A home-made vacuum pickup tool

Hackaday Prize 2022: Salvaged Pumps And Hoses Make A Neat Vacuum Pickup Tool

Anyone who’s ever assembled a PCB full of tiny SMD parts will have found that tweezers are not always the best tool when it comes to accurate positioning. Thin, flat components like microcontrollers can be awkward to pick up securely, while small resistors and capacitors have a tendency of snapping out of your tweezers’ grip and flying off into the sunset (or your carpet). Vacuum pickup tools can be a great help, but the most convenient models, with an electric air pump and a foot switch, can be a bit expensive. [sjm4306] shows that it doesn’t have to be that way: he built his “VacPen” mostly from reused components.

At the heart of the project is a little vacuum pump with a pen-like device hooked up to it through a flexible hose. The tip of the pen holds a pickup nozzle that came from a cheap manual pick and place tool. Both the pump and pen were salvaged from some gas analysis instrument that [sjm4306] tore apart a long time ago; the pen is especially convenient since it comes with a built-in brush-like filter that can trap any debris or tiny parts that might be accidentally swallowed.

The VacPen controller is housed inside a neat 3D printed enclosure that holds a custom PCB with an ATtiny microcontroller. The pump can be operated either through a foot switch, or by pressing on the touch-sensitive pad on top of the enclosure. [sjm4306] made this by soldering a wire to a copper penny and sticking it on the inside of the lid: simple, effective and cheap.

As you can see in the video embedded below, the VacPen is perfectly capable of picking up any kind of SMD component, and just as importantly, immediately releasing it at the desired moment. If you’re new to SMD technology, we can recommend this tutorial by [Bil Herd] that covers vacuum tweezers as well. If you’re more into automating vacuum pickup tools, this cool robot might be of your interest.

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An Oil Diffusion Vacuum Pump From Thrift Store Junk

It seems like creating a vacuum should be a pretty easy job, but it turns out that sucking all the air out of something is harder than it seems. A cheap vacuum pump will get you part of the way there, but to really pull a hard vacuum, you need an oil diffusion pump that costs multiple tens of thousands of dollars.

Or, you need a bunch of thrift store junk, a TIG welder, and a can of WD-40. At least that’s what [Lucas] put into his homebrew oil diffusion pump. The idea of such a contraption is to vaporize oil in a chamber such that the oil droplets entrain any remaining gas molecules toward an exhaust port. His low-budget realization of this principle involved a lot of thrift store stainless steel cookware, welded together with varying degrees of success, with liberal applications of epoxy to seal up any leaks. And an electric smores cooker for the heating element, which was a nice touch. The low-budget approach extended even to the oil for the pump; rather than shelling out for expensive specialty oil, [Lucas] distilled some from a WD-40 silicone spray lubricant.

The video below details all the travails [Lucas] encountered along the way, plus the testing process. The results were at least encouraging — the diffusion pump was pulling vacuum far in excess of what the roughing pump was capable of. He clearly still has some work to do, but getting as far as he did with the scrap heap of parts he cobbled together is pretty impressive.

[Lucas]’ goal with all this? A fusion reactor. No, not that kind. This kind. Continue reading “An Oil Diffusion Vacuum Pump From Thrift Store Junk”

This Air Compressor Sucks

Vacuum is something most people learn about as children, when they’re first tasked with chores around the home. The humble vacuum cleaner is a useful home appliance and a great way to lose an eye as an inquisitive child. When it comes to common workshop tasks though, they can be a bit of a let down. When you need to pull some serious vacuum, you might wanna turn to something a little more serious – like this converted air compressor.

The build starts with a cheap off-the-shelf tyre inflator. These can be had for under $20 from the right places. They’re prone to overheating if used at too high a duty cycle, but with care they can last just long enough to be useful. The hack consists of fitting a hose barb connection over the intake of the pump, to allow air to be sucked out of whatever you’re trying to pull vacuum on. This is achieved with some hardware store parts and a healthy dose of JB-Weld. It’s then a simple matter of removing the valve adapter on the tyre inflator’s outlet so it can flow freely.

You might also consider adding a check valve, but overall this remains a cheap and easy way to get an electric vacuum pump for your workshop up and running. If that’s not quite your jam, you can always go down the handpump route instead.

This Bike Pump Now Sucks

Pulling a vacuum is something every proud maker must do once in a while. Whether you’re degassing epoxy or vacuum forming parts, you’ll need a reliable pump to get the job done. [drcrash] has just the guide to help – on how to convert a regular handpump to vacuum duty. (Video embedded after the break.)

[drcrash] recommends starting with a Slime brand 2060-A pump or similar. It’s a basic hand pump, with no pressure gauges or other frills to get in the way. It’s also got a strong steel shaft that can hold up to repeated use. You’ll also need some tubing and a check valve to get the job done.

The basic concept is to reconfigure the pump to suck air out of things rather than blowing it into them. By removing the original check valve and installing one in the opposite direction, and reversing the pump’s piston, it’s possible to pull good vacuum without breaking a sweat. [drcrash] reports that it’s possible to go up to 11 psi below atmospheric with this setup, which is plenty for a wide range of applications. If you need to go further, you can try building your own turbomolecular pump instead.

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Junk Bin Spin Coater Uses Modded Case Fan

We’ve all been there: you need a specific tool or gadget to complete a project, but it’s not the kind of thing you necessarily want to fork over normal retail price for. It could be something you’re only going to use once or twice, or maybe you’re not even sure the idea is going to work and don’t want to invest too much money into it. You cast a skeptical towards the ever-growing pile of salvaged parts and wonder…

Inspiration and a dig through the junk bin is precisely how [Nixie] built this very impressive spin coater for use in his ongoing homemade semiconductor project. If you’ve never had first hand experience with a spin coater, don’t worry, not many people have. Put simply, it’s a machine that allows the user to deposit a thin layer of material on a disc by way of centrifugal force. Just place a few drops in the center of the disc, then spin it up fast enough and let physics do the rest.

[Nixie] only needs to spin up a fairly tiny disc, and realized the hub of a 40x40mm brushless case fan was just about the perfect size. A quick pass through the lathe stripped the hub of its blades and faced off the front. Once he found a tube that was the exact same diameter of the fan’s axle, he realized he could even use a small vacuum pump to hold his disc in place. A proper seal is provided by 10 and 16 mm OD o-rings, installed into concentric grooves he machined into the face of the hub.

With a way to draw a vacuum through the hub of the spinner he just needed the pump. As luck would have it, he didn’t have to wait for one to make the journey from China, as he had one of those kicking around his junk bin from a previous project. The only thing he ended up having to buy was the cheap PWM fan controller which he mounted along with the modified fan to a piece of black acrylic; producing a fairly professional looking little piece of lab equipment. Check out the video after the break for a brief demonstration of it in action.

This isn’t the first specialized piece of gear [Nixie] has produced in his quest for DIY chips. We’ve previously covered his DIY tube oven as well as his vacuum chamber complete with magnetically controlled manipulator arm.

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An Open-Source Turbomolecular Pump Controller

It’s not every project write-up that opens with a sentence like “I had this TURBOVAC 50 turbomolecular pump laying around…”, but then again not every write-up comes from someone with a lab as stuffed full of goodies as that of [Niklas Fauth]. His pump had an expired controller board, so he’s created an open-source controller of his own centred upon an STM32. Intriguingly he mentions its potential use as “I want to do more stuff with sputtering and Ion implantation in the future“, as one does of course.

So given that probably not many Hackaday readers have a turbomolecular pump lying around but quite a few of you will find the subject interesting, what does this project do? Sadly it’s a little more mundane than the pump itself, since a turbomolecular pump is a highly specialised multi-stage turbine, this is a 3-phase motor controller with analogue speed feedback taken from the voltage across a couple of the motor phases. For this reason he makes the point that it’s a fork of his hoverboard motor controller software, the fruits of which we’ve shown you in the past. There isn’t a cut-out timer should the motor not reach full speed in a safe time, but he provides advice as to where to look in the code should that be necessary.

This is by no means the first turbomolecular pump to make it to these pages, in 2016 we brought you one taking inspiration from a Tesla turbine.

Everyman’s Turbomolecular Pump

What can you do with a very good vacuum pump? You can build an electron microscope, x-ray tubes, particle accelerators, thin films, and it can keep your coffee warm. Of course getting your hands on a good vacuum pump involves expert-level scrounging or a lot of money, leading [DeepSOIC] and [Keegan] to a great entry for this year’s Hackaday Prize. It’s the Everyman’s Turbomolecular Pump, a pump based on one of [Nikola Tesla]’s patents. It sucks, and that’s a good thing.

The usual way of sucking the atmosphere out of electron microscopes and vacuum tubes begins with a piston or diaphragm pump. This gets most of the atmosphere out, but there’s still a little bit left. To get the pressure down even lower, an oil diffusion pump (messy, but somewhat cheap) or a turbomolecular pump (clean, awesome, and expensive) is used to suck the last few molecules of atmosphere out.

The turbomolecular pump [DeepSOIC] and [Keegan] are building use multiple spinning discs just like [Tesla]’s 1909 patent. The problem, it seems, is finding a material that can be made into a disc and can survive tens of thousand of rotations per minute. It’s a very, very difficult build, and a mistake in fabricating any of the parts will result in a spectacular rapid disassembly of this turbomolecular pump. The reward, though, would be great. A cheap turbomolecular pump would be a very useful device in any hackerspace, fab lab, or workshop garage.

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