Giant Stepper Motor Gets You Up to Speed on Theory

Few hackers have trouble understanding basic electric motors. We’ve all taken apart something that has a permanent magnet DC motor in it and hooked up its two leads to a battery to make it spin. Reverse the polarity, reverse the spin; remove the power, stop the spin. Stepper motors (and their close cousins, brushless DC motors) are a little tougher to grok, though, especially for the beginner. But with a giant 3D printed stepper motor, [Proto G] has made getting your head around electronically commutated motors a little easier.

While we’ve seen 3D printed stepper motors before, the size and simple layout of this one really lends to understanding the theory. With a 3D-printed frame, coils wound on nails, and rare-earth magnets glued to a rotor, this is an approachable build that lays the internals of a stepper motor out for all to see and understand. You can easily watch how the rotor lines up as the various coils are energized in a circular pattern, although it might be more revealing to include bi-color LEDs to indicate which coils are energized and what the polarity is. Those would be especially helpful demonstrating the concept of half-stepping. We’d also like to see more detail on the controller electronics, although admittedly all the video-worthy action is in the motor itself.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Orchestral Invention Defies Convention

Like many of us, [Laurens] likes video game music and bending hardware to his will. Armed with a Printrbot, a couple of floppy drives, and some old HDDs, he built the Unconventional Instrument Orchestra. This 2015 Hackaday Prize contender takes any MIDI file and plays it on stepper and solenoid-based hardware through a Java program.

A while back, [Laurens] won a Fubarino in our contest by using a MIDI keyboard and an Arduino to control the Minecraft environment with Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time songs. The Unconventional Instrument Orchestra uses that Fubarino of victory to control the steppers of two floppy drives. He only needed three pins to control the drives—one to enable, one to set the head’s direction, and one to make it step once per pulse.

If ever you’ve been around a 3D printer, you know they make music as a natural side effect. The problem is getting the printer to obey the rests in a piece of music. In order to do this, [Laurens] used his software to control the printer, essentially withholding the next command until the appropriate time in the song.

The percussive elements of this orchestra are provided by a hard drive beating its head against the wall. Since it’s basically impossible to get an HDD to do this as designed (thankfully), [Laurens] replaced the control board with a single transistor to drive the coil that moves the head.

[Laurens] has made several videos of the orchestra in concert, which are a joy all their own. Most of the visual real estate of each video is taken up with a real-time visualization of the music produced by the software. There’s still plenty of room to show the orchestra itself, song-specific gameplay, and a textual commentary crawl in 16-segment displays. Check out the playlist we’ve embedded after the break.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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3D Printer Plays Classic MIDIs

For whatever reason we all seem to have this obsession with making things other than speakers into speakers. Hard drives, floppy drives, CD drives, fax machines, inanimate objects, dot-matrix printers, and now — well let’s stay with times — a 3D printer!

[Andrew Sink] wanted to give stepper music a try (is that seriously a genre now? (Yes, we’re calling it Stepstep – Ed.)), so he found HomeConstructor.de, which happens to have an awesome MIDI to G-CODE converter specifically designed for making those steppers hum. His instrument of choice is an original Printrbot but unfortunately it did require a few hours of tweaking the G-Code to get it to work just right.

Feast your ears on this beautiful rendition of the Jurassic Park Theme song below.

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New Part Day: Silent Stepper Motors

Some of the first popular printers that made it into homes and schools were Apple Imagewriters and other deafeningly slow dot matrix printers. Now there’s a laser printer in every office that’s whisper quiet, fast, and produces high-quality output that can’t be matched with dot matrix technology.

In case you haven’t noticed, 3D printers are very slow, very loud, and everyone is looking forward to the day when high-quality 3D objects can be printed in just a few minutes. We’re not at the point where truly silent stepper motors are possible just yet, but with the Trinamic TMC2100, we’re getting there.

Most of the stepper motors you’ll find in RepRaps and other 3D printers are based on the Allegro A498X series of stepper motor drivers, whether they’re on breakout boards like ‘The Pololu‘ or integrated on the control board like the RAMBO. The Trinamic TMC2100 is logic compatible with the A498X, but not pin compatible. For 99% of people, this isn’t an issue: the drivers usually come soldered to a breakout board.

There are a few features that make the Trinamic an interesting chip. The feature that’s getting the most publicity is a mode called stealthChop. When running a motor at medium or low speeds, the motor will be absolutely silent. Yes, this means stepper motor music will soon be a thing of the past.

However, this stealthChop mode drastically reduces the torque a motor can provide. 3D printers throw around relatively heavy axes fairly fast when printing, and this motor driver is only supposed to be used at low or medium velocities.

The spreadCycle feature of the TMC2100 is what you’ll want to use for 3D printers. This mode uses two ‘decay phases’ on each step of a motor to make a more efficient driver. Motors in 3D printers get hot sometimes, especially if they’re running fast. A more efficient driver reduces heat and hopefully leads to more reliable motor control.

In addition to a few new modes of operation, the TMC2100 has an extremely interesting feature: diagnostics. There are pins specifically dedicated as notification of shorted outputs, high temperatures, and undervolt conditions. This is something that can’t be found with the usual stepper drivers, and it would be great if a feature like this were to ever make its way into a 3D printer controller board. I’m sure I’m not alone in having a collection of fried Pololu drivers, and properly implementing these diagnostic pins in a controller board would have saved those drivers.

These drivers are a little hard to find right now, but Watterott has a few of them already assembled into a Pololu-compatible package. [Thomas Sanladerer] did a great teardown of these drivers, too. You can check out that video below.

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Drawing On Glow In The Dark Surfaces With Lasers

What do you get when you have a computer-controlled laser pointer and a big sheet of glow in the dark material? Something very cool, apparently. [Riley] put together a great build that goes far beyond a simple laser diode and servo build. He’s using stepper motors and a proper motion control software for this one.

The theory behind the device is simple – point a laser at some glow in the dark surface – but [Riley] is doing this project right. Instead of jittery servos, the X and Y axes of the laser pointer are stepper motors. These are controlled by an Arduino Due and TinyG motion control software. This isn’t [Riley]’s first rodeo with TinyG; we saw him at Maker Faire NYC with a pendulum demonstration that was absolutely phenomenal.

Right now, [Riley] is taking SVG images, converting them to Gcode, and putting them up on some glow in the dark vinyl. Since the Hackaday Skull ‘n Wrenches is available in SVG format, that was an easy call to make on what to display in weird phosphorescent green. You can see a video of that along with a few others below.

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A 3D(ollar) Scanner

scanner

Once you have a 3D printer, making copies of objects like a futuristic Xerox machine is the name of the game. There are, of course, 3D scanners available for hundreds of dollars, but [Joshua] wanted something a bit cheaper. He built his own 3D scanner for exactly $2.73 in parts, salvaging the rest from the parts bin at his local hackerspace.

[Josh]’s scanner is pretty much just a lazy suzan (that’s where he spent the money), with a stepper motor drive. A beam of laser light shines on whatever object is placed on the lazy suzan, and a USB webcam feeds the data to a computer. The build is heavily influenced from this Instructables build, but [Josh] has a few tricks up his sleeve: this is the only laser/camera 3D scanner that can solve a point cloud with the camera in any vertical position. This potentially means algorithmic calibration, and having the copied and printed object come out the same size as the original. You can check out that code on the git.

Future improvements to [Josh]’s 3D scanner include the ability to output point clouds and STLs, meaning anyone can go straight from scanning an object to slicing it for a 3D printer. That’s a lot of interesting software features for something that was basically pulled out of the trash.

Changing Unipolar Steppers To Bipolar

steppers

If you’ve been a good little hacker and have been tearing apart old printers like you’re supposed to, you’ve probably run across more than a few stepper motors. These motors come in a variety of flavors, from the four-wire deals you find in 3D printer builds, to motors with five or six wires. Unipolar motors – the ones with more than four wires – are easier to control, but are severely limited in generating torque. Luckily, you can use any unipolar motor as a more efficient bipolar motor with a simple xacto knife modification.

The extra wires in a unipolar motor are taps for each of the coils. Simply ignoring these wires and using the two coils independently makes the motor more efficient at generating torque.

[Jangeox] did a little experiment in taking a unipolar motor, cutting the trace to the coil taps, and measuring the before and after torque. The results are impressive: as a unipolar motor, the motor has about 380 gcm of torque. In bipolar mode, the same motor has 800 gcm of torque. You can check that video out below.

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