Dispensing Solder Paste Automatically

Through-hole chips are slowly falling by the wayside, and if you want to build something with new parts you will be using surface mount components. This means spreading paste and throwing it in the toaster oven. Of course, if you don’t want to take the time to get a stencil for your solder paste, you can always lay it down by hand. For that, [owhite] has created a tiny, handheld, robotic solder paste dispenser. It’s a robotic pen that dispenses just the right amount of solder paste on your pads.

The design of this solder paste dispenser is basically a syringe filled with paste and a stepper motor to push the plunger down. Devices like this already exist, and the i-extruder can be had for somewhere around two hundred bucks. Why buy when you can build, so [owhite] set out to create his own.

The key to a successful solder paste pen, it seems, is driving the plunger with a small NEMA 8 stepper motor, using a very fine pitch on the threads of the gears pushing the plunger down, and surprisingly finding a small-diameter syringe. [owhite] found the last bit in the form of a gas-tight syringe with a nylon gasket. The electronics consist of just a Teensy 3.2, DRV8825 stepper driver, footswitch, and an OLED for a UI.

With just a few parts, [owhite] managed to create a solder paste pen that’s better than the commercial i-extruder, and with a bit of practice can be used to place paste on some SMD pads.

The Obscure Electronics Tools You Didn’t Know You Needed

The right tool for the job can turn a total headache into a 30-second operation. This is all the more important when you’re trying to streamline an assembly process, and the reason why you’ll find so many strange and wonderful purpose-built tools on any production line. With a nod to that old adage, [EvilMadScientist] have collected the tools you didn’t know you needed – until now.

If you’re wiring big through-hole boards all day, you’ve probably bemoaned the uneven bends on all your resistors. How did the big companies get it right way back when? They used a tool to set the distance of the resistor legs just right. What about DIP ICs? It’s a total pain trying to take them fresh out of the tube and get them to seat in a socket, but there’s a tool to do that too. It’s actually a two-part series, and while we’re sure you’ve all seen a solder sucker before, the fresh take on helping hands is pretty ingenious.

Overall, it’s a combination of little things that, with a bit of cash or a day’s work, you can have in your own lab and once you’ve got them, you won’t ever want to go back. Be sure to tell us about your favourite obscure tools in the comments.

Now that you’ve got your tools to hand, why not wrap them all up in a handy workstation?

Drill Bit Gauge Is Interdenominational Black Magic

Oh, sure – when you buy a new set of drill bits from the store, they come in a handy holder that demarcates all the different sizes neatly. But after a few years when they’ve ended up scattered in the bottom of your toolbox for a while, it becomes useful to have some sort of gauge to measure them. [Caspar] has the solution, and all you need is an old steel rule.

The trick is to get a ruler with gradations for inches and tenths of inches. After cutting the ruler off just after the 6″ point, the two halves are glued together with some steel offcuts and epoxy. By assembling the two halves in a V shape with a 1 mm drill bit at the 1″ position, and a 5 mm drill bit at the 5″ marker, a linear slope is created that can be used to measure any drill bits and rod of the appropriate size inserted between the two.

It’s a handy tool to have around the shop when you’ve amassed a collection of bits over the years, and need to drill your holes accurately. Additionally, it’s more versatile than the usual method of inserting bits in appropriately sized holes, and can be more accurate.

Now that you’ve organised your drill bits, perhaps you’d like to sharpen them?

Precision DIY Calipers? That’s A Moiré!

Moiré patterns are a thing of art, physics, and now tool design! [Julldozer] from Mojoptix creatively uses a moiré pattern to achieve a 0.05 mm precision goal for his custom designed 3D printed calipers. His calipers are designed to validate a 3D print against the original 3D model. When choosing which calipers are best for a job, he points out two critical features to measure them up against, accuracy and precision which he explains the definition of in his informative video. The accuracy and precision values he sets as constraints for his own design are 0.5 mm and 0.05 mm respectively.

By experimenting with different parameters of a moiré pattern: the scale of one pattern in relation to the other, the distance of the black lines on both images, and the thickness of black and white lines. [Julldozer] discovers that the latter is the best way to amplify and translate a small linear movement to a standout visual for measurement. Using a Python script which he makes available, he generates images for the moiré pattern by increasing line thickness ratios 50:50 to 95:5, black to white creating triangular moiré fringes that point to 1/100th of a millimeter. The centimeter and millimeter measurements are indicated by a traditional ruler layout.

Looking for more tool hacks and builds? Check out how to prolong the battery life of a pair of digital calipers and how to build a tiny hot wire foam cutter.

 

Continue reading “Precision DIY Calipers? That’s A Moiré!”

3D Printering: Printing Sticks For A PLA Hot Glue Gun

When is a hot glue stick not a hot glue stick? When it’s PLA, of course! A glue gun that dispenses molten PLA instead of hot glue turned out to be a handy tool for joining 3D-printed objects together, once I had figured out how to print my own “glue” sticks out of PLA. The result is a bit like a plus-sized 3D-printing pen, but much simpler and capable of much heavier extrusion. But it wasn’t quite as simple as shoving scrap PLA into a hot glue gun and mashing the trigger; a few glitches needed to be ironed out.

Why Use a Glue Gun for PLA?

Some solutions come from no more than looking at two dissimilar things while in the right mindset, and realizing they can be mashed together. In this case I had recently segmented a large, hollow, 3D model into smaller 3D-printer-sized pieces and printed them all out, but found myself with a problem. I now had a large number of curved, thin-walled pieces that needed to be connected flush with one another. These were essentially butt joints on all sides — the weakest kind of joint — offering very little surface for gluing. On top of it all, the curved surfaces meant clamping was impractical, and any movement of the pieces while gluing would result in other pieces not lining up.

An advantage was that only the outside of my hollow model was a presentation surface; the inside could be ugly. A hot glue gun is worth considering for a job like this. The idea would be to hold two pieces with the presentation sides lined up properly with each other, then anchor the seams together by applying melted glue on the inside (non-presentation) side of the joint. Let the hot glue cool and harden, and repeat. It’s a workable process, but I felt that hot glue just wasn’t the right thing to use in this case. Hot glue can be slow to cool completely, and will always have a bit of flexibility to it. I wanted to work fast, and I wanted the joints to be hard and stiff. What I really wanted was melted PLA instead of glue, but I had no way to do it. Friction welding the 3D-printed pieces was a possibility but I doubted how maneuverable my rotary tool would be in awkward orientations. I was considering ordering a 3D-printing pen to use as a small PLA spot welder when I laid eyes on my cheap desktop glue gun.

Continue reading “3D Printering: Printing Sticks For A PLA Hot Glue Gun”

Twitter Celebration Of Scientist Hacks For Lab And Field

If you like reading about scientists creatively using household objects for their work, you will enjoy browsing Twitter hashtag #reviewforscience where scientists are sharing stories of repurposing everyday things for their lab and field.

Research papers focus on the scientific hypothesis and the results of testing it. It is very common for such papers to leave out details of tools and techniques as irrelevant. (A solid scientific conclusion should be reproducible no matter what tools and techniques are used.) This sadly meant much of scientists’ ingenuity never see light.

We can thank Amazon user [John Birch] for this event. His son wished to study how ants from different colonies interact. In order to observe how these groups of ants react to each other while still keeping the populations separate, he wanted to keep one group of ants inside a tea strainer. He posted this technique as a review on the tea strainer’s Amazon product page, where it caught the attention of @RobynJWomack and started spreading, taking off when @DaniRabaiotti suggested the tag #reviewforscience.

Sadly, it appears our original scientist (who posted under his dad’s Amazon account) did not succeed with the tea strainer technique. But he has succeeded in drawing attention to creativity in science worldwide, as well as making his dad internet famous.

We love lab hacks here. For scientists who wish there was a place to document their creative lab hacks, might we suggest Hackaday.io?

[via Washington Post]

Ancient Insect Scales Analyzed With Help Of Nose Hair

Scientists working to advance the frontier of knowledge frequently also need to invent their tools along the way. Sometimes these are interesting little hacks to get a job done. Recently some researchers found ancestors of moths and butterflies older than any previously known by analyzing tiny scales found alongside ancient pollen. They needed a tool to manipulate these scales: separating them from surrounding debris, transferring them to microscope slides. The special tool was a needle tipped with a single human nostril hair.

As ancient insects were the published paper‘s focus, their use of nose hair tipped needle was only given a brief mention in the “Materials and Methods” section. Interviews by press quoted researchers’ claim that nose hair has the right mechanical properties for the job, without further details. Not even a picture of the tool itself. What properties of insect scales made them a good match with the properties of nose hair? Was there a comprehensive evaluation of multiple types of hair for the task? Would we regret asking these questions?

Novel approaches to fine-tipped tools would be interesting to examine under other contexts, like the tweezers we use to build surface-mount electronics. As SMD parts continue to shrink in size, will we reach a point where hair-tipped tools are the best DIY alternative to an expensive pick-and-place machine? It would be another creative approach to deal with the challenges of hand-built SMD. From simple but effective mechanical helpers, to handy 3D printed tools, to building hybrid Manual + CNC pick-and-place more affordable than their fully automated counterparts.

[via Washington Post]