A Ploopy Pick And Place

A fair number of hackers reach that awkward age in their careers – too old for manual pick and place, but too young for a full-fledged PnP machine. The obvious solution is to build your own PnP, which can be as simple as putting a suction cup on the Z-axis of an old 3D-printer. Feeding parts into the pick and place, though, can be a thorny problem.

Or not, if you think your way through it like [Phil Lam] did and build these semi-automated SMD tape feeders. Built for 8-mm plastic or paper tapes, the feeders are 3D-printed assemblies that fit into a rack that’s just inside the work envelope of a pick and place machine. Each feeder has a slot in the top for the tape, which is advanced by using the Z-axis of the PnP to depress a lever on the front of the case. A long tongue in the tape slot gradually peels back the tape’s cover to expose a part, which is then picked up by the PnP suction cup. Any machine should work; [Phil] uses his with a LitePlacer. We like the idea that parts stay protected until they’re needed; the satisfyingly clicky lever action is pretty cool too. See it briefly in action in the video below.

It looks like [Phil] built this in support of his popular Ploopy trackball, which is available both as a kit and fully assembled. We think the feeder design is great whether you’re using PnP or not, although here’s a simpler cassette design for purely manual SMD work.

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A Simple Auger Pet Feeder

Pet feeders are a popular maker project. One can speculate that this shows the great self-confidence common to the maker set, who are willing to trust their own work to keep their animal companions alive for many days at a a time. [Darren Tarbard] is one such maker, who put together this simple auger build.

The project consists of a hopper for dry pet food, into which a screw auger is inserted. Both parts are 3D printed, making them easy to produce at home for the average maker. The build was designed specifically around the parts [Darren] had to hand, namely a 28BYJ-48 stepper motor, which is charged with turning the auger. Running the show is an Arduino, which can be run with whatever suitable timing code is necessary to feed the particular pet in question. There’s also a remixed version that adds a larger food storage dish on top for longer periods of unattended operation, created by [szuchid].

It’s a basic build, but one that would be readily achievable by most makers with little more than some junkbox components and a roll of filament. Of course, if your pet prefers wet food, you might need a different design. Video after the break.

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This Arduino Is Feeding The Fishes

Fish are easy to keep as pets, requiring little more than regular feeding to keep them happy in the short-to-medium term. If you’re going on holiday, it can be nice to know that your pets are being taken care of, but finding someone to take on the chore can be hard. [Trevor_DIY] doesn’t need to worry about that, however – he’s built an automatic feeder to handle the job.

The build uses an Arduino Uno as the brains, with the only additional hardware required being a stepper motor and driver. The stepper motor drives a 3D printed wheel, with 14 slots – each one holding one meal for the fish. This allows the feeder to deliver two meals a day for a full week before requiring attention.

The feeder is configured to feed a breakfast meal, then a dinner meal 8 hours later, and then wait 16 hours before breakfast comes around again. Rather than use a real-time clock, this is simply handled with the Arduino’s built in delay function. While it isn’t super accurate, this should be close enough over a week to keep the fish alive. We’d be interested as to just how far it drifts over time.

Overall, it’s a quick and tidy way to keep the pets going without a lot of fuss. Pet feeders are a popular project, as they solve a common problem faced by owners the world over; this one can even handle wet cat food. Video after the break.

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This Arduino Feeds The Dog

Part of the joy of owning a dog is feeding it. How often do you get to make another living being that happy? However, sometimes you can’t be there when your best friend is hungry. [El Taller De TD] built an auto dog feeder using an Arduino and stepper motor. The video and links are in Spanish, but if your Spanish is rusty, YouTube’s caption autotranslation isn’t bad and Google Translate can help you with the web site.

The electronics are reasonably simple: an Arduino, a Bluetooth module, and a stepper motor driver. Mechanically, the motor and some PVC pipe are all you need. There’s a small phone application to drive the Bluetooth using App Inventor.

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Active Strain Relief For 3D-Printer Filament

Buying 3D-printer filament is little like eating potato chips: you can’t stop at just one. You start with basic black PLA, then you need a particular color for a special project, then you start experimenting with different plastics, and before you know it, you’ve got dozens of reels lined up. Trouble is, unless you move the in-use reel right over the printer, the filament can get a bit unruly as the printer sucks it up. What to do?

How about building an active strain relief system for your filament collection? That what [Daniel Harari] chose to do, and we have to say that it looks pretty slick. The idea is to keep the filament slack before it enters the printer’s extruder no matter where the reel is positioned relative to the printer. The active bit is a little like a low-force extruder, using a couple of pinch rollers from an old 2D-printer to pay out filament when needed. A clever sensor, consisting of a 3D-printed funnel and a copper wire contact loop, detects when the printer has taken up all the slack in the filament and triggers a payout from the feeder. In a nice touch, the feeder motor is controlled by a couple of 555s rather than a microcontroller. The short clip below shows the feeder being triggered and paying out a little more slack.

In the final analysis, this is just another in a long series of filament management projects, from dry-boxes to filament meters to end-of-spool alarms. It may be overkill, but [Daniel] put a lot of thought into it, which we always appreciate.

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Katrina Nguyen Automates Her Mice

When embarking on a career in the life sciences, it seems like the choice of which model organism to study has more than a little to do with how it fits into the researcher’s life. I once had a professor who studied lobsters, ostensibly because they are a great model for many questions in cell biology; in actuality, he just really liked to eat lobster. Another colleague I worked with studied salt transport in shark rectal glands, not because he particularly liked harvesting said glands — makes the sharks a tad grumpy — but because he really liked spending each summer on the beach.

Not everyone gets to pick a fun or delicious model organism, though, and most biologists have had to deal with the rats and mice at some point. It’s hard to believe how needy these creatures can be in terms of care and feeding, and doubly so when feeding is part of the data you’re trying to collect from them. Graduate student Katrina Nguyen learned this the hard way, but rather than let her life be controlled by a bunch of rodents, she hacked a solution that not only improved her life, but also improved her science. She kindly dropped by the Hackaday Superconference to tell us all about how she automated her research.

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Eat Some Pringles, Feed The Cat

You know the saying: “Dogs have people, cats have servants.” This is especially true when your feline overlord loses track of time and insists on being fed at oh-dark-thirty. You’re tempted to stay in bed feigning death, but that’s a tall order with the cat sitting on your chest and staring into your soul.

An automatic cat feeder would be nice at moments like these, but off-the-shelf units are pricey. [Mom Will Be Proud] decided to roll his own cat feeder, and the results are pretty impressive for what amounts to a trash can build. Two old food cans form the body — a Pringles can on top to hold the food and a nut can below for the servo. The metal ends of the cans nest together nicely, and with a large section removed from each, an aperture opens every time the hopper rotates, dropping food down a chute. A BeagleBone Black controls the servo, but anything with PWM outputs should do the trick. We’d lean toward the ESP8266 ecosystem for WiFi support for remotely controlling feedings, and we’d probably beef up the structure with PVC tube to prevent unauthorized access. But it’s a simple concept, and simple is a good place to start.

You shall not want for pet feeder builds around these parts. Take your pick — snazzy Steampunk, super cheap, or with an Archimedean twist.

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