Doing the rounds today is an interesting lot in an otherwise unexciting industrial dispersal auction in Lincolnshire, UK. On sale is an “Ex nuclear plant reactor control/monitoring system“, at the time of writing attracting the low low bid of £220 ($270), but we guess it will rise. Everyone who has watched Chernobyl (or maybe The Simpsons) is now gazing awestruck at a crescent of metal consoles covered in screens, buttons, and joysticks just waiting for a staff of white-coated technicians to pore over them.
It’s a very cool lot indeed, but it raises more questions than it answers. The auction house has very little information indeed, so we’re left guessing, where did it come from? From this image showing the unit 3 control room at Chernobyl it’s obvious didn’t come from there (/s). Since it is for sale in the UK, and the country has decommissioned the majority of its first-generation reactors by now, so there is no shortage of candidates. But that intriguing possibility raises another question. Is it even a reactor control panel in the first place?
British civilian nuclear plants have tight security but they are hardly a secret, so plenty of photos are online showing their interiors. And in studying those we hit a problem, this panel doesn’t resemble any of the control panel images we can find. The first generation of Magnox (Magnetic Oxide Magnesium Non Oxidising) plants had panels covered in analogue dials and chart recorders so it’s unlikely to be one of those. The second-generation AGR (Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor) stations had similarly complex panels, and it’s evidently not one of them.
Looking closely at the photos it becomes apparent that there are a lot of camera controls and monitors, and even what looks like a uMatic video recorder. It’s definitely nuclear-related and the 1980s look of it suggests maybe it could have come from an Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactor (AGR) station, but could it be a little closer to Sector 7G than the centre of the action? Is it a video monitoring console used to keep a physical eye on its operation?
Be careful if you bid, you could end up with a rather cool but absurdly large 1980s CCTV system. Can any of our readers shed any light on the matter?
One of the best applications for desktop 3D printing is the creation of one-off bespoke components. Most of the time a halfway decent pair of calipers and some patience is all it takes to model up whatever part you’re after, but occasionally things get complex enough that you might need a little help. If you ever find yourself in such a situation, salvation might be just a few marker scribbles away.
As [Mangy_Dog] explains in a recent video, he wanted to model a control panel for a laser cutter he’s been working on, but thought the shapes involved were a bit more than he wanted to figure out manually. So he decided to give photogrammetry a try. For the uninitiated, this process involves taking as many high-resolution images as possible of a given object from multiple angles, and letting the computer stitch that into a three dimensional model. He reasoned that if he had a 3D model of the laser’s existing front panel, it would be easy enough to 3D print some replacement parts for it.
That would be a neat enough trick on its own, but what we especially liked about this video was the tip that [Mangy_Dog] passed along about increasing visual complexity to improve the final results. Basically, the software is looking for identifiable surface details to piece together, so you can make things a bit easier for it by taking a few different colored markers and drawing all over the surface like a toddler. It might look crazy, but all those lines give the software some anchor points that help it sort out the nuances of the shape.
Unfortunately the markers ended up being a little more permanent than [Mangy_Dog] had hoped, and he eventually had to use acetone to get the stains off. Certainly something to keep in mind. But in the end, the 3D model generated was accurate enough that (after a bit of scaling) he was able to design a new panel that pops right on as if it was a factory component.
For most people, a flashlight is just something you keep in a drawer in the kitchen in case the power goes out. There’s even a good chance your “flashlight” is just an application on your phone at this point. But as we’ve seen many times before from mechanical keyboards to Power Wheels, hardcore niche communities can develop around the most innocuous pieces of hardware; and the lowly flashlight is no different.
Case in point, this 14,000 lumen LED flashlight built by [Bryson Hicks]. Designed around a 100 watt module from Stratus LED, the flashlight uses a number of 3D printed components to make itself at home in a suitably hardcore enclosure: a metal ammo can. With the addition of some modular electronics and a rather slick little control panel, his light is ready to deliver an unreasonable level of brightness anywhere he wishes.
The Stratus LED module includes its own driver, and just needs to be hooked up to a suitably beefy power source to do its thing. [Bryson] went with a 4500 mAh LiPo battery that he says gets him about a one hour runtime at full brightness. For somewhat less intense operation, he’s added a potentiometer which interfaces with the module’s driver board to control the LED output. Considering how fast the light sucks down the juice, adding a small LCD battery charge indicator to the top of the device seems like it was a prudent decision.
To prevent you from cooking anyone’s eyes at close range, the light requires you to first “arm” it by flipping the military style protected switch. Once the switch is in the on position, an illuminated push button is used to actually turn the LED module on and off. You can also snap the toggle switch back into the closed and covered position if you needed to kill the light in a hurry.
Many people enjoy playing flight simulators or making the occasional orbit in Kerbal Space Program, but most are stuck controlling the onscreen action with nothing more exotic than a keyboard and mouse. A nice compromise for those that don’t have the space (or NASA-sized budget) to build a full simulator cockpit is a USB “button box” that you can plug in whenever you need a couple dozen extra knobs, switches, and lights.
If you’ve been considering building one for yourself, this incredible build by [nexprime] should prove quite inspirational. Now at this point, a box of buttons hooked up to a microcontroller isn’t exactly newsworthy. But there are a few features that [nexprime] packed in which we think make this particular build worth taking a closer look at.
For one, the powder coated 8.5” x 10” enclosure is absolutely gorgeous. The console itself was purchased from a company called Hammond Manufacturing, but of course it still took some work to turn it into the object you’re currently drooling over. A CNC machine was used to accurately cut out all the necessary openings, and the labels were laser etched into the powder coat.
But not all the labels. One of the things we like best about this build is that [nexprime] thought ahead and didn’t just design it for one game. Many of the labels are printed on strips of paper which slide into translucent plastic channels built into the front of the box. Not only does this allow you to change out the overlays for different games, but the paper labels look fantastic when lit with the LED strips placed behind the channels.
Internally, [nexprime] used a SparkFun Pro Micro paired with a SX1509 I/O expander. The electronics are all housed on professionally manufactured PCBs, which gives the final build an incredibly neat look despite packing in 68 separate inputs for your gaming pleasure. On the software side this box appears as a normal USB game controller, albeit one with a crazy number of buttons.
Bakelite, hammertone gray finish, big chunky toggle switches, jeweled pilot lights – these are a few of [Wesley Treat]’s favorite retro electronics things. And he’ll get no argument from us, as old gear is one of our many weak spots. So when he was tasked by a friend to come up with some chaser lights for an Art Deco-themed bar, [Wesley] jumped at the chance to go overboard with this retro-style control panel.
Granted, the video below pays short shrift to the electronics side of this build in favor of concentrating on the woodworking and metalworking aspects of making the control panel. We’re OK with that, too, as we picked up a ton of design tips along the way. The control panel is all custom, with a chassis bent from sheet aluminum. The sides of the console are laminated walnut and brushed aluminum, which looks very chic. We really like the recessed labels for the switches and indicators on the front panel, although we’d have preferred them to be backlighted. And that bent aluminum badge really lends a Chrysler Building flair that ties the whole project together.
All in all, a really nice job, and another in a long string of retro cool projects from [Wesley]. We recently featured his cloning of vintage knobs for an old Philo tube tester, and we’ll be looking for more great projects from him in the future.
Unless you’ve spent some time in the industrial electrical field, you might be surprised at the degree of integration involved in the various control panels needed to run factories and the like. Look inside any cabinet almost anywhere in the world, and you’ll be greeted by rows of neat plastic terminal blocks, circuit breakers, signal conditioners, and all manner of computing hardware from programmable logic controllers right on to Raspberry Pis and Arduinos.
A well-crafted industrial control panel can truly be a thing of beauty. But behind all the electrical bits in the cabinet, underneath all the neatly routed and clearly labeled wires, there’s a humble strip of metal that stitches it all together: the DIN rail. How did it come to be, and why is it so ubiquitous?
With 3D-printing, cheap CNC machines, and the huge variety of hardware available these days, really slick-looking control panels are getting to be commonplace. We’re especially fond of those nice indicators with the chrome bezels, and the matching pushbuttons with LED backlighting; those can really make a statement on a panel.
Sadly for [Proto G], though, the LEDs in his indicator of choice were just boring old one-color units, so he swapped them out and made these addressable RGB indicators. The stock lamps are not cheap units, but they do have a certain look, and they’re big enough to allow room for a little modification. The original guts were removed with a Dremel to make way for a Neopixel board. [Proto G] wanted to bring the board’s pads out to screw terminals, so he had to adapt the 3.0-mm pitch blocks he had on hand to the 2.54-mm pitch on Neopixel board, but that actually came out neater than you’d think. With a little hot glue to stick it all back together, he now has fully-addressable indicators that can be daisy-chained together and only take up a single GPIO pin.