Make an Impression at the Bar with a CNC Coaster Plotter

If you’re anything like us, your success with the opposite sex at the bar wasn’t much to brag about. But imagine if you had only had this compact CNC polar plotter and could have whipped up a few custom coasters for your intended’s drink. Yeah, that definitely would have helped.

Or not, but at least it would have been fun to play with. This is actually an improved version of [bdring]’s original “Polar Coaster”. Version 2 is really just a more compact and robust version of the original. The new one has a custom controller for the steppers and pen-lift servo, and everything is mounted neatly to the main PCB. Where the original used a timing belt to drive the platter, the new one uses 3D-printed helical gears, and the steppers have been replaced by slimmer motors. It even has an SD card and smartphone UI, and the coasters look pretty good.

There’s no video of the new one, but you can see its predecessor in action below and imagine the possibilities. Snap a picture and have a line art rendition of someone plotted while you’re waiting for drinks? Just remember not to take any laser engraved wooden nickels.

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Achieving Zen the Arduino Way

The purpose of a Zen garden, those stylized landscapes created by painstakingly placing rocks and raking gravel into perfect patterns, is the doing of the thing. Making sure every line is perfectly formed is no mean feat, and the concentration required to master it is the point of the whole thing. But who has time for that? Why not just build a robot to create the perfect Zen garden in miniature?

That was what [Tim Callinan] and his classmates did for a semester project, and the “ZenXY” sand plotter was the result. There isn’t a build log for the device per se, although the video below makes it plain how they went about this. The sand table itself is a plywood box whose bottom is layered with fine white sand and contains a single steel ball. Below the table is an X-Y gantry carrying a powerful magnet. A gShield riding on top of an Uno turns G code into slow, stately movement of the ball through the sand. The patterns are remarkably intricate, and while it might not be the same as mastering the body control needed to rake gravel with precision, watching the ball push the sand around is pretty Zen all by itself

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen someone try to automate a traditional Japanese practice. This tea ceremony robot comes to mind, and this nicely crafted sand table is very similar to the ZenXY.

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Tiny Art Etched into Silicon Wafers with Electron Beam Lithography

Looks like [Sam Zeloof] got bored on his Thanksgiving break, and things got a little weird in his garage. Of course when your garage contains a scanning electron microscope, the definition of weird can include experimenting with electron-beam lithography, resulting in tiny images etched into silicon.

You’ll probably remember [Sam] from his 2018 Hackaday Superconference talk on his DIY semiconductor fab lab, which he used to create a real integrated circuit. That chip, a PMOS dual-channel differential amp, was produced by photolithography using a modified DLP projector. Photolithography imposes limits to how small a feature can be created on silicon, based on the wavelength of light.

[Sam] is now looking into using the electron beam of his SEM as a sort of CNC laser engraver to produce much finer features. The process involves spin-coating silicon wafers with SU-8, an epoxy photoresist normally used with UV light but that also turns out to be sensitive to electron beams. He had to modify his SEM to control the X- and Y-axis deflection with a 12-bit DAC and provide a custom beam blanker. With a coated wafer in the vacuum chamber, standard laser engraving software generates the G-code to trace his test images on the resist. A very quick dip in acetone develops the exposed chip.

[Sam] says these first test images are not too dainty; the bears are about 2.5 mm high, and the line width is about 10 μm. His system is currently capable of resolving down to 100 nm, while commercial electron beam lithography can get down to 5 nm or so. He says that adding a Faraday cage to the setup might help him get there. Sounds like a project for Christmas break.

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Replace Legacy CNC PCs With A Gerbil

There are lots of laser cutters and other CNC machines available for a decent price online, but the major hurdle to getting these machines running won’t be the price or the parts. It’s usually the controller PC, which might be running Windows XP or NT if you’re lucky, but some of them are still using IBM XT computers from the ’80s. Even if the hardware in these machines is working, it might be impossible to get the software, and even then it will be dated and lacking features of modern computers. Enter the Super Gerbil.

[Paul] was able to find a laser cutter with one of these obsolete controllers, but figured there was a better way to getting it running again. As the name suggests, it uses GRBL, a G-Code parser and CNC controller software package that was originally made to run on an 8-bit AVR microcontroller, but [Paul] designed the Super Gerbil to run on a 32 bit ARM platform. He also added Z-axis control to it, so it now sports more degrees of freedom than the original software.

By way of a proof of concept, once he was finished building the Super Gerbil he ordered a CNC machine from China with an obsolete controller and was able to get it running within a day. As an added bonus, he made everything open so there are no license fees or cloud storage requirements if you want to use his controller. [Paul] also has a Kickstarter page for this project as well. Hopefully controllers haven’t been the only thing stopping you from getting a CNC machine for your lab, though, but if they have you now have a great solution for a 3040 or 3020 CNC machine’s controller, or any other CNC machine you might want to have. Continue reading “Replace Legacy CNC PCs With A Gerbil”

CNC Embroidery Machine Punches Out Designs a Stitch at a Time

It’s doubtful that the early pioneers of CNC would have been able to imagine the range of the applications the technology would be used for. Once limited to cutting metal, CNC machines can now lance through materials using lasers and high-pressure jets of water, squirt molten plastic to build up 3D objects, and apparently even use needle and thread to create embroidered designs.

It may not seem like a typical CNC application, but [James Kolme]’s CNC embroidery machine sure looks familiar. Sitting in front of one of the prettiest sewing machines we’ve ever seen is a fairly typical X-Y gantry system. The stepper-controlled gantry moves an embroidery hoop under the needle of the sewing machine, which is actually the Z-axis of the machine. With the material properly positioned, a NEMA 23 stepper attached to the sewing machine through a sprocket and drive chain makes a stitch, slowly building up a design. Translating an embroidery pattern to G-code is done through Inkstitch, and extension to Inkscape. [James]’ write-up is great, and the video below shows it in action.

We’ve seen a CNC embroidery machine or two before, but our conspicuously non-embroidered hat is off to [James] on this one for its build quality and documentation. And the embroidered Jolly Wrencher doesn’t hurt either.

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DrawBot Badge Represents the CNC World in Badge Design

Badges come in all shapes and sizes, but a badge that draws on a stack of Post-It notes is definitely a new one. The design uses three of the smallest, cheapest hobby servos reasonably available and has a drawing quality that creator [Bart Dring] describes as “adorably wiggly”. It all started when he decided that the CNC and mechanical design world needed to be better represented in the grassroots demo scene that is the badge world, and a small drawing machine that could be cheaply made from readily available components seemed just the ticket.

Two arms control the position of a pen, and a third motor lifts the assembly in order to raise or lower the pen to the drawing surface. Gravity does most of the work for pen pressure, so the badge needs to be hanging on a lanyard or on a tabletop in order to work. An ESP32 using [Bart]’s own port of Grbl does the work of motion control, and a small stack of Post-It notes serves as a writing surface. Without the 3D printed parts, [Bart] says the bill of materials clocks in somewhere under $12.

We’ve seen similar designs doing things like writing out the time with a UV LED, but a compact DrawBot on a badge is definitely a new twist and the fact that it creates a physical drawing that can be peeled off the stack also sets it apart from others in the badgelife scene.

Turning a Cheap Engraver into a Decent PCB Mill

We know, we know. Getting PCBs professionally fabricated anymore is so cheap and easy that making them in-house is increasingly becoming something of a lost art. Like developing your own film. Or even using a camera that has film, for that matter. But when you’re in Brazil and it takes months for shipments to arrive like [Robson Couto] is, sometimes you’re better off sticking with the old ways.

[Robson] writes in to tell us how he decided to buy a ~$150 CNC “engraver” kit from an import site, in hopes that it would allow him to prototype his designs without having to use breadboards all the time. The kit turned out to be decent, but with a series of modifications and a bit of trial and error, he’s improved the performance significantly and is now putting out some very nice looking boards.

The primary hardware issues [Robson] ran into were in the Z axis, as some poor component selections made the stock configuration wobble a bit too much. He replaced some flimsy standoffs as well as swapping in some bushings he salvaged from dead inkjet printers, and the movement got a lot tighter.

Despite the fact that the version of Grbl flashed onto the engraver’s cloned Arduino Uno supports Z leveling, it’s not actually enabled out of the box. [Robson] just needed to add some extra wiring to use the spindle’s bit as a probe on the copper clad board. He also went ahead and updated to the latest version of Grbl, as the one which ships with the machine is fairly old.

He wraps up the post by going through his software workflow on GNU/Linux, which is useful information even if you’ve taken the completely DIY route for your PCB mill. If you’d like to know more about the ins and outs of milling your own boards, check out this excellent primer by [Adil Malik].

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