These Engineering Ed Projects are Our Kind of Hacks

Highly polished all-in-one gear for teaching STEM is one way to approach the problem. But for some, they can be intimidating and the up-front expenditure can be a barrier to just trying something before you’re certain you want to commit. [Miranda] is taking a different approach with the aim of making engineering education possible with junk you have around the house. The point is to play around with engineering concepts with having to worry about doing it exactly right, or with exactly the right materials. You know… hacking!

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What Lies Within: SMT Inductor Teardown

Ever wonder what’s inside a surface-mount inductor? Wonder no more as you watch this SMT inductor teardown video.

“Teardown” isn’t really accurate here, at least by the standard of [electronupdate]’s other component teardowns, like his looks inside LED light bulbs and das blinkenlights. “Rubdown” is more like it here, because what starts out as a rather solid looking SMT component needs to be ground down bit by bit to reveal the inner ferrite and copper goodness. [electronupdate] embedded the R30 SMT inductor in epoxy and hand lapped the whole thing until the windings were visible. Of course, just peeking inside is never enough, so he set upon an analysis of the inductor’s innards. Using a little careful macro photography and some simple image analysis, he verified the component’s data sheet claims; as an aside, is anyone else surprised that a tiny SMT component can handle 30 amps?

Looking for more practical applications for decapping components? How about iPhone brain surgery?

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Tightwad Hacks Label Printer, Beats Manufacturer at Own Game

Sometimes we hack for the thrill of making something new, and sometimes we hack to push back the dark veil of ignorance to shed fresh light on a problem. And sometimes, like when turning a used label printer into a point-of-sale receipt printer, we hack because we’re cheapskates.

We say that with the utmost respect and affection — there’s nothing to be ashamed of when your motive is strictly pecuniary. In [Dan Herlihy]’s case, hacking a cheap Brother label printer to use thermal paper meant saving $300 on a dedicated receipt printer. But it also meant beating Brother at their “Razor and Blades” business model that keeps you buying their expensive proprietary labels. A pattern of holes in the plastic label roll tells the printer what size labels are loaded, so [Dan] defeated that by breaking off a piece of the plastic and gluing it on the sensor. To convince the printer that plain thermal paper is label stock, he printed up a small strip of paper with the same pattern of black registration stripes that appear on the back of the labels. Pretty clever stuff, and it lets him print high-resolution receipts for his electronics shop on the seriously cheap.

[Dan]’s hack is simple, but may suffer from wear on the paper encoder strip. Perhaps this Brother hack using the gears as encoders will provide some inspiration for long-term fix.

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BAMF: Hard Drive Platter Launcher Among All-Time Favorites

The hard drive platter launcher that [Krux] built has been among my all-time favorite builds and I am so excited that he is showing it off at this year’s Bay Area Maker Faire. At its core the concept is quite simple; dump a large amount of current through a coil all at once, and the magnetic current generated spontaneously repels the aluminum hard drive platter. The devil is in the details and this is where [Krux’s] work really shines.

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Custom Hydraulic Cylinders from Off-the-Shelf Components

When your project needs power, you might need to turn to hydraulics. There is a lot of mystery about fluid power, but there is also a huge supply chain devoted to getting you the parts you need to power your project. Off-the-shelf components may not fit your application though, in which case it might be handy to know how to build your own custom hydraulic cylinders.

While it’s true that custom cylinder builds are pretty common, it’s still interesting to see the process [MakeItExtreme] used. Starting with an off-the-shelf piston and gland, this double-acting cylinder build is a pretty straightforward exercise in machining. The cylinder is threaded at the rod end and a cap is welded onto the piston end. Threaded bosses for fittings are welded on, the business end of the rod is threaded, and everything is assembled. The cylinder turned out to be pretty powerful as the video below shows.

As a product of the prolific team at [MakeItExtreme], we can tell this cylinder is destined for another even more interesting build. It’s hard to guess where this one will end up, but we’ll bet it ends up in another tool in their shop. Maybe it end up powering a beefed-up version of their recent roll bender.

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A Simple, DIY GPS Tracker

Today, there are dozens of off-the-shelf solutions for a GPS tracking device. Most of them use GSM, some of them use satellites, and all of them are astonishingly inexpensive. If you want to track a car, dog, or your luggage, you’ve never had more options.

[Emilio] wanted to track his own car, and the original solution for this was a smartphone. This smartphone was also a good choice, as it’s a programmable GPS device connected to a cell network, but there had to be a simpler solution. It came in the form of an eight euro GPS module and a three euro GSM module (Google Translatrix right here). The rest of the hardware is an ATMega48V [Emilio] had sitting around and a 2500 mAh lithium cell. It’s a cellular tracker make out of eleven euro’s worth of hardware and some junk in a drawer.

There are only a few caveats to this hardware. First, the ATmega48V only has one UART. This is connected to the GPS module at 9600, 8N1. The connection to the GSM M-590 module is only 2400 bps, and slow enough for a bitbanged UART. This hardware is soldered to a piece of perfboard, thus ending the hardware part of this build.

The software is a little more complex, but not by very much. The GPS part of the firmware records the current latitude and longitude. If the GSM module receives a call, it replies with an SMS of the current GPS coordinates and a few GPS coordinates seen earlier. Of course, a pre-paid SIM is required for this build, but those are cheap enough.

Not even ten years ago, a simple, DIY GPS tracker would have cost a small fortune. Now that we have cheap GPS modules, GSM modules, and more magical electronics from the East, builds like this are easy and cheap. What a magical time to be alive.

Need for New Hobby Leads to Stone Marbles

[Tom Lange] said he was looking for a new hobby when he saw a marble made out of stone and wondered what goes into making one for himself. Fast forward three years and he set up shop at the Madison Mini Maker Faire to show off the tools he built and the fascinating glossy orbs he’s produced. Read on to see the awesome process he uses to turn a hunk of stone into a perfect marble.

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