Machines That Build Other Machines

When the RepRap project was founded in 2005, it promised something spectacular: a machine that could build copies of itself. RepRaps were supposed to be somewhere between a grey goo and a device that could lift billions of people out of poverty by giving them self-sufficiency and the tools to make their lives better.

While the RepRap project was hugely successful in creating an open source ecosystem around 3D printers, a decade of development hasn’t produced a machine that can truly build itself. Either way, it’s usually easier and cheaper to buy a 3D printer than to build your own.

[castvee8]’s entry into the 2016 Hackaday Prize does just what the RepRap project promised ten years ago. It’s all about building machines with the ability to reproduce, creating an ecosystem of machines to build household goods. The best part? You can 3D print most of the machines. It’s the RepRap project, but for mills, lathes, microscopes, and routers. It’s an entire shop produced entirely in a 3D printer.

The idea of creating a machine shop from the most basic building materials has been around for a while. At the turn of the last century, concrete lathes and mills bootstrapped industrial economies. Decades later, [David J. Gingery] created a series of books on building a machine shop starting with a charcoal foundry. The idea of building a shop using scrap and the most minimal tools is very old, but this idea hasn’t been updated to the era where anyone can buy a 3D printer for a few hundred dollars.

So far, [castvee8] has a few homemade machine tools on the workbench, including a lathe, a tiny mill easily capable of fabricating a few circuit boards, and a little drill press. They’re all machines that can be used to make other useful items, and all allow anyone to create the devices they need.

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Spark Plug Lights the Darkness

When you have an idea, just go build it. That’s the approach that [GordsGarage] takes with most of his projects, and he’s back in the machine shop again. This time it’s with a rather unique oil candle that uses a spark plug as inspiration. We have to say, the results are on fire.

thumbThe spark plug candle was fashioned out of a single piece of 6061 aluminum. To create the scale model, first the stock metal hit the lathe to create the “insulator” section of the plug. From there, he milled in the hex bolt section, then it hit the lathe again to create the threaded section. The inside was bored out to create space for the wick and oil, and then the electrode was installed just above the flame.

This is a pretty impressive scale model and has a great finished look. The only thing that isn’t to scale is the gap for the electrode which is completely necessary to keep the candle from getting smothered. It’s an interesting, unique idea too, which is something that [GordsGarage] excels at. And, if you want to scale his model up a little bit, perhaps you can find some inspiration from this other candle.

3D Scanned, CNC-Milled, Pumpkin Selfie

When you have a CNC mill sitting around, it almost seems anachronistic to pull out a kitchen knife to carve a pumpkin. You can hardly blame [Nathan Bentall] for choosing an endmill instead. If you’re feeling the same, check out his blog post where [Nathan] works through all the steps involved in going from a raw pumpkin to a 3D RGB LED bust of himself. To put his head on the pumpkin’s shoulders he captured a depth map using a Kinect and then got down to some unorthodox milling.

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Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: Smart Medication Dispenser

The biggest problems with pharmaceuticals isn’t patents, industry reps, or the fact that advertisement to consumers is allowed; this only happens in the United States. No, the biggest problem with pills and medications is compliance, or making sure the people who are prescribed medication take their medication. For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Joe] is working on a solution. It’s a smart desktop medicine organizer, and you can think of it as a pill box with smarts.

The list of features of [Joe]’s organizer include automatic pill organization – each prescription is accessed independently of all the others. When it’s time to take a pill, the smart medication dispenser plops out a pill. You can check out the demo video [Joe] put together using M&M candies.

There are a few more features for the Smart Desktop Medicine Organizer, including connecting to pharmacy APIs to order refills, checking for drug interactions, and setting timers (or not) for different medications; meds that should be taken every day will be dispensed every day, but drugs taken as needed up to a maximum limit will be dispensed as needed.

It’s a very cool project, and you can check out [Joe]’s video for the project below.

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Desktop CNC from Hardware Parts Really Makes the Cut

We love shop made CNC mills, so when [joekutz] tipped us off about the desktop sized CNC he just completed, we had to take a look. Each axis slides around on ball bearing drawer slides, and the machine itself is constructed with MDF and aluminum. And the results it produces are fantastic.

4950561437395360713thumbThe machine’s work area weighs in at 160*160mm with a height of 25mm. Its the table is moved around with a pair of NEMA17 motors and M8 stainless steel threaded rods. Motor control is done with a pair of Arduino’s but they also do double duty with one processing G-code while the other handles the keypad and LCD interface.

The business end is a Proxxon rotary tool whizzing up to 2000RPM, and while [joekutz] hasn’t tried it on soft metals like brass or aluminum, he has successfully cut and engraved wood, plastics and copper clad PCB material.

Be sure to join us after the break for some YouTube videos. [joe] has posted three of a planned five-part-series which aren’t linked to in the project page shown above. to see this machine in action and get a rundown how it all works

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2D Printed Tachometer For A Lathe

If you ever wanted a reason to have DC lighting pointed at the spinny part of your mill and lathe, [Bill] tells a great story. One day, he noticed the teeth on his lathe chuck would change color – red, then blue, then red. His conclusion was the fluorescent lights above his workbench was flashing, as fluorescent lights normally do.

Imagine if the teeth on [Bill]’s chuck weren’t painted. They would appear stationary. That’s usually a bad thing when one of the risks of using a lathe is ‘descalping.’ Buy an LED or incandescent work light for your shop.

This unique effect of blinking lights got [Bill] thinking, though. Could these fluorescent lights be used as a strobe light? Could it measure the RPM of the lathe?

And so began [Bill]’s quest for a 2D printed lathe tachometer. The first attempt was to wrap a piece of paper printed with evenly space numbers around the chuck. This did not work. The flash from his fluorescent bulb was too long, and the numbers were just a blur. He moved on to a maximum-contrast pattern those of us who had a ‘DJ phase’ might recognize immediately.

By printing out a piece of paper with alternating black and white bands, [Bill] was able to read off the RPM of his chuck with ease. That’s after he realized fluorescent lights blink twice per cycle, or 120 times a second. If you have a 3″ mini-lathe, [Bill] put the relevant files up, ready to be taped to a chuck.

Hands-On Othermill Review Grinds Out Sparkling Results

We’ve been on the lookout for alternatives to chemically etching circuit boards for years. The problem has been that we don’t particularly want to devote months of or lives learning how to build precision CNC mills. Off in the distance there may be an answer for that quandary if you don’t mind parting with twenty-two Benjamins. Sure, it’s a heck of a lot more expensive than toner transfer and cupric chloride, but the Othermill can be purchased right now (in your hands a few months later) and after reading this in-depth review we are a bit less hesitant about opening our wallets for it.

othermill-review-thumbIt’s a tome of a review, but that means there’s something for everybody. We especially enjoyed seeing the 10 mil board shown here which took about 1-hour to mill. Considering it has also been through-hole drilled we’d put that on part with the time it takes to etch a board. There are obvious places where the traces are not perfectly smooth (not sure if that’s burring or over-milling) but they are not broken and the board’s ready to be populated.

Alignment is something of an issue, but the Othermill isn’t limited to PCBs so we’d recommend designing and milling your own alignment bracket system as an early project.

Who isn’t envious of custom-builds that can get down to 10-mils, like this beauty from 2013. Our hopes had been sparked when Carbide 3D came onto the scene. We’re still optimistic that they will make a big splash when they start shipping preorders in a few months.

As this review proves, Othermill is already out in the wild with a 6-8 week wait before shipping. We saw it in action milling multiple materials at the Hackaday Omnibus Lauch Party and were duly impressed. Price or waiting-period aside we’re going to hold off until the software options expand beyond Mac-only (UPDATE: Othermill software support for Windows was added in early 2016); either Othermill will add support or someone will come up with a hack to use traditional CNC software. But if you count yourself as a subscriber to the cult of Apple the software, called Otherplan, does get a favorable prognosis along with the hardware.

Already have an Othermill sitting on your bench? Let us know your what you think about it in the comments below.

Bonus content: [Mike Estee], CTO of Othermill just gave a talk last night about how he got into making mills and the challenges of building something with super-high-precision. Sound isn’t good but the talk is solid. Hackaday’s [Joshua Vasquez] also gives a talk on the video about building an SPI core for FPGA. These talks are one of the Hardware Developer’s Didactic Galactic series which you really should check out if you’re ever in the San Francisco area.

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