Soldering Like It’s 205 BC

Did you ever stop to think how unlikely the discovery of soldering is? It’s hard to imagine what sequence of events led to it; after all, metals heated to just the right temperature while applying an alloy of lead and tin in the right proportions in the presence of a proper fluxing agent doesn’t seem like something that would happen by accident.

Luckily, [Chris] at Clickspring is currently in the business of recreating the tools and technologies that would have been used in ancient times, and he’s made a wonderful video on precision soft soldering the old-fashioned way. The video below is part of a side series he’s been working on while he builds a replica of the Antikythera mechanism, that curious analog astronomical computer of antiquity. Many parts in the mechanism were soldered, and [Chris] explores plausible methods using tools and materials known to have been available at the time the mechanism was constructed (reported by different historians as any time between 205 BC and 70 BC or so). His irons are forged copper blocks, his heat source is a charcoal fire, and his solder is a 60:40 mix of lead and tin, just as we use today. He vividly demonstrates how important both surface prep and flux are, and shows both active and passive fluxes. He settled on rosin for the final joints, which turned out silky smooth and perfect; we suspect it took quite a bit of practice to get the technique down, but as always, [Chris] makes it look easy.

If you’d like to dig a bit deeper into modern techniques, we’ve covered the physics of solder and fluxes in some depth. And if you need more of those sweet, sweet Clickspring videos, we’ve got you covered there as well.

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Super Magnesium: Lighter Than Aluminum, Cheaper Than Carbon Fiber

We think of high tech materials as the purview of the space program, or of high-performance aircraft. But there are other niche applications that foster super materials, for example the world of cycling. Magnesium is one such material as it is strong and light, but it has the annoying property of burning in its pure state. Alloys of magnesium meanwhile generally don’t combust unless they are ground fine or exposed to high temperatures. Allite is introducing a new line known as “super magnesium” which is in reality three distinct alloys that they claim are 30% lighter than aluminum, as well as stronger and stiffer than the equivalent mass of that metal. They also claim the material will melt at 1200F instead of burning. To lend an air of mystique, this material was once only available for defense applications but now is open to everyone.

It’s a material that comes in three grades. AE81 is optimized for welding, ZE62 is better suited for forging, while WE54 is made for casting processes. Those names might sound like made up stock numbers, but they aren’t, as magnesium allows typically have names that indicate the material used to mix with the magnesium. A stands for aluminum, Z is for zirconium zinc, W is for yttrium, and E stands for rare earths. So AE81 is a mix of magnesium, aluminum, and some rare earth material. The numbers indicate the approximate amount of each addition, so AE81 is 8% aluminum and 1% rare earth.

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Robotic Fruit Fly Won’t Eat Your Fruit

The DelFly project has been busy since the last time we checked in on them. The Dutch team started 13 years ago and produced the smallest camera-carrying drone, and an autonomous tiny ornithopter. However, that ornithopter — now five years old — had to use some traditional control surfaces and a tail like an airplane which was decidedly not fruit fly-like. Now they’ve solved those problems and have announced the DelFly Nimble, a 13 inch and 1-ounce ornithopter. You can see the Nimble in the video below.

The close emulation of a real fly means the thing looks distinctly insect-like in flight. The dual wings use Mylar and form an X configuration. They flap about 17 times per second. A fully charged battery  — remember, the whole thing weighs an ounce — lasts five minutes. With an efficient speed of 3 meters per second, the team claims a flight range of over 1 kilometer with a peak speed that can reach  7 meters per second. It can even take a payload, as long as that payload weighs 4 grams or less.

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Epic Clock Clocks The Unix Epoch

Admit it: when you first heard of the concept of the Unix Epoch, you sat down with a calculator to see when exactly 2³¹-1 seconds would be from midnight UTC on January 1, 1970. Personally, I did that math right around the time my company hired contractors to put “Y2K Suspect” stickers on every piece of equipment that looked like it might have a computer in it, so the fact that the big day would come sometime in 2038 was both comforting and terrifying.

[Forklift] is similarly entranced by the idea of the Unix Epoch and built a clock to display it, at least for the next 20 years or so. Accommodating the eventual maximum value of 2,147,483,647, plus the more practical ISO-8601 format, required a few more digits than the usual clock – sixteen to be exact. The blue seven-segment displays make an impression in the sleek wooden case, about which there is sadly no detail in the build log. But the internals are well documented, and include a GPS module and an RTC. The clock parses the NMEA time string from the satellites and syncs the RTC. There’s a brief video below of the clock in action.

We really like the look of [Forklift]’s clock, and watching the seconds count up to the eventual overflow seems like a fun way to spend the next two decades. It’s not the first Epoch clock we’ve featured, of course, but it’s pretty slick.

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A Look at Liquid Dielectrics

One evening quite a few years ago, as I was driving through my hometown I saw the telltale flashing lights of the local volunteer fire department ahead. I passed by a side road where all the activity was: a utility pole on fire. I could see smoke and flames shooting from the transformer and I could hear the loud, angry 60 Hz buzzing that sounded like a million hornet nests. As I passed, the transformer exploded and released a cloud of flaming liquid that rained down on the road and lawns underneath. It seemed like a good time to quit rubbernecking and beat it as fast as I could.

I knew at the time that the flaming liquid was transformer oil, but I never really knew what it was for or why it was in there. Oil is just one of many liquid dielectrics that are found in a lot of power distribution equipment, from those transformers on the pole to the big capacitors and switchgear in the local substation. Liquid dielectrics are interesting materials that are worth taking a look at.

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Get Your PCBs Made at the Mall

As we’ve seen with some recent posts on the subject here at Hackaday, there seems to be a growing schism within the community about the production of PCBs. Part of the community embraces (relatively) cheap professional fabrication, where you send your design off and get a stack of PCBs in the mail a couple weeks later. Others prefer at home methods of creating PCBs, such as using a CNC, laser engraver, or even the traditional toner transfer. These DIY PCBs take some skill and dedication to produce, but the advantage is that you can have the board in hand the same day you design it. But there may be a third option that seems to have slipped through the cracks.

[Virgil] writes in with a very interesting method of producing professional looking prototype PCBs that doesn’t involve weeks of waiting for the results, nor does it require any complicated techniques or specialized equipment. In this method, a UV printer is used to deposit your mask directly onto the copper clad board, which you then etch with whatever solution you like. Don’t have a UV printer you say? No worries, there’s probably somebody at the mall that does.

As [Virgil] explains, the little kiosks at the mall which offer to personalize items for customers generally use a UV printer which allows them to shoot ink on nearly any material. Instead of asking them to put a logo on the back of your phone, you’ll just be asking them to put the vector file of your mask, which you can bring along on a USB flash drive, onto the bare copper board. They may tell you they can’t guarantee the ink will stick to the bare copper, but just tell them you’re willing to take the risk. It’s one of those situations in which your money will be glad to speak on your behalf.

After the UV printer does its thing, the mask might be somewhat fragile. [Virgil] likes to wrap the boards in plastic for the ride home to make sure they don’t get damaged. Then it’s a quick dunk in the etching solution followed by a rinse and some isopropyl alcohol to get the remainder of the UV ink off. The results really do speak for themselves: nice sharp lines with exceptionally little manual work.

We’ve covered some relatively easy ways of quickly producing nice PCBs at home, as long as you don’t mind spending a couple hundred US dollars to get the hardware together. This seems to be the best of both worlds, though it does have the downside of requiring you speak with another human. We’d love to hear from any readers who give this particular method a shot.

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Ask Hackaday: How’s That Capacitor Shortage Going?

There is a looming spectre of doom hovering over the world of electronics manufacturing. It’s getting hard to find parts, and the parts you can find are expensive. No, it doesn’t have anything to with the tariffs enacted by the United States against Chinese goods this last summer. This is a problem that doesn’t have an easy scapegoat. This is a problem that strikes at the heart of any economic system. This is the capacitor and resistor shortage.

When we first reported on the possibility of a global shortage of chip capacitors and resistors, things were for the time being, okay. Yes, major manufacturers were saying they were spinning down production lines until it was profitable to start them up again, but there was relief: parts were in stock, and they didn’t cost that much more.

Now, it’s a different story. We’re in the Great Capacitor Shortage of 2018, and we don’t know when it’s going to get any better. Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: How’s That Capacitor Shortage Going?”