For the uninitiated, harmonic drives, also known as strain-wave gears, are a compact, high-torque gearbox that has become popular with “robotic dog” makers and other roboticists. The idea is to have a rigid, internally-toothed outer ring nested around an externally-toothed, flexible cup. A wave generator rotates within the inside cup, stretching it so that it meshes with the outer ring. The two gears differ by only a couple of teeth, meaning that very high gear ratios can be achieved, which makes them great for the joints of robot legs.
[Levi]’s problem with the harmonic drive is that due to the depth of the flexible spline cup, compactness is not among its virtues. His idea is to couple the flex spline to the output of the drive through a flat spring, one that allows flexion as the wave generator rotates but transmits torque efficiently. The entire prototype is 3D-printed, except for the wave generator bearings and stepper motor, and put to the test.
As the video below shows after the excellent introduction to harmonic drives, the concept works, but it’s not without its limitations. Even lightly loaded, the drive made some unpleasant crunching sounds as the PLA springs gave out. We could easily see that being replaced with, say, a steel spring, either machined or cut on a water-jet machine. That might solve the most obvious problem and make [Levi]’s dream of a compact harmonic drive a reality. Of course, we have seen pretty compact strain-wave gears before.
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.
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.
It’s not clear whether Westinghouse and IBM collaborated on the project, but given the inside knowledge of the dot-matrix printer’s assembly, it seems like they did. The first few minutes are occupied by an unidentified Westinghouse executive talking about design for assembly in general terms, and how it impacts the bottom line. Skip ahead to 3:41 if talking suits aren’t your thing.
Once the engineer gets going on the printer, though, things get really interesting. The printer’s guts are laid out before him, ready to be assembled. What’s notably absent from the table are tools — the Proprinter was so well designed that the only tool needed is a pair of human hands. And they don’t have to be particularly dexterous hands, either — the design favors motions that are straight down, letting gravity assist the assembly process and preventing assemblers from the need to contort their bodies. Almost everything is held in place by compliant mechanisms built into the plastic parts. There are a few gems in the film, like the plastic lead screw that drives the printhead, obviating the need to string a fussy timing belt, or the unique roller that twists to lock onto a long shaft, rather than having to be pushed to its center.
We found this film which we’ve placed below the break to be very instructive, and the fact that a device as complex as a printer can be assembled in just a few minutes without picking up a single tool is pretty illustrative of the power of designing for assembly. Slick designs that can’t be manufactured at scale are all too common in this age of powerful design tools and desktop manufacturing, so these lessons from the past might be worth relearning.
If you’ve ever had the good fortune — or, after a shop mishap, the misfortune — to see the insides of a dial indicator, you’ll know the workings of these shop essentials resemble nothing so much as those of a fine Swiss watch. The pinions, gears, and springs within transmit the slightest movement of the instrument’s plunger to a series of dials, making even the tiniest of differences easy to spot.
Not every useful dial indicator needs to have those mechanical guts, nor even a dial for that matter. This compliant mechanism 3D-printed dial-free indicator is perfect for a lot of simple tasks, including the bed leveling chores that [SunShine] designed it for. Rather than print a bunch of gears and assemble them, [SunShine] chose to print the plunger, a fine set of flexible linkage arms, and a long lever arm to act as a needle. The needle is attached to a flexible fulcrum, which is part of the barrel that houses the plunger. Slight movements of the plunger within the barrel push or pull on the needle, amplifying them into an easily read deflection. When attached to the head of a 3D-printer and scanned over the bed, it’s easy to see even the slightest variation in height and make the corresponding adjustments. Check it out in the video below.
We’re big fans of compliant mechanisms, seeing them in everything from robot arms and legs to thrust vectoring for an RC plane. This might look like something from a cereal box, and it certainly doesn’t have the lasting power of a Starrett or Mitutoyo, but then again it costs essentially nothing, and we like that too.
After attending a lecture on compliant mechanisms and their potential use in space vehicles for thrust vectoring control, [RCLifeOn] decided to try applying the concept himself. His test mechanism is a fixed-wing with a single-piece motor mount that has enough flex in the right places to allow the motor (and propeller) to be moved in two axes, achieving thrust vectoring control.
After printing a compliant motor mount in a variety of materials, one was selected for having the right balance of strength and flexibility. The vectoring mechanism was fitted to a basic flying wing RC aircraft, and taken to the field for testing. Unfortunately, success was not the order of the day. While the mechanism was able to flex successfully and vector the motor in bench testing, it was unable to hold up to the stresses of powered flight. The compliant mechanism failed and the plane nosedived to the ground.
Our open source community invites anyone with an idea to build upon the works of those who came before. Many of us have encountered a need to control linear motion and adapted an inexpensive hobby servo for the task. [Michael Graham] evaluated existing designs and believed he has ideas to advance the state of the art. Our Hackaday Prize judges agreed, placing his 3D Printed Servo Linear Actuator as one of twenty winners of our Robotics Module Challenge.
[Michael]’s actuator follows in the footstep of other designs based on a rack-and-pinion gear such as this one featured on these pages, but he approached the design problem from the perspective of a mechanical engineer. The design incorporated several compliant features to be tolerant of variances between 3D printers (and slicer, and filament, etc.) Improving the odds of a successful print and therefore successful projects. Beginners learning to design for 3D printing (and even some veterans) would find his design tips document well worth the few minutes of reading time.
Another useful feature of his actuator design is the 20mm x 20mm screw mounting system. Visible on either end of the output slider, it allows mixing and matching from a set of accessories to be bolted on this actuator. He is already off and running down this path and is facing the challenge of having too many things to share while keeping them all organized and usable by everyone.
The flexible construction system allows him to realize different ideas within the modular system. He brought one item (a variant of his Mug-O-Matic) to the Hackaday + Tindie Meetup at Bay Area Maker Faire, and we’re sure there will be more. And given the thoughtful design and extensive documentation of his project, we expect to see his linear servos adopted by others and appear in other contexts as well.
This isn’t the only linear actuator we’ve come across. It isn’t even the only winning linear actuator of our Robotics Module Challenge, but the other one is focused on meeting different constraints like compactness. They are different tools for different needs – and all worthy additions to our toolbox of mechanical solutions.
At some point, most of us have learned a little of the ancient art of origami. It’s a fascinating art form, and being able to create a recognizable model by simply folding paper in the right order can be hugely satisfying. Most of us move on to other pursuits once we master the classic crane model, but the mathematics behind origami can lead some practitioners past the pure art to more practical structures, like this folding ballistic barrier for law enforcement use.
The fifty-pound Kevlar and aluminum structure comes from Brigham Young University’s College of Mechanical Engineering, specifically from the Compliant Mechanisms Research program. Compliant mechanisms move by bending or deflecting rather than joints between discrete parts, and this ballistic shield is a great example. The mechanism is based on the Yoshimura crease pattern, which can be quickly modeled with a piece of paper. Scaling that up to a full-sized structure, light enough to be fielded but strong enough to stop a .44 Magnum round, was no mean feat. But as the video below shows, the prototype has a lot of potential.