Hackaday Prize Entry: Linear Stepper Motors

Today, your average desktop 3D printer is a mess of belts, leadscrews, and pulleys. For his Hackaday Prize entry, [DeepSOIC] is eliminating them entirely. How’s he doing this? With a linear stepper motor.

Search Google for ‘linear stepper motor’ and you’ll find a bunch of NEMA-bodied motors with leadscrews down the middle. This is not a linear stepper motor. This is a stepper motor with a leadscrew down the middle. The motor [DeepSOIC] has in mind is more like a mashup of a rack gear and a maglev train. The ‘linear’ part of this motor is a track of magnets perpendicular to the axis of the motor, with alternating polarities. The ‘motor’ part of this motor is a carriage with two field windings. It’s an unrolled stepper motor, basically, and could run a 3D printer much faster without as much slop and backlash.

Right now [DeepSOIC] is in the experimental phase, and he had a plan to print the axis of his linear stepper in ferromagnetic filament. This did not work well. The steel found in electric motors has a magnetic permeability of about 4000, while the magnetic permeability of his brand of ferromagnetic filament is about 2. Even if the idea of printing part of a motor was a complete failure, it was a great success at characterizing the properties of a magnetic 3D printing filament. That makes it a great entry for the Hackaday Prize, and a perfect example of what we’re looking for in the Citizen Science portion of the Prize.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Cheap, Open LiDAR

[adam] is a caver, meaning that he likes to explore caves and map their inner structure. This is still commonly done using traditional tools, such as notebooks (the paper ones), tape measure, compasses, and inclinometers. [adam] wanted to upgrade his equipment, but found that industrial LiDAR 3D scanners are quite expensive. His Hackaday Prize entry, the Open LIDAR, is an affordable alternative to the expensive industrial 3D scanning solutions out there.

The 3D scan of a small cave near Louisville (source: [caver.adam's] Sketchfab repository)
The 3D scan of a small cave near Louisville from [caver.adam’s] Sketchfab repository
LiDAR — Light Detection And Ranging —  is the technology that senses the distance between a sensor and an object by reflectively measuring the time of flight of a light beam between the two. By acquiring a two-dimensional array of multiple distance readings, this can be used for 3D scanning. Looking at how the industrial LiDAR scanners capture the environment using fast spinning mirrors, [adam] realized that he could basically achieve the same by using a cheap laser range finder strapped to a pan and tilt gimbal.

The gimbal he designed for this task uses stepper motors to aim an SF30-B laser rangefinder. An Arduino controls the movement and lets the eye of the sensor scan an object or an entire environment. By sampling the distance readings returned by the sensor, a point cloud is created which then can be converted into a 3D model. [adam] plans to drive the stepper motors in microstepping mode to increase the resolution of his scanner. We’re looking forwards to see the first renderings of 3D cave maps captured with the Open LIDAR.

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Improving 3D Printed Gears with… Hot Water

Being able to print out custom gears is one area where 3D printing can really shine, and [Karl Lew] has been busy doing exactly that with pinion gears printed in PLA and mounted to stepper motor shafts, but there are tradeoffs. Pinion gears need to grip a motor shaft tightly – normally done with a screw through the gear and onto the motor shaft. But a motor and its shaft can get quite warm when doing a lot of work, and a tight screw on a hot motor’s shaft will transmit that heat into the PLA, which can then deform.

[Karl Lew] managed to improve things in an unusual way: using a hot water bath to anneal the gear while it is attached to the stepper shaft. Annealing PLA has the effect of increasing the crystallinity of the material, which – according to an article going into some detail about the process of annealing PLA – increases stiffness, strength, and heat deflection. The annealing process also shrinks the part slightly, which happens to result in a very tight joint made between the gear and the slotted stepper shaft if the gear is annealed while connected to the motor.

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Is It A Stepper? Or Is It A Servo?

Almost everyone who is involved with 3D printing thinks to themselves at some point, “this could all be done using a closed-loop system and DC motors”. Or at least everyone we know. There’s even one commercial printer out there that uses servo control, but because of this it’s not compatible with the rest of the (stepper-motor driven) DIY ecosystem.

[LoboCNC] wanted to change this, and he’s in a unique position to do so, having previously built up a business selling PIC-based servo controllers. His “servololu” is essentially a microcontroller and DC motor driver, with an input for a quadrature encoder for feedback. The micro takes standard step/direction input like you would use to drive a stepper motor, and then servos the attached DC motor to the right position. It even signals when it has an error.
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Circuit Bender Artist bends Fresnel Lens for Art

Give some mundane, old gear to an artist with a liking for technology, and he can turn it into a mesmerizing piece of art. [dmitry] created “red, an optic-sound electronic object” which uses simple light sources and optical elements to create an audio-visual performance installation. The project was the result of his collaboration with the Prometheus Special Design Bureau in Kazan, Russia. The inspiration for this project was Crystall, a reconstruction of an earlier project dating back to 1966. The idea behind “red” was to recreate the ideas and concepts from the 60’s ~ 80’s using modern solutions and materials.

The main part of the art installation consists of a ruby red crystal glass and a large piece of flexible Fresnel lens, positioned in front of a bright LED light source. The light source, the crystal and the Fresnel lens all move linearly, constantly changing the optical properties of the system. A pair of servos flexes and distorts the Fresnel lens while another one flips the crystal glass. A lot of recycled materials were used for the actuators – CD-ROM drive, an old scanner mechanism and old electric motors. Its got a Raspberry-Pi running Pure Data and Python scripts, with an Arduino connected to the sensors and actuators. The sensors define the position of various mechanical elements in relation to the range of their movement. There’s a couple of big speakers, which means there’s a beefy amplifier thrown in too. The sounds are correlated to the movement of the various elements, the intensity of the light and probably the color. There’s two mechanical paddle levers hanging in there, if you folks want to hazard some guesses on what they do.

Check out some of [dmitry]’s earlier works which we featured. Here’s him Spinning a Pyrite Record for Art, and making Art from Brainwaves, Antifreeze, and Ferrofluid.

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Stealing 3D Prints By Sound

In the open hardware world, we like to share 3D design files so that our friends and (global) neighbors can use and improve them. But we’ve all printed things from time to time that we’d like to keep secret. At least this is the premise behind this article in Science which proposes a novel method of 3D-printer-based industrial espionage: by recording the sound of the stepper motors and re-creating the toolpath.

Unfortunately, the article is behind a paywall so we’re short on the details, but everyone who’s played the Imperial March on their steppers has probably got the basic outline in their mind. Detecting the audio peak corresponding to a step pulse should be fairly easy. Disentangling the motions of two axes would be a bit harder, but presumably can be done based on different room-acoustic filtering of the two motors. Direction is the biggest question mark for us, but a stepper probably has a slightly audible glitch when reversing. Keeping track of these reversals could do the trick.

What do you think? Anyone know how they did it? Does someone with access to the full article want to write us up a summary in the comments?

[Thanks LVfire via Ars Technica]

[Edit: We were sent a copy of the full article (thanks [PersonUnknown]!) and it doesn’t explain any technical details at all. Save yourself the effort, and have fun speculating, because reading the article won’t help.]

Brushed DC Servo Drive

Brushless DC motors, and their associated drive electronics, tend to be expensive and complicated. [Ottoragam] was looking for a cheaper alternative and built this Brushed DC motor servo controller and the results look pretty promising. Check out the video after the break.

He needed a low cost, closed loop drive for his home-brew CNC. The servo drive is able to supply a brushed DC motor with up to 7 A continuous current at up to 36 V which works out to about 250 W or 1/3 HP. It does closed loop control with feedback from a quadrature encoder. The drive accepts simple STEP and DIRECTION signals making it easy to interface with micro controllers and use it as a replacement for stepper motors in positioning applications. All of the control is handled by an ATmega328P. It takes the input signals and encoder data, does PID control, and drives the motor via the DRV8701 full bridge MOSFET driver. There’s also some error detection for motor over-current and driver under-voltage. Four IRFH7545 MOSFETs in H-bridge configuration form the output power stage.

This is still work in progress, and [Ottoragam] has a few features pending in his wish list. The important ones include adding a serial interface to make it easy to adjust the PID parameters and creating a GUI to make the adjustment easier. The project is Open Source and all source files available at his Github repository. The board is mostly surface mount, but the passives are all 0805, so it ought to be easy to assemble. The QFN footprint for the micro controller could be the only tricky one. [Ottoragam] would love to have some beta testers for his boards, and maybe some helpful comments to improve his design.

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