All The Sticky Labels You Could Ever Need: No DRM, Just Masking Tape

Printable sticky labels are a marvelous innovation, but sadly also one beset by a variety of competing offerings, and more recently attempts by manufacturers to impose DRM on their media. Fortunately they don’t have to rely on expensive printers or proprietary rolls of stickies, as [michimartini] demonstrates with the masking tape plotter. It’s a tiny pen plotter that writes your label onto the tape.

At its heart is the popular grbl G-code to motion parser, and its mechanism uses the lead screw axis from a DVD drive. Not for this project simply another hacked-apart drive mechanism though, for it has a custom-designed carriage for the axis. It’s 3D printed, and to ensure the least friction possible for a pen using only its weight to keep contact with the tape it was heated up once assembled to ensure all parts had a chance to bed in. Meanwhile the tape roll forming the X axis is turned directly by a standard stepper motor.

We like this project a lot, and look forward to any refinements to the idea. Meanwhile, it’s not the first custom label printer we’ve shown you.

This Spherical Lamp’s Pieces Ship Flat, Thanks To Math

[Nervous System] sells a variety of unique products, and we really appreciate the effort they put into sharing elements of their design and manufacturing processes. This time, it’s details of the work that went into designing a luxury lamp shade that caught our eye.

Top: Finished lamp. Bottom: Partially-assembled.

The finished lamp shade is spherical, but is made entirely from flat-packed pieces of laser-cut wood that have been specifically designed to minimize distortion when assembled into a curved shape. The pieces themselves are reminiscent of puzzle cells; complex, interlocking cellular shapes found in many plants.

As usual, [Nervous System] applied a hefty dose of math and computational design to arrive at a solution. Each unique panel of the lamp is the result of a process that in part implements a technique called variation surface cutting for the shape of the pieces. They also provide a couple of nifty animations that illustrate generating both the piece boundaries as well as the hole patterns in each of the 18 unique pieces that make up each lamp.

As for making the pieces themselves, they are laser-cut from wood veneer, and assembly by the end user takes an hour or two. Watch a video overview, embedded just below under the page break.

We’re glad [Nervous System] takes the time to share details like this, just like the time they figured out the very best type of wood for laser-cutting their unique puzzles and didn’t keep it to themselves.

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The laser module shown cutting shapes out of a piece of cardboard that's lying on the CNC's work surface

Giant CNC Partners With Powerful Laser Diode

[Jeshua Lacock] from 3DTOPO owns a large-format CNC (4’x8′, or 1.2×2.4 m), that he strongly feels is lacking laser-cutting capabilities. The frame is there, and a 150 W CO2 laser tube has been sitting in a box for ages – what else could you need? Sadly, at such a scale, aligning the mirrors is a tough and finicky job – and misalignment can be literally blinding. After reading tales about cutters of such size going out of alignment when someone as much as walked nearby, he dropped the idea – and equipped the CNC head with a high-power laser diode module instead. Having done mirror adjustment on a few CO2 tube-equipped lasers, we can see where he’s coming from.

Typically, the laser modules you see bolted onto CNC heads are firmly under three watts, which is usually only enough for engraving. With a module that provides 5 watts of optical power, [Jeshua] can cut cardboard and thin plywood as well he tells us even 10 W optical power modules are available, just that he didn’t go for one. We reckon that 20 W effective power diodes are not that far into our future, which is getting very close to the potential of the blue box “40 W but actually 35 W but actually way less” K40 laser cutters we cherish. [Jeshua]’s cutter is not breaking speed limits, but it’s built on what’s already there, and the diode is comparatively inexpensive. Equipped with a small honeycomb surface and what seems to be air assist, it’s shown in the video cutting an ornamental piece out of cardboard!

We hackers have been equipping CNCs with laser diodes for a while, but on a way smaller scale and with less powerful diodes – this is definitely a step up! As a hacker, you should have at least some laser cutting options at your disposal, and this overview of CO2 cutters and their availability can get you started. We’ve also given you detailed breakdowns about different sides of laser cutting, be it the must-have of safety, or the nice-to-have of air assist.

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Blender screen with CAD drawing

CAD Sketcher, It’s Parametric CAD For Blender

It’s very early days for CAD Sketcher, a new parametric CAD add-on for Blender by [hlorus], but it looks very promising.

We do a lot of 3D work and like Blender as an environment. It’s always annoying that Blender doesn’t do parametric modeling, so we’re forced into a dedicated CAD package. Blending the two for that robot ocelot is always particularly annoying.

CAD Sketcher lets the user make a ‘sketch’, a 2D drawing. They then  constrain it, saying “this line is vertical, that line is parallel to this one”, until the sketch is fully defined. It’s a normal part of parametric modelling. This is powerful when your model needs refined over and over.

There’s an old adage, “Better a tool that does 90% of the job well than one that does 100% poorly”. For CAD systems, (and much other software), we’d suggest “Better a tool that does 90% of the job well and works with whatever does the other 10%”.

3D render of gaurd
Guard Drawn In CAD Sketcher And Blender

We tried a test part, and being in Blender’s universe showed its value. CAD Sketcher doesn’t do bevels and rounds yet, and probably won’t for a while. But Blender’s perfectly happy doing them.

It’s not going to put SolidWorks out of business any time soon, but it’s a very promising new development. We hope it gathers some community and encourage contributions.

We cover CAD frequently, like the recent advances with CadQuery  and the port of OpenSCAD to WASM.

[thanks paulvdh]

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No-Laser CNC Engraver Is Something New Under The Sun

Hooking up a laser to a CNC gantry isn’t exactly an Earth-shattering innovation, but it does make for a useful tool. Even a cheap diode laser mounted to an old 3D printer can do engraving, marking, or even light-duty cutting. But what about a laser engraver without the laser? Can that be of any use?

Apparently, the answer is yes, if you can harness the power of the sun. That’s what [Lucas] did with his solar-tracking CNC engraver, the build of which is shown in the video below. The idea is pretty simple — mount a decent-sized magnifying lens where the laser optics would normally go on a laser engraver, and point the thing at the sun. But as usual, the devil is in the details. The sun has a nasty habit of moving across the sky during the day, or at least appearing to, so [Lucas] has to add a couple of extra degrees of freedom to a regular X-Y CNC rig to track the sun. His tracking sensor is simplicity itself — four CdS photocells arranged with a pair of perpendicular shades, and an Arduino to drive the gimbals in the correct direction to keep all four sensors equally illuminated. He had some initial problems getting the jerkiness out of the control loop, but the tracker eventually kept the whole thing pointing right at the Sun.

So how does it work? Not bad, actually — [Lucas] managed to burn some pretty detailed designs into a piece of wood using just the sun. He mentions adding a shutter to douse the cutting beam to allow raster patterns, but even better might be a servo-controlled iris diaphragm to modulate beam intensity and control for varying sun conditions. He might also check out this solar engraver we covered previously for some more ideas, too.

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Micromachining With A Laser

[Breaking Taps] has a nice pulsed fiber laser and decided to try it to micromachine with silicon. You can see the results in the video below. Silicon absorbs the IR of the laser well, although the physical properties of silicon leave something to be desired. He also is still refining the process for steel, copper, and brass which might be a bit more practical.

The laser has very short duration pulses, but the pulses have a great deal of energy. This was experimental so some of the tests didn’t work very well, but some — like the gears — look great.

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2022 Sci-Fi Contest: A Friendly Wall Drawing Robot

Drawing on walls is fine for children, but adults tend to get bored quickly with such antics. Even more so when they realize who is responsible for cleaning up afterwards. Instead, consider delegating those duties to a friendly helper by the name of Fumik, as [engineer2you] has done.

Fumik, who looks like a cute little jellyfish, can draw pictures up to 5 meters wide and 3 meters high, making for a massive canvas. Powered by an Arduino Mega 2560 outfitted with a CNC shield, a pair of stepper motors drive pulleys with toothed belts to move Fumik to various positions along the wall. Another smaller stepper motor is used to drive the pen forwards and backwards as needed. Fumik can be programmed to trace out various designs in SVG format. These must be converted to code and programmed into the Arduino, at which point Fumik can begin work, drawing on the wall with its pen.

It’s a fun build, and based on photos shared by [engineer2you,] Fumik is quite able at drawing clean and neat designs without a lot of smudging or jagged lines. As a bonus, it’s easy to swap out the pen, so multicolored designs can be drawn in multiple passes.

We’ve seen other robot drawing builds before, too, like this capable portrait artist. Video after the break.

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