capabilities of CNC mills in routing PCB’s (also referred to as isolation milling). He thought of making a business card sized reference PCB to show around when he bumps into such folks.

To keep it useful, he included inch and centimetre scales, 0.1″ grid of holes, reference track widths from 16 mil to 66 mil, a few common drill holes and vias and some SMD foot prints. The single sided board is 50 mil thick, so it doesn’t bulk up his wallet. He’s posted the Eagle board file (direct download) and G-code (text file) for those interested in milling their own reference boards. The idea isn’t new – it’s been tried several times in different form factors in the past, generally using more traditional techniques. [proto logical] got inspiration from [Rohit Gupta’s] TinkerRule – The Maker’s Swiss Army Knife. Then there’s the very popular uRuler made by [Dave Jones] of EEVBlog fame. If you have any suggestions on improving the design, chime in with comments here.

Thanks to [ACG] for sending in this tip that he dug up while looking for CNC routed PCB’s.

How to Upgrade a Chinese CNC Machine

Looking to add a small CNC machine to your garage or hackerspace’s arsenal of tools? Like any tools — China has you covered for the cheap options — but the question is, is it worth it? Typically it depends on the tool, but when you can upgrade your 3040 CNC router to use USB instead of a parallel port with the TinyG motion controller… most definitely!

The 3040 or 3020 CNC router is a popular Chinese machine used by many hobbyists — and for good reason. A rigid all-aluminum frame, decent stepper motors and pretty good resolution? It’s not a bad deal for around $1000USD. We’ve covered it many times before. Problem is, the electronics are a bit out-dated. Particularly in the fact that it uses Mach3 with a parallel port… Come on, who has a parallel port these days?

[John Lauer] set out to fix this. The TinyG is a motor controller we’ve covered a few times before as well — it was just waiting to be fitted into a 3040 CNC in order to run a better control system, like ChiliPeppr!

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Hot-Wire CNC Foam Cutter From E Waste

A couple of old DVD ROM drives and a compact photo printer is fairly standard fare at the thrift store, but what do you do with them? Hack them up to make a CNC foam cutter of course!

[Jonah] started with a couple LITE-ON brand DVD RW drives, which use stepper motors instead of plain old DC motors. This is a huge score since steppers make accurate positioning possible. With the internal frames removed, threaded rod and nuts were used to hold the two units parallel to each other forming the Z axis.

The feed mechanism from a Canon compact photo printer was then bolted onto the bottom to form the Y axis. Add a bit of nichrome wire for the cutting element (this can be found in old hair dryers) onto where the laser assembly of the DVD rom once lived, and you have the mechanics done.

Control is handled by an Arduino and some easy-driver modules to interface with the steppers. G-Code is generated by CamBam, which handles various cad files, or has its own geometry editor.

This is a fantastic way to get your feet wet in several ways; Cracking things open to harvest parts, driving steppers with simple micocontrollers, modeling and generating g-code, etc. The one issue we see with this build is a chicken-or-egg problem since you need to have a cube of foam cut down to somewhat strict dimensions before it will fit in this cutter. But we suppose that is really just an iterative design problem.

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A Handheld CNC Router

Over the last few years, the state of the art in handheld routers has been tucked away in the back of our minds. It was at SIGGRAPH in 2012 and we caught up to it at Makerfair last year. Now, it’s getting ready for production.

Originally called Taktia, the Shaper router looks a lot like a normal, handheld router. This router is smart, though, with the ability to look at a work piece marked with a tape designed for computer vision and slightly reposition the cutter in response to how the user is moving it. A simple description doesn’t do this tool justice, so check out the video the Shaper team recently uploaded.

With the user moving the Shaper router over a work piece and motors moving the cutter head, this tool is able to make precision cuts – wooden gears and outlines of the United States – quickly, easily, and accurately. Cutting any shape is as easy as loading a file into Shaper, calling that file up on a touch screen display, and turning on the cutter. Move the router around the table, and the Shaper takes care of the rest.

Accuracy, at least in earlier versions, is said to be on the order of a hundredth of an inch. That’s good enough for wood, like this very interesting bit of joinery that would be pretty hard with traditional tools. Video below.

Thanks [martin] for the tip.

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Hacklet 57 – CNC Hacks

Everyone’s first microcontroller project is making an LED blink. It’s become the de-facto “Hello World” of hardware hacking.  There’s something about seeing wires you connected and the code you wrote come together to make something happen in the real world. More than just pixels on a screen, the LED is tangible. It’s only a short jump from blinking LEDs to making things move. Making things move is like a those gateway drug – it leads to bigger things like robots, electric cars, and CNC machines. Computer Numerical Control (CNC) is the art of using a computer to control movement. The term is usually applied to machine tools, which cut, engrave, or perform other operations on wood, plastic, metal and other materials. In short, tools to make more things. It’s no surprise that hackers love CNCs. This week’s Hacklet is all about some of the best CNC projects on Hackaday.io!

charliexWe start with [Charliex] and Grizzly G0704 CNC Conversion. [Charliex] wanted a stout machine capable of milling metal. He started with a Grizzly  G0704, which is small compared to a standard knee mill, but still plenty capable of milling steel. [Charliex] added a Flashcut CNC conversion kit to his mill. While they call them “conversion kits” there is still quite a bit of DIY ingenuity required to get a system like this going. [Charliex] found his spindle runout was way out of spec, even for a Chinese mill. New bearings and a belt conversion kit made things much smoother and quieter as well. The modded G0704 is now spending its days cutting parts in [Charliex’s] garage.


makesmithNext up is [brashtim] with Makesmith CNC. Makesmith was [brashtim’s] entry in the 2014 Hackaday prize. While it didn’t win the prize, Makesmith did go on to have a very successful Kickstarter, with all the machines shipping in December of 2014. The machine itself is unorthodox. It uses closed loop control like large CNC machines, rather than open loop stepper motors often found in desktop units. The drive motors are hobby type servos.  We’re not talking standard servos either – [brashtim] picked microservos. By using servos, common hardware store parts, and laser cut acrylic, [brashtim] kept costs down. The machine performs quite well though, easily milling through wood, plastic, foam, and printed circuit boards.


reactronNext we have [Kenji Larsen] with Reactron material processor: Wireless CNC mill. [Kenji] started with a  Shapeoko 2, and gave it the Reactron treatment. The stock controller was replaced with a Protoneer shield, which is connected to the Reactron network via a HopeRF radio module. The knockoff rotary tool included with the kit was replaced with a DeWalt DW660 for heavy-duty jobs, or a quieter Black and Decker RTX-6. A tool mounted endoscope keeps an eye on the work. [Kenji] mounted the entire mill in a custom enclosure of foam and Roxul insulation. The enclosure deadens the sound, but it also keeps heat in. [Kenji] plans to add a heat exchanger to keep things cool while maintaining relative quiet in his shop.

cnc2Finally we have a [hebel23] with DIY Multiplex Plywood CNC Router. [hebel23] wanted to build a big machine within a budget – specifically a working area of  400 x 600 x 100 mm and a budget of 800 Euro. As the name implies, [hebel23] used birch plywood as the frame of his machine. He chose high quality plywood rather than the cheap stuff found in the big box stores. This gives the machine a stable frame. The moving components of the machine are also nice – ball screws, linear bearings, and good stepper controllers. The stepper motors themselves are NEMA-23 units, which should give the CNC plenty of power to cut through wood, plastic, and even light cuts on metal. [hebel23] spent a lot of time on the little details of his CNC, like adding an emergency stop switch, and a wire-chain to keep his gantry control wires from ending up tangled up in the work piece. The end result is a CNC which would look great in anyone’s workshop.

If you want more CNC goodness, check out our brand new CNC project list! Did I miss your project? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!