Take Your Samples for a Spin with the RWXBioFuge

RWXBioFuge collage v0.1We have a confession to make: we love centrifuges. We’ve used all shapes and sizes, for spinning bags of whole blood into separate components to extracting DNA, and everything in between. Unfortunately, these lab staples are too expensive for many DIY-biologists unless they buy them used or build them themselves. [Pieter van Boheemen] was inspired by other DIY centrifuges and decided to make his own, which he named the RWXBioFuge.

[Pieter] designed the RWXBioFuge using Sketchup, OpenSCAD, and InkScape. It features a Thermaltake SMART M850W ATX power supply, an R/C helicopter Electronic Speed Controller (ESC), and brushless outrunner motor. For user output it utilizes a 16×2 LCD character display with an I2C interface.The frame is laser-cut from 3mm MDF while the 3D-printed PLA rotor was designed with OpenSCAD.

An Arduino handles the processing side of things. [Pieter] used an Arduino Ethernet – allowing a web interface to control the centrifuge’s settings and operation from a distance. We can see this being useful in testing out the centrifuge for any rotor/motor balance issues, especially since [Pieter] states that it can be configured to run >10,000 rpm. We wouldn’t want to be in the room if pieces start flying off any centrifuge at that speed!  However, we feel that when everything’s said and done, you should have a centrifuge you can trust by your side when you’re at your lab bench.

While there are similarities to the Openfuge, the larger RWXBioFuge has rotor capacities of eight to twenty 1.5-2.0ml microcentrifuge tubes. Due to the power supply, it is not portable and a bit more expensive, but not incredibly so. There are some small touches about this centrifuge that we really like. The open lid detector is always a welcome safety feature. The “Short” button is very handy for quick 5-10 second spins.

A current version of the RWXBioFuge is being used at the Waag Society’s Open Wetlab. [Pieter's] planned upgrades for the next version include a magnetic lid lock, different rotor sizes, an accelerometer to detect an improperly balanced rotor, and optimizing the power supply, ESC, and motor setup. You can never have enough centrifuges in a lab, and we are looking forward to seeing this project’s progress!

Check out a few more pictures of the RWXBioFuge after the break.

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Think Before You Measure – Old Test Gear and Why It Is Awesome

old-test-gear-banner

Good, workable test gear is key to enabling our hobby. In this post we will discuss where to procure it at rock-bottom prices, what to look for, how to fix it, and how to tailor your laboratory practices around gear that may not be reliable.

We are lucky to be living in an era with plentiful high-quality test gear. Since the Second World War, surplus test gear has been in abundance at low costs enabling hobbyists, innovators, and academics to experiment and build great things. If you are willing to think before you measure you can save serious amounts of money and have a professional laboratory in your home.

Where to buy
The obvious answer is eBay, but the deals on test equipment are at the hamfests. Don’t be fooled by the name. Hamfests sell much more than amateur radio equipment. Hamfests are swap meets where hobbyists trade electronics of all kinds. Check out the ARRL hamfest calendar to find the next local one near you! I suggest you arrive early, however. The culture of hamfests tends to favor showing up as soon as the doors open and leaving about two hours before the official end. The early bird gets the worm!

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DIY Vacuum Former On The Cheap

DIY Vacuum Former

Vacuum Forming is a process used to mold plastic into a desired shape. A thin sheet of plastic is heated to a soft state and then air pressure is used to press the plastic down around or into a mold. Vacuum forming can be used to make a variety of items, anything from product packaging to bath tubs.

That being said, a vacuum former is probably one of those things that would be nice to have around but may not get a lot of use. Therefore, spending any significant amount of money on one would result in a low-value situation. For some folks, building one from scratch may be the way to go. [Amalgamized] built his own low-cost vacuum former and did a great job documenting the build.

VacuumDiagramFlattenedSmallThere is a two-pronged attack to keep the costs down on this project. First, the frame is made from readily available materials that you probably have kicking around in your wood scrap bin. The sides of the frame are 3/4″ plywood and the hole-filled top is made from 1/4″ MDF. A piece of PVC pipe connects the chamber below the top piece of MDF to a shopvac. The shopvac pulls the air down through the top’s holes; think reverse air hockey table.

Attack prong #2 is that there is no dedicated heater. Binder clips secure the plastic sheets to an aluminum window frame which are then put in the oven for a few minutes between 250 and 300ºF. When the plastic starts to droop, it is quickly removed from the oven and placed over a mold. The shopvac creates a low pressure zone under the plastic and atmospheric pressure pushes the plastic down around the mold.

DIY Vacuum Former

Don’t You Just Love Comic Sans?

Type Writer Uses Comic Sans!

Trick question! Of course you do, everyone loves Comic Sans! It’s only like the best font in the history of the internet! Why would you ever use anything else?

Oh! Is it because you feel like writing your novella on a computer is cheating? You wish you could use Comic Sans on your classic Sears-branded Brother Charger 11 typewriter from the 70’s? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

Jokes aside, this is actually a pretty clever hack. He’s modified a typewriter to use custom letters which he has laser cut out of acrylic and super glued to the strikers of the typewriter. [Read more...]

PCB Toner Transfer Method, Now Without The Transfer

PCB Laser Printer

A common way to create a custom PCB at home is to do what is called the Toner Transfer Method. In this process, the trace layout of the board is printed out on a piece of special toner transfer paper that allows the ink to come off in the following step. The toner transfer paper is then put print-side-down on a copper clad PCB blank, heated and pressed with an iron. The heat and pressure from the iron transfers the toner from the paper to the copper. The exposed copper then is chemically removed, the previously applied toner protects the copper in the pad and trace areas. The toner is then removed using paint thinner.

That is a long process with many critical steps. [mlerman] wondered why no one was printing the toner directly to the PCB. He has been tinkering with printing directly on PCB blanks for 4 years now. He’s made hundreds of boards over that time and can now make a PCB in under 15 minutes.

The obvious route to take would be to modify a current laser printer to accept the much-thicker-than-paper PCB boards. A few printer models were tried but [mlerman] feels the Lexmark E260 works the best due to the cost, internal mechanical components and an easily modifiable manual feed system. There is also a Local Printer Utility that allows the majority of the printer parameters to be adjusted.

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Bench Top Drill Press Converted To Milling Machine, Mounted To Lathe

Convert a Drill Press to a Mill

Milling machines are nice to have around for precisely drilling holes or removing unwanted material from a part. However, they can be expensive and may not get a lot of use, two reasons why a mill purchase may not make sense for a home shop. [David] didn’t need a mill, he wanted one and he didn’t want to spend a lot of money. He did have an old bench top drill press and a lathe in his shop and thought it would be a good idea to combine them them into a DIY Milling Machine.

The problem with just throwing a milling bit in a drill press and trying to mill metal is that the drill press spindle ball bearings are not made for radial loading. [David] knew this and replaced the stock ball bearings with angular roller bearings. These new bearings would require an axial preload applied to keep the spindle in place. This was done by machining threads into the spindle’s shaft and adding a nut to secure and preload the new angular roller bearings.

[David] did not have an XY Table to donate to the project so he decided to mount the drill press to his lathe and use the lathe axes to move the work piece around underneath the mill. Thick plate steel was welded together to form a hefty bracket that bolted to both the lathe bed and drill press column. And yes, the lathe is still functional and the changeover process is simple. To go from Mill to Lathe; the work piece is removed from the lathe’s cross slide and replaced with the lathe tool holder. That’s it!

Overall, [David] is happy with his conversion. He doesn’t expect his project to be as precise or rigid as a proper milling machine but says he has no problem cutting 1mm deep passes in steel when using a 6mm diameter mill bit.

Toaster Oven Reflow Controllers

reflow

With a lot of people who are suddenly too cool for through hole and of course the a few generations of components that are only available in SMD packages, it’s no surprise the humble toaster oven has become one of the mainstays of electronic prototyping. You’re gonna need a controller to ramp up those temperatures, so here are two that do the job quite nicely.

[Nathan]‘s Zallus Oven Controller is a bit different than other reflow controllers we’ve seen on Kickstarter. He’s offering three versions, two with different sized touch screen displays, and one that is controlled with a PC and push buttons. The display for these is beautiful, and of course you can program your own temperature profiles.

If Kickstarter isn’t your thing, [Dirk] created his own reflow controller. Like the Zallus, this has a graphical display, but its homebrew lineage means it should be simpler to maintain. It uses a K-type thermocouple, and unlike every other reflow controller we’ve ever seen, [Dirk] is actually checking the accuracy of his temperature probe.

No, reflow oven controllers aren’t new, and they aren’t very exciting. They are, however, tools to build much cooler stuff, and a great addition to any lab.

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