Hand Depanelizer Gets Pneumatic Upgrade

In high volume production, smaller PCBs are often “panelized” so that multiple copies can be shuffled through assembly as a single piece. Each board is attached to the panel with a few strategically placed tabs, not unlike the sprues in a plastic model kit. If you only have to separate a few boards you can simply cut them with a hand nipper, but when you’re doing hundreds or thousands of boards, it quickly becomes impractical.

Which is where [Clough42] found himself recently. Looking to improve the situation without breaking the bank, he decided to automate his trusty hand-held depanelizer tool. The basic idea was to build an actuator that could stand in for his own hand when operating the tool. He already had a pneumatic cylinder that he could power the device with, he just needed to design it.

In the video below, he walks the viewer though his CAD design process for this project. His first step, which is one that’s often overlooked by new players, is creating digital representations of the hardware he’s using. This allows him to quickly design 3D printed parts that have the proper dimensions and clearances to interface with his real-world components. Remember: it’s a lot easier to adapt your 3D model to the components on hand than the other way around.

With the appropriate valves, hoses, and a foot pedal attached to the pneumatic cylinder, he’s able to operate the cutter completely hands-free. He still has to manually move the panel around, but at least it saves him from the repetitive squeezing motion.

With a tool like this and a custom testing jig, you’ll be producing PCBs like the pros in no time.

Continue reading “Hand Depanelizer Gets Pneumatic Upgrade”

Pneumatic Glove For Therapy And Experimentation

Many projects have aimed to replicate the function of the human hand, creating robotic structures that mimic real anatomy. Fewer have attempted to work with human hands directly. SoftGlove is a project by [france.bonde] that uses pneumatics to do just that.

The glove works by using a silicone pneumatic actuator for each digit on the human hand, attached to a glove. These are created with 3D printed molds, into which EcoFlex silicone is poured. A FlowIO device is used to run the pneumatics, which combines a microcontroller with penumatic hardware to pump air in and out of the actuators.

The goal of the project is to use a companion unit, in which a glove with flex sensors is used to make the SoftGlove mimic its movements. This would allow SoftGlove to move the fingers of a person with damaged muscle control, potentially aiding the muscles and nerves to recover when used in a therapeutic setting.

It’s exciting to see typical maker technologies used in a context to create better outcomes for patients, and we’re excited to see where this project leads next. It also has potential applications for robotic actuators, too. Programmable Air is another exciting project working in this space, too. And of course, if you’ve got a hot pneumatics project you’re cooking up in the garage, be sure to let us know!

Stacks Of Spring Washers Power The Drawbar On This CNC Mill Conversion

With Tormach and Haas capturing a lot of the entry-level professional market for CNC machines, we don’t see too many CNC conversions of manual mills anymore. And so this power drawbar conversion for a Precision Matthews mill really caught our eye.

What’s that, you say? Didn’t [Physics Anonymous] already build a power drawbar for a mill? They did, and it was quite successful. But that was based on a pneumatic impact wrench, and while it worked fine on a manual mill, the same approach would be a bit slow and cumbersome on a CNC mill. For this build, they chose a completely different approach to providing the necessary upward force to draw the collet into the collet holder and clamp down on the tool: springs. Specifically, Belleville spring washers, which are shaped like shallow cups and can exert tremendous axial force over a very short distance.

[PA] calculated that they’d need to exert 2,700 pounds (12,000 Newtons) of force over a length of a couple of inches, which seems outside the Belleville washer’s specs. Luckily, the springs can be stacked, either nested together in “series” to increase the load force, or alternating in “parallel” to apply the rated force over a greater distance. To compress their stack, they used a nifty multi-stage pneumatic cylinder to squash down the springs and release the collet. They also had to come up with a mechanism to engage to machine’s spindle only when a tool change is called for. The video below details the design and shows the build; skip to 11:32 to see the drawbar in action.

We’re looking forward to the rest of [Physics Anonymous]’ conversion. They’re no strangers to modifying off-the-shelf machines to do their bidding, after all – witness their improvements to an SLA printer.

Continue reading “Stacks Of Spring Washers Power The Drawbar On This CNC Mill Conversion”

Soft Rotating Pneumatic Actuators

When we think of pneumatic actuators, we typically consider the standard varieties of pneumatic cylinder, capable of linear motion. These can be referred to as “hard” actuators, made of rigid components and capable of great accuracy and force delivery. However, “soft” actuators have their own complementary abilities – such as being able to handle more delicate tasks and being less likely to injure human operators when used in collaborative operations. The Whitesides Research Group at Harvard University has undertaken significant research in this field, and released a paper covering a novel type of soft pneumatic actuator.

The actuator consists of a series of soft, flexible sealed chambers which surround a wooden dowel in the center. By applying vacuum to these various chambers, the dowel in the center can be pulled into up to eight different positions. It’s a unique concept, and one we can imagine could have applications in various material processing scenarios.

The actuator was built by moulding elastomers around 3D printed components, so this is a build that could theoretically be tackled by the DIYer. The paper goes into great detail to quantify the performance of the actuator, and workshops several potential applications. Testing is done on a fluid delivery and stirring system, and a tethered robotic walker was built. The team uses the term cVAMS – cyclical vacuum actuated machine – to describe the actuator technology.

The world of soft robotics is a hot bed of development, and we look forward to further work in this field. It’s not just Harvard, either – we’ve seen interesting work from Yale and from the Hackaday community too!


Soft Silicone Pneumatics Are 3D-printed In A Tub Of Gel

We’ve seen our fair share of soft silicone robots around here. Typically they are produced through a casting process, where molds are printed and then filled with liquid silicone to form the robot parts. These parts are subsequently removed from the molds and made to wiggle, grip, and swim through the use of pneumatic or hydraulic pumps and valves. MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab has found a way to print the parts directly instead, by extruding silicone, layer by layer, into a gel-filled tank.

The Self-Assembly Lab’s site is unfortunately light on details, but there is a related academic paper (behind a paywall, alas) that documents the process. From the abstract, it seems the printing process is intended for more general purpose printing needs, and is able to print any “photo or chemically cured” material, including two-part mixtures. Additionally, because of the gel-filled tank, the material need not be deposited in flat layers like a traditional 3D-printer. More interesting shapes and material properties could be created by using the full 3d-volume to do 3D extrusion paths.

To see some of the creative shapes and mechanisms developed by MIT using this process, check out the two aesthetically pleasing videos of pulsating soft white silicone shapes after the break.

Continue reading “Soft Silicone Pneumatics Are 3D-printed In A Tub Of Gel”

Air Wrench Becomes A Milling Machine Power Drawbar

We sometimes wonder if designers ever actually use their own products, or even put them through some sort of human-factors testing before putting them on the market. Consider the mechanism that secures toolholders to the spindle of a milling machine: the drawbar. Some mills require you to lock the spindle with a spanner wrench, loosen the drawbar with another wrench, and catch the released collet and tool with – what exactly?

Unwilling to have the surgical modifications that would qualify him for the Galactic Presidency, [Physics Anonymous] chose instead to modify his mill with a power drawbar. The parts are cheap and easily available, with the power coming from a small butterfly-style pneumatic wrench. The drawbar on his mill has a nearly 3/8″ square drive – we’d guess it’s really 10 mm – which almost matches up with the 3/8″ drive on the air wrench, so he whipped up a female-to-female adapter from a couple of socket adapters. The wrench mounts to a cover above the drawbar in a 3D-printed holster. Pay close attention to the video below where he goes through the Fusion 360 design; we were intrigued by the way he imported three orthogonal photos on the wrench to design the holster around. That’s a tip to file away for a rainy day.

This is a great modification to a low-cost milling machine. If you’re in the process of buying machine tools, you should really check out our handy buyer’s guides for both milling machines and lathes. It’ll let you know what features to look out for, and which you’ll have to add later.

Continue reading “Air Wrench Becomes A Milling Machine Power Drawbar”

An MRI-Safe 3D Printed Pneumatic Stepper Motor

You will no doubt have seen those videos where MRI machines suck up all sorts of metallic objects with hilariously disastrous results. The magnetic field in one of these machines can easily pull in metal objects from across the room, exerting a force of several hundred pounds on any ferrous object unlucky enough to wander too close. As you can probably imagine, designing mechanical devices that can operate in such an intense magnetic field is exceptionally difficult.

But this fully 3D printed pneumatic stepper motor designed by [Foad Sojoodi Farimani] might one day change that. The PneuAct, which he presented at the recent International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in Brisbane, Australia, manages to run at up to 850 RPM with full position control using bursts of air rather than electronic pulses. Made entirely of plastic and without any electronic components, the PneuAct can not only operate in intense magnetic fields but also areas with flammable gases where sparks could potentially cause an explosion.

We often say that a design is “fully” 3D printable, even though it might require screws or other bits of hardware. But in the case of the PneuAct, it’s truly all printed. It has to be, or else the whole thing would be ripped apart when it got to close to the MRI machine. Each and every piece of the motor is printed in ABS, and can be used without any additional machining or cleanup. No lubrication is required, and [Foad] mentions that the whole thing is so cheap that it can be disposable. Which is a huge advantage in medical environments where contamination could be a concern.

Design-wise the PneuAct is essentially an expanded version of the 3D printed air motors we’ve seen previously, but it would be fair to say that none has ever been studied so closely before.

Continue reading “An MRI-Safe 3D Printed Pneumatic Stepper Motor”