Automated Syrup System is Sweet Sweet Madness

Here at Hackaday we are big fans of the TV show, “How It’s Made”. It’s not much of a stretch to assume that, as somebody who is currently reading this site, you’ve probably seen it yourself. While it’s always interesting to see the behind the scenes process to create everyday products, one of the most fascinating aspects of the show is seeing how hard it is to make things. Seriously, it’s enough to make you wonder how companies are turning a profit on some of these products when you see just how much technology and manual work is required to produce them.

That’s precisely the feeling we got when browsing through this absolutely incredible overview of how [HDC3] makes his maple syrup. If that’s not a sentence you ever thought you’d see on Hackaday, you aren’t alone. But this isn’t a rusty old pail hanging off of a tap, this is a high-tech automated system that’s capable of draining 100’s of gallons of sap from whole groves of trees. We’ll never look at a bottle of syrup in the store the same away again.

It all starts with hundreds of tiny taps that are drilled into the trees and connected to a network of flexible hoses. The plumbing arrangement is so complex that, in certain, areas high tension support wires are necessary to hold up the weight of the hoses and their sweet contents. The main hose leads to an Arduino-powered collection station which maintains a 100 kPa (29 inHg) vacuum throughout the entire system.

The sap is temporarily held in a 250 gallon container, but at this point it’s still just that: sap. It needs to be refined into something suitable for putting on your pancakes. The first step of that process utilizes a reverse osmosis filtration system to pull the water out of the sap and increase its sugar concentration. [HDC3] says the filtration system is built from eBay scores and parts from the home improvement store, and it certainly looks the part of something that would be under a kitchen sink. This system is able to increase the sugar concentration of the sap from around 2% as it comes out of the trees to 8%. But it’s still a far way off from being ready to use.

Interestingly enough, the last steps of the process are about as old-school as they come. The semi-concentrated sap is placed in a long low metal pan, and heated over a wood fire to drive off more of the water. This process continues until the sap is roughly 60% sugar, at which point it is filtered and moved into the house to finish boiling on the stove.

All told, the syrup is boiled for eight hours to bring its sugar content up to 66%. Even with the improvements [HDC3] has made to the system, he reveals that all this hard work only results in slightly more than a half-gallon of final syrup. Talk about dedication.

It probably comes as no surprise that this is the first time Hackaday has ever run a story about producing maple syrup. However we’ve seen a number of automated beer brewing systems that seem to have been tackled with similar zeal. There’s probably a conclusion to be drawn there about the average hacker’s diet, but that’s a bit outside our wheelhouse.

[via /r/DIY]

Printed Adapter Teaches an Old Ninja New Tricks

Do you like change for the sake of change? Are you incapable of leaving something in a known and working state, and would rather fiddle endlessly with it? Are you unconcerned about introducing arbitrary compatibility issues into your seemingly straight-forward product line? If you answered “Yes” to any of those questions, have we got the job for you! You can become a product engineer, and spend your days confounding customers who labor under the unrealistic expectation that a product they purchased in the past would still work with seemingly identical accessories offered by the same company a few years down the line. If interested please report to the recruitment office, located in the darkest depths of Hell.

A 2D representation of the adapter in Fusion 360

Until the world is rid of arbitrary limitations in consumer hardware, we’ll keep chronicling the exploits of brave warriors like [Alex Whittemore], who take such matters into their own hands. When he realized that the blades for his newer model Ninja food processor didn’t work on the older motor simply because the spline was a different size, he set out to design and print an adapter to re-unify the Ninja product line.

[Alex] tried taking a picture of the spline and importing that into Fusion 360, but in the end found it was more trouble than it was worth. As is the case with many printed part success stories, he ended up spending some intimate time with a pair of calipers to get the design where he wanted it. Once broken down into its core geometric components (a group of cylinders interconnected with arches), it didn’t take as long as he feared. In the end the adapter may come out a bit tighter than necessary depending on the printer, but that’s nothing a few swift whacks with a rubber mallet can’t fix.

This project is a perfect example of a hack that would be much harder (but not impossible) without having access to a 3D printer. While you could create this spline adapter by other means, we certainly wouldn’t want to. Especially if you’re trying to make more than one of them. Small runs of highly-specialized objects is where 3D printing really shines.

This is an entry in Hackaday’s

Repairs You Can Print contest

The twenty best projects will receive $100 in Tindie credit, and for the best projects by a Student or Organization, we’ve got two brand-new Prusa i3 MK3 printers. With a printer like that, you’ll be breaking stuff around the house just to have an excuse to make replacement parts.


Build an Excellent Coffee Roaster With a Satisfyingly Low Price Tag

There’s a lot of mysticism around coffee roasting, but in the end it couldn’t be simpler. Take a bunch of beans, heat them up evenly, and stop before they get burned. The rest is details.

And the same goes for coffee roasters. The most primitive roasting technique involves stirring the beans in a pan or wok to keep them from scorching on the bottom. This works great, but it doesn’t scale. Industrial drum roasters heat a rotating drum with ridges on the inside like a cement mixer to keep the beans in constant motion while they pass over a gas fire. Fluidized-bed roasters use a strong stream of heated air to whirl the beans around while roasting them evenly. But the bottom line is that a coffee roaster needs to agitate the beans over a controllable heat source so that they roast as evenly as possible.

My DIY coffee roaster gave up the ghost a few days ago and I immediately ordered the essential replacement part, a hot air popcorn popper, to avert a true crisis: no coffee! While I was rebuilding, I thought I’d take some pictures and share what I know about the subject. So if you’re interested in roasting coffee, making a popcorn popper into a roaster, or even just taking an inside look at a thoroughly value-engineered kitchen machine, read on!

Continue reading “Build an Excellent Coffee Roaster With a Satisfyingly Low Price Tag”

BeefBot: Your Robotic Grill Master

Have you ever been too busy to attend to the proper cooking of a steak? Well, lament no more, and warn your cardiologist. A trio of students from Cornell University have designed and built the steak-grilling BeefBot to make your delicious dinner dreams a reality.

[Jonah Mittler], [Kelsey Nedd], and [Martin Herrera] — electrical and computer engineering students — are the ones you should thank for this robot-chef. It works as follows: after skewering the steak onto the robot’s prongs, BeefBot lowers it onto the grill and monitors the internal temperature in a way that only the well-seasoned grillmaster can replicate. Once a set temperature is reached, the steak is flipped — sorry, no crosshatch grillmarks here — and cooked until a desired doneness. A small screen displays the temperature if you want to babysit BeefBot — some manual adjustment may be needed after the steak flip to ensure it is cooking evenly — but it is otherwise a hands-off affair. If you don’t mind salivating over your screen, check out the project demonstration after the break.

At first glance you might think this a YouTube stunt, but this is real science. The writeup is exquisite, from the design and fabrication, to the math behind temperature calibration and regulation. Kudos to the hungry Cornell students who slaved over a hot griddle bringing this one to life!

Continue reading “BeefBot: Your Robotic Grill Master”

An Automated Ice Cream Topper For The Ultimate In Zero Effort Desserts

It’s a highly personal facet of the eating experience, the choice of topping applied to your frozen dessert. Everybody has their own preferences when it comes to whipped cream, sprinkles, and chocolate syrup. Should the maintenance of those preferences become a chore, there is a machine for that, and it comes courtesy of [Kristen Vilcans] and [Ramita Pinsuwannakub] in the form of their Cornell University project as students of [Bruce Land]. Their Automated Ice Cream Topper holds profiles for each registered user, and dispenses whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and candy sprinkles onto ice cream at the simple push of a button.

The hardware seems simple enough until you appreciate the many iterations used to ensure that it works smoothly. The bowl of ice cream sits on a motorised turntable, and a can of whipped cream is suspended above it upon rails made from kebab skewers. A servo and lever operates the can to release the cream.  Meanwhile the sprinkles come from an inverted spice jar with a motorised disc to momentary align a hole with the jar’s spout, and the chocolate syrup comes courtesy of an air pump and some plastic tubing. The whole is controlled from a PIC32 microcontroller.

It is refreshing to see that such projects do not have to tackle especially high-tech problems to be extremely successful. We could all dispense our own toppings, but now we know there’s s machine for the task, who wouldn’t want to give it a try!

If ice cream student projects are your thing, perhaps you’d like a 3D printer?

Cocktail Machine Mixes Perfect Drinks Every Time

For many of us. the holiday season is coming up and that means hosting parties and mixing drinks, which can get tiresome. [GreatScott] has come up with a solution, what he calls a crude cocktail mixing machine. But don’t be fooled — it may look crude on the surface, and vibrate a bit while working, but the mechanism is plenty sound and functional.

The machine can mix three different liquids and does so using three peristaltic pumps. In typical [GreatScott] style, while he tears apart the pumps to replace the tubes, he gives us a good glimpse of just how they work. Using a knob and LCD screen, you can enter any quantity you want for the three liquids, though you’ll have to edit the Arduino code if you want to change the liquids’ names.

Load cell
Load cell

How does the machine know when to stop pumping a certain liquid? Each pump is rated for a specific quantity per second, though he tests this for each liquid anyway and finds a slight variation which he accounts for in the code. After the machine turns a pump on, a load cell located under the glass tells it when liquid has started arriving at the glass. A simple calculation based on the pump’s quantity per second and the desired quantity tells it how long to leave the pump on for. When the times up, it stops the pump. The result is a machine that’s sure to be a centerpiece for any hacker-filled party. Check out his build and the pump in action in the video below.

Continue reading “Cocktail Machine Mixes Perfect Drinks Every Time”

Refinishing A Vintage KitchenAid Mixer

If you know anyone who is serious about baking, there’s a good chance you’ve seen one of these classic KitchenAid mixers. Built to last, they are often handed down generation to generation (or at least, when a newer model comes out), which is how [Kaitlin Flannery] received hers. While it didn’t look too bad considering its long life and the fact it’s been through a motor replacement already, she decided to spruce it up a bit by stripping it down and repainting the whole machine.

Sanding between coats of paint.

These KitchenAid mixers are solidly built and look highly serviceable, it’s refreshing to see a teardown that doesn’t involve any finicky plastic clips or glue. A standard philips screwdriver gets you inside the case, and a couple more screws allow the trim pieces to be removed.

Most of the work [Kaitlin] does is not completely unlike what you might have to do if you wanted to respray the fender of your car. You take off as much extra hardware as your patience allows, put painters tape over everything you want to keep over-spray off of, and then go to town.

To get the smooth metallic finish that you’d expect on a kitchen appliance, [Kaitlin] sands with 220 paper between the coats of hardware store Rust-Oleum. Generally we’d advise switching over to wet sanding at a higher grit once a few coats of paint have been laid down, but we can’t argue with the final results [Kailtin] got. The last coat is followed up with a clear enamel, which will help protect the finish from scratches; very important for a kitchen appliance.

[Kaitlin] does mention that she mistakenly taped off a bit more than she should have, and there’s still some of the original color visible on the rear of the machine. But beyond that, the finish looks fantastic, and with the new motor installed it looks like this machine is going to stick around long enough to get handed down a second time at least.

Hackaday has regrettably made few inroads into the kitchen as of late, one might get the impression that there isn’t a whole lot of overlap between the workbench and the counter-top. If you’ve got something you’ve made or remade sitting in your kitchen as you read this, by all means let us know.