DIY Closed-Cell Silicone Foam

Most of us have a junk drawer, full of spare parts yanked from various places, but also likely stocked with materials we bought for a project but didn’t use completely. Half a gallon of wood glue, a pile of random, scattered resistors, or in [Ken]’s case, closed-cell silicone foam. Wanting to avoid this situation he set about trying to make his own silicone foam and had a great degree of success.

Commercial systems typically rely on a compressed gas of some sort to generate the foam. Ken also wanted to avoid this and kept his process simple by using basic (pun intended) chemistry to generate the bubbles. A mixture of vinegar and baking soda created the gas. After a healthy amount of trial and error using silicone caulk and some thinner to get the mixture correct, he was able to generate a small amount of silicone foam. While there only was a bit of foam, it was plenty for his needs. All without having a stockpile of extra foam or needing to buy any specialized equipment.

We appreciate this project for the ingenuity of taking something relatively simple (an acid-base reaction) and putting it to use in a way we’ve never seen before. While [Ken] doesn’t say directly on the project page what he uses the foam for, perhaps it or a similar type of foam could be used for building walk-along gliders.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Acrylic Mold Makes For Professional-Looking Silicone Keyboards

The border between consumer electronics and DIY projects is getting harder and harder to define. First it was PCBs, which quickly went from homemade to professional with quick-turn services. Then low-cost CAD/CAM packages and high-end fabrication services gave us access to enclosures that were more than black plastic boxes with aluminum covers. Where will it end?

That’s a question [arturo182] begins to answer with this custom-molded silicone keyboard for a handheld device. There’s no formal writeup, but the Twitter thread goes into some detail about the process he used to make the tiny qwerty keypad. The build started by milling a two-part mold from acrylic. Silicone rubber was tinted and degassed before injecting into the mold with a baster. The keys are connected by a thin membrane of silicone, and each has a small nub on the back for actuating a switch.

There’s clearly room for improvement in this proof of concept – tool marks from the milling process mar the finish of the keys slightly, for instance. There may be tips to be had from this article on silicone keyboard refurbishment to improve the process, but overall, we’d say [arturo182] is well on his way here.

Super Easy Small Robot Wheels

Anyone who has delved into DIY wheels knows that they are a trickier than it may seem, especially if the wheels aren’t just for show and need to provide things like decent traction and durability. 3D printers have helped a lot, but they’re not a cure-all.

Check out how [Robert K.] makes wheels from segments of automotive silicone hose, which are constructed with fibers embedded within them for durability and structure. Not only are these hoses easily sourced, but the silicone makes a great wheel surface and the hoses themselves are highly durable. He uses a 3D printed jig to cut a slice of hose that press-fits perfectly onto a 3D printed hub. [Robert] finds that a 28 mm hose pulled over a 35 mm diameter wheel is a perfect fit.

These wheels are for a Beetleweight class combat robot, which are limited to three pounds (1.36 kg) or less. You can see some video of [Robert]’s previous Beetleweight robot named ‘Bourbon’, and we have featured what goes into the even-smaller Antweight class (one pound or less) in the past.

Robotic Skin Sees When (and How) You’re Touching It

Cameras are getting less and less conspicuous. Now they’re hiding under the skin of robots.

A team of researchers from ETH Zurich in Switzerland have recently created a multi-camera optical tactile sensor that is able to monitor the space around it based on contact force distribution. The sensor uses a stack up involving a camera, LEDs, and three layers of silicone to optically detect any disturbance of the skin.

The scheme is modular and in this example uses four cameras but can be scaled up from there. During manufacture, the camera and LED circuit boards are placed and a layer of firm silicone is poured to about 5 mm in thickness. Next a 2 mm layer doped with spherical particles is poured before the final 1.5 mm layer of black silicone is poured. The cameras track the particles as they move and use the information to infer the deformation of the material and the force applied to it. The sensor is also able to reconstruct the forces causing the deformation and create a contact force distribution. The demo uses fairly inexpensive cameras — Raspberry Pi cameras monitored by an NVIDIA Jetson Nano Developer Kit — that in total provide about 65,000 pixels of resolution.

Apart from just providing more information about the forces applied to a surface, the sensor also has a larger contact surface and is thinner than other camera-based systems since it doesn’t require the use of reflective components. It regularly recalibrates itself based on a convolutional neural network pre-trained with data from three cameras and updated with data from all four cameras. Possible future applications include soft robotics, improving touch-based sensing with the aid of computer vision algorithms.

While self-aware robotic skins may not be on the market quite so soon, this certainly opens the possibility for robots that can detect when too much force is being applied to their structures — the machine equivalent sensation to pain.

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Silicone Injector Gives Parts Production A Shot In The Arm

Many of us are happy to spend hours cooking up a solution that saves us seconds, if success means never having to do a hated task again. [frankensteinhadason] molds enough silicone parts that he grew tired of all the manual labor involved, so he built a silicone injector to do it for him. Now, all he has to do is push the handle in notch by notch, until silicone starts oozing from the vent holes in the mold.

The mold pictured above is designed to make little shrouds for helicopter communications connections like this one. His friends in the industry like them so much that he decided to sell them, and needed to scale up production as a result. Now he can make six at once.

He designed brackets to hold a pair of syringes side by side against a backplane. There’s a lever that pushes both plungers simultaneously, and adapters that keep the tubing secured to the syringe nozzles. Ejected two-part silicone travels down to a double-barrel mixing nozzle, which extrudes silicone into the top of the mold.

Naturally, we were going to suggest automating the lever operation, but [frankensteinhadason] is already scheming to do that with steppers and an Arduino. Right now he’s working on increasing the hose diameter for faster flow, which will mean changes to the adapter. Once that is sorted, he plans to post the STLs and a video of it pumping silicone.

Ever thought about doing the reverse, and using silicone to mold hot plastic? Yeah, that’s a thing.

Via r/functionalprint

DIY Watertight Junction Box For Serious Outdoor Sealing

Thingiverse user [The-Mechanic] shared a design for 3D printed enclosures that are made to house wire and cable junctions, which can then be rendered weatherproof by injecting them with a suitable caulking compound and allowing it to cure. It’s a cross between an enclosure and potted electronics. It’s also a one-way trip, because the result is sealed up like a pharaoh’s tomb. On the upside, it’s cheap, accessible, and easily customized.

The way it works is this: wires go through end caps which snap onto the main body, holding the junction inside. Sealant is then pumped in via the hole on the side, then the hole is plugged. Afterwards, all there is to do is wait until the sealant cures. [The-Mechanic] has a couple of companion designs, as well. For tubes of sealant that have threaded tops, one can more effectively save the contents of the tube for later with this design for screw-on caps. There are also 3D printed nozzles in a variety of designs.

One thing to keep in mind about silicone-based sealants is that thick gobs of it can take a really, really long time to cure fully. A thick gob of the stuff will tend to firm up on the outside but leave the inside gooey. If that will be a problem, maybe take a cue from Oogoo and mix in a bit of corn starch with the silicone sealant. The resulting mixture will be thicker, but it’ll cure throughout with no problems.

Project Egress: Two Ways To Latch The Hatch

With July slipping away and the deadline approaching, the Project Egress builds are pouring in now. And we’re starting to see more diversity in the choice of materials and methods for the parts being made, like these two latches made with very different methods by two different makers.

For the uninitiated, Project Egress is a celebration of both the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 and the rise of the maker movement. Spearheaded by [Adam Savage], the idea is to engage 44 prominent makers to build individual parts from the Unified Crew Hatch (UCH) from the Apollo Command Module. The parts will be used to create a replica of this incredibly complex artifact, which will be assembled by [Adam] before a live audience at the National Air and Space Museum next week.

Both [Joel] from the “3D Printing Nerd” channel and [Bill Doran] from “Punished Props Academy” got the nod for one of the 15 latches needed, and both played to their respective strengths. [Joel]’s latch was executed in PLA on a Prusa I3 printer. [Bill] went a different route for his latch. He used a Form 2 SLA printer to print the parts, but used them only to make silicone molds. He then cast the parts from urethane resin, which should prove much stronger than the original SLA prints. We suspect the ability to quickly cast more latches could prove handy if any of the other latch makers should fail to deliver.

The latches [Joel] and [Bill] made joins the other parts, like the wooden latch being made by [Fran Blanche] and the hatch handle [Paul] cast in aluminum. We’re looking forward to more part builds, as well as the final assembly.

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