JavaScript App Uses Advanced Math To Make PCBs Easier To Etch

We all remember the litany from various math classes we’ve taken, where frustration at a failure to understand a difficult concept bubbles over into the classic, “When am I ever going to need to know this in real life?” But as we all know, even the most esoteric mathematical concepts have applications in the real world, and failure to master them can come back to haunt you.

Take Voronoi diagrams, for example. While we don’t recall being exposed to these in any math class, it turns out that they can be quite useful in a seemingly unrelated area: converting PCB designs into easy-to-etch tessellated patterns. Voronoi diagrams are in effect a plane divided into different regions, or “cells”, each centered on a “seed” object. Each cell is the set of points that are closer to a particular seed than they are to any other seed. For PCBs the seeds can be represented by the traces; dividing the plane up into cells around those traces results in a tessellated pattern that’s easily etched.

To make this useful to PCB creators, [Craig Iannello] came up with a JavaScript application that takes an image of a PCB, tessellates the traces, and spits out G-code suitable for a laser engraver. A blank PCB covered with a layer of spray paint, the tessellated pattern is engraved into the paint, and the board is etched and drilled in the usual fashion. [Craig]’s program makes allowances for adding specific features to the board, like odd-shaped pads or traces that need specific routing.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Voronoi diagrams employed for PCB design, but the method looks so easy that we’d love to give it a try. It even looks as though it might work for CNC milling of boards too.

CNC Scroll Saw Add-On Cuts Beautiful Wooden Spirals

If there’s one thing that woodworkers have always been good at, it’s coming up with clever jigs and work-holding solutions. Most jigs, however, are considerably simpler and more static than this CNC-controlled scroll saw add-on that makes cool wooden spirals a snap.

As interesting as the products of this setup are, what we like about this is the obvious care and craftsmanship [rschoenm] put into making what amounts to a hybrid between a scroll saw and a lathe. Scroll saws are normally used to make narrow-kerf cuts in thin, delicate materials, often with complicated designs using very tight radius turns. In this case, though, stock is held between centers on the lathe-like carriage. The jig uses a linear slide driven by a stepper and a lead screw to translate the workpiece perpendicular to the scroll saw blade while a geared headstock rotates it. Starting with the blade inserted into a through-hole, the saw slowly cuts a beautiful nested spiral down the length of the workpiece. An Uno, a GRBL shield, and some stepper drivers let a little G-code control the two axes of the jig.

The video below shows it in action; things do get a bit wobbly as the cut progresses, but in general the jig works wonderfully and results in some lovely pieces. At first we thought these would purely be objets d’art, but then we thought about this compression screw grinder for DIY injection molding machines and realized these wooden screws look pretty similar.

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CNC Hot-Wire Cutter Gives Form To Foam

Rapid prototyping tools are sometimes the difference between a project getting off the ground and one that stays strictly on paper. A lightweight, easy-to-form material is often all that’s needed to visualize a design and make a quick judgment on how to proceed. Polymeric foams excel in such applications, and a CNC hot-wire foam cutter is a tool that makes dealing with them quick and easy.

We’re used to seeing CNC machines where a lot of time and expense are put into making the frame as strong and rigid as possible. But [HowToMechatronics] knew that the polystyrene foam blocks he’d be using would easily yield to a hot nichrome wire, minimizing the cutting forces and the need for a stout frame. But the aluminum extrusions, 3D-printed connectors. and linear bearings he used still make for a frame stiff enough to give clean, accurate cuts. The addition of a turntable to the bed is a nice touch, turning the tool into a 2.5D machine. The video below details the construction and goes into depth on the toolchain [HowToMechatronics] used to go from design to G-code, including the tricks he used for making a continuous path, as well as integrating the turntable to make three-dimensional designs.

Plenty of hot-wire foam cutters have graced our pages before, everything from tiny hand-held cutters to a hot-wire “table saw” for foam. We like the effort put into this one, though, and the possibilities it opens up.

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Gradient Infill Puts More Plastic Where You Want It

It is always tricky setting the infill for a 3D printed part. High infill parts are strong but take longer to print, while low infill prints take less time, but are weaker internally and in danger of surface layer droop between the infill pattern. [Stephan] has a better answer: gradient infill. You can see a video below and find his Python code on GitHub.

The idea is simple enough. In most cases, parts under stress see higher stress near the surface. Putting more material there will make the part stronger than adding plastic in places where the stress is lower. [Stephan] has done finite element analysis to determine an optimal infill pattern before, but this is somewhat difficult to do. Since the majority of parts can follow the more at the edges and less at the center rule, gradient infill makes sense except for a few special cases.

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Escher: Etch-a-Sketch As A Service

For better or for worse, the tech world has fully committed to pushing as many of their products into “The Cloud” as possible. Of course, readers of Hackaday see right through the corporate buzzwords. It’s all just a fancy way of saying you have to poke some server over the Internet every time you want to use the service. In a way, [Matt Welsh] has perfectly demonstrated this concept with Escher. It’s a normal Etch-a-Sketch, but since somebody else owns it and you’ve got to have an active Internet connection to use it, that makes it an honorary citizen of the Cloud.

Escher takes the form of a 3D printed mount and replacement knobs for the classic drawing toy that allow two NEMA 17 steppers to stand in for human hands. Thanks to the clever design, [Matt] can easily pull the Etch-a-Sketch out and use it the old fashioned way, though admittedly the ergonomics of holding onto the geared knobs might take a little getting used to. But who wants to use their hands, anyway?

In terms of the electronics, the star of the show is the the Adafruit Feather HUZZAH32 development board, paired with a motor controller that can provide 12 V to the steppers. [Matt] even went through the trouble of making a custom voltage regulator PCB that steps down the stepper’s voltage to 5 V for the Feather. Totally unnecessary, just how we like it.

For the software folks in the audience, [Matt] goes into considerable detail about how he got his hardware talking to the web with Google Firebase. Even if the Internet of Sketches doesn’t quite tickle your fancy, we imagine his deep-dive on pushing G-Code files from the browser into the Feather will surely be of interest.

It probably will come as little surprise to hear this isn’t the first automatic Etch-a-Sketch that’s graced these pages over the years, but this might be the most fully realized version we’ve seen yet.

3D Printering: The Past And Future Of Prusa’s Slicer

If you own a desktop 3D printer, you’re almost certainly familiar with Slic3r. Even if the name doesn’t ring a bell, there’s an excellent chance that a program you’ve used to convert STLs into the G-code your printer can understand was using Slic3r behind the scenes in some capacity. While there have been the occasional challengers, Slic3r has remained one of the most widely used open source slicers for the better part of a decade. While some might argue that proprietary slicers have pulled ahead in some respects, it’s hard to beat free.

So when Josef Prusa announced his team’s fork of Slic3r back in 2016, it wasn’t exactly a shock. The company wanted to offer a slicer optimized for their line of 3D printers, and being big proponents of open source, it made sense they would lean heavily on what was already available in the community. The result was the aptly named “Slic3r Prusa Edition”, or as it came to be known, Slic3r PE.

Ostensibly the fork enabled Prusa to fine tune print parameters for their particular machines and implement support for products such as their Multi-Material Upgrade, but it didn’t take long for Prusa’s developers to start fixing and improving core Slic3r functionality. As both projects were released under the GNU Affero General Public License v3.0, any and all of these improvements could be backported to the original Slic3r; but doing so would take considerable time and effort, something that’s always in short supply with community developed projects.

Since Slic3r PE still produced standard G-code that any 3D printer could use, soon people started using it with their non-Prusa printers simply because it had more features. But this served only to further blur the line between the two projects, especially for new users. When issues arose, it could be hard to determine who should take responsibility for it. All the while, the gap between the two projects continued to widen.

With a new release on the horizon that promised to bring massive changes to Slic3r PE, Josef Prusa decided things had reached a tipping point. In a recent blog post, he announced that as of version 2.0, their slicer would henceforth be known as PrusaSlicer. Let’s take a look at this new slicer, and find out what it took to finally separate these two projects.

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Omni Wheels Move This CNC Plotter

We’ve always had a soft spot for omni wheels and the bots that move around somewhat bumpily on them. Likewise, CNC pen plotters are always a welcome sight in our tip line. But a CNC plotter using omni wheels is new, and the results are surprisingly good.

Built from the bottom of a spring-form baking pan, [lingib]’s plotter is simplicity itself. Four steppers turn the omni wheels while a hobby servo raises and lowers the pen. The controller is an Uno with a Bluetooth module for smartphone control. Translating wheel rotations into X- and Y-axis motions was not exactly trivial, and the video below shows the results. Lines are a bit wobbly, and it’s clear that the plotter isn’t hitting the coordinates very precisely. But given the somewhat compliant nature of the omni wheels, we’re surprised [lingib] got results as good as these, and we applaud the effort.

[lingib] reports the most expensive part of this $100 build was the omni wheels themselves. We suppose laser-cut MDF omni wheels could reduce the price, or even Mecanum wheels from bent metal and wood. We’re not sure either will help with the precision, though.

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