The Man-Machine

This week we saw a couple DIY tools for small-run manufacturing at home that help make your life easier if you’re climbing out of the happy bucket and into the pit of despair — when you’re making enough of the item that it’s not fun any more, but you still don’t have the volume to leave the manufacturing to someone else.

The first was an automatic through-hole soldering machine made from a 3D printer. This actually makes sense even if you’re getting boards assembled for you, because through-hole pads are a lot more expensive than SMT parts, and they usually charge per pin. Put a 2×20 pin header on your project, and it can end up costing a lot. Or you can robotificate the solution.

This week’s second solution really caught my eye. PnPassist is machine that turns your PCB around, locates a laser crosshair over the next SMT piece that you need to place, and even has an OLED screen that tells you what to put there. There are many great mechanical design choices here, but what really drew my attention is how well this machine fills a gap between manual and fully automatic pick-and-place.

I know you hate looking back and forth between the board and the schematic or parts list, trying to find just where Q23 is on the darn board, or looking up resistor values. With PnPassist, you still have to do the placing, but with machine guidance. If you don’t have the money or the space for a fully automatic PnP, this is an obvious win, but also for short runs when loading up the reels takes more time than populating the board, this could be a huge win.

I love this kind of human-capability-enhancing machine, and I’m always happy to see a design like this. It reminds me of the very clever Shaper Origin, or even just this handy automatic XY table for drilling many precise holes. In all these cases, there’s some part of the problem that would be hard to solve, require extremely bulky or expensive machinery, or can just be more simply accomplished by a meatbag. But combining machine precision with the human element produces something more than the sum of the parts.

What’s your favorite human-enhancing tool?

Sticking Up For The Stick Shift

It seems that stick shift has become a sticking point, at least for American car buyers. Throughout 2019, less than 2% of all the cars sold in the US had a manual transmission. This sad picture includes everything from cute two-seater commuters to — surprisingly enough —  multi-million dollar super cars built for ultimate performance.

But aside from enthusiasts like myself, it seems no one cares too much about this shift away from manual transmissions. According to this video report by CNBC (embedded below), the fact that demand is in free-fall suggests that Americans on the whole just don’t enjoy driving stick anymore. And it stands to reason that as more and more people live their lives without learning to drive them, there would be a decline in the number of teachers and proponents. It’s a supply and demand problem starring the chicken and the egg.

But giving up the stick is one more example of giving up control over the vehicle. It’s not something everyone cares about, but those that do care a lot. Let’s grind through the ebb and flow of the manual transmission — more lovingly called the stick shift.

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Semi-Auto PCB Drill Press Makes Drilling Semi-Painless

DIY PCBs are the fastest and cheapest way to iteratively prototype circuits, and there’s a lot of great tricks to get the copper layer just the way you want it. But if you’re using through-hole parts, you eventually have to suffer the tedium of drilling a potentially large number of precisely aligned holes. Until now. [Acidbourbon] has built up a very nice semi-automatic PCB drill machine.

Semi-automatic? The CNC machine (with PC-side software) parses the drill file that most PCB design software spits out, and moves an X-Y table under your drill press to just the right spots. The user manually drills the hole and hits enter, and the table scoots off to the next drilling location. All of this is tied together with a simple calibration procedure that figures out where you’ve got the board using two reference drill locations; you initially jog the platform to two reference drill holes, and you’re set.

The CNC conversion of a relatively cheap X-Y table is nicely documented, and the on-board touchscreen and USB interface seem to make driving the machine around painless. Or at least a lot less painful than aligning up and drilling all the holes the old-fashioned way. Everything is open-source, so head on over and check it out.  (And while you’re there, don’t miss [Acidbourbon]’s tips and tricks for making PCBs using the toner transfer method.)

Seeing this machine in action, we can’t wait for the fully automatic version.

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Nerf Gun Converted To CO2 Powered Semi-automatic

[Philysteak527] modified a Nerf rifle, making it semi-automatic thanks to the powers of compressed air. This is not a simple change to make, and rests on his ability to design and manufacture a bolt-action that fits in the gun, works with the Nerf ammo, and uses a CO2 canister and solenoid valve for the firing action. Knowing that, it’s not surprising to find that he’s an engineering student at Stony Brook University. He started with some POM, or polyoxymethylene plastic sold under the brand name Delrin, and used a CNC lathe to machine the parts for the bolt. Add in some brass fittings, a solenoid, tubing, and the electronics and you’re in business.

We’ve embedded the test footage after the break. Looks like the new internals allow a rather fast firing rate (maybe 2-3 shots per second?) and achieve a distance between seventy and one hundred feet.

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