Instrument Cluster Clock Gets The Show On The Road

While driving around one day, [Esko] noticed that the numbers and dials on a speedometer would be a pretty great medium for a clock build. This was his first project using a microcontroller, and with no time to lose he got his hands on the instrument cluster from a Fiat and used it to make a very unique timepiece.

The instrument cluster he chose was from a diesel Fiat Stilo, which [Esko] chose because the tachometer on the diesel version suited his timekeeping needs almost exactly. The speedometer measures almost all the way to 240 kph which works well for a 24-hour clock too. With the major part sourced, he found an Arduino clone and hit the road (figuratively speaking). A major focus of this project was getting the CAN bus signals sorted out. It helped that the Arduino clone he found had this functionality built-in (and ended up being cheaper than a real Arduino and shield) but he still had quite a bit of difficulty figuring out all of the signals.

In the end he got everything working, using a built-in servo motor in the cluster to make a “ticking” sound for seconds, and using the fuel gauge to keep track of the minutes. [Esko] also donated it to a local car museum when he finished so that others can enjoy this unique timepiece. Be sure to check out the video below to see this clock in action, and if you’re looking for other uses for instrument clusters that you might have lying around, be sure to check out this cluster used for video games.

The mechanics in dashboards are awesome, and produced at scale. That’s why our own [Adam Fabio] is able to get a hold of that type of hardware for his Analog Gauge Stepper kit. He simply adds a 3D printed needle, and a PCB to make interfacing easy.

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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.

Excuse me, Sir. Do you know how fast your Lathe was traveling back there?

When machining metal, it is important to know how fast the cutting tool is traveling in relation to the surface of the part being machined. This amount is called the ‘Surface Speed’. There are Surface Speed standards for cutting different types of materials and it is good practice to stick with those standards in order to end up with a good surface finish as well as maximizing tool life. On a lathe, for example, having a known target Surface Speed in mind as well as a part finish diameter, it is possible to calculate the necessary spindle speed.

Hobbyist [Paul] wanted a method of measuring his lathe’s spindle speed. Since spindle speed is measured in RPM, it made complete sense to install a tachometer. After browsing eBay for a bit he found one for about $20. His purchase came with the numeric LED display, a mounting bezel and the all important hall effect sensor. The Hall effect sensor measures changes in a magnetic field and in turn varies its output voltage. [Paul] fabbed up an aluminum bracket that supports the sensor just off of the rear of the lathe spindle. A magnet was then glued to the outside diameter of the spindle below the sensor. The once per revolution signal is generated every time the magnet passes the sensor while the lathe is running. The display was mounted to the lathe near eye height by means of another aluminum bracket and case.

After a little work, [Paul] can now keep a close eye on his spindle speed with a quick glance over at his new tachometer display while he’s turning those perfect parts! If this project tickles your fancy, you may want to check out this fantastic DIY tachometer or this one that uses a soundcard.

Redlining Your CPU via Automotive Tachometer

Many CPU-usage widgets have stylistically borrowed from vehicles, displaying something mimicking the tachometer found in the dashboard. [Pat] took it a step further and tried his hand at re-borrowing this style. He figured, why not use an actual physical tachometer to display how hard the CPU on his Raspberry Pi was revving?

With the goal of tuning 0-100% CPU usage to 0-8000 RPM on the tach, the first step was diagnosing the range of PWM input frequencies that moved the needle across the tach’s full arc. Using his Tektronix 3252C function generator he quickly determined 0-440 Hz would be needed and graphed a handful of intermediate points. The response curve was not linear, so he drew up some fudging guidelines to make all the datapoints match.

Next, he wrote a few lines of Python (he shared) to make the Pi to poll its CPU usage and translate it to the proper frequency. The Pi makes outputting easy, GPIO pin 11 carried the signal to a 7404 for buffering, then out to the tach. The automotive tach itself ran on 12V, but its input signal required only 5V so he pulled a 7805 from his parts bin.

Once it was all put together it worked beautifully using just the one extra component. Some might see this as more clever than USB dependent or Arduino bloated based tachometer hacks.

See the video after the break of the tach twitching even when the mouse moved, and pegging the red when opening a browser. No more need to use up valuable screen real-estate (or use a screen at all) if you want to see at a glance when your Pi is putting in work.

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Fantastic Tach Is Strangely Called Tachtastic

We all have projects from yesteryear that we wish had been documented better. [EjaadTech] is fighting back by creating a project page about a tachometer he built 3 years ago while in college. He’s done a great write-up documenting all the steps from bread-boarding to testing to finished project. All of the code necessary for this tachometer is available too, just in case you’d like to make one yourself.

At the heart of the project is an AVR ATMega8 chip that performs the calculations and controls the LCD output screen that displays both the immediate RPM as well as the average. To hold everything together, [EjaadTech] etched his own custom PCB board that we must say looks pretty good. In addition to holding all the necessary components, there is also an ISP connector for programming and re-programming.

There are two attachment options for sensing the RPM. One is a beam-break style where the IR emitter is on one side of the object and the receiver is on the other. This type of sensor would work well with something like a fan, where the blades would break the IR beam as they passed by. Then other attachment has the IR emitter and receiver on one board mounted next to each other. The emitter continually sends out a signal and the receiver counts how often it sees a reflection. This works for rotating objects such as shafts where there would not be a regular break in the IR beam. For this reflective-based setup to work there would have to be a small piece of reflective tape on the shaft providing a once-per-revolution reflection point. Notice the use of female headers to block any stray IR beams from causing an inaccurate reading… simple and effective.

Visualize Vroom with This RGB LED Tachometer

tach[Pete Mills] recently bought the all-new Ford Fiesta, which offers impressive fuel economy over that of his Jeep. He soon figured out that he has real time access to a wealth of engine and chassis data through Ford’s OpenXC platform and used it to build blueShift, a neopixel tachometer. The car already has a tach, but this one is more visual, can be seen in periphery, and is just plain fun.

In case you hadn’t heard, the OpenXC platform is Ford’s consumer key to the kingdom of OBD2 treasures. It unlocks the magic through its Vehicle Interface, which plugs into the OBD2 port and translates the CAN bus messages to OpenXC format. These messages are packaged into JSON format and can be sent over Bluetooth or Ethernet/Wi-Fi to an Android, Python, or iOS device.

[Pete] went with Bluetooth and used a BlueSMiRF with an Arduino Pro Mini. He derives power from the car’s on-board USB port, but has future plans to use the OpenXC VI port. blueShift reads the RPM data and displays a green trail as the engine revs up. At the peak revolution, it shows a red LED. This one is sticky and will persist for the lesser of three seconds or the time elapsed to a new positive RPM. [Pete] is also reading the headlight status of the car. As soon as they come on, the RGB LEDs dim to avoid blinding him at night.

[Pete] wanted to make an enclosure more finished-looking than a Tupperware box. He nearly detoured into 3D-printer design, but ended up putting together a Prusa i3v and came up with this RAM mount-compatible enclosure. His fantastic write-up and code are on his blog, but you can make the jump to see a short demo and a full explanation video. You can also make smart brake lights or even create art with OpenXC.

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Sound Card Tachometer Rises From the Junkbox

We love writing up projects that re-use lots of old parts. In fact, we save the links and use them as defense when our significant other complains about the “junk” in the basement. No, that tactic hasn’t ever worked, but we’re going to keep trying. Case in point, [Wotboa] needed a non-contact tachometer. There are plenty of commercial products which do just that. After consulting his parts bin, [wotboa] realized he had everything he needed to hack out his own. An IR break beam sensor from an old printer was a perfect fit in an aluminum tube. With the outer shell removed, the emitter and detector were mounted in the nylon shell of an old PC power supply connector, effectively turning them pair into a reflective sensor. To amplify the circuit, [wotboa] used a simple 2n2222 transistor circuit. The key is to keep the voltage seen by the sound card the range of a line level signal. This was accomplished by adding a 2.2 Megohm resistor in line with the output. [wotboa] drew his schematic in eagle, and etched his own PCB for the project. Even the tachometer’s case came from the parts bin. An old wall wart power supply gave up its shell for the cause, though [wotboa] is saving the transformer for another project.

For sensing, [wotba] used [Christian Zeitnitz’s] Soundcard Oscilloscope software.  Measuring the RPM of the device under test is simply a matter of determining the frequency of the signal and multiplying by 60. A 400 Hz signal would correspond to a shaft turning at 24,000 RPM. The circuit performs well in the range of RPM [wotboa] needs, but using a sound card does have its limits. The signals on the scope look a bit distorted from the square waves one would expect. This is due to the AC coupled nature of sound cards. As the signal approaches DC, the waveform will become more distorted. One possible fix for this would be to remove the AC coupling capacitor on the sound card’s input. With the capacitor removed, an op amp buffer would be a good idea to prevent damage to the sound card.

[Via Instructables]