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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Flexible PCB Robot Flops Around To Get Around

In his continuing quest to reduce the parts count of a robot as far as possible, [Carl Bugeja] has hit upon an unusual design: robots built of almost nothing but PCBs.

Admittedly, calling these floppy four-legged critters robots is still a bit of a stretch at this point. The video below shows that while they certainly move under their own power, there’s not a lot of control to the movement – yet. [Carl]’s design uses an incredibly fragile looking upper arm assembly made from FR4. Each arm holds a small neodymium magnet suspended over the center of a flexible PCB coil, quite like those we’ve seen him use before as actuators and speakers. The coils are controlled by a microcontroller living where the four legs intersect. After a few uninspiring tethered tests revealed some problems with the overly compliant FR4 magnet supports, [Carl] made a few changes and upped the frequency of the leg movements. This led to actual motion and eventually to untethered operation, with the bot buzzing around merrily.

There are still issues with the lack of stiffness of the magnet arms, but we’re optimistic that [Carl] can overcome them. We like this idea a lot, and can see all sort of neat applications for flapping and flopping locomotion.

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DIY Ribbon Element Upgrades A Studio Microphone

For those with some experience with pro audio, the term “ribbon microphone” tends to conjure up an image of one of those big, chunky mics from the Golden Age of radio, the kind adorned with the station’s callsign and crooned into by the latest heartthrob dreamboat singer. This DIY ribbon mic is none of those things, but it’s still really cool.

Of course the ribbon mic isn’t always huge, and the technology behind it is far from obsolete. [Frank Olsen]’s ribbon mic starts out with gutting a run-of-the-mill studio mic of its element, leaving only the body and connector behind. The element that he constructs, mostly from small scraps of aluminum and blocks of acrylic, looks very much like the ribbon element in commercial mics: a pair of magnets with a thin, corrugated strip of foil suspended between them. The foil was corrugated by passing it through a jig that [Frank] built, which is a neat tool, but he says that a paper crimper used for crafting would work too. There’s some pretty fussy work behind the cartridge build, but everything went together and fit nicely in the old mic body. The video below was narrated using the mic, so we know it works.

Fun fact: the ribbon microphone was invented by Walter Schottky. That Walter Schottky. Need more on how these mics work? Our colleague [Al Williams] has you covered with this article on the basics.

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Magnets and Printed Parts Make Quick-Disconnect Terminals

The Apple MagSafe power connector is long gone from their product line, but that doesn’t mean that magnetic connectors aren’t without their charms. It just takes the right application, and finding one might be easier with these homebrew magnetic connectors.

We’ll admit that the application that [Wesley Lee] found for his magnetic connectors is perhaps a little odd. He’s building something called Linobyte, a hybrid art and electronics project that pays homage to computing history with very high-style, interactive core memory modules. The connectors are for the sense wire that is weaved through the eight toroids on each module, to program it with a single byte. Each connector has a 3D-printed boot that holds a small, gold-plated neodymium magnet with the sense wire soldered to it. A socket holds another magnet to the underside of a PCB. The magnet in the boot sticks to the PCB and makes contact with pads, completing the circuit. We know what you’re thinking: heating a magnet past the Curie point is a great way to ruin it. [Wesley] admits that happens, but it just makes the connection a little weaker, which works for his application. The short video below shows how he puts them together.

We can think of a couple of ways these connectors would be useful, and we really like the look of the whole project. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes, but in the meantime, brushing up on how magnets work could be fun. Continue reading “Magnets and Printed Parts Make Quick-Disconnect Terminals”

Flexible Battery Meter Bends Over Backward to Work

A lithium-ion battery tester seems like a simple project, at least electrically. But when you start thinking about the physical problem of dealing with a huge range of battery sizes, things get a little more complicated. Sure, you can 3D-print adapters and jigs to accommodate the different batteries, or you can cheat a bit and put the charger and tester circuit on a flexible PCB.

Maybe it’s the Kapton talking, but we really like the look of [Androkavo]’s project. The idea is simple – rather than use a rigid FR4 printed circuit board, a flexible polyimide film PCB a little longer than the biggest battery to be tested was fabricated. With large contacts on each end, the board can just be looped across the battery to take a reading. For charging, neodymium magnets on the other side of the board keep the charger in contact with the battery. The circuit itself is built around an STM8S003 8-bit microcontroller and a handful of discrete components. There’s a bar graph display for battery voltage that covers 2.0 to 4.9 volts, and a USB port for charging. The charger works with everything from the big 21700 cells down to the short 14500s. With the help of another magnet to keep the board from bending too sharply, even the diminutive 10180 can be charged. Check out the video below, which has some of the most relaxing music and best microscope shots of SMD soldering we’ve seen.

Flexible PCBs are versatile things. Not only can they make projects like this successful, but they can also wriggle around, swim, or even play music.

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Cooking Eggs with Magnets in Motion

It’s probably always going to be easier to just find some dry wood and make a cooking fire, but if you’re ever in a real bind and just happen to have a bunch of magnets and a treadmill motor, this DIY induction cooktop could be your key to a hot breakfast.

For those not familiar with them, induction cooktops are a real thing. The idea stretches all the way back to the turn of the last century, and involves using a strong magnetic field to induce eddy currents in the metal of a cooking vessel. As [K&J Magnetics] explains, the eddy currents are induced in a conductor by changing magnetic fields nearby. The currents create their own magnetic field which opposes the magnetic field that created it. The resulting current flows through the conductor, heating it up. For their cooktop, they chose to spin a bunch of powerful neodymium magnets with alternating polarity using an old treadmill motor. The first try heated up enough to just barely cook an egg. Adding more magnets resulted in more heat, but the breakthrough came with a smaller pan. The video below shows the cooktop in action.

It’s worth noting that commercial induction cooktops use coils and a high-frequency alternating current instead or rotating magnets. They also are notoriously fussy about cookware, too. So, kudos to [K&J] for finding success with such an expedient build. As a next step, we’d love to see the permanent magnets replaced with small coils that can be electrically commutated, perhaps with a brushless motor controller. Continue reading “Cooking Eggs with Magnets in Motion”

The Diaphragm is the Coil in These Flexible PCB Speakers

Speakers used to be largish electromechanical affairs, with magnets, moving coils, and paper cones all working together to move air around in a pleasing way. They’ve gotten much smaller, of course, small enough to screw directly into your ears or live inside the slimmest of smartphones and still delivery reasonable sound quality. The basic mechanism hasn’t changed much, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to make transduce electrical signals into acoustic waves.

Take these speakers made from flexible printed circuit boards, for instance. While working on his flexible PCB soft actuators, [Carl Bugeja] noticed that the PWM signals coursing through the coils on the thin PCB material while they were positioned over a magnet made an audible beeping. He decided to capitalize on that and try to make a decent speaker from the PCBs. An early prototype hooked to a simple amplifier showed promise, so he 3D-printed a ring to support the PCB like a diaphragm over a small neodymium magnet. The sound quality was decent, but the volume was low, so [Carl] experimented with a paper cone attached to the PCB to crank it up a bit. That didn’t help much, but common objects acting as resonators seemed to work fairly well. Check out the results in the video below.

This is very much a work in progress, but given [Carl]’s record with PCB creations from robotic fish to stepper motors built right into the PCB, we’d say he’ll make substantial improvements. Follow his and others’ progress in the Musical Instruments Challenge part of the 2018 Hackaday Prize.

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