The Art of Making A Nixie Tube

Three years ago we covered [Dalibor Farnby]’s adventures in making his own Nixie tubes. Back then it was just a hobby, a kind of exploration into the past. He didn’t stop, and it soon became his primary occupation. In this video he shows the striking process of making one of his Nixie tubes.

Each of his tubes get an astounding amount of love and attention. An evolution of the process he has been working on for five years now. The video starts with the cleaning process for the newly etched metal parts. Each one is washed and dried before being taken for storage inside a clean hood. The metal parts are carefully hand bent. Little ceramic pins are carefully glued and bonded. These are used to hold the numbers apart from each other. The assembly is spot welded together.

In a separate cut work begins on the glass. The first part to make is the bottom which holds the wire leads. These are joined and then annealed. Inspection is performed on a polariscope and a leak detector before they are set aside for assembly. Back to the workbench the leads are spot welded to the frame holding the numbers.

It continues with amazing attention to detail. So much effort goes into each step. In the end a very beautiful nixie tube sits on a test rack, working through enough cycles to be certified ready for sale. The numbers crisp, clear, and beautiful. Great work keeping this loved part of history alive in the modern age.

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Industrial Automation in Action: Steam Controller Assembly

Right up front, we’ll cop to the inevitable “not a hack” comments on this one. This video of the Steam Controller assembly plant is just two minutes of pure robotics porn, plain and simple.

From injection molding of the case parts through assembly, testing and final palletizing of packaged controllers for the trip to distributors, Valve’s video is amazingly detailed and very well made. We’d wager that the crane shots and the shots following product down conveyors were done with a drone. A grin was had with the Aperture Labs logo on the SCARA arms in the assembly and testing work cell, and that inexplicable puff of “steam” from the ceiling behind the pallet in the final shot was a nice touch too. We also enjoyed the all-too-brief time-lapse segment at around 00:16 that shows the empty space in Buffalo Grove, Illinois being fitted out.

This may seem like a frivolous video, but think about it: if you’re a hardware hacker, isn’t this where you want to see your idea end up? Think of it as inspiration to get your widget into production. You’ll want to get there in stages, of course, so make sure you check out [Zach Fredin]’s 2015 Hackaday Superconference talk on pilot-scale production.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: A Civilization Starter Kit

Over the last few years, [Marcin] has been working on the building blocks of civilization. He’s busy creating the Global Village Construction Set, the fifty most useful machines ever created. Everything from bread ovens to combine harvesters is part of this Global Village Construction Set, and everything is open source, free for all to use and improve upon.

For this year’s Hackaday Prize, [Marcin] is working on an Open Source Bulldozer. The ability to create earthworks and move dirt around is actually one of humanity’s greatest achievements, and enables the creation of everything from foundations for homes to trans-oceanic canals.

This Open Source bulldozer is astonishingly modular, scaleable from a one-ton microtractor to a 13,000lb dozer, with attachment points for blades, drawbars, and everything else you can attach to a Bobcat earthmover. It’s 168 horses of opensource earthmoving capability, and a perfect addition to this year’s Hackaday Prize.

[Marcin] and his group Open Source Ecology posted a video of this micro bulldozer rolling around on their shop floor recently; you can check that out below. You can also see our coverage of the GLVCS from several years ago.


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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TwinTeeth: The Delta Bot PCB Factory

There are a few all-in-one CNC/milling/plotting/3D printing/engraving bots out there that claim to be mini factories for hobbyists, prototypers, and other homebrew creators. The latest is Diyouware’s TwinTeeth, a bot obviously inspired by a few 3D printers, but something that has a few interesting features we hope will propagate through the open hardware ecosystem.

The design of the TwinTeeth is an inverse delta bot, kinematically similar to a large number of 3D printers out there. Instead of suspending the tool from a trio of arms, the TwinTeeth puts the work surface on the arms and suspends the tool from the top of the machine. There are a few neat bonuses for this setup – all the tools, from a BluRay laser diode, a Dremel, solder paste dispenser, and a plastic extruder for 3D printing can be mounted in easy to mount adapters. The TwinTooth design uses three locking pins to keep each toolhead in place, and after a little bit of software setup this machine can quickly switch between its various functions.

One very interesting feature of this bot is the ability to mask off PCBs for chemical etching with a BluRay laser diode. This actually works pretty well, as evidenced by the teams earlier work with a purpose-built PCB masker machine. The only problem with this technique is that presensitized boards must be used. If that’s an issue, no problem, just use the Dremel attachment with a v-bit cutter.

Retrotechtacular: An Ax Factory of Yore

When your mind’s eye thinks of an ax factory you may envision workers loading blanks into a machine that refines the shape and profile before heading to an annealing furnace. But this is Retrotechtacular, and we’re tickled to feature a look at a different time in manufacturing history. This ax factory tour looks at every step in the manufacturing process at a factory in Oakland, Maine. It was shot on film in 1965 just a few months before the factory shut down. [Peter Vogt] did a great job of shooting and editing the reel, and an equally fine job of converting it to digital so that we can enjoy it on his YouTube channel.

Above you can see the automatic hammer — known as a trip hammer — that is driven by cam action. At this point a lot of work has already been done. Blanks were cut from steel bars by two workers. These were shaped on the trip hammer before being bent in half to create the loop for the ax handle. From there a piece of high-carbon steel was added to form the cutting surface. This brings us to the step above, shaping the two glowing-hot pieces into one.

We don’t want to undermine the level of craftsmanship, and the labor-intensive process shown off here. But we can’t end this write-up without at least mentioning the kitsch that is smoking cigarettes and pipes on the job. At one point a worker actually lights his pipe using a the glowing-hot ax head.

To give you an idea of how this contrasts with modern manufacturing, here’s How It’s Made episode on axes (although we think whats being made would more appropriately be called hatchets).

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Retrotechtacular: 6CH industrial robot


With this robotic arm demo video from 1975 the future really is now. Think about it, there are entire factories full of the descendants of this technology where the human workers simply feed the beast and fix it when it breaks.

We’re pretty impressed by what’s shown off below. Not because we see something we didn’t know was possible, but because the technology was so advanced nearly forty years ago. Here the arm is laying out a wiring harness on a jig. We wonder if using a single color of wire is going to make it a major pain when they add the connectors?

Obviously the mechanics were solid. Time has brought further advances in precision, reduced costs that make robots available for even small factories (often palletizing products is done by a machine similar to this), and improvements in how tasks are programmed. After all, the ability to print a hard copy of the program as a punch tape isn’t quite cutting edge for this decade.

What does that mean for you? If you look hard enough you might be able to find an older generation robot arm to hack on.

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Hand placing flash die to make USB drives


It’s a stretch to call this one a hack, but USB thumb drives are around us constantly and we always assumed that the boards inside were machine populated (like with a pick and place machine). [Bunnie] tells us otherwise. He recently had the chance to tour a factory where USB flash drives are made.

The image above shows a worker populating a set of boards with the flash memory dies. The waffle-grid to the right holds the dies. Each is a tiny glint of a component. The worker is not in a clean room, and is using a bamboo tool to pick up the pieces. [Bunnie] explains that he’s seen the tools before but doesn’t fully comprehend how they work. He figures that the hand-cut manipulator has just the right amount of grab to pick up the die, but will also release it when it touches down on the dot of glue applied to the landing zone on the board.

If you’re into this sort of thing you should check out the PCB factory tour we saw a couple of years back. The article link is dead but the embedded tour video still works.

[Thanks pl]