Chocolate Factory Simulation Makes Bars with LEGO

[Michael Brandl] got to visit the Milka chocolate factory in Bludenz, Austria and was inspired to build this simulation of the production process for the LEGO world 2017 event in Copenhagen.

The process begins with the empty mold riding on a double row of tank treads. Subsequent modules seem to fill the mold with LEGO ingredients, cool the bars, and remove them from the mold. The last two steps rock: [Michael] built a dispenser that drops a tiny cardboard box onto the line, sized to hold 3 LEGO bars. The box rolls to the end of the line and is picked up by a pneumatic gripper that picks up the box and places it on a pallet.

While more whimsical than the LEGO liquid handler we featured recently, there are a lot of interesting robotic techniques to be learned here. On the reverse angle video you can see more of what’s going on with the wiring of the various motors and sensors. There are six EV3 bricks scattered along the length of the assembly line. The bricks control 15 small motors, 2 large motors, 7 touch sensors, and 3 light sensors. [Michael] added some nice touches, like the combo of two color sensors, seen around 1:45 of the reverse angle video, possibly used to keep the factory operations synced.

Check out [Michael’s] Mindstorms sendup of [Anouk Wipprecht’s] drink bot dress. The LEGO version was built for Robotexotica. In addition, he has a lot of projects featured on his site.

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Desktop Factory Teaches PLC Programming

How to train young engineers in industrial automation is a thorny issue. Most factories have big things that can do a lot of damage and cost tons of money if the newbie causes a crash. Solution: shrink the factory down to desktop size and let them practice on that.

Luckily for [Vadim], there’s an off-the-shelf solution for miniaturizing factory automation: FischerTechnik industrial training models. The models have motors, conveyors, pneumatic cylinders, and sensors galore, but the controller is not exactly the industry standard programmable logic controller (PLC). [Vadim] set out to remedy this by building an interface between the FischerTechnik models and a Siemens PLC. He went through a couple of revisions of his board, including one using rivets from the sewing store to interface with the FischerTechnic connectors. Eventually, he settled on more robust connectors and came up with a board that lets students delve into PLC programming without killing anyone. The video below shows it going through its paces; we can only imagine where playing with these kits as a kid would have led us.

As great as [Vadim]’s system is for training engineers, we can also see it helpful in getting kids interested in a career in industrial automation. We recently covered a similar effort to show kids big science using LEGO Mindstorms. Both of these can help get STEM kids to see the wider world of technical careers and perhaps steer them into automation. After all, the people who make the robots are probably going to be the last ones obsoleted, right?

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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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