The Surprisingly Manual Process Of Building Automotive Wire Harnesses

Even from the very earliest days of the automobile age, cars and trucks have been hybrids of mechanical and electrical design. For every piston sliding up and down in a cylinder, there’s a spark plug that needs to be fired at just the right time to make the engine work, and stepping on the brake pedal had better cause the brake lights to come on at the same time hydraulic pressure pinches the wheel rotors between the brake pads.

Without electrical connections, a useful motor vehicle is a practical impossibility. Even long before electricity started becoming the fuel of choice for vehicles, the wires that connect the computers, sensors, actuators, and indicators needed to run a vehicle’s systems were getting more and more complicated by the year. After the engine and the frame, a car’s wiring and electronics are its third most expensive component, and it’s estimated that by 2030, fully half of the average vehicle’s cost will be locked in its electrical system, up from 30% in 2010.

Making sure all those signals get where they’re going, and doing so in a safe and reliable way is the job of a vehicle’s wire harnesses, the bundles of wires that seemingly occupy every possible area of a modern car. The design and manufacturing of wire harnesses is a complex process that relies on specialized software, a degree of automation, and a surprising amount of people-power.

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Metal Detector Gets Help From Smartphone

[mircemk] is quite a wizard when it comes to using coils of wires in projects, especially when their application is within easy-to-build metal detectors. There are all kinds of ways to send signals through coiled wire to detect metal objects in the ground, and today [mircemk] is demonstrating a new method he is experimenting with which uses a smartphone to detect the frequency changes generated by the metal detector.

Like other metal detectors, this one uses two coils of wire with an oscillator circuit and some transistors. The unique part of this build, though, is how the detector alerts the user to a piece of metal. Normally there would be an audible alert as the frequencies of the circuit change when in the presence of metal, but this one uses a smartphone to analyze the frequency information instead. The circuit is fed directly into the headphone jack on the smartphone and can be calibrated and used from within an Android app.

Not only can this build detect metal, but it can discriminate between different types of metal. [mircemk] notes that since this was just for experimentation, it needs to be calibrated often and isn’t as sensitive as others he’s built in the past. Of course this build also presumes that your phone still has a headphone jack, but we won’t dig up that can of worms for this feature. Instead, we’ll point out that [mircemk] has shown off other builds that don’t require any external hardware to uncover buried treasure.

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Acid-Damaged Game Boy Restored

The original Game Boy was the greatest selling handheld video game system of all time, only to be surpassed by one of its successors. It still retains the #2 position by a wide margin, but even so, they’re getting along in years now and finding one in perfect working condition might be harder than you think. What’s more likely is you find one that’s missing components, has a malfunctioning screen, or has had its electronics corroded by the battery acid from a decades-old set of AAs.

That latter situation is where [Taylor] found himself and decided on performing a full restoration on this classic. To get started, he removed all of the components from the damaged area so he could see the paths of the traces. After doing some cleaning of the damage and removing the solder mask, he used 30 gauge wire to bridge the damaged parts of the PCB before repopulating all of the parts back to their rightful locations. A few needed to be replaced, but in the end the Game Boy was restored to its former 90s glory.

This build is an excellent example of what can be done with a finely tipped soldering iron while also being a reminder not to leave AA batteries in any devices for extended periods of time. The AA battery was always a weak point for the original Game Boys, so if you decide you want to get rid of batteries of any kind you can build one that does just that.

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Wire race bearing

Adding Wire Races Improves 3D-Printed Bearings

Like a lot of power transmission components, bearings have become far easier to source than they once were. It used to be hard to find exactly what you need, but now quality bearings are just a few clicks away. They’re not always cheap though, especially when you get to the larger sizes, so knowing how to print your own bearings can be a handy skill.

Of course, 3D-printed bearings aren’t going to work in every application, but [Eros Nicolau] has a plan for that. Rather than risk damage from frictional heating by running plastic or metal balls in a plastic race, he uses wire rings as wear surfaces. The first video below shows an early version of the bearing, where a pair of steel wire rings lines the 3D-printed inner and outer races. These worked OK, but suffered from occasional sticky spots and were a bit on the noisy side.

The second video shows version two, which uses the same wire-ring race arrangement but adds a printed ball cage to restrain the balls. This keeps things quieter and eliminates binding, making the bearing run smoother. [Eros] also added a bit of lube to the bearing, in the form of liquid PTFE, better known as Teflon. It certainly seemed to smooth things out. We’d imagine PTFE would be more compatible with most printed plastics than, say, petroleum-based greases, but we’d be keen to see how the bearings hold up in the long term.

Maybe you recall seeing big 3D-printed bearings around here before? You’d be right. And we’ve got you covered if you need to learn more about how bearings work — or lubricants, for that matter.

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A Cheap Dipole Antenna From An Extension Cord

Dipoles are a classic builder’s antenna, after all they are usually little more than two pieces of wire and a feedline. But as [Rob] shows us in the video below, there are a few things to consider.

The first thing is where to get the wire. A damaged extension cord donated the wire. That’s actually an interesting idea because you get multiple wires the same length inside the extension cord.¬† Continue reading “A Cheap Dipole Antenna From An Extension Cord”

This Automated Wire Prep Machine Cuts And Strips The Wire

We’ve seen a fair number of automated wire cutting builds before, and with good reason: cutting lots of wires by hand is repetitive and carries the risk of injury. What’s common to all these automated wire cutters is a comment asking, “Yeah, but can you make it strip too?” As it turns out, yes you can.

The key to making this automated wire cutter and stripper is [Mr Innovative]’s choice of tooling, and accepting a simple compromise. (Video, embedded below.) Using just about the simplest wire strippers around — the kind with a diamond-shaped opening that adjusts to different wire gauges by how far the jaws are closed — makes it so that the tool can both cut and strip, and adapt to different wire sizes. The wire is fed from a spool to a custom attachment sitting atop a stepper motor, which looks very much like an extruder from a 3D-printer. The wire is fed through a stiff plastic tube into the jaws of the cutter. Choosing between cutting and stripping is a matter of aiming the wire for different areas on the cutter’s jaws, which is done with a hobby servo that bends the guide tube. The throw of the cutter is controlled by a stepper motor — partial closure nicks the insulation, while a full stroke cuts the wire off. The video below shows the build and the finished product in action.

Yes, the insulation bits at the end still need to be pinched off, but it’s a lot better than doing the whole job yourself. [Mr Innovative] has a knack for automating tedious manual tasks like this. Check out his label dispenser, a motor rotor maker, and thread bobbin winder.

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Retrotechtacular: Wire Splicing The Army Way

For those of us who started experimenting with electricity when we were very young, one of the essential first skills was learning how to twist wires together. It seems like there’s not much to learn, but after a few failed attempts with nothing but your fingers, you learned a few tricks that are probably still with you to this day. It’s not surprising, then, that there’s an official US Army way to twist wires together, as this Signal Corps training film from 1941 shows.

Considering that the Signal Corps had nearly 80 years of experience with wiring battlefield communications at the outbreak of World War II, their methods were pretty solid, as were their materials. The film mainly concerns the splicing together of rolls of type W110-B field wire, used by the Signal Corps to connect command posts to forward positions, observation posts, and the rear echelons. More often than not laid directly upon the ground, the wire had to be tough, waterproof, and conductive enough that field telephone gear would still work over long loop lengths. As such, the steel-reinforced, rubber-and-fabric clad cable was not the easiest stuff to splice. Where we might cringe at the stresses introduced by literally tying a conductor in knots, it was all part of the job for the wire-laying teams that did the job as quickly as possible, often while taking enemy fire.

The film also has a section on splicing a new line into an existing, in-service circuit, using a T-splice and paying careful attention to the topology of the knots used, lest they come undone under stress. It’s fascinating how much thought was put into something as mundane as twisting wires, but given the stakes, we can appreciate the attention to detail.

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