The Solid State Weather Station

Building personal weather stations has become easier now than ever before, thanks to all the improvements in sensors, electronics, and prototyping techniques. The availability of cheap networking modules allows us to make sure these IoT devices can transmit their information to public databases, thereby providing local communities with relevant weather data about their immediate surroundings.

[Manolis Nikiforakis] is attempting to build the Weather Pyramid — a completely solid-state, maintenance free, energy and communications autonomous weather sensing device, designed for mass scale deployment. Typically, a weather station has sensors for measuring temperature, pressure, humidity, wind speed and rainfall. While most of these parameters can be measured using solid-state sensors, getting wind speed, wind direction and rainfall numbers usually require some form of electro-mechanical devices.

The construction of such sensors is tricky and non-trivial. When planning to deploy in large numbers, you also need to ensure they are low-cost, easy to install and don’t require frequent maintenance. Eliminating all of these problems could result in more reliable, low-cost weather stations to be built, which can then be installed in large numbers at remote locations.

[Manolis] has some ideas on how he can solve these problems. For wind speed and direction, he plans to obtain readings from the accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass in an inertial sensor (IMU), possibly the MPU-9150. The plan is to track the motion of the IMU sensor as it swings freely from a tether like a pendulum. He has done some paper-napkin calculations and he seems confident that it will provide the desired results when he tests his prototype. Rainfall measurement will be done via capacitive sensing, using either a dedicated sensor such as the MPR121 or the built-in touch capability in the ESP32. The design and arrangement of the electrode tracks will be important to measure the rainfall correctly by sensing the drops. The size, shape and weight distribution of the enclosure where the sensors will be installed is going to be critical too since it will impact the range, resolution, and accuracy of the instrument. [Manolis] is working on several design ideas that he intends to try out before deciding if the whole weather station will be inside the swinging enclosure, or just the sensors.

If you have any feedback to offer before he proceeds further, let him know via the comments below.

3D Printering: When an STL File is Not Quite Right

STL files are everywhere. When there’s something to 3D print, it’s probably going to be an STL. Which, as long as the model is good just as it is, is no trouble at all. But sooner or later there will be a model that isn’t quite right in some way and suddenly project progress hits a snag.

When models interface with other physical things, those other components may not always be exactly as the designer expected. Being mindful about such potential inconsistencies during the design phase can help prevent problems, but it’s not always avoidable. The reason it’s a problem is because an STL file represents a solid model as a finished unit; it is not really intended to be rolled back into CAD programs for additional design changes.

STL files can be edited, but just like re-modeling a component from scratch, it can be a tricky process for those who don’t live and breathe this stuff. I’ll describe a few common issues related to STLs that can hold up getting that new project together, along with ways to deal with them. Thanks to 3D printing becoming much more commonplace, basic tools are within reach of even the least CAD-aware among us.

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3D Printing Air Quality Study

You’ll often hear about some study in the media and then — on examination — find it doesn’t really apply to your situation. Sure, substance X causes cancer in rats, but they ate 8 pounds of it a day for a decade. That’s why we were glad to see [Chuck] post a series of videos about 3D printing air quality based on his practical experience. You can see the summary video, below.

[Chuck] is quick to point out that he isn’t a doctor or even a chemist. He also admits the $100 meter from IGERESS he is using isn’t necessarily high-quality test gear. Still, the data is a good guideline and he did get repeatable results.

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Fail of the Week: 3D Printed Worm Gear Drive Project Unveils Invisible Flaw

All of us would love to bring our projects to life while spending less money doing so. Sometimes our bargain hunting pays off, sometimes not. Many of us would just shrug at a failure and move on, but that is not [Mark Rehorst]’s style. He tried to build a Z-axis drive for his 3D printer around an inexpensive worm gear from AliExpress. This project was doomed by a gear flaw invisible to the human eye, but he documented the experience so we could all follow along.

We’ve featured [Mark]’s projects for his ever-evolving printer before, because we love reading his well-documented upgrade adventures. He’s not shy about exploring ideas that run against 3D printer conventions, from using belts to drive the Z-axis to moving print cooling fan off the print head (with followup). And lucky for us, he’s not shy about document his failures alongside the successes.

He walks us through the project, starting from initial motivation, moving on to parts selection, and describes how he designed his gearbox parts to work around weaknesses inherent to 3D printing. After the gearbox was installed, the resulting print came out flawed. Each of the regularly spaced print bulge can be directly correlated to a single turn of the worm gear making it the prime suspect. Then, to verify this observation more rigorously, Z-axis movement was measured with an indicator and plotted against desired movement. If the problem was caused by a piece of debris or surface damage, that would create a sharp bump in the plot. The sinusoidal plot tells us the problem is more fundamental than that.

This particular worm gear provided enough lifting power to move the print bed by multiplying motor torque, but it also multiplied flaws rendering it unsuitable for precisely positioning a 3D printer’s Z-axis. [Mark] plans to revisit the idea when he could find a source for better worm gears, and when he does we’ll certainly have the chance to read what happens.

How to Build Anything Out of Aluminum Extrusion and 3D Printed Brackets

The real power of 3D printing is in infinite customization of parts. This becomes especially powerful when you combine 3D printing with existing materials. I have been developing a few simple tricks to make generic fasteners and printed connectors a perfect match for aluminum extrusion, via a novel twist or two on top of techniques you may already know.

Work long enough with 3D printers, and our ideas inevitably grow beyond our print volume. Depending on the nature of the project, it may be possible to divide into pieces then glue them together. But usually a larger project also places higher structural demands ill-suited to plastic.

Those of us lucky enough to have nice workshops can turn to woodworking, welding, or metal machining for larger projects. Whether you have that option or not, aluminum extrusion beams provide the structure we need to go bigger and to do it quickly. And as an added bonus, 3D printing can make using aluminum extrusion easier and cheaper.

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3D Printed Bicycle Tire Not Full of Hot Air

To show off its new TPU filament called PRO FLEX, BigRep GmbH posted a video showing a 3D printed bike tire that uses a flexible plastic structure instead of air. The video shows them driving the bike around Berlin.

According to the company, the filament will allow the creation of a large number of industrial objects not readily built with other types of plastic. Their release claims the material has high temperature resistance, low temperature impact resistance, and is highly durable. Applications include gear knobs, door handles, skateboard wheels, and other flexible parts that need to be durable.

The material has a Shore 98 A rating. By way of comparison, a shoe heel is typically about 80 on the same scale and an automobile tire is usually around 70 or so. The hard rubber wheels you find on shopping carts are about the same hardness rating as PRO FLEX.

Obviously, a bicycle tire is going to take a big printer. BigRep is the company that makes the BigRep One which has a large build volume. Even with a wide diameter tip, though, be prepared to wait. One of their case studies is entitled, “Large Architectural Model 3D Printed in Only 11 Days.” Large, in this case, is a 1:50 scale model of a villa. Not tiny, but still.

We’ve looked at other large printers in the past including 3DMonstr, and the Gigimaker. Of course, the latest trend is printers with a practically infinite build volume.

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3D Printing Electronics Direct to Body

Some argue that the original Star Trek series predicted the flip phone. Later installments of the franchise used little badges. But Babylon 5 had people talking into a link that stuck mysteriously to the back of their hand. This might turn out to be true if researchers at the University of Minnesota have their way. They’ve modified a common 3D printer to print electronic circuits directly to the skin, including the back of the hand, as you can see in the video below. There’s also a preview of an academic paper available, but you’ll have to pay for access to that, for now, unless you can find it on the gray market.

In addition, the techniques also allowed printing biologically compatible material directly on the skin wound of a mouse. The base printer was inexpensive, an Anycubic Delta Rostock that sells for about $300.

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