If You Can Measure It, You Must Display It

When can you be sure that you’re logging enough data? When you’re logging all of the data! Of course there are exceptions to the above tongue-in-cheek maxim, but it’s certainly a good start. Especially since data storage on, for instance, an SD card is so easy and cheap these days, there’s almost no reason to not record most every little bit of data that your project can produce. Even without an SD card, many microcontrollers have enough onboard flash, or heck even RAM, to handle whatever you throw at them. The trick, then, is to make sense out of that data, and for me at least, that often means drawing pretty pictures.

I was impressed this week by a simple but elegant stepper motor diagnosis tool hacked together by [Zapta]. Essentially, it’s a simple device: it’s a “Black Pill” dev board, two current sensors, an EEPROM for storing settings, and a touchscreen. Given that most of us with 3D printers rely on stepper motors to get the job done, it’s certainly interesting to do some diagnostics.

By logging voltage and current measurement on each phase of a stepper motor, you can learn a lot about what’s going on, at least if you can visualize all that data. And that’s where [Zapta]’s tool shines. It plots current vs motor speed to detect impedance problems. Tuning the current in the first place is a snap with Lissajous patterns, and it’ll track your extruder’s progress or look out for skipped steps for you across an entire print job. It does all this with many carefully targeted graphs.

I was talking to [Niklas Roy] about this, and he said “oh check out my hoverboard battery logger“. Here we go again! It sits inline with the battery and logs current and voltage, charging or discharging. Graphs let you visualize power usage over time, and a real-time-clock lets you sync it with video of using the hoverboard to help make even more sense of the data.

So what are you waiting for? Sensors are cheap, storage is cheap, and utilities to graph your data after the fact are plentiful. If you’re not logging all the relevant data, you’re missing out on some valuable insights. And if you are, we’d love to see your projects! (Hint, hint.)

Core XY Explained

If you are building a CNC machine, a 3D printer, or even a plotter, you have a need for motion in both the X and Y directions. There are many ways to accomplish this, for example, some printers move the tool in the X direction and the bed in the Y direction while others move the entire X carriage in the Y direction and yet more use a delta mechanism. However, one of the oldest means of doing this is the Core XY method. It is interesting because both motors remain stationary and the business end moves entirely on belts or cords. This is similar to the H-Bot technique, but with some differences. [Michael Laws] has a video (see below) that explains how two stationary motors can move a tool anywhere in an XY region.

The idea behind Core XY goes back to at least old drafting tables. You can think of it as an object held by two ends of the same belt. As one end of the belt gets shorter the other end gets longer. The belts are arranged so that motion of one motor causes the tool to move at a 45 degree angle. That means you have to move both motors to go in a straight line.

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TwinTeeth: The Delta Bot PCB Factory

There are a few all-in-one CNC/milling/plotting/3D printing/engraving bots out there that claim to be mini factories for hobbyists, prototypers, and other homebrew creators. The latest is Diyouware’s TwinTeeth, a bot obviously inspired by a few 3D printers, but something that has a few interesting features we hope will propagate through the open hardware ecosystem.

The design of the TwinTeeth┬áis an inverse delta bot, kinematically similar to a large number of 3D printers out there. Instead of suspending the tool from a trio of arms, the TwinTeeth puts the work surface on the arms and suspends the tool from the top of the machine. There are a few neat bonuses for this setup – all the tools, from a BluRay laser diode, a Dremel, solder paste dispenser, and a plastic extruder for 3D printing can be mounted in easy to mount adapters. The TwinTooth design uses three locking pins to keep each toolhead in place, and after a little bit of software setup this machine can quickly switch between its various functions.

One very interesting feature of this bot is the ability to mask off PCBs for chemical etching with a BluRay laser diode. This actually works pretty well, as evidenced by the teams earlier work with a purpose-built PCB masker machine. The only problem with this technique is that presensitized boards must be used. If that’s an issue, no problem, just use the Dremel attachment with a v-bit cutter.