Watch The Low-Cost Mechatronics Lab Dispense Candy, Sort Cups

A lot can be done with simple motors and linear motion when they are mated to the right mechanical design and control systems. Teaching these principles is the goal behind the LCMT (Low Cost Mechatronics Trainer) which is intended primarily as an educational tool. The LCMT takes a “learn by doing” approach to teach a variety of principles by creating a system that takes a cup from a hopper, fills it with candy from a dispenser, then sorts the cups based on color, all done by using the proper combinations of relatively simple systems.

The Low Cost Mechatronics Trainer can be built for under $1,000 and is the wonderful work of a team from the Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland, USA. The LCMT is clearly no one-off project; there are complete CAD files and build documentation on the site, as well as a complete lab guide for educators.

A demo video of the assembled system is embedded below, with a walkthrough done by [Tim Callinan]. It’s worth a watch to see how cleanly designed the system is, and the visual learners among you may learn a thing or two just by watching the system go through its motions.

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Decorative Light Box Lets You Guess The Time

Telling time by using the current position of the sun is nothing revolutionary — though it probably was quite the “life hack” back in ancient times, we can assume. On the other hand, showing time by using the current position of the sun is what inspired [Rich Nelson] to create the Day Cycle Clock, a color changing light box of the Philadelphia skyline, simulating a full day and night cycle in real time — servo-controlled sun and moon included.

At its core, the clock uses an Arduino with a real-time clock module, and the TimeLord library to determine the sunrise and sunset times, as well as the current moon phase, based on a given location. The sun and moon are displayed on a 1.44″ LCD which doubles as actual digital clock in case you need a more accurate time telling after all. [Rich] generally went out of his way with planning and attention to detail in this project, as you can see in the linked video, resulting in an impressively clean build surely worthy as gift to his brother. And if you want to build one for yourself, both the Arduino source code and all the mechanical parts are available on GitHub.

An interesting next iteration could be adding internet connectivity to get the current weather situation mixed into the light behavior — not that it would be the first time we’d see weather represented by light. And of course, simulating the northern lights is also always an option.

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3D-Printed Vise Is a Mechanical Marvel

We often wonder how many people have 3D printers and wind up just printing trinkets off Thingiverse. To get the most out of a printer, you really need to be able to use a CAD package and make your own design. However, just like a schematic editor doesn’t make your electronic designs work, a CAD program won’t ensure you have a successful mechanical part.

[TheGoofy] has a 100% 3D printed vise that looks like it is useful. What’s really interesting, though, is the video (see below) where he explains how printing affects material strength and other design considerations that went into the vise.

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A Home CNC Built By Someone Who Knows Their Stuff

[thisoldtony] has a nice shop in need of a CNC. We’re not certain what he does exactly, but we think he might be a machinist or an engineer. Regardless, he sure does build a nice CNC. Many home-built CNCs are neat, but lacking. Even popular kits ignore fundamental machine design principles. This is alright for the kind of work they will typically be used for, but it’s nice to see one done right.

Most home-built machines are hard or impossible to square. That is, to make each axis move exactly perpendicular to the others. They also neglect to design for the loads the machine will see, or adjusting for deviation across the whole movement. There’s also bearing pre-loads, backlash, and more to worry about. [thisoldtony] has taken all these into consideration.

The series is a long one, but it is fun to watch and we picked up a few tricks along the way. The resulting CNC is very attractive, and performs well after some tuning. In the final video he builds a stunning rubber band gun for his son. You can also download a STEP file of the machine if you’d like. Videos after the break.

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Fitting 3D Prints On Eagle Boards

One of the hardest things you’ll ever do is mesh your electronic design with a mechanical design. Getting holes for switches in the right place is a pain, and if you do it enough, you’ll realize the beauty of panel mount jacks. This is especially true when using Eagle to design a PCB, but with a few tricks, it’s possible to build 3D printable pieces directly from Eagle designs.

[Tyler] built a clock with a bunch of LEDs. While the clock worked great, there was a lot of light leakage around the segments of his custom seven-segment numbers. The solution is a light mask, and [Tyler] figured out how to make one in Eagle.

The first step is to draw a new layer on the Eagle board that defines the light mask. This is exported as an EPS file in the CAM processor that gives him a 2D drawing. At least it’s to scale.

The next step is to install Inkscape and install paths2openscad. This turns the two-dimensional drawing into a 2D object that can be rendered in OpenSCAD and exported as a 3D printable STL file.

Does the project work? The results are great – the entire light mask is a single-wall print, and since this light mask doesn’t need any mechanical strength, it should hold up well. The clock looks much better than before, and [Tyler] has a new technique for making 3D objects for his 2D PCBs.

Learn 40 Years Of Mech Prototyping At Lightspeed

So, what are you doing for the next five and a half hours?  If you’re as busy as we are, you might have to digest this amazing 18 part series of videos over the course of a week or so, but we can almost guarantee you’ll learn a lot. It’s a speedrun through the best collection of Mechanical Engineering knowledge we’ve every come across.

In this epic Youtube video series [Dan Gelbart] shares his knowledge of 40 years of prototyping mechanical designs in a way we’ve never seen before. Not only does he show you how to build things, but he gives away a life time of “tips and tricks” that only a veteran builder would know. There are so many little gems of wisdom in this video series, it’s hard to know where to start with our description. He covers all the usual topics: everything from materials, adhesives, coatings, and such. But the real value of this series is all the little trinkets of information he shares along the way.

Don’t be intimated by some of the tools he’s using – chances are there is a DIY version of the piece of equipment out there, and often you can find a hackerspace or enthusiast in the area who will help you out with their gear. We think this video series should be a must watch for any engineering student or hacker. We made a video playlist for you so you can start watching the videos after the break.

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Checking Populated PCB Clearance with a 3D Printer

Laying out one PCB, sending it out to a fab, stuffing it with components, and having the whole thing actually work when you’re done is a solved problem. Doing the same thing and having it plug in to another PCB… well, that’s a bit harder. Forget about building a PCB and having it fit inside an enclosure the first time.

The usual solution to this problem is printing the board to be fabbed on a piece of paper, take some calipers, and measure very, very carefully. Extra points for sticking a few components you’re worried about to the paper before lining the mechanical prototype up to the existing board. [N8VI] over at the i3 Detroit hackerspace had a better idea – print the whole thing out on a 3D printer.

[N8VI] is working on a software defined radio cape for a BeagleBone. He was a bit concerned about a few caps getting in the way of a board stack. This was tested by printing out a bit of plastic in the shape of the new board, adding header spacers and parts that might be troublesome.

While the idea is great, there’s not much in the way of a software solution or a toolchain to make plastic copies of completed boards. We know rendering 3D objects from KiCAD is rather easy, but there aren’t many tools available for those of us who are still stuck with Eagle. If you know of a way to print populated boards, drop a note in the comments.