Category Archives: engineering

Lots Of Links

Here are a lot of links I think are relevant to open hardware. The first is that apparently RepRap has its own magazine now!

Zero Cost Modeling of Space Frames – Julian Edgar demonstrates how to predict the failure mode of a complex frame (in this case a recumbent bicycle) without FEA software. The process involves making a scale model by soldering together copper wire then pulling on it to see where it bends or breaks. It’s a quick and easy way to see where the structure is mathematically weak.

XYZ SpaceFrame Vehicles – This is a principle for building modular bicycles and a few functional real-world examples. Here’s a pdf describing how to make one of the bicycles.

Open Source Government & Engaged Citizens: The Death Star Inspiration – Matt Micene writes, “Innovation doesn’t always result in direct business value, but can improve business in general. Innovating in the open means you can garner additional expertise you need to transform a marginal value into a direct value.”

A Guide For 3D Printing With a RepRap – ArvidJense has put together an infographic to help makers build things, specifically musical instruments, but the ideas can be applied to anything.

Someone Needs To Buy Makerbot Already – Steve Symington is talking about financial investment stuffs, but the interesting thing is that Makerbot only seems to have attracted serious financial interest after (or based on the promise of) abandoning open source principles.

Party Robotics – They are a startup focused on making open source drink mixing machines.

Using OpenSCAD for 2D Machining – Matthew Venn gives a brief overview of his process for modeling a multi-piece part in OpenSCAD and then using the projection() function to export DXFs for CNC milling.

Designing For Laser Cutting In OpenSCAD – This is a similar (but more extensive) set of instructions from a Dutch FabLab.

Make Your Own Arduino – streetjerk shows you how to put together a thru-hole Arduino from raw materials. This is particularly useful if, like streetjerk, you want to incorporate additional components (like a motor driver) into the board itself rather than use I/O ports.

Prepper Movement Embracing 3D Printing – PosserteusMaximus has compiled a list of links on how the preppers/survivalist community is becoming aware of, using and contributing to open hardware and 3D printing.

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Aligni Wants To Let You Use Their BOM Software For Free

As Bunnie pointed out on his blog, managing the Bill Of Materials (BOM) for a project can become quite complicated. Even a simple project, if it needs to be manufactured by someone else, would benefit from a BOM-specific tool

One such tool is Aligni, a web-based tool that can be used to construct the entire BOM, coordinate with manufacturers and manage inventory. Oh, and Aligni wants to let open source projects use the site for free.

I interviewed Jake Janovetz on what Aligni can do for open source hardware.

Can you give me some background on where Aligni came from and what it’s been used for?

Aligni was created out of a need to manage parts for a small electronics company.  Everything on the market was either too big (SAP, Oracle, Agile, Arena PLM), dead (Parts & Vendors), or would not handle inventory (Agile, Arena, etc).  We wanted a one-stop shop to handle things from design, part management, BOMs, cost info, inventory, assembly management, quoting, and purchasing. Interestingly, some products out there solved some of these.  QuoteFX is a widely used platform for doing quoting via database.  I think it runs in the $100’s per month per user.  Which is absolutely ludicrous.  It’s just a piece of what Aligni does and we do it much better!

What open projects have used Aligni successfully?

Unfortunately, none, really.  Some small projects have started and left over the years.  We haven’t really pushed hard on Open Aligni.  The commercial version of Aligni has lots of successful companies using it.

What do you, or the Aligni team, think about open hardware in general? How do you think it compares to the proprietary approach? Strengths and weaknesses?

We love open hardware.  As it has become better defined over the years, it is easier to talk about it.  Early on, it was confusing what it really meant.  Both open and proprietary are very valid.  In particular, a corporate entity will often get a lot of value from using proprietary hardware.  It’s simply a matter of motivation and accountability.  But Open Hardware is profoundly useful and disruptive (that’s a good thing). We originally introduced Open Aligni because we felt Open Hardware lacked a venue and a proper presentation.  The Open Hardware projects out there tend to cobble together some Google Docs or spreadsheets or other things in an inconsistent and hard-to-maintain manner.  Aligni is a more structured, disciplined approach to presenting hardware designs and managing them.
More after the jump… Continue reading
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Bunnie’s Factory Tour Part 1: How To Make A BOM

Bunnie Huang posted an extensive explanation of how you’re doing your Bill Of Materials (BOM) all wrong. Here’s a taste. For the whole 5-course meal head over to his blog.

Most Makers trying to scale up quickly realize the only practical path forward is to outsource production.

Every single assumption, down to the color of the soldermask, has to be spelled out unambiguously for a third party to faithfully reproduce a design. Missing or incomplete documentation is the lead cause of production delays, defects, and cost overruns.

Here’s some of the things missing from the [typical] BOM:

  • Approved manufacturer for each component
  • Tolerance, material composition, and voltage spec for passive components
  • Package type information for all parts
  • Extended part numbers specific to each manufacturer

A complete BOM for an LED flasher also needs to include the PCB, battery, plastic case pieces, lens, screws, any labeling (for example, a serial number), a manual, and packaging (plastic bag plus cardboard box, for example). There may also need to be a master carton as a single boxed LED flasher is too small to ship on its own.

 

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DARPA’s Open Source Cyber-Electro-Mechanical Design Tools Are Posted

Just a quick post to remind the world that DARPA has posted the open source design tools (and associated tutorial) that will be used to simulate and eventually manufacture an infantry fighting vehicle. This Fast Adaptive Next-Generation Ground Vehicle (FANG) Challenge is part of the Adaptive Vehicle Make (AVM) program. The primary tool that I’m working with now is CyPhyML written by Vanderbilt University.

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QU-BD Combo CNC Mill And 3D Printer Pre-Order Interview

I’ve been saying for a while that there’s nothing inherently expensive about 3D printing technology…at least not the FFF type. Assuming the technology becomes more popular over the next few years (which I do) I don’t see any reason why 3D printers couldn’t become as cheap and ubiquitous as 2D printers.

However, 3D printing has weaknesses, not the least of which is that it can’t work in metal.* You can take the plastic parts and cast metal parts from them, but the heat and gases have side effects that nobody in their right mind would ever allow inside a house. It is possible to work metal by machining it in a small CNC mill, as demonstrated by the ease of finding a desktop mill on Google. Since 3D printers and CNC mills function so similarly, why not combine both functions into one machine?

QU-BD is working on that. Openalia interviewed them back when they were coming off of a successful effort to Kickstarter their own thermoplastic extruder. Now they’ve arrived at the main event, the beta Rapid Prototyping Mill (RPM) pre-order. This design is important because it has the potential to create all of the (non-electrical) parts for a 3D printer, including its own extruder. Read through the interview with Chelsea Thompson after the jump to learn a little bit about the RPM and the Revolution, which is an all-metal frame 3D printer.

* I’m limiting the analysis to current technology. Sure, there might be an unforeseen breakthrough in materials science in the near future, but that’s a different discussion.

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iFixit Literally Opens Hardware

Part of the point of open hardware is, you know, the open part. If you can’t open it, then it’s not open. iFixit tears apart popular consumer products, then rates them 1-10 based on how easy they are to work with. Apple seems to get pretty low scores (go figure) while Google seems to get pretty high scores (clips are better than glue). They also have a huge user community uploading instructions for repairing all sorts of things.

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Makeblock Is A New Modular Aluminum Extrusion System

Makeblock is here to solve your robot problems. The t-slot aluminum extrusion is a tried-and-true way of building modular frames, and even simple mechanisms. It works, but it has an Achilles Heel…the nut.

t slot nut boltThat nut has to be inserted into the slot so that the bolt can torque down on the beam. Some designs include a nut that can be inserted straight through the slot and twisted instead of needing to be slid in from one end (FAZTEK). Others turn the bolt around so that the head of the bolt takes the place of the traditional nut and the nut tightens down from the outside of the bolt (MakerBeam).

A new Kickstarter campaign does away with the nut all together. Instead of using a t-slot, they have a slot with parallel sides and just the right threading to allow you to screw in a nut at any point along the slot.

Makeblock looks like an extremely well integrated system for prototyping cyber-electro-mechanical systems. They have the modular beam system itself, but they also have their own electronics with the correct footprint to fit on the beams and adapters for common things like Lego and servos. Additionally, they have it working in the real world and appear to have the manufacturing muscle to produce a lot of the kits.

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Ford Officially Backing Open Source 3D Printers

In a press release Ford Motor Company bragged about using 3D printing in general, and the open source Makerbot Thing-O-Matic in particular, to develop some of the smaller plastic parts for its vehicles. Zack Nelson, the engineer in the video, lists the easy availability of design files and community support as benefits to using the open source machine.

The full text of the press release is after the jump.

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Build A Portable Raspberry Pi Handheld Computer

Nathan Morgan, the CEO of Parts-People.com, has put together instructions for building a soda-can-sized handheld out of a Raspberry Pi.

None of the individual components are particularly open source, but Morgan did an excellent job of ensuring they are relatively cheap and easy to work with. There are a few parts that need to be hacked together, like the battery, and the case needs to be 3D printed from the files here. The whole thing adds up to around $400, but $130 of that is the 64GB SSD.

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DIY Spot Welder

A spot welder can be used to permanently attach small pieces of (mostly ferrous) metal without the need for screws, rivets or adhesives. The actual science of optimizing a spot welder is pretty deep, but at the end of the day all you’re doing is heating up metal until it flows, so as long as the tool does that you can get some home shop use out of it…particularly if it’s made out of like $10 worth of materials and runs on household current. BTW, don’t mess around with high current devices unless you know what you’re doing and take all the appropriate safety precautions (like not standing in a puddle).

Here Grant Thompson of TheKingOfRandom.com explains how to make your own.

More after the jump  Continue reading

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