Pandemic Chip Shortages Are Shutting Down Automotive Production

Once upon a time, the automobile was a mostly mechanical beast, but no longer. Advanced electronics have weaved their way into the modern car, from engine to infotainment and climate control to the buttons now sprinkled throughout the passenger cabin. The gains in amenity and efficiency can’t be sniffed at, but it leaves manufacturers reliant on semiconductor suppliers to get cars out the door. Over the past year, it’s become much more complicated — with many automakers having to slow production in the face of integrated circuit shortages that can be traced back to Spring of 2020. Continue reading “Pandemic Chip Shortages Are Shutting Down Automotive Production”

Peeking Inside A VW Gearbox Reveals Die Casting Truths

Recently, I was offered a 1997 Volkswagen Golf for the low, low price of free — assuming I could haul it away, as it suffered from a thoroughly borked automatic transmission. Being incapable of saying no to such an opportunity, I set about trailering the poor convertible home and immediately tore into the mechanicals to see what was wrong.

Alas, I have thus far failed to resurrect the beast from Wolfsburg, but while I was wrist deep in transmission fluid, I spotted something that caught my eye. Come along for a look at the nitty-gritty of transmission manufacturing!

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Quality Control, Done Anywhere

Modern society has brought us all kinds of wonders, including rapid intercontinental travel, easy information access, and decreased costs for most consumer goods thanks to numerous supply chains. When those supply chains break down as a result of a natural disaster or other emergency, however, the disaster’s effects can be compounded without access to necessary supplies. That’s the focus of Field Ready, a nonprofit that sets up small-scale manufacturing in places without access to supply chains, or whose access has been recently disrupted.

As part of this year’s Hackaday Prize, a each of our four nonprofit partners outline specific needs that became the targets of a design and build challenge. Field Ready was one of those nonprofits, and for the challenge they focused on quality control for their distributed manufacturing system. We took a look at Field Ready back in June to explore some of the unique challenges associated with their work, which included customers potentially not knowing that a product they procured came from Field Ready in the first place, leading to very little feedback on the performance of the products and nowhere to turn when replacements are needed.

The challenge was met by a dream team whose members each received a $6,000 microgrant to work full time on the project. The’ve just made their report on an easier way of tracking all of the products produced, and identifying them even for those not in the organization. As a result, Field Ready has a much improved manufacturing and supply process which allows them to gather more data and get better feedback from users of their equipment. Join us after the break for a closer look at the system and to watch the team’s presentation video.

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State Of The Art For Nixies Gets A Boost From Dalibor Farny’s Supersize Prototype

Never one to pass up on a challenge, artisanal Nixie tube maker [Dalibor Farný] has been undertaking what he calls “Project H”, an enormous array of 121 Nixie tubes for an unnamed client. What’s so special about that? Did we mention that each Nixie is about the size of a sandwich plate?

Actually, we did, back in May when we first noted Project H in our weekly links roundup. At that time [Dalibor] had only just accepted the project, knowing that it would require inventing everything about these outsized Nixies from scratch. At 150 mm in diameter, these will be the largest Nixies ever made. The design of the tube is evocative of the old iconoscope tubes from early television history, or perhaps the CRT from an old oscilloscope.

Since May, [Dalibor] has done most of the design work and worked out the bugs in a lot of the internal components. But as the video below shows, he still has some way to go. Everything about his normal construction process had to be scaled up, so many steps, like the chemical treatment of the anode cup, are somewhat awkward. He also discovered that mounting holes in the cathodes were not the correct diameter, requiring some clench-worthy manual corrections. The work at the glassblower’s lathe was as nerve wracking as it was fascinating; every step of the build appears fraught with some kind of peril.

Sadly, this prototype failed to come together — a crack developed in the glass face of the tube. But ever the pro, [Dalibor] took it in stride and will learn from this attempt. Given that he’s reduced the art of the Nixie to practice, we’re confident these big tubes will come together eventually.

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Making PCBs The Easy Way

Building a PCB at home can be fraught. If you’re etching, there are chemicals and the nuances of toner transfer. If you’re milling, getting the surface height just right, and not breaking those pointy little v-cutters is always a challenge. [Robin] has tips for both of these cases, and solves a lot of the common hassles by using a milling machine.

Whether he’s scraping away etch resist or entire copper isolation lines, [Robin] uses a non-spinning scratching tool instead of a v-bit: they’re more robust and cut every bit as well. He’s got tips for using FlatCam and KiCAD to make scratched-out traces. His registration system allows him to get double-sided boards with a minimum of hassle. And as a bonus, he’s doing some experimentation with embedding SMT parts inside the boards as well. Be sure that you check out his whole guide, or just watch the video embedded below.

We’re pretty sure you’ll pick up a trick or two, and maybe you’ll be convinced to bite the bullet and invest in a nice mill. If you’d like a more traditional take on PCB milling, try out our own [Adil Malik]’s guide.

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Digi-Key Hacks UV Into Conveyor Line To Protect Warehouse Staff

No doubt that every hacker has already heard of Digi-Key, the electronic component distributor that makes it just as possible to order one of something as it is to order a thousand of it. As an essential business, Digi-Key has been open during the duration of the lockdown since they support critical manufacturing services for virtually every industry on the planet including the medical industry.

Ensuring their workforce stays healthy is key to remaining open and as part of their efforts they hacked together a nice addition to their sanitation regime. They use around 8,000 plastic totes to transport components around the distribution center and devised a way to sanitize tote coming in from the receiving area using a UV light tunnel. From their sanitation plan we can see this is in addition to the fogging system (likely a vaporized hydrogen peroxide system) used to regularly sanitize the totes passing throughout the warehouse.

They developed a UV light tunnel that wraps around the conveyor rollers. The design includes a sensor and a timer to control when and how long the UV lights are on. The totes are a frequent touch point for employees, and running incoming shipments through the UV light tunnel helps decrease the chance of exposure.

Thinking of using UV as a sanitation tool? Make sure you do your research on the wavelengths you need and vet the source of critical components. [Voja] ran into UV lamps that were anything but germicidal.

The Hackaday Prize: Field Ready Is Changing The Face Of Humanitarian Relief

It’s one of the enduring images of a humanitarian aid mobilization: military transport planes lined up on runways, ready to receive pallets of every conceivable supply. The cardboard boxes on those shrink-wrapped pallets are filled with everything from baby formula to drinking water, and will join crates filled with the tools and materials needed to shelter, clothe, feed, and heal people in places where civilization has suddenly come into short supply thanks to a disaster, sometimes natural, but often man-made.

What if it didn’t need to be that way? What if, instead of flight after flight of supplies sent in to help rebuild, perhaps just one flight was needed, one stuffed with the tools of our trade: 3D-printers, Arduinos, electronic components, machine tools, and the experts to use them. It certainly wouldn’t make up for the short-term need for food and water, but importing the ability to manufacture the items needed locally would go a long way to repairing infrastructure in the disaster area.

Rethinking disaster response is the core mission of Field Ready, one of the groups we’ve partnered with for the 2020 Hackaday Prize. By way of introduction to this non-profit with a potentially world-changing mission, and to help those who are participating in the 2020 Hackaday Prize challenges, here’s a little bit about Field Ready — what they do, how they see digital manufacturing fitting into their mission, and where they’re going in the future.

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