3D Printing At The Speed Of Light

3D printers now come in all shapes and sizes, and use a range of technologies to take a raw material and turn it into a solid object. We’re most familiar with Additive Manufacturing – where the object is created layer by layer. This approach is quite useful, but has a down side of being time consuming. Two professors at the University of Michigan have figured out a way to speed this process up, big time.

They start off with a VAT additive printing approach. These work by using an ultraviolet laser to harden or cure specific areas in a vat of resin, layer by layer, until the object is complete. The resin is then drained revealing your 3D printed object. Traditionally, VAT printing has been limited to small objects because the resin needs to have a relatively low viscosity.

The clever professors at U-M were able to get around this problem by adding a second laser that keeps the resin in a liquid state. By combining a curing laser with an ‘uncuring’ laser, they’re able to use resins that are more viscous, allowing them to print more durable parts. And do so about 100 times faster than traditional printers!

Thanks to [Baldpower] for the tip!

Listening To Mains Power, Part 2

The electricity on the power grid wherever you live in the world will now universally come to you as AC. That is to say that it will oscillate between positive and negative polarity many times every second. The frequency of 50 or 60Hz just happens to be within the frequency range for human hearing. There’s a lot more than this fundamental frequency in the spectrum on the power lines though, and to hear those additional frequencies better you’ll have to do a little bit of signal processing.

We first featured this build back when it was still in its prototyping phase, but since then it’s been completed and used successfully to find a number of anomalies on the local power grid. It takes inputs from the line, isolates them, and feeds them into MATLAB via a sound card where they can be analyzed for frequency content. It’s been completed, including a case, and there are now waterfall diagrams of “mystery” switching harmonics found with the device, plus plots of waveform variation over time. There’s also a video below that has these harmonics converted to audio so you can hear the electricity.

Since we featured it last, [David] also took some feedback from the comments on the first article and improved isolation distances on his PCB, as well as making further PCB enhancements before making the final version. If you’ve ever been curious as to what you might find on the power lines, be sure to take a look at the updates on the project’s page.

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Cutting Wit And Plastic

If you have ever used a scalpel to cut something tougher than an eraser, you can appreciate a hot knife or better yet, an ultrasonic cutter. Saws work too, but they have their own issues. [This Old Tony] uses a hobby store tool to cut some plastic and wood, then demos a commercial ultrasonic cutter to show how a blade can sail through with less brute force. The previous requires some muscle, finesse, and eventually a splash of Bactine antiseptic. The video can also be seen after the break.

This is more than a tool review, [Tony] takes it apart with a screwdriver and offers his snarky comments. On the plus side is that it cuts polystyrene well where a regular knife won’t do more than scratch or shatter it. Meanwhile in the negative category we don’t hear a definitive price, but they seem to cost half as much as his mini-lathe. If you need an estimated return on investment, consider the price of two-thousand X-acto blades, but you may also wish to factor in the reduced hand calluses. While you are shopping, maybe also think about a set of earplugs; when the video gets to 17:30 he tries to cut a ceramic fitting and manages to make a child-deafening screech instead. We warned you.

This is a fitting follow-up to his unsuccessful attempt to turn an ultrasonic cleaner into an ultrasonic cutter, but we have seen success converting a tooth scaler into a cutter.

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Make Your Cactus Bionic With Bionic Cactus

The closest some of us at Hackaday get to a green thumb comes when we are painting, so for us and other folks not gifted in the gardening department Bionic Cactus might help. It’s a neatly designed water and light control system, built around an ESP8266. You can control the system through a web interface, setting a schedule for water and light and seeing how much water is left in the reservoir. There is also a soil moisture sensor and it will even email you when it is running low on water. As creator [SamsonKing] notes, if you combine this with a 3D-printed plant pot and light holder, and you’ve got a complete system from growing herbs and spices in the middle of winter.

[SamsonKing] created the system using PlatformIO, a neat open source Internet of Things development platform that means you could probably switch the system over to run on other low-power platforms if you had them lying around. But with an ESP8266 typically costing no more than a few bucks, it’s a neat and low-cost way to keep your plants fed and watered.

Automated gardening has featured many times here at Hackaday, just one of many is this indoor hydroponic lettuce factory.

3D Printing An Entire Rocket

If you’re ever flying into LAX and have the left side window seat, just a few minutes before landing, look out the window. You’ll see a small airport just below you and what appears at first glance to be a smokestack. That’s not a smokestack, though: that’s a rocket, and that’s where SpaceX is building all their rockets. Already SpaceX has revolutionized the aerospace industry, but just down the street there’s another company that’s pushing the manufacturing of rocket engines a bit further. Relativity Space is building rockets. They’re 3D printing rocket engines, and they’re designing what could be the first rocket engine made on Mars.

Bryce Salmi is an avionics hardware engineer at Relatively Space, and he made it out to the 2018 Hackaday Superconference to tell us all about manufacturing rockets. It’s an entirely new approach to manufacturing rockets and rocket engines with a clean-slate design that could eventually be manufactured on Mars.

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A Cloned Bluetooth Tracker Meets Its Maker

The holidays bring us many things. Family and friends are a given, as is the grand meal in which we invariably overindulge. It’s a chance for decades old songs and movies to somehow manage to bubble back up to the surface, and occasionally a little goodwill even slips in here or there. But perhaps above all, the holidays are a time for every retailer to stock themselves to the rafters with stuff. Do you need it? No. Do they want it? No. But it’s there on display anyway, and you’re almost certainly going to buy it.

Which is precisely how I came to purchase a two pack of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) “trackers” for the princely sum of $10 USD. I didn’t expect much out of them for $5 each, but as this seemed an exceptionally low price for such technology in a brick and mortar store, I couldn’t resist. Plus there was something familiar about the look of the tracker that I couldn’t quite put my finger on while I was still in the store.

That vague feeling of recollection sent me digging through my parts bin as soon as I got home, convinced that I had seen something among the detritus that reminded me of my latest prize. Sure enough, I found a “Cube” Bluetooth tracker which, ironically, I had received as a Christmas gift some years ago. Putting them side by side, it was clear that the design of these “itek” trackers took more than a little inspiration from the better known (and five times as expensive) product.

The Cube was a bit thicker, but otherwise the shape, size, and even button placement on the itek was nearly identical. Reading through their respective manuals, the capabilities also seemed in perfect parity, down to being able to use the button on the device as a remote camera control for your smartphone. Which got me thinking: just how similar would these two devices be internally? Clearly they looked and functioned the same, but would they be built the same as well? They would have to cut costs somewhere.

Determined to find out how a company can put out what for all the world looks like a mirror image of a competitor’s device while undercutting them by such a large margin, I cracked both trackers open to get a bit more familiar with what makes them tick. What I found on closer inspection of these two similar gadgets is perhaps best summarized by that age old cautionary adage: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

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Hold That Cam Belt Pulley In Place With This Neat CNC Work

The modern overhead-cam internal combustion engine is a mechanical masterpiece of hundreds of parts in perfect synchronisation. In many cases it depends for that synchronisation upon a flexible toothed belt, and those of you who have replaced one of these belts will know the exacting requirements for keeping the various pulleys in perfect alignment during the process.

[Greolt] had this problem with a dual overhead-cam engine, particularly that the shafts would spring out of alignment on removal of the belt. The solution was one of those beautifully simple hacks that use high-tech methods to make something that is not high-tech in itself but which solves a problem perfectly. He produced a CNC-machined block of HDPE to sit between the two toothed pulleys that was machined exactly to their profiles and which once inserted kept them securely and exactly in alignment.

It’s likely that the same job could easily be done with a 3D printer, and indeed we’ve seen it done with a small piece of soft wood and a hammer. But there is something very elegant indeed about this particular incarnation that we like, it may not be the most complex of the hacks you’ll see here but we’re sure you’ll agree if you’ve ever changed a cambelt, it’s a pretty useful one.

Of course, once you’ve changed that belt, perhaps you’d like to do something with the old one.

Thanks [Brian Moran] for the tip.