Cable Cutting Machine Makes Fast Work of a Tedious Job

We’ve all been there: faced with a tedious job that could be knocked out manually with a modest investment of time, we choose instead to overcomplicate the task and build something to do it for us. Such was the impetus behind this automated wire cutter, but in this case the ends justify the means.

That [Edward Carlson] managed to stretch a twenty-minute session with wire cutters and a tape measure into four days of building and tweaking this machine is pretty impressive. The build process was jump-started by modifying an off-the-shelf wire measuring machine, of the kind one finds in the electrical aisle of The Big Orange Store. Stripped of the original mechanical totalizer and with a stepper added to drive the friction wheels, the machine can now measure cable by counting steps. A high-torque servo drives a stout pair of cable shears through a nifty linkage, or the machine can just measure the length of cable without cutting. [Edward]’s solution in search of a problem ends up bringing extra value, so maybe the time spent was worth it after all.

If the overall design looks familiar, you may be thinking of a similar of another cable-cutting bot we featured a while back. That one used a filament extruder and was for lighter gauge wires than this machine.

[via r/Arduino]

22 thoughts on “Cable Cutting Machine Makes Fast Work of a Tedious Job

    1. I know the answer to that question in so many different problem domains. :)

      What Randall/XKCD is missing in this first-order analysis is the spillovers. You might spend more time than it’s worth automating one process, but if it teaches you something that helps you automate similar problems in a fraction of the time, it can still be a big winner.

      Elliot’s rule of thumb: always automate tasks that are similar to other tasks that you’re likely to want automated. (And the ones that seem like fun.)

      1. I agree, to an extent. I don’t think XKCD was suggesting this was a comprehensive solution to be universally applied either though. If you need to cut thousands of these or do so as part of a commercial production operation where the output quality matters or has a deadline, then automation may very well not just be in order but a very good idea! The value of learning and then reapplying learned information later is relevant, at least to a degree.

        The frustration I have with this tends to stem from the fact that not every problem is easy or even practical to actually automate and there are many that are effectively impossible at present. Unspooling and cutting a defined and repetitive wire is actually very simple when compared to things like folding laundry, cooking food, surgery, automobile or electrical repair, autonomously driving a car in poor weather conditions, media production, legal prostitution, even writing code, etc. Anything where the inputs can be varied and widespread, it requires analysis of a large amount of potential problems (sometimes several at once) and requires three dimensional, physical work (typically with various tools) to execute correctly. It’s unclear how quickly or easily solved those “problems” are and how much (or how little) overlap there is between solving them as well. Solving how to fold laundry is not very likely to help one solve how to perform PCB repair (though it might at least help some).

        That said, there are also plenty of things that automation is effectively starting to encroach upon. Accounting, mundane legal work, highway based truck driving, music generation, routine customer support, fast food order entry, etc. Even things like article writing for that matter are starting to be automated and can at times reach a degree where the reader cannot tell the difference.

        1. “That said, there are also plenty of things that automation is effectively starting to encroach upon. Accounting, mundane legal work, highway based truck driving, music generation, routine customer support, fast food order entry, etc. ”

          CEO. :-D

          1. >> You might spend more time than it’s worth automating one process, but if it teaches you something that helps you automate similar problems in a fraction of the time,
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_broken_window
            In your example of learning a new skill even though you’re arguably wasting time is creeping close to the fallacy. Yes you may indeed reuse these automation skills later, but you’re also not learning some other skill or otherwise working on a project.

      2. Also, you shouldn’t be optimising purely for time spent, as that’s not always a good estimate of the cost of the task. You might spend more time automating the process than the process itself, but if doing so is more interesting/stimulating/fun than spending that time doing the thing manually, then the personal cost is significantly reduced.

    2. What people often forget when they talk about that is that time is limited. If your company is highly automated, it’s more manoeuvrable and flexible. Getting a huge order isn’t a headache any more, leaving you to scramble for people who can chip in. You turn to your machine and get things done. Other reasons would be to be more consistent and/or providing a better quality product. People are terrible at doing those things over and over. If it’s you that has to do the work, not being bored out of your mind might be a reason too.

      In the end, spending the time to set things up properly once means you scale more easily from then on.

    3. One valuable reason to automate something, even if you save no time, or even spend extra time, is quality of life. What do you want to spend your time doing? A mind-numbing repetive task that wreaks havoc on your mental state and deterioriates your joints? Or an exciting, thought provoking and engaging task that challenges you and makes you enjoy life?

      That to me is worth a huge cut in pay alone. I would never sweat the cost in time when comparing the cost in life.

    4. Haha, I remembered this one, and it kinda depressed me for a moment. However I realized that although I may personally spend more time on the project than I otherwise would spend on the original task, by sharing the results with others, like this is being shared with us, many others wont have to do the initial R&D, and will get a net gain on their time with the task. They get the benefit of the work.

      If some of those other people follow suite and post the results of their work, I get the benefit when they share their findings with me, saving time on tasks that I then don’t have to do a lot of work optimizing myself.

  1. In my experience, cutting a cable to length takes normally less then 4 seconds to get it into the +/- 5 mm mark for shorter cables under a meter in length. And longer cables aren’t that much more time consuming.

    The hassle I rather find myself in is stripping of the ends of the wire, especially on multi cored wire with braiding and stuff…
    Not to mention installing it into a connector, that is at times a real hassle too.

    Relatively speaking in comparison to just cutting the cable to proper length.

    1. If I could have built a machine that stripped and terminated XLR or BNC cables, I would have. I mistly make cables that are more than 10 ft long, sometimes up to 200 ft. Walking out that much cable in the back yard takes a heck of a lot of time.

  2. Such machines have existed for about 30 years and probably longer, 30 years ago is about the first time I encountered one. You inputed the number of wires needed, the length and if you wanted the end stripped and it would do it all for you. I do guess such machines probably cost a lot since the market for them is limited so it’s probably cheaper to build your own.

        1. The gamma series is close to six-figures.Stuff like this are quoted, as there are options you need to pick. The applicators are compatible with the AMP g-press, so we can use the same tooling there for low volume or multi-conductor work (as cool as there are, they still only terminate single conductor wire. It will strip a coax, but is limited to removing the outer jacket of multi-conductor cables.I included links to

          http://www.te.com/usa-en/products/application-tooling/wire-processing-equipment/bench-top-crimping-terminators/gii-terminating-machine.html

          Also included a link to the k-press manual. Same basic principle (requires an “applicator” that feeds and crimps the specific terminal. The g-press was an advancement as you can dial in settings, rather then the “set-screw” method used in the older k-press).

          http://www.te.com/commerce/DocumentDelivery/DDEController?Action=srchrtrv&DocNm=409-5128&DocType=SS

          On the gamma series machines, the crimping side also has built-in crimp force monitors that detect as such as a single strand of wire missing, and will reject that lead as a defect. That was also an external option on the g-press.

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