CircuitMaker from Altium

Altium recently announced CircuitMaker, their entry into the free/low-cost PCB design tool market. They’re entering a big industry, with the likes of Eagle, KiCad, gEDA, and a host of other tool suites. We had a few minutes to talk with Max in the Altium booth at World Maker Faire, and even got a bit of time with the tool itself.

Hands on, it definitely has the look and feel of Altium Designer, right down to the familiar yellow and green boxes for schematic and sheet parts. Center stage was the 3D view, a feature which Altium has had in their software since the late 90’s.

CircuitMaker’s website is pushing the collaboration aspect of the software. Design choices can be reviewed and commented on in real-time. This also suggests that the data files will live in Altium’s own cloud storage system.

CircuitMaker is still in the pre-beta phase, but they’re looking for beta testers now, so head over to the site and sign up!

Making an Inductor Saturation Current Tester

[Kalle] tipped us about a quick project he made over a couple of evenings: an inductor saturation current tester. All the components used for it were salvaged from a beefy telecom power supply, which allows the tester to run currents up to 100A during 30us in the inductors to be characterized.

Knowing the limits of an inductor is very convenient when designing Switch Mode Power Supplies (SMPS) as an inadequate choice may result in very poor performances under high loads. [Kalle]’s tester simply consists in a N-Mosfet switching power through a load while a shunt allows current measurements. The saturation point is then found when the current going through the inductor suddenly peaks. As you can see from the picture above, 16 4700uF electrolytic caps are used to compensate for the sudden voltage drop when the Mosfet is activated. A video of the system in action is embedded after the break.

Continue reading “Making an Inductor Saturation Current Tester”

A Folding Laser Cutter

Want a laser cutter, but don’t have the space for one? How about a portable machine to engrave and cut wood and plastics? A folding laser cutter solves these problems, and that’s exactly what Red Ant Lasers was showing off last weekend at Maker Faire.

Inside the team’s Origami laser cutter is a 40 Watt CO2 tube, shooting its beam along an entirely enclosed beam path. The beam travels through the body of the machine, out into the folding arm of the machine, and down to whatever material you’ve placed the Origami on. It’s a 40 Watt laser so it will cut plywood and plastics, and as shown in the video above, does a fine job at engraving plywood.

This is a Class 4 laser device operating without any safety glass, but from the short time I spent with the Red Ant team, this is a reasonably safe device. You will need safety glasses if you’re within five feet, but after that, everything (according to OSHA, I think) is safe and not dangerous. Either way, it’s a tool just like a table saw. You don’t see commentors on the Internet complaining about how a spinning metal blade is dangerous all the time, do you?

The Red Ant guys are currently running a Kickstarter for their project, with a complete unit going for $4200. It’s pricier than a lot of other lasers, but not being constrained by the size of a laser cutters enclosure does open up a few interesting possibilities. You could conceivably cut a 4×8 sheet of plywood with this thing, and exceptionally large engravings start looking easy when you have a portable laser cutter.

Cryogenic Machining: Custom Rubber Parts

Fashioning a custom, one-off rubber part for your project isn’t usually an option, but [Ben Krasnow] has an alternative to injection molding and casting: machining frozen rubber.

As [Ben] points out, you can’t exactly pop a sheet of rubber on your mill and CNC the needed shape; the bit will push the material around rather than cut it. Freezing the rubber first, however, allows you to carve into the now-hardened material.

His initial setup consisted of a sheet of aluminum with water drizzled on top, a square of neoprene placed on the water, and a steady stream of -60 to -80C alcohol flowing directly onto the rubber. The water underneath freezes, holding the neoprene in place. This proved problematic as the ice-clamp gives way before the milling is complete. [Ben] later adds some bolts to clamp the pieces down, allowing the milling process finish as planned.

A small plastic tray sits underneath this assembly to capture the alcohol as it runs off, feeding it back with some tubing. [Ben] recommends against a submersible aquarium pump—his initial choice—because the pump stopped working after a few minutes immersed in the chilly alcohol. An external, magnetically-driven pump solved the problem although it does require manual priming.

Stick around after the jump for the video and check out some of [Ben’s] other projects, like his quest for the perfect cookie, or CT scanning a turkey.

Continue reading “Cryogenic Machining: Custom Rubber Parts”

Low Cost Lab Frequency Reference

[Mark] wanted an accurate frequency reference for his electronics lab. He specified some requirements for the project, including portability, ability to work inside a building, and low cost. That ruled out GPS, cesium standard clocks, rubidium standard clocks, and left him looking for a low cost Oven Controlled Crystal Oscillator (OCXO).

The Low Cost 10 MHz Frequency Reference is based around a Morion OCXO. These Russian oscillators are available from eBay second hand at about $40 a pop. With a stability well within the requirements, [Mark] order a few.

The next step was to stick all the components in a box. The two OCXOs in the box need about 3 amps to heat up, which is provided by a 12 V PSU. For portability, a sealed lead acid battery was added. The front panel shows the supply voltages, switches between mains and battery supplies, and provides connectivity to the OCXOs.

Since OCXOs work by heating a crystal to a specific temperature, they can use quite a bit of power in the heating element. To increase battery life, a neoprene foam insulator was wrapped around the OCXOs.

For less than $100, this portable tool will aid in calibrating equipment or creating very accurate clocks.

Lantern Made In Preparation of Zombie Apocalypse

[BenN] was at his local hackerspace one day when a friend stopped by and offered him a used 5AH lead acid battery. As any good tinkerer would, he jumped on the opportunity and immediately started looking around for a project to use the battery in. One of [BenN’s] recent other projects involved 12volt landscaping lights, the same voltage as the battery he was just given. At this point it was clear that he had a good start to making a lantern. This lantern project also supports [BenN’s] obsession with hobby of preparing for the zombie apocalypse.

A lantern needs an enclosure. Over on the hackerspace’s spare-parts rack was an old ATX power supply. All of the internal electrical components were removed to make room for the battery which fit inside nicely. The landscaping light just happened to be slightly larger than the power supply’s fan cut outs. Once the grill was removed from the metal power supply enclosure, the lamp fit in nicely and was secured using silicone glue which can tolerate any temperature the bulb can produce.

The feature that separates a lantern from a flashlight is the top-mounted carrying handle and this lantern will receive one made from the wiring removed from the ATX power supply. The electrical wiring is fairly straight forward. The battery is connected to the landscaping light by way of the original ATX on/off switch. The two terminals of the battery were also wired to the power supply’s AC input connector. This allows [BenN] to connect a DC battery charger to two of the three pins in order to charge the battery. Although this is a creative way to re-use the AC connector, it leaves quite a bit of potential to accidently plug in a 120v AC cord!

 

Energia on the CC3200

If you’re looking to connect things to the internet, with the goal of building some sort of “Internet of Things,” the new CC3200 chip from TI is an interesting option. Now you can get started quickly with the Energia development environment for the CC3200.

We discussed the CC3200 previously on Hackaday. The chip gives you an ARM Cortex M4 processor with a built-in WiFi stack and radio. It supports things like web servers and SSL out of the box.

Energia is an Arduino-like development environment for TI chips. It makes writing firmware for these devices easier, since a lot of the work is already done. The collection of libraries aids in getting prototypes running quickly. You can even debug Energia sketches using TI’s fully featured IDE.

With this new release of Energia, the existing Energia WiFi library supports the built-in WiFi radio on the CC3200. This should make prototyping of WiFi devices easier, and cheaper since the CC3200 Launchpad retails for $30.