A Masterpiece, But Our Maestro Is A CNC Machine

Sometimes we manage to miss projects when they first appear, only to have the joy of discovering them a while later. So it is with [John Opsahl]’s Project Convert To Paint, a CNC painting ‘bot that takes a bitmap image and paints it on canvas as a fine artist would, with a real brush, and paints.

It was first created for the 2017 robotart.org competition, and takes the form of a fairly standard CNC gantry machine. It departs from the norm in its chuck however, as it has what is described as a universal artist chuck, capable of holding a variety of artistic implements. The images are converted from bitmap to vector format, and thence to gcode with the help of a bit of custom Python code.

He’s at pains to say that simply because an image can be converted to a paintable format does not mean that it will produce a good picture. But some of the results are rather impressive, delivering anything from a pointilist effect to a broader brush stroke. We can see that with a bit of experience in the processing it would be possible to create a veritable gallery of masterpieces.

We may have missed this one the first time, but we did catch another drawbot from the same competition.

Smoothieboard Gets An Ambitious Update For V2

If you’ve been reading Hackaday for awhile, there’s an excellent chance you’ve seen a project or two powered by the Smoothieboard. The open source controller took Kickstarter by storm in 2013, promising to be the last word in CNC thanks to its powerful 32-bit ARM processor. Since then we’ve seen it put to use in not only the obvious applications like 3D printers and laser cutters, but also for robotic arms and pick-and-place machines. If it moves, there’s a good chance you can control it with the Smoothieboard.

But after six years on the market, the team behind this motion control powerhouse has decided it’s time to freshen things up. The Kickstarter for the Smoothieboard v2 has recently gone live and, perhaps unsurprisingly, already blown past its funding goal. Rather than simply delivering an upgraded Smoothieboard, the team has also put together a couple “spin-offs” targeting different use cases. If Smoothie v1 was King of CNC boards, then v2 is aiming to be the Royal Family.

Smoothieboard v2-Prime with breakouts

The direct successor to the original board is called v2-Prime, and it’s everything you’d expect in an update like this. Faster processor, more RAM, more flash, and improved stepper drivers. There’s also available GPIO expansion ports to connect various breakout boards, and even a header for you to plug in a Raspberry Pi. If you’re looking to upgrade your existing Smoothieboard machines to the latest and greatest, the Prime is probably what you’re after.

Then there’s the v2-Mini, designed to be as inexpensive as possible while still delivering on the Smoothieboard experience. The Mini has the same basic hardware specs as the Prime, but uses lower-end stepper drivers and deletes some of the protection features found on the more expensive model. For a basic 3D printer or laser cutter, the Mini and its projected $80 price point will be a very compelling option.

In the other extreme we have the v2-Pro, which is intended to be an experimenter’s dream come true. It features more stepper drivers, expansion ports, and even an integrated FPGA. Realistically, this board probably won’t be nearly as popular as the other two versions, but the fact that they’ve even produced it shows how committed the team is to pushing the envelope of open source motion control.

Our coverage of the original Smoothieboard campaign back in 2013 saw some very strong community response, with comments ranging from excited to dismissive. Six years later, we think the team behind the Smoothieboard has earned a position of respect among hackers, and we’re very excited to see where this next generation of hardware leads.

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In The Fast Moving World Of CNC, This Restored Router Is An Antique

Large machine tools are often built to last a very long time, so it is not uncommon to find a lathe made in the 19th century still providing faithful service. The fundamental job of a lathe has not changed significantly in the intervening years, even though a modern lathe will have more features than its hundred-year-old equivalent.

This is not the case for CNC machine tools. When computer numerical control was wedded with old iron machine tools, the control hardware was doomed to quickly become antique or vintage. From the user interfaces to the control circuitry, in the world of electronics new features quickly become obsolete. [Evan] has a ShopBot CNC wood router from the mid 1990s that he describes as an antique, and his tale of its restoration is both a fascinating look at the changes in small-scale CNC control over two decades as well as something of a primer for anyone considering a similar upgrade.

The controller is a pair of beige-box PC cases that scream “I love the 90’s!”. One contains a socket-7 PC running Windows 95, and the other houses the ShopBot controller; an 80c32 dev board with ShopBot firmware, coupled to a set of motor controller boards, which unlike today’s controllers expect raw quadrature inputs. His aim was to replace the vintage hardware with a modern alternative. An Arduino Mega running grbl to talks to the ShopBot controllers by way of a small piece of electronics to condition quadrature data from the step and direction lines it provided. The result may not be as good as a router from 2019, but it did save this aging tool from retirement.

CNC Machine Rolls Up An Axis To Machine PVC Pipe

Whether it’s wood, metal, plastic, or otherwise, when it comes to obtaining materials for your builds, you have two choices: buy new stock, or scrounge what you can. Fresh virgin materials are often easier to work with, but it’s satisfying to get useful stock from unexpected sources.

This CNC router for PVC pipe is a great example of harvesting materials from an unusual source. [Christophe Machet] undertook his “Pipeline Project” specifically to explore what can be made from large-diameter PVC pipe, of the type commonly used for sewers and other drains. It’s basically a standard – albeit large-format – three-axis CNC router with one axis wrapped into a cylinder. The pipe is slipped around a sacrificial mandrel and loaded into the machine, where it rotates under what looks like a piece of truss from an antenna tower. The spindle seems a bit small, but it obviously gets the job done; luckily the truss has the strength and stiffness to carry a much bigger spindle if that becomes necessary in the future.

The video below shows the machine carving up parts for some lovely chairs. [Christophe] tells us that some manual post-forming with a heat gun is required for features like the arms of the chairs, but we could see automating that step too. We like the look of the pieces that come off this machine, and how [Christophe] saw a way to adapt one axis for cylindrical work. He submitted this project for the 2019 Hackaday Prize; have you submitted your entry yet?

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A Better Embroidery Machine, With 3D Printing And Common Parts

In concept, an everyday sewing machine could make embroidery a snap: the operator would move the fabric around in any direction they wish while the sewing machine would take care of slapping down stitches of colored thread to create designs and filled areas. In practice though, getting good results in this way is quite a bit more complex. To aid and automate this process, [sausagePaws] has been using CNC to take care of all the necessary motion control. The result is the DIY Embroidery Machine V2 which leverages 3D printed parts and common components such as an Arduino and stepper drivers for an economical DIY solution.

It’s not shown in the photo here, but we particularly like the 3D printed sockets that are screwed into the tabletop. These hold the sewing machine’s “feet”, and allow it to be treated like a modular component that can easily be removed and used normally when needed.

The system consists of a UI running on an Android tablet, communicating over Bluetooth to an Arduino. The Arduino controls the gantry which moves the hoop (a frame that holds a section of fabric taut while it is being embroidered), while the sewing machine lays down the stitches.

[sausagePaws]’s first version worked well, but this new design really takes advantage of 3D printing as well as the increased availability of cheap and effective CNC components. It’s still a work in progress that is a bit light on design details, but you can see it all in action in the video embedded below.

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Color Your World With This CNC Painting Robot

Let’s say you’ve watched a few episodes of “The Joy of Painting” and you want your inner [Bob Ross] to break free. You get the requisite supplies for oil painting – don’t forget the alizarin crimson! – and start to apply paint to canvas, only to find your happy little trees are not so happy, and this whole painting thing is harder than it looks.

[Saint Bob] would certainly encourage you to stick with it, but if you have not the patience, a CNC painting robot might be a thing to build. The idea behind [John Opsahl]’s “If Then Paint” is not so much to be creative, but to replicate digital images in paint. Currently in the proof-of-concept phase, If Then Paint appears to have two main components: the paint management system, with syringe pumps to squeeze out different paints to achieve just the right color, and the applicator itself, a formidable six-axis device that supports tool changes by using different brushes chucked up into separate hand drill chucks. The extra axes at the head will allow control of how the brush is presented to the canvas, and also allow for cleaning the brush between colors. The videos below show two of the many ways [John] is exploring to clean the brushes, but sadly neither is as exciting as the correct [Bob Ross] method.

It looks like If Then Paint has a ways to go yet, but we’re impressed by some of the painting it has produced already. This is just the kind of project we like to see in the 2019 Hackaday Prize – thought out, great documentation, and a lot of fun.

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Lack Of Space Is No Longer An Excuse For Not Having A Pen Plotter

Pen plotters, those mechanical X-Y drawing machines that have in many cases been superseded by inkjet and other printer technologies, exert a fascination from a section of our community. Both analogue and digital machines are brought out of retirement for some impressive graphical effects, and we suspect that more than one of you wishes you had the space for one in your lives.

The good news is that you now no longer need room for a hefty piece of 1970s instrumentation, because the ever-inventive [Bart Dring] has produced a tiny 3D-printed plotter with an ESP32 at its heart. The ESP runs his ESP32 port of the Grbl firmware, and can handle a G-code file placed wirelessly upon the controller’s SD card.

The mechanism is particularly clever, using a single belt for both X and Y axes. The pen lift Z axis is a hinged design rather than a linear one, with a hobby servo doing the lifting. The hinge bearings are placed as close as possible to the paper surface to achieve an approximation to a vertical lift. You can see the machine in action in the video below the break, drawing its own self-portrait.

If you are a long-time reader you will recognise [Bart]’s work, he has appeared here quite a few times. His coaster-cutting machine and his CNC plotter badge are particularly memorable.

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