Panelizing Boards The Easy Way

For reasons that will remain undisclosed until some time in the future, I recently had a need to panelize a few PCBs. Panelization is the art of taking PCB designs you already have, whether they’re KiCad board files, Eagle board files, or just Gerbers, and turning them into a single collection of PCBs that can be sent off to a fab house.

Now this is panel racing

If you’re still wondering what this means, take a look at the last board you got from OSH Park, Seeed, Itead, or Dirty PCBs. Around the perimeter of your board, you’ll find some rough spots. These are ‘mouse bites’ and tabs, places where the boards are strung together to form a gigantic rectangular panel sent off to a manufacturer. You can check out this great interview with [Laen] from OSH Park to get an idea of how this works, but the basic process is to take a bunch of Gerbers, add tabs and mouse bites, solve the knapsack problem, and send the completed panel off to a board house.

Panelizing boards is something most of us won’t have to do often. Really, you only want a panel of boards when you’re manufacturing something. For small-scale production and prototypes, bare boards will do just fine. Simply by virtue of the fact that panelizing boards is far less common than throwing some Gerbers at OSH Park or Seeed, there aren’t many (good) tutorials, and even fewer (good) tools to do so. This is how you panelize boards quickly and easily using Open Source tools.

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Improving Mister Screamer; an 80 Decibel Filament Alarm

I created a prototype 3D printer filament alarm that worked, but the process also brought some new problems and issues to the surface that I hadn’t foreseen when I first started. Today I’m going to dive further into the prototyping process to gain some insight on designing for a well-specified problem. What I came up with is an easy to build pendant that passively hangs from the filament and alerts you if anything about that changes.

I began with a need to know when my 3D printer was out of filament, so that I could drop whatever I was doing and insert a new spool of filament right up against the end of the previous spool. By doing this within four minutes of the filament running out, printing very large jobs could continue uninterrupted. The device I designed was called Mister Screamer.

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How to Build Your Own Google AIY without the Kit

Google’s voice assistant has been around for a while now and when Amazon released its Alexa API and ported the PaaS Cloud code to the Raspberry Pi 2 it was just a matter of time before everyone else jumped on the fast train to maker kingdom. Google just did it in style.

Few know that the Google Assistant API for the Raspberry Pi 3 has been out there for some time now but when they decided to give away a free kit with the May 2017 issues of MagPi magazine, they made an impression on everyone. Unfortunately the world has more makers and hackers and the number of copies of the magazine are limited.

In this writeup, I layout the DIY version of the AIY kit for everyone else who wants to talk to a cardboard box. I take a closer look at the free kit, take it apart, put it together and replace it with DIY magic. To make things more convenient, I also designed an enclosure that you can 3D print to complete the kit. Lets get started.

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Music Reading for Machines

“Dammit Jim, I’m a hacker, not a musician!”, to paraphrase McCoy Scotty from the original Star Trek series. Well, some of us are also musicians, some, like me, are also hack-musicians, and some wouldn’t know a whole note from a treble clef. But every now and then the music you want is in the form of sheet music and you need to convert that to something your hack can play. If you’re lucky, you can find software that will read the sheet music for you and spit out a MIDI or WAV file. Or, as with my hand-cranked music player, you may have to read just enough of the music yourself to convert musical notes to frequencies for something like a 555 timer chip. We’ll dive into both cases here.

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The Textile Bench

What’s on your bench? Mine’s mostly filled with electronic test equipment, soldering kit, and computers. I’m an electronic engineer by trade when I’m not writing for Hackaday, so that’s hardly surprising. Perhaps yours is like mine, or maybe you’ve added a 3D printer to the mix, a bunch of woodworking tools, or maybe power tools.

So that’s my bench. But is it my only bench? On the other side of the room from the electronics bench is a sturdy folding dining table that houses the tools and supplies of my other bench. I’m probably not alone in having more than one bench for different activities, indeed like many of you I also have a messy bench elsewhere for dismantling parts of 1960s cars, or making clay ovens.

My textile bench, with a selection of the equipment used on it.
My textile bench, with a selection of the equipment used on it.

The other bench in question though is not for messy work, in fact the diametric opposite. This is my textile bench, and it houses the various sewing machines and other equipment that allow me to tackle all sorts of projects involving fabric. On it I’ve made, modified, and repaired all sorts of clothing, I’ve made not-very-successful kites, passable sandals, and adventurous tent designs among countless other projects.

Some of you might wonder why my textile bench is Hackaday fodder, after all it’s probably safe to assume that few readers have ever considered fabricating their own taffeta ball gown. But to concentrate only on one aspect of textile work misses the point, because the potential is there for so much cross-over between these different threads of the maker world. So I’m going to take you through my textile bench and introduce you to its main tools. With luck this will demystify some of them, and maybe encourage you to have a go.

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Stupid Git Tricks

My apologies if you speak the Queen’s English since that title probably has a whole different meaning to you than I intended. In fact, I’m talking about Git, the version control system. Last time I talked about how the program came to be and offered you a few tutorials. If you are a dyed-in-the-wool software developer, you probably don’t need to be convinced to use Git. But even if you aren’t, there are a lot of things you can do with Git that don’t fit the usual mold.

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KiCAD Best Practices: Library Management

One common complaint we hear from most new KiCAD users relates to schematic and footprint libraries. The trick is to use just one schematic symbol and footprint library each with your project. This way any changes to the default schematic libraries will not affect your project and it will be easy to share your project with others without breaking it. I’ve spent some time refining this technique and I’ll walk you through the process in this article.

We have covered KiCAD (as well as other) Electronic Design Automation (EDA) tools several times in the past. [Brian Benchoff] did a whole series on building a project from start to finish using all the various EDA packages he could lay his hands on. No CAD or EDA software is perfect, and a user has to learn to get to grips with the idiosyncrasies of whichever program they decide to use. This usually leads to a lot of cussing and hair pulling during the initial stages when one can’t figure out “How the hell do I do that?”, especially from new converts who are used to doing things differently.

Read on to learn the best practices to use when using KiCAD and its library management.

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