The $50 Pen Plotter

[Arca] sets out to build himself a low-cost pen plotter that doesn’t require access to a 3D printer. The plotter uses a coreXY arrangement, powered by 28BYJ-48 stepper motors, which he overdrives with +12 VDC to increase the torque. Pen up and down control is done using a stepper motor salvaged from a DVD reader. The frame is constructed using PVC electrical conduit and associated fittings, and [Arca] uses the hot glue gun quite liberally. Steppers were driven by A4988 modules with heatsinks, and motion control is provided by GRBL running on an Arduino UNO.

He has a few issues with glitches on the limit switches, and is continuing to tweak the design. There is no documentation yet, but you can discern the construction easily from the video if you want to try your hand at making one of these. This is a really cool DIY plotter, and many parts you probably have laying around your parts boxes. As [Arca] says, it’s not an AxiDraw, but the results are respectable. Keep a lookout for part 2 of this project on his YouTube channel.

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$60 Laser Makes The Cut With New Controller

If you are reading the Lightburn forums, you probably already have a laser cutter of some kind.  But, if you are like most of us, you can always be tempted into another “deal.” [Dkj4linux] has a post where he bought a $79 laser engraver  (now selling for between $59 and $65, we noticed). Like most of these cheap engravers, the machine takes a proprietary controller with Windows-only software. No surprise that [Dkj4linux] would want to use…um… Linux. The answer? Rip the board out and replace it with an old spare.

The machine looks well constructed, as you can see in the video below. For that price, you get a 3-watt laser head (that is likely way less than that in terms of optical power), and a build area of 220x290mm. The controller was in a small metal enclosure, and it was easy to simply unplug the two axis and the laser control cable.

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AntRunner Is The Satellite Antenna Mount You Need To Take With You

It stands to reason, that should you wish to communicate with a satellite, whatever antenna you use should point at that satellite. Some of us have done this by hand, following the bright dot of the space station in the night sky. Still, for anything more serious than trying to catch a fleeting SSTV image, a more robust solution is called for. In other words, a motorized antenna rotator, and AntRunner from [Wuxx] is just the ticket. Better still, it’s portable for those /p operating sessions off the beaten track.

The rotator itself is an az-el design with a couple of geared stepper motors. The full mechanism design has been published, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to copy. The interesting part is the controller and software, which can work with Gpredict, Hamlib, and SDR for automated satellite tracking. The controller is as straightforward as an ESP32 running the ESP port of GRBL.

So here’s a portable antenna rotator that’s accessible and widely supported, what’s not to like? As you might expect though, it’s not the first we’ve seen. In fact, the 2014 Hackaday Prize was won by SatNOGs, which includes a 3D printed antenna positioner.

Thanks [Abe Tusk] for the tip!

Mokeylaser: A DIY Laser Engraver That You Can Easily Build

[Mark aka Mokey] borrowed his friend’s open-frame laser engraver for a while, and found it somewhat lacking in features and a bit too pricey for what it was. Naturally, he thought he could do better (video, embedded below.) After a spot of modelling in Fusion 360, and some online shopping at the usual places, he had all the parts needed to construct an X-Y bot, and we reckon it looks like a pretty good starting point. [Mark] had a Sainsmart FL55 5.5W laser module kicking around, so that was dropped into the build, together with the usual Arduino plus CNC shield combo running GRBL.

[Mark] has provided the full F360 source (see the mokeylaser GitHub) and a comprehensive bill-of-materials, weighing in at about $400, and based upon the usual 2040 aluminium extrusions. This makes MokeyLaser a reasonable starting point for further development. Future plans include upgrading the controller to something a bit more modern (and 32-bits) as well as a more powerful laser (we do hope he’s got some proper laser glasses!) and adding air assist. In our experience, air assist will definitely improve matters, clearing out the smoke from the beam path and increasing the penetration of the laser significantly. We think there is no need for more optical power (and greater risk) for this application. [Mark] says in the video that he’s working on an additional build video, so maybe come by later and check that out?

Obviously, MokeyLaser is by no means the only such beast we’ve featured, here’s the engravinator for starters. For even more minimalism, we covered a build with some smart optics doing all the work. But what if you don’t happen to have a 5W laser module “lying around” then perhaps try a more natural heat source instead?

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Plotter Churns Out Labels With Roll Of Tape

Like it or not, organizing your workspace from time to time is a necessary chore. Labels can go a long way towards taming the most unruly of benches, but writing them out by hand isn’t exactly ideal. Looking for something a bit neater, [sandy] built a simple pen plotter to write labels on a roll of tape.

Pen plotter writing on roll of masking tape

The plotter uses the usual 3D printer components like steppers, drivers, belts, and rails. The tape holder is printed with flexible arms for a tight grip, and a servo is used to raise and lower the pen while writing.

The custom control board includes an Arduino Nano clone and a pair of stepper drivers, and an optional Bluetooth module and can be configured for a variety of machine control applications. A pair of Android apps are used to generate and send the G-code from a phone to the GRBL firmware loaded on the Arduino.

This seems to fall in the category of “entry-level” custom automation tools which help to save some time and effort on repetitive tasks without blowing the budget. We would include the various component tape cutters we’ve seen in this category, as well as smart build platform for manual PCB assembly

Ortur Laser Will Go Open-Source

Well, that was fast! Last week, we wrote about a video by [Norbert Heinz] where he called out the Ortur laser engravers for apparently using the GPL-licensed grbl firmware without providing the source code and their modifications to it, as required by the license. Because open source and grbl are dear to our hearts and CNC machines, we wrote again about Norbert’s efforts over the weekend, speculating that it might just be unfamiliarity with the open source license requirements on Ortur’s part.

Because of [Norbert]’s persistance and publicity around the issue, the support ticket finally reached the right person within Ortur, and within two or three days [Gil Araújo], Support Admin at Ortur, managed to convince the company that going fully open source was the right thing to do. What remains is the question of how to do it, operationally.

So [Gil] asked [Norbert] to ask Hackaday: what do you want from Ortur on this, and how should they proceed? Via e-mail, he asked in particular for best practices on setting up the repository and making the code actually useful to non-programmer types. He said that he looked around at the other laser engraver companies, and didn’t find any good examples of others doing the Right Thing™, so he asked [Norbert] to ask us. And now we’re asking you!

Have you got any good examples of companies using open-source firmware, modifying it, and making it available for their users? Is a simple Github repo with a README enough, or should he spend some time on making it user-friendly for the non-coders out there? Or start with the former and work toward the latter as a goal? I’m sure [Gil] will be reading the comments, so be constructive! You’ll be helping a laser engraver company take its first steps into actually engaging with the open source community.

We said it before, and we’ll say it again. Good job [Norbert] for taking Ortur to task here, but also by doing so in a way that leaves them the option of turning around and doing the right thing. This also highlights that companies aren’t monolithic beasts – sometimes it takes getting your cause heard by just the right person within a company to change the response from a “this is a business secret” to “how should we set up our Github?” And kudos for [Gil] and Ortur for listening to their users!

Showing an Ortur lasercutter control module in front of a screen. There's a serial terminal open on the screen, showing the "Ortur Laser Master 3" banner, and then a Grbl prompt.

Watch Out For Lasercutter Manufacturers Violating GPL

For companies that build equipment like CNC machines or lasercutters, it’s tempting to use open-source software in a lot of areas. After all, it’s stable, featureful, and has typically passed the test of time. But using open-source software is not always without attendant responsibilities. The GPL license requires that all third-party changes shipped to users are themselves open-sourced, with possibility for legal repercussions. But for that, someone has to step up and hold them accountable.

Here, the manufacturer under fire is Ortur. They ship laser engravers that quite obviously use the Grbl firmware, or a modified version thereof, so [Norbert] asked them for the source code. They replied that it was a “business secret”. He even wrote them a second time, and they refused. Step three, then, is making a video about it.

Unfortunately [Norbert] doesn’t have the resources to start international legal enforcement, so instead he suggests we should start talking openly about the manufacturers involved. This makes sense, since such publicity makes it way easier for a lawsuit eventually happen, and we’ve seen real consequences come to Samsung, Creality and Skype, among others.

Many of us have fought with laser cutters burdened by proprietary firmware, and while throwing the original board out is tempting, you do need to invest quite a bit more energy and money working around something that shouldn’t have been a problem. Instead, the manufacturers could do the right, and legal, thing in the first place. We should let them know that we require that of them.

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