A LEGO CNC Pixel Art Generator

If you are ever lucky enough to make the trip to Billund in Denmark, home of LEGO, you can have your portrait taken and rendered in the plastic bricks as pixel art. Having seen that on our travels we were especially interested to watch [Creative Mindstorms]’ video doing something very similar using an entirely LEGO-built machine but taking the images from an AI image generator.

The basic operation of the machine is akin to that of a pick-and-place machine, and despite the relatively large size of a small LEGO square it still has to place at a surprisingly high resolution. This it achieves through the use of a LEGO lead screw for the Y axis and a rack and pinon for the X axis, each driven by a single motor.

The Z axis in this machine simply has to pick up and release a piece, something solved with a little ingenuity, while the magazine of “pixels” was adapted with lower friction from another maker’s design. The software is all written in Python, and takes input from end stop switches to position the machine.

We like this build, and we can appreciate the quantity of work that must have gone into it. If you’re a LEGO fan and can manage the trip to Billund, there’s plenty of other LEGO goodness to see there.

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The Cheap CNC3018 Gets A Proper Revamp

Many people have been attracted to the low price and big dreams of the CNC3018 desktop CNC router. If you’re quick, you can pick one up on the usual second-hand sales sites with little wear and tear for a steal. They’re not perfect machines by any stretch of the imagination, but they can be improved upon, and undoubtedly useful so long as you keep your expectations realistic.

[ForOurGood] has set about such an improvement process and documented their journey in a whopping eight-part (so far!) video series. The video linked below is the most recent in the series and is dedicated to creating a brushless spindle motor on a budget.

As you would expect from such a machine, you get exactly what you pay for.  The low cost translates to thinner than ideal metal plates, aluminium where steel would be better, lower-duty linear rails, and wimpy lead screws. The spindle also suffers from cost-cutting, as does the size of the stepper motors. But for the price, all is forgiven. The fact that they can even turn a profit on these machines shows the manufacturing prowess of the Chinese factories.

We covered the CNC 3018 a while back, and the comments of that post are a true gold mine for those wanting to try desktop CNC. Warning, though: It’s a fair bit harder to master than 3D printing!

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Betta Aims To Bring Wire EDM To The Desktop

Just as practical nuclear fusion has been “only 20 years away” for the last 80 years or so, the promise of electrical discharge machining (EDM) in the home shop seems to always be just around the corner. It’s hard to understand why this is so — EDM is electrically and mechanically more complicated than traditional subtractive manufacturing techniques, so a plug-and-play EDM setup seems always just out of reach.

Or perhaps not, if this 3D printed 4-axis wire EDM machine catches on. It comes to us from [John] at Rack Robotics and is built around the Powercore EDM power supply that we’ve previously featured. Since wire EDM is a process that requires the workpiece to be completely immersed in a dielectric solution, the machine, dubbed “Betta,” is designed to fit inside a 10-gallon aquarium — get it?

A lot of thought went into keeping costs down. for example, rather than use expensive sealed motors, [John] engineered the double CoreXY platform to keep the motors out of the water bath using long drive shafts and sealed bearings. The wire handling mechanism is also quite simple, at least compared to commercial WEDM machines, and uses standard brass EDM wire. The video below shows the machine going to town of everything from aluminum to steel, with fantastic results on thin or thick stock.

While Rack Robotics is going to be offering complete kits, they’re also planning on open-sourcing all the build files. We’re eager to see where this leads, and if people will latch onto EDM with the same gusto they did with 3D printing.

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Mostly Printed CNC Gets A Few Upgrades

The Mostly Printed CNC is famous for two things. First, being made mostly from 3D printed parts and commonly available steel tubing. Second, because of the materials used, its rigidity isn’t fantastic. But any CNC router is better than no CNC router, and [Alan Reiner]’s “Mostly Mostly Printed CNC” upgrades the base MPCNC into a much more capable unit.

MPCNC purists may want to look away, as the video below shows [Alan] committing the heresy of adding linear rails to his machine. The rails were sourced from VEVOR and at less than $100 for 10 meters, it must have been hard to resist. The rigidity wasn’t amazing — witness the horrific chatter at around the 5:15 mark — but [Alan] sorted that out with some aluminum extrusion and printed adapters.

Those upgrades alone were enough to let [Alan] dive into some aluminum cutting, but he also wanted to address another gripe with his base build: the Z-axis backlash. The fix there was to add another lead screw nut on an adjustable carrier. By tweaking the relative angles of the two opposed nuts, almost all of the backlash was taken up. [Alan] also replaced the motor coupling on the Z axis with a Lovejoy-style coupler, to remove as much axial compliance as possible.

Along with the motion control mods, [Alan] improved work holding and added an enclosure to tame the chip beast, along with some upgrades to the control electronics. The results are pretty good and appear well worth the modest added expense. Maybe a wireless controller can be next on the upgrade list?

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Plasma Cutter Gets CNC Treatment At Low Cost

[Daniel] has been metalworking on a budget for a while now. Originally doing things like plasma cutting on old bricks, he used his original plasma cutter to make an appropriate plasma cutting table complete with a water bath which we presume was not only safer but better for his back. Since then he’s stepped up a little more with what might be the lowest-cost CNC plasma cutter that can reliably be put together.

The CNC machine uses a handheld plasma cutting torch as its base, which uses a blowback start mechanism making it usable in an automated CNC setup without interfering with the control electronics. This is a common issue with other types of plasma cutters not originally meant for CNC. The torch head only needs slight modifications to fit in a 3D printed housing designed for the CNC machine which involves little more than slightly changing the angle of the incoming copper tubing and wire and changing the location of the trigger.

With those modifications done, the tool head is ready to be mounted to the CNC machine. [Daniel] has put together a bill of materials for building the entire project for less than $400, which includes the sub-$200 plasma cutter. It’s an impressive bit of sleuthing to get the price down this low, but if you’re still using your plasma cutter by hand on bricks in the yard like [Daniel] used to do make sure to check out that DIY plasma cutting table he built a few years ago too.

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Electromagnets Make Vertical CNC Cutter A Little Stickier

Workholding is generally not a problem on a big CNC plasma cutter.; gravity does a pretty good job of keeping heavy sheet steel in place on the bed. But what if your CNC table isn’t a table? The answer: magnets — lots of magnets.

The backstory on this is a bit involved, but the condensed version is that [Lucas] needed a CNC plasma cutter big enough to cut full-sized sheets of steel, but lacked the floor space in his shop for such a beast. His solution was to build a custom CNC machine that stands more or less vertically, allowing him to cut full sheets in a mere fraction of the floor space. It’s a fantastic idea, one that he put a lot of effort into, but it’s not without its problems. Chief among them is the tendency for the sheet metal to buckle and bulge during cutting since gravity isn’t working for him, along with the pesky problem of offcuts slipping away.

To help hold things in place, [Lucas] decided to magnetize the bed of his cutter. That required winding a bunch of magnets, which is covered in the video below. Mass production of magnets turns out not to be as easy as you’d think. Also unexpected was the need to turn off magnets when the cutting torch is nearby, lest the magnetic field bork the cutting plasma. [Lucas] grabbed some code from the LinuxCNC forum that streams the gantry coordinates over serial and used an Arduino to parse those messages. When the torch is getting close to one of the magnets, a relay board cuts power to just that magnet. You can see it in action in the video below; at around the 18:15 mark, you can see the sheet bulging up a bit when the torch comes by, and sucking back down when it moves on.

The amount of work [Lucas] put into this project is impressive, and the results are fantastic. This isn’t the first time he’s relied on the power of magnets to deal with sheet steel, and it probably won’t be the last.

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A SPIF-fy Way Of Forming Metal

Thanks to 3D printing, most of us are familiar with the concept of additive manufacturing, and by extension, subtractive manufacturing. But what is it when you’re neither adding material nor taking it away to create something? Generally speaking, that’s called forming, and while there are tons of ways to do it, one you might not have heard of is single-point incremental forming (SPIF), and it’s pretty cool.

To explore SPIF as a method for making small parts, [Russell Makes] gave it a go on a small CNC mill. The idea is pretty simple, and the video below makes it pretty clear what’s going on. A forming tool is moved over a sheet metal blank that’s held very securely to the mill’s table. The tool has no cutting edges, just a smooth, hard, spherical tip — [Russell] made his own by brazing a carbide ball to a piece of drill rod. The tool is driven slightly into the blank along the Z-axis, while simultaneously tracing out a tool path in the XY plane. The tool spins, but very slowly; ideally, the spindle speed is controlled to keep a single point of contact with the metal as the tool works around its tool path. The tool steps downward incrementally, drawing the metal down with it as it forms the desired shape.

[Russell]’s experiments were pretty promising. He started with titanium sheet, which behaved pretty well except for some galling thanks to lack of lubrication. Aluminum and stainless worked pretty well too, at least for simple hemispherical and cone shapes. More complex shapes proved trickier, but with time he was able to figure out the correct speeds and feeds to keep the metal intact. The amount of tension built up in the metal is impressive, though, and is especially evident when cutting the finished part free from the blank.

Could this work with a hobbyist-grade machine? Possibly, but we’d be afraid that the forces involved might be a bit much for light-duty machines, especially in the Z-axis. And it’s a slow process, so it’s probably only good for one-offs and low-volume work. Once you’ve got a prototype, die stamping might be a more efficient way to go.

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