Use Nodes to Code Loads of G-code for 3D CNC Carving

Most CNC workflows start with a 3D model, which is then passed to CAM software to be converted into the G-code language that CNC machines love and understand. G-code, however, is simple enough that rudimentary coding skills are all you need to start writing your very own programmatic CNC tool paths. Any language that can output plain text is fully capable of enabling you to directly control powerful motors and rapidly spinning blades.

[siemenc] shows us how to use Grasshopper – a visual node-based programming system for Rhino 3D – to output G-code that makes some interesting patterns and shapes in wood when fed to a ShopBot. Though the Rhino software is a bit expensive and thus is not too widely available, [siemenc] walks through some background, theory, and procedures that could be useful and inspirational no matter what software or programming language you’re using to create your bespoke G-code.

For links to code and related blog posts, plus more lovely pictures of intricately carved plywood, check out [siemenc]’s personal site as well.

[via Bantam Tools]

DIY Wire Bender Gets Wires All Bent Into Shape

It’s been a while since we’ve shown a DIY wire bending machine, and [How To Mechatronics] has come up with an elegant design with easy construction through the use of 3D-printed parts which handle most of the inherent complexity. This one also has a Z-axis so that you can produce 3D wire shapes. And as with all wire bending machines, it’s fun to watch it in action, which you can do in the video below along with seeing the step-by-step construction.

One nice feature is that he’s included a limit switch for automatically positioning the Z-axis when you first turn it on. It also uses a single 12 volt supply for all the motors, and the Arduino that acts as the brains. The 5 volts for the one servo motor is converted from 12 using an LM7805 voltage regulator. He’s also done a nice job packaging the Arduino, stepper motor driver boards, and the discrete components all onto a single custom surface mount PCB.

Wire straightener and feeder
Wire straightener and feeder

The bender isn’t without some issues though, such as that there’s no automatic method for giving it bending instructions. You can write code for the steps into an Arduino sketch, which is really just a lot of copy and paste, and he’s also provided a manual mode. In manual mode, you give it simple commands from a serial terminal. However, it would be only one step more to get those same commands from a file, or perhaps even convert from G-code or some other format.

Another issue is that the wire straightener puts too much tension on the wire, preventing the feeder from being able to pull the wire along. One solution is to feed it pre-straightened wire, not too much to ask for since it’s really the bending we’re after. But fixing this problem outright could be as simple as changing two parts. For the feeder, the wire is pulled between copper pipe and a flat steel bearing, and we can’t help wondering whether perhaps replacing them with a knurled cylinder and a grooved one would work as the people at [PENSA] did with their DIWire which we wrote about back in 2012. Sadly, the blog entries we linked to no longer work but a search shows that their instructable is still up if you want to check out their feeder parts.

As for the applications, we can think of sculpting, fractal antennas, tracks for marble machines, and really anything which could use a wireframe for its structure. Ideas anyone?

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Tiny Plotter Is Made Of Strings And Cardboard

If you’ve been hanging around Hackaday for any length of time, you’ve undoubtedly seen the work of [Niklas Roy]. A prolific maker of…everything, we’ve covered his projects for over a decade now. He’s one of an elite group of hackers who can say they’ve been around since Hackaday was still using black & white pictures. Yet sometimes projects fall through the cracks.

Thanks to a tip sent in from one of our beloved readers, we’re just now seeing this incredible cardboard plotter [Niklas] made for a workshop he ran at the University of Art and Design Offenbach several years ago. The fully manual machine is controlled with two rotary dials and a switch, and it even comes with a book that allows you to “program” it by dialing in specific sequences of numbers.

Not that it detracts from the project, but its worth mentioning that the “cardboard” [Niklas] used is what is known as Finnboard, a thin construction material made of wood pulp that looks similar to balsa sheets. The material is easy to work with and much stronger than what we’d traditionally think of as cardboard. Beyond the Finnboard, the plotter uses welding rods as axles and slide rails, with glue, tape, and string holding it all together.

The dials on the control panel correspond to the X and Y axes: turning the X axis dial moves the bed forward and backward, and the Y dial moves the pen left and right. The switch above the dial lowers and raises the pen so it comes into contact with the paper below. With coordination between these three inputs, the operator can either draw “freehand” or follow the sequences listed in the “Code Book” to recreate stored drawings and messages.

Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen somebody made a plotter out of cardboard. Though previous entries into this specific niche did use servos to move around.

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Faux Aircon Units, Made Entirely From 2D Cuts

2D design and part fabrication doesn’t limit one to a 2D finished product, and that’s well-demonstrated in these Faux Aircon Units [Martin Raynsford] created to help flesh out the cyberpunk-themed Null Sector at the recent 2018 Electromagnetic Field hacker camp in the UK. Null Sector is composed primarily of shipping containers and creative lighting and props, and these fake air conditioner units helped add to the utilitarian ambiance while also having the pleasant side effect of covering up the occasional shipping container logo. Adding to the effect was that the fan blades can spin freely in stray air currents; that plus a convincing rust effect made them a success.

Fan hubs, showing spots for fan blades to be glued. With the exception of embedded bearings, the entire hub (like the rest of the unit) is made from laser-cut MDF.

The units are made almost entirely from laser-cut MDF. The fan blades are cut from the waste pieces left over from the tri-pronged holes, and really showing off the “making 3D assemblies out of 2D materials” aspect are the fan hubs which are (with the exception of bearings) made from laser-cut pieces; a close-up of the hubs is shown here.

Capping off the project is some paint and the rusted appearance. How did [Martin] get such a convincing rust effect? By using real rust, as it turns out. Some cyanoacrylate glue force-cured with misted water for texture, followed by iron powder, then vinegar and hydrogen peroxide with a dash of salt provided the convincing effect. He was kind enough to document the fake rust process on his blog, complete with photos of each stage.

Null Sector showcased a range of creativity; it’s where this unusual headdress was spotted, a device that also showed off the benefits of careful assembly and design.

A Rotary Axis CNC Machine

There’s a certain class of parts that just can’t be made on a standard 3-axis mill, nor with a 3D printer or a lathe. These parts — weird screws, camshafts, strange gears, or simply a shaft with a keyway (or two) — can really only be made with a rotary axis on a CNC machine. Sure, you could buy a rotary axis for a Haas or Tormach for thousands of dollars, or you could build your own. That’s exactly what [Adam Zeloof] and [Matt Martone] did with their project at this year’s World Maker Faire in New York. It’s the Rotomill, a simple three-axis CNC machine, with a rotary axis, that just about anyone can build.

The design of the Rotomill uses a standard, off-the-shelf Makita rotary tool for the spindle, and uses leadscrews to move the X and Z axes around with NEMA 24 stepper motors. The A axis — the rotary bit — is driven through a worm gear, also powered by a NEMA 24. Right now this provides more than enough power to cut foam, plastic, and wood, and should be enough to cut aluminum. That last feat is as yet untested, but the design is open enough that a much more powerful spindle could be attached.

The software for this machine is a bit weird. For most CNC machines with a rotary axis, the A axis is treated as such — a rotary axis. For the Rotomill, [Adam] and [Matt] are generating G Code like it’s a normal Cartesian machine, only with one axis ‘wrapped’ around itself. This is all done through Autodesk HSM, and a properly configured Arduino running GRBL makes sense of all this arcane geometry.

It’s a great looking machine, and the guys behind it say it’s significantly less expensive than any other machine with a rotary axis. That’s to be expected, as it’s basically a five axis mill with two axes removed. Still, this entire project was built for about $2000, and some enterprising salvage and hacking could bring that price down a bit.

DrawBot Badge Represents the CNC World in Badge Design

Badges come in all shapes and sizes, but a badge that draws on a stack of Post-It notes is definitely a new one. The design uses three of the smallest, cheapest hobby servos reasonably available and has a drawing quality that creator [Bart Dring] describes as “adorably wiggly”. It all started when he decided that the CNC and mechanical design world needed to be better represented in the grassroots demo scene that is the badge world, and a small drawing machine that could be cheaply made from readily available components seemed just the ticket.

Two arms control the position of a pen, and a third motor lifts the assembly in order to raise or lower the pen to the drawing surface. Gravity does most of the work for pen pressure, so the badge needs to be hanging on a lanyard or on a tabletop in order to work. An ESP32 using [Bart]’s own port of Grbl does the work of motion control, and a small stack of Post-It notes serves as a writing surface. Without the 3D printed parts, [Bart] says the bill of materials clocks in somewhere under $12.

We’ve seen similar designs doing things like writing out the time with a UV LED, but a compact DrawBot on a badge is definitely a new twist and the fact that it creates a physical drawing that can be peeled off the stack also sets it apart from others in the badgelife scene.

Wood Shines in this SCARA Robotic Arm Project

[igarrido] has shared a project that’s been in the works for a long time now; a wooden desktop robotic arm, named Virk I. The wood is Australian Blackwood and looks gorgeous. [igarrido] is clear that it is a side project, but has decided to try producing a small run of eight units to try to gauge interest in the design. He has been busy cutting the parts and assembling in his spare time.

Besides the beautifully finished wood, some of the interesting elements include hollow rotary joints, which mean less cable clutter and a much tidier assembly. 3D printer drivers are a common go-to for CNC designs, and the Virk I is no different. The prototype is driven by a RAMPS 1.4 board, but [igarrido] explains that while this does the job for moving the joints, it’s not ideal. To be truly useful, a driver would need to have SCARA kinematic support, which he says that to his knowledge is something no open source 3D printer driver offers. Without such a driver, the software has no concept of how the joints physically relate to one another, which is needed to make unified and coherent movements. As a result, users must control motors and joints individually, instead of being able to direct the arm as a whole to move to specific coordinates. Still, Virk I might be what’s needed to get that development going. A video of some test movements is embedded below, showing how everything works so far.

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