Spin Me Right Round, Baby: Generator Building Experiments For Mere Mortals

How many of you plan to build a wind-powered generator in the next year? Okay, both of you can put your hands down. Even if you don’t want to wind your coils manually, learning about the principles in an electric generator might spark your interest. There is a lot of math to engineering a commercial model, but if we approach a simple version by looking at the components one at a time, it’s much easier to understand.

For this adventure, [K&J Magnetics] start by dissect a commercial generator. They picked a simple version that might serve a campsite well, so there is no transmission or blade angle apparatus to complicate things. It’s the parts you’d expect, a rotor and a stator, one with permanent magnets and the other with coils of wire.

The fun of this project is copying the components found in the commercial hardware and varying the windings and coil count to see how it affects performance. If you have ever wound magnet wire around a nail to make an electromagnet, you know it is tedious work so check out their 3D printed coil holder with an embedded magnet to trigger a winding count and a socket to fit on a sewing machine bobbin winder. If you are going to make a bunch of coils, this is going to save headaches and wrist tendons.

They use an iterative process to demonstrate the effect of multiple coils on a generator. The first test run uses just three coils but doesn’t generate much power at all, even when spun by an electric drill. Six windings do better, but a dozen finally does the trick, even when turning the generator by hand. We don’t know about their use of cheap silicone diodes though, that seems like unintentional hobbling, but we digress.

Making turbine blades doesn’t have to be a sore chore either, and PVC may be the ticket there, you may also consider the vertical axis wind turbine which is safer at patio level. Now, you folks building generators, remember to tip us off!

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Jigsaw Motor Uses PCB Coils For Radial Flux

Electric motors are easy to make; remember those experiments with wire-wrapped nails? But what’s easy to make is often hard to engineer, and making a motor that’s small, light, and powerful can be difficult. [Carl Bugeja] however is not one to back down from a challenge, and his tiny “jigsaw” PCB motor is the latest result of his motor-building experiments.

We’re used to seeing brushless PCB motors from [Carl], but mainly of the axial-flux variety, wherein the stator coils are arranged so their magnetic lines of force are parallel to the motor’s shaft – his tiny PCB motors are a great example of this geometry. While those can be completely printed, they’re far from optimal. So, [Carl] started looking at ways to make a radial-flux PCB motor. His design has six six-layer PCB coils soldered perpendicular to a hexagonal end plate. The end plate has traces to connect the coils in a star configuration, and together with a matching top plate, they provide support for tiny bearings. The rotor meanwhile is a 3D-printed cube with press-fit neodymium magnets. Check out the build in the video below.

Connected to an ESC, the motor works decently, but not spectacularly. [Carl] admits that more tweaking is in order, and we have little doubt he’ll keep optimizing the design. We like the look of this, and we’re keen to see it improved.

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Turn A Ceiling Fan Into A Wind Turbine… Almost

It’s not uncommon to drive around the neighborhood on trash day and see one or two ceiling fans haphazardly strewn onto a pile of garbage bags, ready to be carted off to the town dump. It’s a shame to see something like this go to waste, and [Giesbert Nijhuis] decided he would see what he could do with one. After some painstaking work, he was able to turn a ceiling fan into a wind turbine (of sorts).

While it’s true that some generators and motors can be used interchangeably by reversing the flow of electricity (motors can be used as generators and vice-versa) this isn’t true of ceiling fans. These motors are a type called induction motors which, as a cost saving measure, have no permanent magnets and therefore can’t simply be used as a generator. If you make some modifications to them, though, like rewiring some of the windings and adding permanent magnets around them, you can get around this downside of induction motors.

[Giesbert] does note that this project isn’t a great way to build a generator. Even after making all of the changes needed to get it working, the motor just isn’t as efficient as one that was built with its own set of magnets. For all the work that went into it, it’s not that great of a time investment for a low-quality generator. However, it’s interesting to see the theory behind something like this work at all, even if the end result wasn’t a complete wind turbine. Perhaps if you have an old ceiling fan lying around, you can put it to better use.

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Magnetic Attraction Of Microduino MCookie Modules

We’ve seen countless different robot kits promoted for STEM education, every one of which can perform the robotic “Hello World” task of line following. Many were in attendance at Maker Faire Bay Area 2019 toiling in their endless loops. Walking past one such display by Microduino, Inc. our attention was caught by a demonstration of their mCookie modules in action: installing a peripheral module took less than a second with a “click” of magnets finding each other.

Many Arduino projects draw from an ecosystem of Arduino shields. Following that established path, Microduino had offered tiny Arduino-compatible boards and peripherals which connected with pins and headers just like their full-sized counterparts. Unfortunately their tiny size also meant their risk of pin misalignment and corresponding damage would be higher as well. mCookie addresses this challenge by using pogo pins for electrical contacts, and magnets to ensure proper alignment. Now even children with not-quite-there-yet dexterity can assemble these modules, opening up a market to a younger audience.

Spring loaded electric connections are a popular choice for programming jigs, and we’ve seen them combined with magnets for ideas like modular keyboards, and there are also LittleBits for building simple circuits. When packaged with bright colorful LEGO-compatible plastic mounts, we have the foundation of an interesting option for introductory electronics and programming. Microduino’s focus at Maker Faire was promoting their Itty Bitty Buggy, which at $60 USD is a significantly more affordable entry point to intelligent LEGO creations than LEGO’s own $300 USD Mindstorm EV3. It’ll be interesting to see if these nifty mCookie modules will help Microduino differentiate themselves from other LEGO compatible electronic kits following a similar playbook.

Rare Earth Metals Caught In Trade War

It seems these days that the news is never good. Speaking from experience, that’s really nothing new; there’s always been something to worry about, and world leaders have always been adept at playing the games that inevitably lead to disturbing news. Wars always result in the very worst news, of course, and putting any kind of modifier in front of the word, like “Cold” or “proxy”, does little to ameliorate the impact.

And so the headlines have been filled these last months with stories of trade wars, with the primary belligerents being the United States and China. We’ve covered a bit about how tariffs, which serve as the primary weapons in any trade war, have impacted the supply of electronic components and other materials of importance to hackers.

But now, as the trade war continues, a more serious front is opening up, one that could have serious consequences not just to the parties involved but also to the world at large. The trade war has escalated to include rare earth metals, and if the threats and rumors currently circulating come to fruition, the technologies and industries that make up the very core of modern society will be in danger of grinding to a halt, at least temporarily.

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Custom Rotary Switch Takes A Motor

There are certain challenges we all will have to face sooner or later. Changing a flat tire in the rain, trying to put on a shirt that doesn’t quite fit, or producing a 16 position rotary switch for a replica computer front panel. There was a time when something like this would be a major undertaking, but with the help of a 3D printer [Mike Gardi] was able to build good looking switches that were big enough to be motor driven.

Switches of course are old tech, and there are plenty of ways to make contacts. [Mike] settled on using 16 small magnets and reed switches. This works, but you probably wouldn’t want to use it where the switch might get close to an external magnet. It does however make for a neat assembly without a lot of mechanical work. It also resists wear compared to a brush type arrangement.

The switch is a little large, but it could probably be made smaller with proper contacts. However, you still need at least some magnets to provide the detents without making mechanical changes.

We couldn’t help but think of the homemade rotary switches from the do it yourself computer that used sewing thread spools, wires, and paper clips. It would be fun to revisit that computer with an eye to making things using a 3D printer. We liked the knob, but if you only need a reproduction knob, there are other ways to go.

Shop-Built Fixtures Reveal The Magic Of Switchable Permanent Magnets

Have you ever wondered how switchable magnets work? Not electromagnets, but those permanent magnet fixtures like the ones that hold dial indicators to machine tools, or the big, powerful chucks for surface grinders that can be mysteriously demagnetized at the flick of a lever. It seems like magic.

Thanks to [Andrew Klein] and this video on shop-built magnetic switches, the magic is gone. As it turns out, the ability to nullify the powerful magnetic field from a bunch of rare earth permanent magnets is as simple as bringing in another set of magnets to cancel out the magnetic fields of the first set.

[Andrew]’s magnetic pucks are formed from two thick plywood discs with magnets set into the edges. These magnets alternate in polarity around the discs, and they match up with mild steel pole pieces set into the face of the discs. The two discs swivel on a common axis; when the top disc is swiveled so that the polarity of the top and bottom magnets align, the magnet is switched on. Swiveling the top 60° puts the opposing fields in line with each other, canceling out the powerful combined pull of all the magnets and releasing the fixture.

[Andrew] sells a set of plans for the magswitches, which he built using standard woodshop tools. We think the design is perfect for a CNC router, though, where the fussy boring and counterboring operations might be a little easier. Perhaps even a 3D-printed version would be possible. This isn’t the first switchable magnet we’ve seen, of course, but we like this one because it’s all mechanical.

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