Mechanisms: Solenoids

Since humans first starting playing with electricity, we’ve proven ourselves pretty clever at finding ways to harness that power and turn it into motion. Electric motors of every type move the world, but they are far from the only way to put electricity into motion. When you want continuous rotation, a motor is the way to go. But for simpler on and off applications, where fine control of position is not critical, a solenoid is more like what you need. These electromagnetic devices are found everywhere and they’re next in our series on useful mechanisms.

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Mechanisms: the Spring

Most people probably don’t think about springs until one kinks up or snaps, but most of the world’s springs are pretty crucial. The ones that aren’t go by the name Slinky.

We all use and encounter dozens of different types of springs every day without realizing it. Look inside the world of springs and you’ll find hundreds of variations on the theme of bounce. The principle of the spring is simple enough that it can be extended to almost any shape and size that can be imagined and machined. Because it can take so many forms, the spring as a mechanism has thousands of applications. Look under your car, take apart a retractable pen, open up a stapler, an oven door, or a safety pin, and you’ll find a spring or two. Continue reading “Mechanisms: the Spring”

To Ferrule or Not to Ferrule?

We recently posted about a spectacular 3D-printer fire that was thankfully caught and extinguished before spreading to the hacker’s house or injuring his family. Analyzing the remains of the printer, the hacker determined that the fire was caused when a loose grub screw let the extruder’s heater cartridge fall out and touch the ABS fan shroud. It ran full-on and set things on fire.

A number of us have similar 3D printers, so the comments for this article were understandably lively, but one comment stood out by listing a number of best practices for wiring, including the use of ferrules. In particular, many 3D printers connect the heated bed, which draws a lot of current, with screw terminals to the motherboard. While not the cause of the fire in the original post, melted terminal blocks are a common complaint with many DIY 3D printer kits, and one reason is that simply jamming thick stranded wire into a screw terminal and hoping for the best can result in increased resistance, and heat, at the joint. In such situations, the absolutely right thing to do is to crimp on a ferrule. So let’s talk about that.


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Junkyard Crossbow Aims to be a Car Killer

[James], aka [Turbo Conquering Mega Eagle], is not your typical Hackaday poster boy. Most of his builds have a  “Junkyard Wars” vibe, and he’d clearly be a good man to have around in a zombie apocalypse. Especially if the undead start driving tanks around, for which purpose his current anti-tank compound crossbow is apparently being developed.

At its present prototype phase, [James]’ weapon o’ doom looks more fearsome than it actually is. But that’s OK — we’re all about iterative development here. Using leaf springs from a Toyota Hi-Lux truck, this crossbow can store a lot of energy, which is amplified by ludicrously large aluminum cams. [James] put a lot of effort into designing a stock that can deal with these forces, ending up with a composite design of laminated wood and metal. He put a lot of care into the trigger mechanism too, and the receiver sports not only a custom pistol grip cast from aluminum from his fire extinguisher foundry, but a hand-made Picatinny rail for mounting optics. Test shots near the end of the video below give a hint at the power this fully armed and operational crossbow will eventually have. The goal is to disable a running car by penetrating the engine block, and we’re looking forward to that snuff film.

If rubber band-powered crossbows are more your speed, take you pick — fully automatic, 3D-printed, or human-launching.

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Electronifying A Horror Fraught Hydraulic Press

[Josh] is replacing the springs in his car’s suspension. He wanted to know the travel rates of these springs, but apparently, this is a closely guarded trade secret in the industry. One company did manage to publish the spring rates, but they weren’t believable. Instead of taking this company’s word, [Josh] built a spring tester.

The theory behind a spring tester is pretty simple: apply a force to a spring, measure it, then measure how much the spring has traveled. Or compress a spring an inch or so, measure the force, and compress it some more. Either gets you the same data.

This spring tester is built around a Harbor Freight hydraulic press. Yes, the spring is completely captured and won’t fly out of the jig if you look at it wrong. The bottom of the press contains a few load cells, fed into an ATmega8, which displays a value on an LCD. For the displacement measurement, a ruler taped to the side of the press will suffice, but [Josh] used a Mitutoyo linear scale.

What were the results of these tests? You shouldn’t buy coils from Bilstein if these results are correct. The rates for these springs were off by 70%. Other springs fared better and won’t bind when going over bigger bumps. That’s great work, and an excellent application of Horror Fraught gear.

Microswitches: Past the Tipping Point

You find them everywhere from 3D printers to jet airliners. They’re the little switches that detect paper jams in your printer, or the big armored switches that sense when the elevator car is on the right floor. They’re microswitches, or more properly miniature snap-action switches, and they’re so common you may never have wondered what’s going on inside them. But the story behind how these switches were invented and the principle of physics at work in the guts of these tiny and useful switches are both pretty interesting.

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3D Printed Key-Code is Plastic Digital Logic

3D printers are great for creating static objects, but if you’re clever, it’s possible to print functional devices. If you’re absolutely brilliant you can go far beyond that, which is the case here. This door handle with a key-code lock does it all with 3D printing using mechanism designs that look like alien technology. This is just one application of a much more interesting mechanical digital logic they’re developing (PDF).

Working from the [Hasso-Plattner-Institut], the research team is focusing on metamaterials as mechanisms in and of themselves. The crux of this lock is a series of bistable springs that — if the correct code is entered — will trigger in series to unlock the door. The project builds on the grid of shearing cells seen in the door handle we featured last year. It happens quickly in the video, but the intricate cascade of the handle unlocking is a treat to witness.

It’s a fascinating show of mechanical design. The common elements of digital electronics are all present: set or unset bits, logic gates, propagation issues, the whole works. But there are added challenges in this system, like the need for special cells that can turn the logic chain by 90 degrees and split the signal into more than one part.

This signal splitting is seen in the upper right (bifurcation) and leads into what is in effect an amplifier. The locking bolt must be moved twice the distance of a normal cell, so a dual-cell input is necessary to offset the loss of force from the incoming smaller cells. Cognitively we understand this, but we’re still trying to gain an intuitive sense of the amplifer mechanism.

One thing’s for sure, the overall concept is far cooler than this admittedly awesome door lock mechanism. The paper is worth your time for a deep dive. It mentions their design editor software. You can play with it online but we don’t think it’s been updated to include the new logic cells yet.

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