Karakuri Kaizen: Hacks For The Factory Floor

Anyone who has an interest and/or career in manufacturing would have heard of Kaizen, generally a concept to continuously improve your process everywhere. Under that huge umbrella is Karakuri Kaizen, encouraging workers on the factory floor to adopt a hacker mentality and improve their own work stations. It is right up our alley, manufacturer or not, making this overview by Automotive News an entertaining read.

Karakuri could be translated as “mechanism”, but implies something novel in the vein of English words gadgets, gizmos, or dare we say it: hacks. Karakuri has a history dating back to centuries-old wind-up automatons all the way to modern Rube Goldberg contraptions. When applied to modern manufacturing (as part of factory training) it encourages everyone to devise simple improvements. Each might only shave seconds off assembly time, but savings add up in due time.

Modern global manufacturing is very competitive and survival requires producing more efficiently than your competitors. While spotlights of attention may be focused on technology, automation, and construction of “alien dreadnoughts”, that focus risks neglecting gains found at a smaller and simpler scale. Kaizen means always searching for improvements, and the answer is not always more technology.

Several points in these articles asserted purely mechanical karakuri are far less expensive than automated solutions, by comparing price tags which are obviously for industrial automation equipment. We’d be curious to see if our favorite low cost tools — AVR, PIC, ESP32, and friends — would make future inroads in this area. We’ve certainly seen hacks for production at a much smaller scale.

Embedded below the break is a short video from Toyota showing off a few karakuri on their factory floor.

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Shoelace-Tying Robot With Only Two Motors

Many things that humans do are very difficult for machines. Case in point: tying shoelaces. Think of the intricate dance of fingers crossing over fingers that it takes to pass off a lace from one hand to the other. So when a team of five students from UC Davis got together and built a machine that got the job done with two hooks, some very clever gears, and two motors, we have to say that we’re impressed. Watch it in action on Youtube (also embedded below).

The two-motor constraint would seem at first to be a show-stopper, but now that we’ve watched the video about a hundred times, we’re pretty convinced that a sufficiently clever mechanical engineer could do virtually anything with two motors and enough gears. You see, the secret is that one motor is dedicated to moving a drive gear back and forth to multiple destinations, and the other motor provides the power.

This being Hackaday, I’m sure that some of you are saying “I could do that with one motor!” Consider that a challenge.

Meanwhile, if you need to see more gear-porn, check out this hummingbird automaton. Or for the miracles of cam-driven machines, check out [Fran Blanche]’s work with the Maillardet Automaton.

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Lasercut Gears – A Learning Experience

Lasercutters are fantastic tools: they’re highly useful for making flat things, or even flat things that you later bend! This makes them particularly well suited for making gears out of flat stock. [sharvfish] needed to get his hands dirty with producing some gears for his automaton, and decided to share what he learned in the process.

The gears in question are cut out of MDF board, which is readily usable on all but the feeblest lasercutters you’ll find in the average makerspace. The first problem faced was when producing gears with low tooth counts – depending on the exact geometry used, teeth with lower counts can tend to jam easily. For [sharvfish]’s gears, 6 teeth seems to be just a touch too small to work well. Other issues cropped up around the kerf of the cuts affecting the gear mesh and the use of pins to improve the coupling of the gears to the shaft, which [sharvfish] expands upon in the video. There’s also a cheeky cephalopod cameo, too.

It’s always interesting to see the unique challenges faced in the undertaking of a project; we could see six more lasercut projects this week, and we’d likely see six unique problems the builders faced as well. It’s a great insight into the build process and it’s great when makers share their journey as well as the finished product. Video after the break.

Wondering what lasercut gears can do for you? Check out this build that rotates an entire television.

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Let’s Bring Back the Age of Automatons

Long before the concept of A.I., as we know it today existed, humans started building machines that seemed to move and even think by a will of their own. For decades we have been building automatons, self-operating machines, designed to resemble humans and animals. Causing the designer to break down human and animal movements, behaviors, and even speech (by way of bellows and air tubes) into predetermined sequential actions.

[Greg Zumwalt] created what he calls a hummingbird themed automaton inspired by his wife’s love of watching hummingbirds gather near their home. His 3D printed and assembled hummingbird automaton moves almost as fluid as its organic counterpart. The design is simple yet created from an impressive number of 97 printed parts printed from 38 unique designs which he includes in his Instructable. Other than meticulous assembly design, the fluid motion lends itself to a process of test fitting, trimming, and sanding all printed parts. Plus adding petroleum jelly as lubrication to the build’s moving parts. Along with the print files, [Greg Zumwalt] also gives you the print settings needed to recreate this precision build and a parts list accounting for all the multiple prints needed for each design. Continue reading “Let’s Bring Back the Age of Automatons”

The Most Useless Book Scanner

How do artificial intelligences get so intelligent? The same way we do, they get a library card and head on over to read up on their favorite topics. Or at least that’s the joke that [Jakob Werner] is playing with in his automaton art piece, “A Machine Learning” (Google translated here).

Simulating a reading machine, a pair of eyeballs on stalks scan left-right and slowly work their way down the page as another arm swings around and flips to the next one. It’s all done with hand-crafted wooden gears, in contrast to the high-tech subject matter. It’s an art piece, and you can tell that [Jakob] has paid attention to how it looks. (The all-wooden rollers are sweet.) But it’s also a “useless machine” with a punch-line.

Is it a Turing test? How can we tell that the machine isn’t reading? What about “real” AIs? Are they learning or do they just seem to be? OK, Google’s DeepMind is made of silicon and electricity instead of wood, but does that actually change anything? It’s art, so you get license to think crazy thoughts like this.

We’ve covered a few, less conceptual, useless machines here. Here is one of our favorite. Don’t hesitate to peruse them all.

Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum

Don’t call it an arcade. There are arcade-like things about it… like dance-based video games, Skee-ball, and tickets — oh so many tickets. But Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum is a one-of-a-kind that you need to visit next time you’re in the North suburbs of Detroit, Michigan.

[Marvin] was there in person, as he is many days. He talked with us for a few minutes and we’ve folded his interview, along with footage of many of the attractions, into the video above.

He’s been collecting for more than three decades. The attractions are packed into every bit of floor space, spilling up onto the walls, and hanging from every spot in the ceiling. There are true antiques from both home and abroad that could be referred to as automatons, rows of fortune tellers, a track of large airplane models that make a loop around the establishment when fed a quarter, and much more.

Some of the attractions were build for him, like the robot band you can make out behind [Marvin] during the interview. It is a MIDI-based build that allows songs to be selected from a touchscreen. Soon to be on exhibit is a Tesla-coil-based offering which [Marvin] commissioned after taking second place to [Nicolai Tesla] on a list of oddest museums.

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Hackaday Links: March 23, 2014

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[Jack] sent us a link to a Metropolitan Museum of Art video showing off a mechanized desk that plays music and has a ton of hidden compartments. Furniture makers of yore built hidden compartments in furniture all the time. After all, there weren’t credit cards back in the day and you had to keep important documents, cash, and everything else on hand. What strikes us is that this mates woodworking of the highest caliber with precision mechanics.

Before you get rid of that old box spring, ask yourself if you need to store dimensional goods. If you rip off the outer fabric, the network of wire inside makes a reasonable lumber rack.

And since we’re talking trash, we enjoyed seeing this water bottle wire spool minder which [Daniel] sent our way.

You know those portable DVD players you can hang from a headrest to entertain the kids on long trips? Well [John’s] broke, and like chasing the dragon, once you’re hooked on watching videos during car trips there’s no going back. Luckily he was able to throw a Raspberry Pi at the problem. He now has a portable OpenElec XBMC device controlled via a smartphone.

[Jaromir] posted some breakout board footprints that you can use. It’s not the footprints that impress us, but the idea of using them to fill up board space when spinning a new PCB. [Thanks Sarah]

LEGO Gachapon. Need we say more? Okay, truth be told we had to look it up too; Wikipedia says it’s spelled Gashapon. These are coin-operated machines that dispense toys inside of plastic capsules. This one’s made of LEGO and it’s awesome.

[Mikhail] actually built his own ballast resistors for some HeNe laser tubes. This is a bit easier than it might sound at first, as they are much lower power than the tubes used in cutters. But none-the-less an interesting, and successful, experiment.