Mechanisms: The Reed Switch

Just about everywhere you go, there’s a reed switch nearby that’s quietly going about its work. Reed switches are so ubiquitous that you’re probably never more than a few feet away from one at any given time, especially at home or in the car. You might have them on your doors and windows as part of a burglar alarm system. They keep your washing machine from running when the lid is open, and they put your laptop to sleep when you close the lid. They know if the car has enough brake fluid and whether or not your seat belt is fastened.

Reed switches are interesting devices with a ton of domestic and industrial applications. We call them switches, but they’re also sensors. In fact, they only do the work of a switch while they can sense a magnetic field. They are capable of switching AC or DC at low and high voltages, but they don’t need electricity to work. Since they’re sealed in glass, they are impervious to dirt, dust, corrosion, temperature swings, and explosive environments. They’re cheap, they’re durable, and in low-current applications they can last for about a billion actuations.

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Printed It: Do More with Lockable Ball And Socket Helping Hands

In one hand you hold the soldering iron, in the other the solder, and in two more hands the parts you’re trying to solder together. Clearly this is a case where helping hands could be useful.

Magnifying glass with helping hands
Magnifying glass with helping hands

Luckily helping hands are easy to make, coolant hoses will do the job at under $10. Attach alligator clips to one end, mount them on some sort of base, and you’re done. Alternatively, you can steal the legs from an “octopus” tripod normally used for cell phones. So why would you 3D print them?

One reason is to take advantage of standardized, open source creativity. Anyone can share a model of their design for all to use as is, or to modify for their needs. A case in point is the ball and socket model which I downloaded for a helping hand. I then drew up and printed a magnifying glass holder with a matching socket, made a variation of the ball and socket joint, and came up with a magnetic holder with matching ball. Let’s takea  look at what worked well and what didn’t.

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Roll Your Own Magnetic Encoder Disks

[Erich] is the middle of building a new competition sumo bot for 2018. He’s trying to make this one as open and low-cost as humanly possible. So far it’s going pretty well, and the quest to make DIY parts has presented fodder for how-to posts along the way.

One of new bot’s features will be magnetic position encoders for the wheels. In the past, [Erich] has used the encoder disks that Pololu sells without issue. At 69¢ each, they don’t exactly break the bank, either. But shipping outside the US is prohibitively high, so he decided to try making his own disks with a 3D printer and the smallest neodymium magnets on Earth.

The pre-fab encoder disks don’t have individual magnets—they’re just a puck of magnetic slurry that gets its polarity on the assembly line. [Erich] reverse-engineered a disk and found the polarity using magnets (natch). Then got to work designing a replacement with cavities to hold six 1mm x 1mm x 1mm neodymium magnets and printed it out. After that, he just had to glue them in place, matching the polarity of the original disk. We love the ingenuity of this project, especially the pair of tweezers he printed to pick and place the magnets.

Rotary encoders are pretty common in robotics applications to detect and measure wheel movement. Don’t quite recall how they work? We’ll help you get those wheels turning.

via Dangerous Prototypes

Making A Motorized Turntable Portable

[Robin Reiter] needed a better way to show off his work. He previously converted an electric TV stand into a full 360-degree display turntable, but it relied on an external power supply to get it spinning. It was time to give it an upgrade.

Putting his spacial organization skills to work, [Reiter] has crammed a mini OLED display, rotary encoder, a LiPo 18650 battery and charging circuit, a pair of buck converters, a power switch, and an Arduino pro mini into the small control console. To further maximize space, [Reiter] stripped out the pin headers and wired the components together directly. It attaches to the turntable in question with magnets, so it can be removed out of frame, or for displaying larger objects!

When first powered on, the turntable holds in pause mode giving [Reiter] time to adjust the speed and direction. He also took the time to add an optical rotary encoder disk to the turntable and give the gearing a much needed cleaning. Check out the project video after the break!

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Hovering Questions About Magnetic Levitation

Who doesn’t love magnets? They’re functional, mysterious, and at the heart of nearly every electric motor. They can make objects appear to defy gravity or move on their own. If you’re like us, when you first started grappling with the refrigerator magnets, you tried to make one hover motionlessly over another. We tried to position one magnet over another by pitting their repellent forces against each other but [K&J Magnetics] explains why this will never work and how levitation can be done with electromagnets. (YouTube, embedded below.)

In the video, there is a quick demonstration of their levitation rig and a brief explanation with some handy oscilloscope readings to show what’s happening on the control side. The most valuable part, is the explanation in the article where it walks us through the process, starting with the reason permanent magnets can’t be used which leads into why electromagnets can be successful.

[K&J Magnetics]’s posts about magnets are informative and well-written. They have a rich mix of high-level subjects without diluting them by glossing over the important parts. Of course, as a retailer, they want to sell their magnets but the knowledge they share can be used anywhere, possibly even the magnets you have in your home.

Simpler levitators can be built with a single electromagnet to get you on the fast-track to building your own levitation rig. Remember in the first paragraph when we said ‘nearly’ every electric motor used magnets, piezoelectric motors spin without magnets.

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Cheap and Easy Magnetic DNA Separation Method Needs Your Help

When you consider that almost every single cell in your body has more than a meter of DNA coiled up inside its nucleus, it seems like it should be pretty easy to get some to study. But with all the other cellular gunk in a crude preparation, DNA can be quite hard to isolate. That’s where this cheap and easy magnetic DNA separation method comes in. If it can be optimized and tested with some help from the citizen science community.

Commercial DNA separation methods generally involve mixing silica beads into crude cell fractions; the DNA preferentially binds to the silica, making it possible to mechanically separate it from the rest of the cellular junk. But rather than using a centrifuge to isolate the DNA, [Justin] from The Thought Emporium figured that magnets might do a better job. It’s not a new idea — biotech companies offer magnetic separation beads commercially, but at too steep a price for [Justin]’s budget. His hack comes from making magnetite particles from common iron compounds like PCB etchant and moss killer, and household ammonia cleaner. The magnetite particles are then coated with sodium silicate solution, also known as waterglass. The silica coating should allow the beads to bind to DNA, with the magnetic core taking care of separation.

[Justin] was in the process of testing his method when he lost access to the needed instruments, so he’s appealing to the larger science community for help optimizing his technique. Based on his track record of success in fields ranging from satellite tracking to graphene production, we’ll bet he’ll nail this one too.

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Well, That Was Quick: Heng Lamp Duplicated

That didn’t take long at all! We covered a pretty cool lamp with a novel magnetic switch mechanism, and [msraynsford] has his version laser cut, veneered, a video posted on YouTube (embedded below), and an Instructable written up before we’d even caught our breath.

For those who missed it, the original Heng lamp is a beautiful design with a unique take on a magnetic switch. As with the original, the secret sauce is a switch inside that’s physically held closed by the two magnets. It’s a pretty clever mechanism that looks magical to boot.

[msraynsford]’s version replaces the floating spheres with floating cylinders, which are easier to fabricate in layers on a laser cutter, but otherwise the copy is fairly true to the aesthetics of the original. Pretty sweet!
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