Hackaday Prize Entry: A Numerically Controlled RepRap

The story for permanent storage for computers begins with the Jacquard loom. Hackaday commenters that are less clever than a Wikipedia article may argue that it was the earlier Bouchon and de Vaucanson looms, but either way we owe permanent storage methods to loom designers. So the story goes that punched cards for weaving brocades and damask patterns in cloth turned into punched cards for tabulating a census, calculating artillery trajectories, and ends with hundreds of gigabytes of storage in a thumbnail-sized micro SD card.

This story glosses over one important fact. The automated looms of the 17th century were simply a way to make a manufacturing process faster. These automated looms were the forebears of numerically controlled machine tools. These machines, first a lathe, followed by mills and all sorts of metalworking tools, first appearing in the 1950s, used punched tape to store the commands required to mill a part out of metal. Just like the SD card on a modern 3D printer.

For [will.stevens’] Hackaday Prize entry, he’s going back to the roots of automated manufacturing and building a punched card reader for his 3D printer. Is the idea sound? Yes. Is it going to be easy? No, [will] is creating his punched card reader on his 3D printer. It’s the ultimate expression of the RepRap philosophy of self-replication, and an interesting engineering challenge, too.

[will]’s idea for a punch card print controller uses relays. It’s a simple control system that encodes the individual steps for the X and Y axes, along with a length of a line. This printer won’t be able to create lines that go in every direction, instead, there are only 48 possible angles this printer can use out of 360 degrees. At large scales, prints and plots will have the jaggies, but at smaller scales, this control system will be able to print something resembling a circle.

[will] has a PDF of his proposed control system, and he’s already hard at work creating the 3D printed relays and solenoids. [will]’s goal for this year’s Hackaday Prize is to create a 2D plotter – just one axis short of a 3D printer, and he’s well on his way to printing off his own punched cards.

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It’s Time to Finally Figure Out How to Use KiCAD

KiCAD has been making leaps and bounds recently, especially since CERN is using it almost exclusively. However, while many things are the same, just enough of them are different from our regular CAD packages that it’s hard to get started in the new suite.

[Chris Gammell] runs Contextual Electronics, an online apprenticeship program which goes from concept to assembled electronics covering everything in between. To take the course you pay a nominal fee, but [Chris] posted a very excellent ten-part video series made during the last run of classes which you can watch without charge. The videos go through the basics of KiCAD while hitting the major points to consider when designing and manufacturing your electronics.

The project [Chris] chose is a simple circuit that blinks an LED with a 555. The first videos cover navigating KiCAD’s component schematic editor and library system. Next comes creating circuit schematics and component footprint creation. [Chris] covers PCB layout, the generation of Gerber files, and finally ordering the design from OSH Park — the purveyors of purple boards we’ve come to know and love. The series finishes up with simulating the circuit in LTSpice, ordering the parts, and finally soldering and debugging of the board. If all goes correctly you should now have a single blinking LED.

If the bright summer sun is burning your delicate skin, and you’d rather be locked inside with solder fumes, add this to your watch list now!

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FR4 Machine Shield Is A CNC Milling Machine From FR4 PCB

The people behind the PocketNC heard you like CNC PCB mills, so they milled you a PCB mill out of PCB. They announced their surprising new open source hardware product, a pocket sized 3-axis CNC machine entirely made out of FR4 PCB material, aptly named “FR4 Machine Shield”, at this year’s Bay Area Maker Faire.

UPDATE: The FR4 Machine Shield is now on Kickstarter

fr4_thumbWe know the concept from quadcopters, little robots, and generally things that are small enough to make use of their PCBs as a structural component. But an entire CNC machine, soldered together from a few dozen PCBs certainly takes it to the next level.

There is no doubt that 2mm thick fiber reinforced epoxy can be surprisingly rigid, although the Achilles heel of this method might be the solder joints. However, it looks like all load bearing, mechanical connections of the machine are supported by tightly interlocking “dovetail” finger-joints, which may help protecting all the solder connections from the strain hardening effects of continuous stress and spindle vibrations.

As you might expect, most of the wiring is embedded into the FR4 frame construction, and to squeeze the maximum value out of the PCB material, the motor driver boards interface via card edge connectors with the (currently Arduino based) controller board. In addition to the milling head, which features a brushless DC motor and a tool coupler, the team wants to develop heads for circuit printing, microscopy, pneumatic pick and place, hot air reflow, and 3D printing.

With all those cost-driven design choices, from the one-step manufacturing process of the frame and wiring to the dismissal of screws and nuts from the frame assembly, the “FR4 Machine Shield” could indeed become one of the cheapest CNC machine kits on the market. The team targets an introduction price of $400 during a Kickstarter campaign in June 2016. Can they deliver? [Gerrit] checked Pocket NC out at the Faire and ended up raving about how they run their business.

Enjoy their teaser video below!

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How Does a Buck Converter Work Anyway?

[Great Scott] should win an award for quickest explanation of a buck converter. Clocking in at five and a half minutes, the video clearly shows the operating principles behind the device.

It starts off with the question, what should you do if you want to drop a voltage? Many of us know that we can dim and brighten an LED using the PWM on an Arduino, but a closer inspection with an oscilloscope still shows 5V peaks that would be dangerous to a 3.3V circuit. He then adds an inductor and diode, this keeps the current from dropping too fast, but the PWM just isn’t switching fast enough to keep the coil energized.

A small modification to the Arduino’s code, and the PWM frequency is now in the kHz range. The voltage looks pretty good on the oscilloscope, but a filter cap gets it to look nice and smooth. Lastly, he shows how when the load changes the voltage out looks different. To fix this a voltage divider feeds back the information to the Arduino, letting it change the PWM duty to match the load.

In the last minute of the video he shows how to hook up off-the-shelf switching regulators, whose support components are now completely demystified as the basic principles are understood. Video after the break.

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Hacklet 110 – Optical Microscopy Projects

Humans have always wanted to make small things bigger. To see that which is unseen with the naked eye. The inventor of the original microscope happened sometime in the 1600’s, though the inventor is still contested. Some say it was Cornelis Drebbel, while others say Hans Lippershey. Galileo Galilei’s compound microscope is probably the most well-known ancient magnifier. Regardless of who created the device, hackers, makers, engineers, and scientists have used microscopes to study mysteries of biology, geology, electronics, and just about anything else you can imagine.

This is a fitting topic for this week’s Hacklet at is aligns well with the Citizen Scientist challenge round of the Hackaday Prize which began on Monday. Making quality microscopes more widely available is one of many great starting ideas for an entry. Let’s take a look at some of the best microscopy projects on Hackaday.io!

scope1We start with [J. Kha] and Armed Microscope. [J. Kha] was one of the backers of the original uArm over at Kickstarter. He also does quite a bit of work with electronics. After fighting with a cheap USB microscope, he realized he had the perfect platform to control it. Microscopes usually are stationary, with the object being viewed moved on a stage. [J. Kha] turned things upside down by mounting the microscope on his uArm. An Arduino Yun controls the system. The Yun also allows him to stream the microscope’s video over the internet using the mjpg-streamer library. [J. Kha] did have some power issues at first, but he’s got his regulators all sorted out now.

scope2Next we have [andyhull] with Adding a light touch to a “classic” microscope. A lucky dumpster find netted [Andy] a pile of old broken microscopes. From this he was able to build a working classic stereo scope. This was a Gillet & Sibert stereo compound scope. Like most microscopes of its time, the old GS used standard incandescent or halogen lights for illumination. The old bulbs were long gone, and would have been a pain to replace. [Andy] switched his scope over to LED illumination. He ended up using a commercially available LED “bulb” designed to replace type 1157 automotive tail light bulbs. This type of LED is designed to run on 12 volt power which simplifies the wiring. The small LED flashlight in a custom mount also provides a bit of help for opaque subjects.

scope3Next up is [Andre Maia Chagas] with Flypi – cheap microscope/experimental setup. Flypi is [Andre’s] entry in the 2106 Hackaday Prize. Flypi is more than just a microscope, it’s a 3D printed data collection and image analysis device for hackers and scientists alike. A Raspberry Pi 2 or 3 controls the show. Images come in through Pi Camera with an M12 lens. The Pi runs some open source Python code allowing it to acquire and analyze images. It also has an Arduino as a co-processor to handle anything a particular experiment may need – like RGB LEDs, heaters, manipulators, you name it. Andre sees Flypi as having uses in everything from fluorescence imaging to optogenetics and thermogenetics.

scope5Finally we have [Jarred Heinrich] with Stagmo: Microscope Stage Automator. Positioning samples under high magnification requires a steady hand. Trying to image them makes things even harder. To help with this, microscopes have stages. Fine lead screws manually controlled by knobs allow the user to precisely position any subject. Automated stages are available as well, but they can get quite expensive. [Jarred] recognized that the microscope stage is an X-Y platform like any CNC, laser, or 3D printer. He used an Arduino and a motor shield to control a couple of stepper motors. The motors are coupled to the stage knobs with rubber belts. While the mounting system looks a little wobbly, but it got the job done, and didn’t require any modifications to the microscope itself.

Optical microscopes are just one type of scope you’ll find on Hackaday.io. There are also atomic force microscopes, scanning electron microscopes, and more! I’ll cover those on a future Hacklet. If you want to see more awesome optical microscopy projects, check out our new optical microscope projects list! If I missed your project, don’t be shy, just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Fixing a Broken Bandsaw with a Custom Steel Part

When a large bandsaw broke down due to a cast iron part snapping in two, [Amr] took the opportunity to record the entire process of designing and creating a solid steel replacement for the broken part using a (non-CNC) mill and lathe.

For those of us unfamiliar with the process a machinist would go through to accomplish such a thing, the video is extremely educational; it can be sobering both to see how much design work happens before anything gets powered up, and just how much time and work goes into cutting and shaping some steel into what at first glance looks like a relatively uncomplicated part.

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Netbook Finds New Home in a Jaguar Dashboard

You’d figure a luxury car like a Jaguar would have a high-end infotainment system. [RichTatham]’s Jag did, but the trouble was that it was a high-end system when a cassette deck and trunk-mounted CD changer were big deals. So naturally, he saw this as a great reason to modernize the system by grafting a netbook into the Jag’s dash. The results are fantastic!

Even though the Jag’s original system didn’t have much left that made it into the final project — the navigation system, CD changer, phone and even the amps ended up on the scrap heap — at least the dashboard instrument cluster proved to be very amenable to his mods. By substituting a climate control cluster from another model into his car, he was able to free up tons of space for the netbook’s 8″ display. A custom bezel and some clever brackets completed the head-end of the new system, and the look is as close to a factory install as you’re likely to find in an aftermarket mod. With the netbook stashed in the bay vacated by the OEM system, a GPS dongle, and a USB sound card connected to a 5.1 amp using the original speakers this jag is ready to bump. We bet that the system sounds as good as it looks, and with the added functionality of a Windows PC to boot.

For obvious reasons, lots of computers make it into hackers’ dashboards, whether they be Windows like this one, Samsung tablets or Nexus tablets running Android, and even phones. But [Rich]’s build is top notch, and takes in-car integrations to the next level.

[via r/diy]