If there’s an unsung hero of manufacturing, it’s the engineer who figures out how to handle huge numbers of small parts. It’s one thing to manually assemble something, picking each nut, bolt, and washer by hand. It’s another thing to build a machine that can do the same thing, but thousands of times in a row, ideally without making mistakes.
Most of us don’t need that level of automation in our processes, but when you do, it results in some interesting challenges. Take this pneumatic screw accelerator that [Christopher Helmke] designed for his modular production system. One of the custom machines in his system is a screw counter, which uses a magnetic wheel to feed screws — or nuts or washers — from a hopper, orient them correctly, and drop them into an output chute. While the counting bit worked quite well, parts would only go so far under the force of gravity in the clear vinyl tube used to connect the counter to the next process.
[Christopher]’s solution was simple but effective. His first prototype simply injects compressed air into the parts feed tube, which pushes the screws through the tubing. It works surprisingly well, propelling the parts through quite a long length of tubing, handling twisting paths easily and even working against gravity. Version 2 integrated the accelerator and a re-orienting fixture into a single part, which mates with a magazine that holds a large number of screws.
There are a lot of interesting features [Christoper] built into these simple parts that are worth keeping in mind. Our favorite is printing channels to guide small cable ties around the tubing to clamp it into the accelerator. We’ll be keeping that trick in mind.
Continue reading “Compressed Air Keeps Screws Moving Through Modular Production System” →
No matter what you do or say on the Internet, you’re always doing it wrong. Keyboard commandos are ready to pounce and tell you how it’s “ackchyually” supposed to be done. And so it was of little surprise when [Jason] of Fireball Tools was taken to task by the armchair millwright for his supposedly deficient method of filing metal.
But [Jason] chose to fight back not with words but deeds, building a system to test alternative methods of filing. His filing style is to leave the file in contact with the stock on both the front- and back-strokes, which enraged those who claim that a file must never be dragged back over the workpiece, lest the teeth become dull. The first video below shows the build of the test rig, which leveraged his enormous Cinncinatti shaper as the prime mover, as well as a pneumatic jig to hold the workpiece and imitate both styles of filing. Part two below shows the test rig in action, and [Jason] really outdoes himself with his experimental approach. He tested three different grades of Pferd files — nothing but the best, no expense spared — and did duplicates of each run using both the Internet-approved style and his lazier style.
The result? We won’t spoil that for you, but suffice it to say that the hive mind isn’t always right. And what’s more, [Jason]’s careful myth-busting yielded a few interesting and unexpected results. His channel is full of great shop tips and interesting builds, so check him out if you want to see how metalworking is done.
Continue reading “Science Vs Internet Trolls: Testing Another Kind Of File System” →
Join us on Wednesday, October 27 at noon Pacific for the Soft Robotics Hack Chat with Ali Shtarbanov!
By this point in technological history, we’ve all been pretty well trained in how to think about robots. Designs vary wildly, but to achieve their goals, most robots have one thing in common: they’re rigid. Whether it’s a robot arm slinging a spot welder on an assembly line or a robot dog on patrol, they’re largely made of stiff, strong, materials that, more often than not, are powered by electric motors of some sort.
But just because that’s the general design palette for robotics doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways. Robots, especially those that are intended to be used in close association with humans, can often benefit from being a little more flexible. And that’s where the field of soft robotics shines. Rather than a skeleton of machined aluminum and powerful electric actuators, these robots tend more toward silicone rubber construction with pneumatic activation. Some soft robots are even compliant and safe enough to be wearable, giving humans the ability to do things they never could before, or perhaps restoring functions that have been lost to the ravages of entropy.
Soft robotics is a fascinating field with the potential to really revolutionize things like wearables and collaborative robotics. To help us understand a little more about what’s going on in this space, we’re pleased to welcome Ali Shtarbanov to the Hack Chat. Ali is a Ph.D. student at MIT’s famed Media Lab, where he studies Human-Computer Interaction. He’s particularly interested in making soft robotics as fast and easy to prototype as traditional robotics have become, and to this end, he invented FlowIO, an open-source platform for pneumatic control. We’ll use this as a jumping-off point to discuss the whole field of soft robotics, especially where it is now and where Ali sees it going in the future.
Our Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, October 27 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.
Some bicycles are built primarily for practicality, while others are more focused on novel looks. [Make It Extreme]’s latest project, the extending bicycle, falls squarely in the latter category.
Built around four custom-machined pneumatic pistons, this electric bike can lift the rider about a meter into the air with the flick of a switch. The front pair forms the bicycle’s forks, while the rear pair is mounted between the frame and swingarm. A small onboard compressor is used to charge a pair of modified fire extinguishers, which feed the pistons via pneumatic valves mounted on the handlebars. The wheels and brakes were scavenged from an old scooter. Since the length between the crankset and rear wheel never changes, there is no need to struggle with chain tensioners as the ride height changes.
While we would hate to face-plant from that height, it certainly looks like a fun ride and conversation starter. This is the case for many of [Make It Extreme]’s projects, like a ridable tank track and monowheel motorcycle.
Continue reading “Extending Bicycle Will Let You Stand Out Above The Crowd” →
Pneumatics are a great solution for all kinds of actuators, and can even be used for logic operations if you’re so inclined. Typically, such actuators rely on nicely machined metal components with airtight rubber seals. But what if you did away with all that? [Richard Sewell] decided to investigate.
The result is a pneumatic actuator built out of lasercut acetal parts. The mechanism consists of of two outer layers of plastic acting as the enclosure, and a cut-out middle layer which creates the air chamber and houses the actuating arm itself. It’s a single-acting design, meaning the air can push the actuator one way, with a spring for return to the neutral position. The action is quite fast and snappy, too.
[Richard] aims to tweak the design further by improving the registration between the features of each layer and reduce the rubbing of the actuator’s rotor on the surrounding parts. If you’ve got the know-how, sound off in the comments. Alternatively, consider looking into soft pneumatics as well. Video after the break.
Continue reading “Pneumatic Actuator Made Out Of Lasercut Plastic” →
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!
If you’ve ever played air hockey, you know how the tiny jets of air shooting up from the pinholes in the playing surface reduce friction with the puck. But what if you turned that upside down? What if the puck had holes that shot the air downward? We’re not sure how the gameplay would be on such an inverse air hockey table, but [Dave Preiss] has made DIY air bearings from such a setup, and they’re pretty impressive.
Air bearings are often found in ultra-precision machine tools where nanometer-scale positioning is needed. Such gear is often breathtakingly expensive, but [Dave]’s version of the bearings used in these machines are surprisingly cheap. The working surfaces are made from slugs of porous graphite, originally used as electrodes for electrical discharge machining (EDM). The material is easily flattened with abrasives against a reference granite plate, after which it’s pressed into a 3D-printed plastic plenum. The plenum accepts a fitting for compressed air, which wends its way out the micron-sized pores in the graphite and supports the load on a thin cushion of air. In addition to puck-style planar bearings, [Dave] tried his hand at a rotary bearing, arguably more useful to precision machine tool builds. That proved to be a bit more challenging, but the video below shows that he was able to get it working pretty well.
We really enjoyed learning about air bearings from [Dave]’s experiments, and we look forward to seeing them put to use. Perhaps it will be in something like the micron-precision lathe we featured recently.
Continue reading “Used EDM Electrodes Repurposed As Air Bearings For Precision Machine Tools” →