No user Serviceable Parts Inside? The rise of the Fix-It Culture

[Source: 1950s Television]
My first job out of high school was in a TV shop. I was hired mainly for muscle; this was the early 1980s and we sold a lot of console TVs that always seemed to need to be delivered to the third floor of a walk up. But I also got to do repair work on TVs and stereos, and I loved it. Old TVs from the 60s and 70s would come in, with their pre-PCB construction and hand-wired chassis full of terminal strips and point to point wiring that must have been an absolute nightmare to manufacture. We’d replace dodgy caps, swap out tubes, clean the mechanical tuners, and sometimes put a new picture tube in  – always the diagnosis that customers dreaded the most, like being told they’d need a heart transplant. We kept those old sets alive, and our customers felt like they were protecting their investment in their magnificent Admiral or Magnavox console with the genuine – and very, very heavy – walnut cabinet.

I managed to learn a lot from my time as a TV repairman, and I got the bug for keeping things working well past the point which a reasonable person would recognize as the time to go shopping for a new one. Fixing stuff is where I really shine, and my house is full of epic (in my mind, at least) repairs that have saved the family tens of thousands of dollars over the years. Dishwasher making a funny noise? I’ll just pull it out to take a look. You say there’s a little shimmy in the front end when you brake? Pull the car into the garage and we’ll yank the wheels off. There’s basically nothing I won’t at least try to fix, and more often than not, I succeed.

I assumed that my fix-it bug made me part of a dying breed of cheapskates and skinflints, but it appears that I was wrong. The fix-it movement seems to be pretty healthy right now, fueled in part by the explosion in information that’s available to anyone with basic internet skills.

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DIY Punch Card System Despite Hanging Chads

Sometimes you just have parts lying around and want to make something out of them. [Tymkrs] had a robot paper cutter, so naturally they made punch cards. But then, of course, they needed a punch card reader, so they made one of those too. All with stuff lying around the shop.

The Silhouette Portrait paper cutter is meant for scrapbooking, but what evokes memories of the past more than punchcards? To cut out their data, rather than cute kittens or flowers, they wrote some custom code to turn ASCII characters into rows of dots. And the cards are done — you just have to clean up the holes that didn’t completely cut. These are infamously known as hanging chads.

The reader is made up of a block of wood, with a gap for the cards and perpendicular holes drilled for LEDs and photoresistors. This is cabled to a Propeller dev board with some simple firmware. We would have used photodiodes or phototransistors, because that’s what’s in our junk box (and because they have faster reaction time), but when you’ve got lemons, make lemonade.

OK, now that you’ve got a punch card reader and writer, what do you do with it? Password storage comes to mind.

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Learn 40 Years Of Mech Prototyping At Lightspeed

So, what are you doing for the next five and a half hours?  If you’re as busy as we are, you might have to digest this amazing 18 part series of videos over the course of a week or so, but we can almost guarantee you’ll learn a lot. It’s a speedrun through the best collection of Mechanical Engineering knowledge we’ve every come across.

In this epic Youtube video series [Dan Gelbart] shares his knowledge of 40 years of prototyping mechanical designs in a way we’ve never seen before. Not only does he show you how to build things, but he gives away a life time of “tips and tricks” that only a veteran builder would know. There are so many little gems of wisdom in this video series, it’s hard to know where to start with our description. He covers all the usual topics: everything from materials, adhesives, coatings, and such. But the real value of this series is all the little trinkets of information he shares along the way.

Don’t be intimated by some of the tools he’s using – chances are there is a DIY version of the piece of equipment out there, and often you can find a hackerspace or enthusiast in the area who will help you out with their gear. We think this video series should be a must watch for any engineering student or hacker. We made a video playlist for you so you can start watching the videos after the break.

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DIY iPhone Mount for a Volvo

[Seandavid010] recently purchased a 2004 Volvo. He really liked the car except for the fact that it was missing some more modern features. He didn’t come stock with any navigation system or Bluetooth capabilities. After adding Bluetooth functionality to the stock stereo himself, he realized he would need a secure location to place his iPhone. This would allow him to control the stereo or use the navigation functions with ease. He ended up building a custom iPhone mount in just a single afternoon.

The key to this project is that the Volvo has an empty pocket on the left side of the stereo. It’s an oddly shaped vertical pocket that doesn’t seem to have any real use. [Seandavid010] decided this would be the perfect place to mount his phone. The only problem was that he didn’t want to make any permanent changes to his car. This meant no drilling into the dash and no gluing.

[Seandavid010] started by lining the pocket with blue masking tape. He then added an additional lining of plastic wrap. All of this was to protect the dashboard from what was to come next. He filled about half of the pocket with epoxy putty. We’ve seen this stuff used before in a similar project. He left a small opening in the middle with a thick washer mounted perpendicular to the ground. The washer would provide a place for an off-the-shelf iPhone holder to mount onto. [Seandavid010] also placed a flat, wooden paint stirrer underneath the putty. This created a pocket that would allow him to route cables and adapters underneath this new mount.

After letting the epoxy putty cure for an hour, he removed the block from the pocket. The stick was then removed, and any gaps were filled in with putty. The whole block was trimmed and smooth down for a more streamlined look. Finally, it was painted over with some flat black spray paint to match the color of the dashboard. An aftermarket iPhone holder allows [Seandavid010] to mount his cell phone to this new bracket. The cell phone holder allows him to rotate the phone into portrait or landscape mode, and even is adjustable to accommodate different sized phones.

Powered Double Pendulum is a Chaotic Display

If you’ve never seen a double pendulum before, it’s basically just a pendulum with another pendulum attached to the end. You might not think that’s anything special, but these devices can exhibit extremely chaotic behavior if enough energy is put into the system. The result is often a display that draws attention. [David] wanted to build his own double pendulum display, but he wanted to make it drive itself. The result is a powered double pendulum.

There aren’t many build details here, but the device is simple enough that we can deduce how it works from the demonstration video. It’s broken into two main pieces; the frame and the pendulum. The frame appears to be made mostly from wood. The front plate is made of three layers sandwiched together. A slot is cut out of the middle to allow a rail to slide up and down linearly. The rail is designed in such a way that it fits between the outer layers of the front plate like a track.

The pendulum is attached to the linear rail. The rail moves up and down and puts energy into the pendulum. This causes the pendulum to actually move and generate the chaotic behavior. The rail slides up and down thanks to an electric motor mounted to the base. The mechanics work similar to a piston on a crankshaft. The motor looks as though it is mounted to a wooden bracket that was cut with precision on a laser cutter. The final product works well, though it is a bit noisy. We also wonder if the system would be even more fun to watch if the rotation of the motor had an element of randomness added to it. Or he could always attach a paint sprayer to the end. Continue reading “Powered Double Pendulum is a Chaotic Display”

DIY SMD Twofer: Manual Pick-and-Place and the Beak

Populating a board with tiny SMT parts can be really tricky, and we’ll take all the help we can get. If you’re in the same boat, [vpapanik] has two devices you should check out.

First up is the manual pick-and-place machine. Wait, what? A manual pick-and-place? It’s essentially an un-driven 2-axis machine with a suction tip and USB inspection microscope on the stage. The picker apparatus is the “standard” needle-plus-aquarium-pump design, and the rails are made from angle aluminum and skateboard bearings.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s not a robot. But sometimes the right jig or tool makes all the difference between a manual procedure being fiddly and being graceful. And we couldn’t help but laugh at the part in the video where he demonstrates the “machine” moving in a circular pattern.

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Automated Tea Maker

[Pariprohus] wanted to make an interesting gift for his girlfriend. Knowing how daunting it can be to make your own tea, he decided to build a little robot to help out. His automated tea maker is quite simple, but effective.

The device runs off of an Arduino Nano. The Nano is hooked up to a servo, a piezo speaker, an LED, and a switch. When the switch is turned to the off position, the servo rotates into the “folded” position. This moves the steeping arm into a position that makes the device easier to store and transport.

When the device is turned on to the “ready” position, the arm will extend outward and stay still. This gives you time to attach the tea bag to the arm and place the mug of hot water underneath. Finally the switch can be placed into “brew” mode. In this mode, the bag is lowered into the hot water and held for approximately five minutes. Each minute the bag is raised and lowered to stir the water around.

Once the cycle completes, the Nano plays a musical tune from the piezo speaker to remind you to drink your freshly made tea. All of the parameters including the music can be modified in the Nano’s source code. All of the components are housed in a small wooden box painted white. Check out the video below to see it in action. Continue reading “Automated Tea Maker”