Laser Cutter Turns Scrapped To Shipped

We’ll go way out on a limb here and say you’ve probably got a ridiculous amount of flattened cardboard boxes. We’re buying more stuff online than ever before, and all those boxes really start to add up. At the least we hope they’re making it to the recycling bin, but what about reusing them? Surely there’s something you could do with all those empty shipping boxes…

Here’s a wild idea…why not use them to ship things? But not exactly as they are, unless you’re in the business of shipping big stuff, the probably won’t do you much good as-is. Instead, why not turn those big flattened cardboard boxes into smaller, more convenient, shippers? That’s exactly what [Felix Rusu] has done, and we’ve got to say, it’s a brilliant idea.

[Felix] started by tracing the outline of the USPS Priority Small Flat Rate Box, which was the perfect template as it comes to you flat packed and gets folded into its final shape. He fiddled with the design a bit, and in the end had a DXF file he could feed into his 60W CO2 laser cutter. By lowering the power to 15% on the fold lines, the cutter is even able to score the cardboard where it needs to fold.

Assuming you’ve got a powerful enough laser, you can now turn all those Amazon Prime boxes into the perfect shippers to use when your mom finally makes you sell your collection of Yu-Gi-Oh! cards on eBay. Otherwise, you can just use them to build a wall so she’ll finally stay out of your side of the basement.

[Thanks to Adrian for the tip.]

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An Arduino Powered Tank Built To Pull Planes

Surely our readers are well aware of all the downsides of owning an airplane. Certainly the cost of fuel is a big one. Birds are a problem, probably. That bill from the traveling propeller sharpener is a killer too…right? Alright fine, we admit it, nobody here at Hackaday owns an airplane. But probably neither do most of you; so don’t look so smug, pal.

But if you did own a plane, or at least work at a small airport, you’d know that moving the things around on the ground is kind of a hassle. Smaller planes can be pulled by hand, but once they get up to a certain size you’ll want some kind of vehicle to help out. [Anthony DiPilato] wanted a way to move around a roughly 5,200 pound Cessna 310, and decided that all the commercial options were too expensive. So he built his own Arduino powered tank to muscle the airplane around the tarmac (if site is down try Google cache), and his journey from idea to finished product is absolutely fascinating to see.

So the idea here is pretty simple. A little metal cart equipped with two beefy motors, an Arduino Mega, a pair of motor controllers, and a HC-08 Bluetooth module so you can control it from your phone. How hard could it be, right? Well, it turns out combining all those raw components into a little machine that’s strong enough to tow a full-scale aircraft takes some trial and error.

It took [Anthony] five iterations before he fine tuned the design to the point it was able to successfully drag the Cessna without crippling under the pressure. The early versions featured wheels, but eventually it was decided that a tracked vehicle would be required to get enough grip on the blacktop. Luckily for us, each failed design is shown along with a brief explanation about what went wrong. Admittedly it’s unlikely any of us will be recreating this particular project, but we always love to see when somebody goes through the trouble of explaining what went wrong. When you include that kind of information, somewhere, somehow, you’re saving another maker a bit of time and aggravation.

Hackers absolutely love machines with tank treads. From massive 3D printed designs to vaguely disturbing humanoid robots, there’s perhaps no sweeter form of locomotion in the hacker arsenal.

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Arduino Watchdog Sniffs Out Hot 3D Printers

We know we’ve told you this already, but you should really keep a close eye on your 3D printer. The cheaper import machines are starting to display a worrying tendency to go up in flames, either due to cheap components or design flaws. The fact that it happens is, sadly, no longer up for debate. The best thing we can do now is figure out ways to mitigate the risk for all the printers that are already deployed in the field.

At the risk of making a generalization, most 3D printer fires seem to be due to overheating components. Not a huge surprise, of course, as parts of a 3D printer heat up to hundreds of degrees and must remain there for hours and hours on end. Accordingly, [Bin Sun] has created a very slick device that keeps a close eye on the printer’s temperature at various locations, and cuts power if anything goes out of acceptable range.

The device is powered by an Arduino Nano and uses a 1602 serial LCD and KY040 rotary encoder to provide the user interface. The user can set the shutdown temperature with the encoder knob, and the 16×2 character LCD will give a real-time display of current temperature and power status.

Once the user-defined temperature is met or exceeded, the device cuts power to the printer with an optocoupler relay. It will also sound an alarm for one minute so anyone in the area will know the printer needs some immediate attention.

We’ve recently covered a similar device that minimizes the amount of time the printer is powered on, but checking temperature and acting on it in real-time seems a better bet. No matter what, we’d still suggest adding a smoke detector and fire extinguisher to your list of essential 3D printer accessories.

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Dissecting the Elusive Wax Motor

We’d wager most readers aren’t intimately acquainted with wax motors. In fact, a good deal of you have probably never heard of them, let alone used one in a project. Which isn’t exactly surprising, as they’re very niche and rarely used outside of HVAC systems and some appliances. But they’re fascinating devices, and once you’ve seen how they work, you might just figure out an application for one.

[AvE] recently did a complete teardown on a typical wax motor, going as far as cutting the thing in half to show the inner workings. Now we’ve seen some readers commenting that everyone’s favorite foul-mouthed destroyer of consumer goods has lost his edge, that his newer videos are more about goofing off than anything. Well we can’t necessarily defend his signature linguistic repertoire, but we can confidently say this video does an excellent job of explaining these little-known gadgets.

The short version is that a wax motor, which is really a linear actuator, operates on the principle that wax expands when it melts. If a solid block of wax is placed in a cylinder, it can push on a piston during the phase change from solid to liquid. As the liquid wax resists compression, the wax motor has an exceptionally high output force for such a small device. The downside is, the stroke length is usually rather short: for the one [AvE] demonstrates, it’s on the order of 2 mm.

By turning heat directly into mechanical energy, wax motors are often used to open valves and vents when they’ve reached a specific temperature. The common automotive engine thermostat is a classic example of a wax motor, and they’re commonly found inside of dishwashers as a way to open the soap dispenser at the proper time during the cycle.

This actually isn’t the first time we’ve featured an in-depth look at wax motors, but [AvE] actually cutting this one in half combined with the fact that the video doesn’t look like it was filmed on a 1980’s camera makes it worth revisiting the subject. Who is going to build a wax motor power device for the Power Harvesting Challenge in the 2018 Hackaday Prize?

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Cheap Front Panels with Dibond Aluminium

The production capability available to the individual hacker today is really quite incredible. Even a low-end laser engraver can etch your PCBs, and it doesn’t take a top of the line 3D printer to knock out a nice looking enclosure. With the wide availability of these (relatively) cheap machines, the home builder can churn out a very impressive one-off device on a fairly meager budget. Even low volume production isn’t entirely out of the question. But there’s still one element to a professional looking device that remains frustratingly difficult: a good looking front panel.

Now if your laser is strong enough to engrave (and ideally cut) aluminum sheets, then you’ve largely solved this problem. But for those of us who are plodding along with a cheap imported diode laser, getting text and images onto a piece of metal can be rather tricky. On Hackaday.io, [oaox] has demonstrated a cost effective way to create metal front panels for your devices using a print service that offers Dibond aluminum. Consisting of two thin layers of aluminum with a solid polyethylene core, this composite material was designed specifically for signage. Through various online services, you can have whatever you wish printed on a sheet of pre-cut Dibond without spending a lot of money.

As explained by [oaox], the first step is putting together the image you’ll send off to the printer using a software package like Inkscape. The key is to properly define the size of the Dibond plate in your software and work within those confines, otherwise the layout might not look how you expected once the finish piece gets back to you. It’s also important to avoid lossy compression formats like JPEG when sending the file out for production, as it can turn text into a mushy mess.

When you get the sheet back, all you need to do is put your holes in it. Thanks to the plastic core, Dibond is fairly easy to cut and drill as long as you take your time. [oaox] used a step drill for the holes, and a small coping saw for the larger openings. The final result looks great, and required very little effort in the grand scheme of things.

But how much does it cost? Looking around online, we were quoted prices as low as $7 USD to do a full-color 4×4 inch Dibond panel, and one site offered a 12×12 panel for $20. For a small production run, you could fit several copies of the graphics onto one larger panel and cut them out with a bandsaw; that could drop the per-unit price to only a couple bucks.

We’ve seen some clever attempts at professional looking front panels, from inkjet printing on transparencies to taking the nuclear option and laser cutting thin plywood. This is one of those issues the community has been struggling with for years, but at least it looks like we’re finally getting some decent options.

A Crash Course In Reliable Communication

It’s probably fair to say that anyone reading these words understands conceptually how physically connected devices communicate with each other. In the most basic configuration, one wire establishes a common ground as a shared reference point and then the “signal” is sent over a second wire. But what actually is a signal, how do the devices stay synchronized, and what happens when a dodgy link causes some data to go missing?

All of these questions, and more, are addressed by [Ben Eater] in his fascinating series on data transmission. He takes a very low-level approach to explaining the basics of communication, starting with the concept of non-return-to-zero encoding and working his way to a shared clock signal to make sure all of the devices in the network are in step. Most of us are familiar with the data and clock wires used in serial communications protocols like I2C, but rarely do you get to see such a clear and detailed explanation of how it all works.

He demonstrates the challenge of getting two independent devices to communicate, trying in vain to adjust the delays on the receiving and transmitting Arduinos to try to establish a reliable link at a leisurely five bits per second. But even at this digital snail’s pace, errors pop up within a few seconds. [Ben] goes on to show that the oscillators used in consumer electronics simply aren’t consistent enough between devices to stay synchronized for more than a few hundred bits. Until atomic clocks come standard on the Arduino, it’s just not an option.

[Ben] then explains the concept of a dedicated clock signal, and how it can be used to make sure the devices are in sync even if their local clocks drift around. As he shows, as long as the data signal and the clock signal are hitting at the same time, the actual timing doesn’t matter much. Even within the confines of this basic demo, some drift in the clock signal is observed, but it has no detrimental effect on communication.

In the next part of the series, [Ben] will tackle error correction techniques. Until then, you might want to check out the fantastic piece [Elliot Williams] put together on I2C.

[Thanks to George Graves for the tip.]

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Poetry is the Fruit of this Loom

We’d wager that most people reading these words have never used a loom before. Nor have most of you churned butter, or ridden in a horse-drawn wagon. Despite these things being state of the art technology at one point, today the average person is only dimly aware of their existence. In the developed world, life has moved on. We don’t make our own clothes or grow our own crops. We consume, but the where and how of production has become nebulous to us.

[David Heisserer] and his wife [Danielle Everine], believe this modern separation between consumption and production is a mistake. How can we appreciate where our clothing comes from, much less the people who make it, without understanding the domestic labor that was once required to produce even a simple garment? In an effort to educate the public on textile production in a fun and meaningful way, they’ve created a poetry printing loom called Meme Weaver.

The Meme Weaver will be cranking out words of woolen wisdom at the Northern Spark Festival taking place June 15th and 16th in downtown Minneapolis. If any Hackaday readers in the area get a chance to check out the machine, we’d love to hear about it in the comments. Take photos! Just don’t blame us if you have a sudden urge to make all of your clothing afterwards.
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