When The Right Tool Is Wrong

I’m a firm believer in using the right tool for the job. And one of the most fantastic things about open-source software tools is that nothing stops you from trying them all. For instance, I’ve been going back and forth between a couple, maybe three, CAD/CAM tools over the past few weeks. They each have their strengths and weaknesses, and so if I’m doing a simpler job, I use the simpler software, because it’s quicker and, well, simpler. But I’ve got to cut it out, at least for a while, and I’ll tell you why.

The first of the packages is FreeCAD, and it’s an extremely capable piece of CAD/CAM software. It can do everything, or so it seems. But it’s got a long shallow learning curve, and I’m only about halfway up. I’m at the stage where I should be hammering out simple “hello world” parts for practice. I say, I should be.

Fortunately/unfortunately, some Hackaday readers introduced me to KrabzCAM through the comments. It’s significantly less feature-full than FreeCAD, but it gets the job of turning your wife’s sketches of bunnies into Easter decorations done in a jiffy. For simple stuff like that, it’s a nice simple tool, and is the perfect fit for 2D CAM jobs. It’s got some other nice features, and it handles laser engraving nicely as well. And that’s the problem.

Doing the simple stuff with KrabzCAM means that when I do finally turn back to FreeCAD, I’m working on a more challenging project — using techniques that I’m not necessarily up to speed on. So I’ll put the time in, but find myself still stumbling over the introductory “hello world” stuff like navigation and project setup.

I know — #first-world-hacker-problems. “Poor Elliot has access to too many useful tools, with strengths that make them fit different jobs!” And honestly, I’m stoked to have so many good options — that wasn’t the case five years ago. But in this case, using the right tool for the job is wrong for me learning the other tool.

On reflection, this is related to the never-try-anything-new-because-your-current-tools-work-just-fine problem. And the solution to that one is to simply bite the bullet and stick it out with FreeCAD until I get proficient. But KrabzCAM works so well for those small 2D jobs…

A hacker’s life is hard.

Motorcycle Needs Custom Latching Switches For Turn Signals

While modern cars have been getting all kinds of fancy features like touch screens, Bluetooth, crumple zones, and steering wheel controls, plenty of motorcycles have remained firmly in the past. Some might have extra options like a fuel gauge or even ABS if you’re willing to spend extra, but a good percentage of them have the bare minimum equipment required by law. That equipment is outdated and ripe for some improvements too, like this ergonomic custom turn signal switch built with custom latching switches.

Since motorcycle turn signals don’t self-cancel like car signals the rider has to cancel it themselves, usually by pushing an inconveniently tiny button. This assembly consists of four separate switches, two of which control the left and right turn signals. Since both can’t be on at the same time, they include circuitry that can detect their position and a small motor that can physically de-latch them if the other one is pressed. The entire assembly is 3D printed, including the latching mechanism, and they are tied together with a small microcontroller for the controls.

The truly impressive part of this build is the miniaturization, since all four buttons have to be reached with the thumb without removing the hand from the handlebar. The tiny circuitry and mechanical cam for latching are impressive and worth watching the video for. And, if you need more ergonomic improvements for your motorcycle there are also some options for cruise control as well, another feature often lacking in motorcycles.

Continue reading “Motorcycle Needs Custom Latching Switches For Turn Signals”

Open Source CAM Software In The Browser

3D printers, desktop CNC mills/routers, and laser cutters have made a massive difference in the level of projects the average hacker can tackle. Of course, these machines would never have seen this level of adoption if you had to manually write G-code, so CAM software had a big part to play. Recently we found out about an open-source browser-based CAM pack created by [Stewert Allen] named Kiri:Moto, which can generate G-code for all your desktop CNC platforms.

To get it out of the way, Kiri:Moto does not run in the cloud. Everything happens client-side, in your browser. There are performance trade-offs with this approach, but it does have the inherent advantages of being cross-platform and not requiring any installation. You can click the link above and start generating tool paths within seconds, which is great for trying it out. In the machine setup section you can choose CNC mill, laser cutter, FDM printer, or SLA printer. The features for CNC should be perfect for 90% of your desktop CNC needs. The interface is intuitive, even if you don’t have any previous CAM experience. See the video after the break for a complete breakdown of the features, complete with timestamp for the different sections.

All the required features for laser cutting are present, and it supports a drag knife. If you want to build an assembly from layers of laser-cut parts, Kiri:Moto can automatically slice the 3D model and nest the 2D parts on the platform. The slicer for 3D printing is functional, but probably won’t be replacing our regular slicer soon. It places heavy emphasis on manually adding supports, and belt printers like the Ender CR30 are already supported.

Kiri:Moto is being actively improved, and it looks as though [Stewart] is very responsive to community inputs. The complete source code is available on GitHub, and you can run an instance on your local machine if you prefer to do so. Continue reading “Open Source CAM Software In The Browser”

Print-in-Place Connectors Aim To Make Wiring Easier

One thing some of us here in the United States have always been jealous of is the WAGO connectors that seem so common in electrical wiring everywhere else in the world. We often wonder why the electrical trades here haven’t adopted them more widely — after all, they’re faster to use than traditional wire nuts, and time is money on the job site.

Wago 221 compact lever connector via the Wago YouTube channel

This print-in-place electrical connector is inspired by the WAGO connectors, specifically their Lever Nut series. We’ll be clear right up front that [Tomáš “Harvie” Mudruňka’s] connector is more of an homage to the commercially available units, and should not be used for critical applications. Plus, as a 3D-printed part, it would be hard to compete with something optimized to be manufactured in the millions. But the idea is pretty slick. The print-in-place part has a vaguely heart-shaped cage with a lever arm trapped inside it.

After printing and freeing the lever arm, a small piece of 1.3-mm (16 AWG) solid copper wire is inserted into a groove. The wire acts as a busbar against which the lever arm squeezes conductors. The lever cams into a groove on the opposite wall of the cage, making a strong physical and electrical connection. The video below shows the connectors being built and tested.

We love the combination of print-in-place, compliant mechanisms, and composite construction on display here. It reminds us a bit of these printable SMD tape tamers, or this print-in-place engine benchmark.

Continue reading “Print-in-Place Connectors Aim To Make Wiring Easier”

Autodesk Blinks, Keeps STEP File Export In Free Version Of Fusion 360

Good news, Fusion 360 fans — Autodesk just announced that they won’t be removing support for STEP file exports for personal use licensees of the popular CAD/CAM platform after all.

As we noted last week, Autodesk had announced major changes to the free-to-use license for Fusion 360. Most of the changes, like the elimination of simulations, rolling back of some CAM features, and removal of generative design tools didn’t amount to major workflow disruptions for many hobbyists who have embraced the platform. But the loss of certain export formats, most notably STEP files, was a bone of contention and the topic of heated discussion in the makerverse. Autodesk summed up the situation succinctly in their announcement, stating that the reversal was due to “unintended consequences for the hobbyist community.”

While this is great news, bear in mind that the other changes to the personal use license are still scheduled to go into effect on October 1, while the planned change to limit the number of active projects will go into effect in January 2021. So while Fusion 360 personal use licensees will still have STEP files, the loss of other export file formats like IGES and SAT are still planned.

Autodesk Announces Major Changes To Fusion 360 Personal Use License Terms

Change is inevitable, and a part of life. But we’re told that nobody likes change. So logically, it seems we’ve proved nobody likes life. QED.

That may be a reach, but judging by the reaction of the Fusion 360 community to the announced changes to the personal use license, they’re pretty much hating life right now. The clear message from Autodesk is that Fusion 360 — the widely used suite of CAD and CAM software — will still offer a free-to-use non-commercial license for design and manufacturing work, with the inclusion of a few very big “buts” that may be deal-breakers for some people. The changes include:

  • Project storage is limited to 10 active and editable documents
  • Exports are now limited to a small number of file types. Thankfully this still includes STL files but alas, DXF, DWG, PDF exports are all gone
  • Perhaps most importantly to the makerverse, STEP, SAT, and IGES file types can no longer be exported, the most common files for those who want to edit a design using different software.
  • 2D drawings can now only be single sheet, and can only be printed or plotted
  • Rendering can now only be done locally, so leveraging cloud-based rendering is no longer possible
  • CAM support has been drastically cut back: no more multi-axis milling, probing, automatic tool changes, or rapid feeds, but support for 2, 2.5, and 3 axis remains
  • All support for simulation, generative design, and custom extensions has been removed

Most of these changes go into effect October 1, with the exception of the limit on active project files which goes into effect in January of 2021. We’d say that users of Fusion 360’s free personal use license would best be advised to export everything they might ever think they need design files for immediately — if you discover you need to export them in the future, you’ll need one of the other licenses to do so.

To be fair, it was pretty clear that changes to the personal use license were coming a while ago with the consolidation of paid-tier licenses almost a year ago, and the cloud-credit system that monetized rendering/simulation/generative design services happening on the Autodesk servers. Features removed from the free license in this week’s announcement remain in place for paid subscriptions as well as the educational and start-up license options.

The problem with these personal use licenses is that it’s easy to get used to them and think of them as de facto open-source licenses; changing the terms then ends up leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. To their credit, Autodesk is offering a steep discount on the commercial license right now, which might take some of the sting out of the changes.

Update 09-25-2020: Autodesk has announced that STEP file export will remain in the free version of Fusion 360

3D POV Display Has The Shakes

Persistence of vision projects are a dime a dozen, but by adding a third dimension [Madaeon] succesfully created one to stand out from the crowd. Instead of waving around a single line of LEDs, he is moving a 2D grid of them vertically to create a volumetric POV display.

The display consists of oscillating 3D printed piston, powered by a small geared motor, on top of which sits a 8 x 8 RGB LED grid and diffusing film. The motor drives a cylindrical cam, which moves a piston that sits over it, while an optical end stop detects the bottom of the piston’s travel to keep the timing correct. [Madaeon] has not added his code to the project page, but the 3D files for the mechanics are available. The current version creates a lot of vibration, but he plans to improve it by borrowing one of  [Karl Bugeja]’s ideas, and using flexible PCBs and magnets.

He also links another very cool volumetric display that he constructed a few years ago. It works by projecting images from a small DLP projector onto an oscillating piece of fabric, to created some surprisingly high definition images.

POV displays are good projects for learning, so if you want to build your own, take a look a simple POV business card, or this well-documented POV spinning top.