The Z400 blog part 4 – Trying to print

Table of content:

Serial connection

Before getting to work, it would be nice to know if I can actually talk to the printer. It starts, sure, but can I send commands to it. The machine talks Serial (it is old), so I will need a USB to serial converter.

In comes, the PL2303, which is in this store bought USB to serial converter I have had for a over a decade. Also, it does not work, giving me the yellow triangle of complaining. Store bought converter is a fake, and it will need a hack. Luckily, it exists.

I also need to put the serial port on COM1-4, else the software doesn’t want to talk to it. Yay old machines. The good news, the machine talks back. I can toggle some of the hardware, and I can get information back.

Greasing the works

Before doing anything serious I thought it was wise to give all the motion a check, and if it needs it, some oil or grease. Standing still is generally not good for machines. The belts seem absolutely fine. Still at a decent amount of tension, and no odd cracks.

Perfectly adequate belt
The snow plows are the rectangular block on either side of the piston

With the manual in hand, I went and greased the fast axis and oiled the snow plow. The ‘snow plows’ are plain bearing blocks that slide on either side of the piston, on the actual top surface. They need to be oiled before every print. Greasing the slow axis shaft was something that I was not allowed to do according to the manual :(, but I did it anyway. It has a grease port, but the bearings have no proper wipers, so I just greased the shaft itself. Pistons will be for a future post, first I want to see ink.

Also, not many photo’s. A greased axle looks the same as a dry one.

Binder lines

The current bottle of binder is this odd blue color. I have no idea if this is still usable, but it is in the binder lines, and I do not want it there. The manual states flushing the lines with demineralized water if the machine will not print for extended amounts of time. This is what I will do. The software has a nice function that allows you to flush the lines. Simply add a bottle of water at the input, and then hold the ‘Feed up’ button until you are done flushing. ‘This may take 5 minutes’.

Left, water. Right, waste bottle
Nice and clean again

Wait, 5 minutes, while holding the button, a dinky dome cap button, the whole time!? Yes, the machine does not flush for 5 minutes, it flushes until you release the button. While I am happy that it lets you chose how long to flush, you stand there for 5 minutes holding a crappy button.

Also consider this thought. The binder (and powder) that this machine uses is ludicrously expensive. Current estimate is €100-500. Holding the button for 5 minutes cost around 100-200ml of binder. This is at least €10, at the most €100 in binder, just flushed out of the system. Running this machine was not cheap. Now I am not going to be using original materials, but still.

Also, while reconnecting some things during the flushing, I got some of the binder on my hand. I am happy to report that I am now 1% smurf, this stuff does not come off.

Obligatory Eiffel 65 lyrics

Printhead dock

The dock is where the printhead spends most of it’s time. It consists of a squeegee (I really like that word) and a suction/capping port. All is made of rubber, and though it has been sitting still for a while, it does still feel decent. I cannot really see if it makes proper contact, since the printhead obscures it most of the time, but for sake of argument, lets assume it works.

Surprisingly clean for something in a powder printer
Squeegee intact

Printhead

The final piece of the puzzle for today is the printhead connector. The Z400 uses a CISS (continuous Ink Supply System) printhead, and the BC-20 is definitely not a CISS printhead. It was cut open by Zcorp and a special adapter was added to the printhead. A special connector is used to make contact with the printhead. This connector is a medical plastic container of some sort.

Connector somewhat in place
Rubber seal
2 Tubes at different heights
That is a cut open printhead all right
The inside of a printhead

There are several ways of making a BC-20 a zcorp head. There is simply gluing on hose glands to the printhead, Cutting the top of the printhead of and gluing a in special adapter (no link). There is also what my Z400 has, which is an odd hack, but a seemingly functional one.

The connector seems to be the original one, but it has an extra rubber gasket glued to it that interfaces with a boss that is naturally in the printhead. It is a bit weaker of a connection, but it takes much less work to modify the printhead itself. The printhead only needs to be cut open. I will see if I can make this system work.

I did some measurements of the connector, and the drawing is below.

Ejecting ink

Enough talk, lets test it. Does the Z400 actually print?

Yes, but not really. It moves and tries to print, but no ink actually comes out. It is convinced it works, the printhead is sensed. When I pull out the printhead on a life machine, it gives all sorts of errors (suggesting it sees something). Somehow, ink is not flowing. A few possible options:

  • The dock does not start the printhead properly;
  • The printhead freezes too quickly after it was primed;
  • Though the printhead is sensed, no full connection to the head is made;
  • The machine is so altered that it only prints with modified printheads;
  • The printhead I have is a dud (It is a BX-20, though I am told they are the same)

I do not know which issue it is right now, but I will start ruling out the possibilities as soon as possible.

The Z400 blog part 3 – PC power

Table of content:

Last time

The last time I checked the HDD and all power supplies. Everything seemed fine. I then added a transformer to run the printer on the 115V it wants. When we wanted to power the printer, all we got was lights, but no sign of any life from the computer.

Powering the PC (again)

The first task was to see if the motherboard was giving post codes when the printer was being powered. We never heard any beeps, but there might simply not be a buzzer on the motherboard. Getting post codes might give an indication of what is actually missing or wrong on the motherboard. We can then fix these issues and hopefully the printer will boot properly. Armed with a PCI post card, we went back to the printer

We plugged the card in an empty PCI port and powered the machine. The card did light up bug gave no post codes, only some leds and two dots. We then suddenly heard noise. The clicking of a heavy solenoid that turned out to be the binder pump. Then the printer trying to home and running into random parts we still had in the build area.

There seemed to be life there. We plugged the PCI post board in another PCI port. We cleared the junk from the build area and tried again. More pumping, homing of all axes and an obnoxious alarm that is a strong contestant for ‘parts that will get bypassed in the future’. It is also at this point we realized that the fluid line was about to pump into open air. We did manage to turn the printer off before there was too much of a mess, but there is now blue ink in one of the corners. The binder line was connected to itself to complete the loop, so the machine would be able to operate as if there was a printhead.

What did I actually do that made the printer work where before it didn’t? What magical combination of actions did I do to make everything start?

I have no clue, but it is working for now. I will keep my eyes open for any odd behavior that might cause the machine to stop working. Computers that magically start working where they did not before are incredibly suspicious, but they are better than computers that are presumed dead and not revivable.

Boot cycle

We added a screen. The Z400 has the option of having a screen and PS2 keyboard to debug the PC of the printer itself. I was very curious what the printer was actually doing. As it turns out it writes literally everything that it is doing to this screen. Below photo’s of the screens we saw.

What happens during the startup of the printer

  • Binder is pumped around until it reaches sensors;
  • The fast and slow axis are homed. The printer wiggles both around a dozen or so times to get an exact position;
  • The pistons move all the way down to sensors and then up to their old position (an idea which I like very much);
  • The printhead is tested and parked.

Roadmap

Now that the PC seems to be working and all systems can be tested, there is a whole list of items that need to be done.

  • See if I can get the software to work: So far I have only had the machine operate standalone.
  • Clean ink lines: I had the old, weird ink running through them in a test, clean this with demineralized water and IPA.
  • Check timing belts: They seem fine but the machine is getting older;
  • Grease/oil axes/screws: The printer has been gathering dust for years. I will check the manual and do whatever seems necessary to make the motions happy;
  • Get new printheads: I do need printheads to test printing;
  • Check inkjet electronics: See if the inkjet electronics actually work;
  • Replace piston seal: Build piston seal has a giant gap in it;
  • Actually rebuild a printhead: I will test with ink, but will need a binder head at some point;
  • Making a schematic of the binder path: I am curious;

I might get a video of the printer booting, just for reference, but that will be for a future post.

The Z400 blog part 2 – Electric overhaul

Table of content:

Before we get started

Now before I can even start to plug this printer in, I need to be sure that it is safe to power it. The Z400 has been sitting still for half a decade and is already twenty years old. For all I know, a power supply is blown.

What are we looking at

The Z400 is actually a glorified old PC with an inkjet printer attached, and some hardware added to that. It is quite possibly the most amazing hack I have ever seen. “We want a 3D powder and inkjet printer”, and they just took a real existing inkjet printer (not kidding) and built a whole powder handling machine around this. All of this is controlled by a quite normal PC, only with a ISA port to control the actual movement of the machine. It is the way a hacker nowadays would do it, only in this case a million dollar company was founded around it.

The PC insides of a Z400

The HDD

The most fragile and least replaceable part is the hard drive. This holds the DOS OS and some software that controls the Z400. If the hard drive is broken without a backup, I can kiss this whole project goodbye.

The hard disc is mounted in the back of the machine. Getting it out is quite simple. Getting an image of the drive was a bit more difficult since it uses an older HDD connector. Luckily the Tkkrlab has a lot of junk, and IDE to USB was quickly found.

And the good news, someone had the foresight to replace the HDD (20GB is not normal in late 90s), and the image seems to be good. One worry less.

For those interested, I do now have an image of a Z400, if anyone has need for this I can send it. A TL;DR is that it is essentially an image of DOS, with some Zcorp sauce added.

Too new for 1998

The power supplies

Next are the power supplies. These are around the time a boatload of crappy capacitors entered the market, and even without that issue, capacitors don’t live forever.

All power supplies (2x 24V and 1x ATX) were removed from the back and separately tested with 115V, the machine voltage. The 2 24V power supplies worked fine under load. The ATX also seemed to be stable, though it was more difficult to test under load.

Negative to ground, nice
Testing the power supplies
Test load at 22ohm

To transform, or not to transform

One question remained. How to power this machine. It is an American machine, taking 115V, but I live in the Netherlands, at 230V. The power supplies can all be switched to 230V, no problem. The only issue is that a main board takes the 115V and spreads it to all power supplies. Would I modify the power supplies, or just add a Transformer.

An important part of my decision was made with the manual of the Z400. Here it clearly stated that the 115V machine was 136kg, and the 230V machine was 150kg. The only way this is possible is if the 230V machine has a transformer. A 500VA transformer almost perfectly matches this weight. If Zcorp did not bother simply switching the power supplies over, neither will I. It is very possible that a company selling a monopolized machine goes for the simple solution, but I will not take the risk if I do not have to.

The transformer in question is a nice Riedel 500VA transformer that goes from essentially everything to either 230V or 115V. Exactly what I need. It was mounted in the base, taking the power from the original socket and converting it to 115V before it goes to the main board. There were some flashy accidents with a wire coming loose, and shorting to ground, but other than that, the machine was ready to be turned on.

The board spreading the 115V around
A shiny transformer
Hacked in the printer
Time for testing

Power

And what happened when we hit the switch? First all leds in the machine came on, then…

Nothing.

The PC does not seem to boot. When we attach a screen, we see nothing, when we attach a serial port, no response. There is light though, and an image on the HDD.

Cliffhanger

This is where to story ends for today. It was getting late, and any next step would take hours. The first step is to take the ISA card out (it is in the way) and see what type of post codes the machine is sending. We are already looking for an ancient PC with an ISA port as a potential replacement. We have everything we might need to make this work. In the next post I will either have something to work with, or a much bigger project.

Until next time.

The Z400 blog part 1 – The beginning

Behold the magnificence, a Z400

Hello and welcome to a blog that is a bit different than what I usually do. A repair blog of how I attempt to revive a Zcorp Z400.

Table of content:

The Zcorp Z400, what is it

With no wikipedia article available, there is not a nifty list of features and when it was released, but here goes:

The Zcorp Z400 is a relatively ancient 3DP (powder and inkjet) printer. The manual is copyrighted 1997-2004, so that puts the Z400 at least at 1997. Hilariously enough the user manual completely fails to mention how big the Z400 can print, but it’s probably around the size of an A4 (200x300mm) by 200ish vertical. Once I know, I will say.

Also quite interesting is that the whole mechanism of the Z400 says ‘robust’ and ‘industrial’ until you reach the printhead gantry. The whole gantry is sheetmetal from an ordinary old inkjet printer that uses Canon BC-20 printheads. The Z400 uses modified versions of this BC-20 that are no longer available, but there are alternatives to make yourself: http://blog.freesideatlanta.org/2011/07/making-print-cartridges-for-z400z402-3d.html

The BC-20 heads have no DPI known, but should be 128 nozzles since the manual speaks of 128 jets of binder. Again, will say when I know.

A summary of the Zcorp Z400 is that it is a big standing 3DP printer from the time when 3D printing was unheard of, running an old PC (more on that later) controlled through serial, controlling a hacked Canon inkjet printer to print in powder. There are plenty of motors and pumps and pistons to make it all work, but that is the summary.

Looks nice and robust
Looks like someone hacked an old inkjet printer (they did, not judging)

Why and how I got it

“But Yvo”, I hear you say, “how did you get this Z400?”.

Good question, here is how: https://ytec3d.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=5627

Wonko donated it to me. It has not been running for half a decade and he wanted it somewhere where it might be used. Getting it to my house was quite an adventure, revolving around a too light car, a too big trailer and a town celebrating carnival.

It currently sits at the Tkkrlab in Enschede while I repair it.

What I want with it

Obviously I want an working 3DP printer from a real original 3DP printer builder. And since there are boatloads of patents involved, there are only 2. Zcorp, and the company that bought Zcorp, 3DSystems.

I got into 3DP because I love the concept of 3DP, and my goal is to print ceramics with this. I will investigate other materials, and will continue work on my own 3DP and inkjet adventures, but I also cannot pass the opportunity to get experience with an original printer.

What needs to be done with it

The machine has been sitting still for the past few years and is already old by itself. There is no guarantee that this blog will end at page 2 proclaiming the PC as dead and irreparable. But I will try my best to make the original work, and else replace all that is printer with my own electronics.

This is the short list of what needs to happen before I can even start to print:

  • HDD needs to be tested. If these fail, the printer is dead. (Spoiler alert, I did already make an image of my drive, this still works);
  • Power supplies need to be tested outside the printer (it is a 110V machine);
  • Computer and boards need to be tested. The computer needs to start and run, and the printer needs to want to move at least;
  • Binder lines and printhead ribbon cables need to be tested and or replaced;
  • All movement needs to be checked and lubricated. The build piston probably needs a new seal;
  • Printheads need to be made;

If I did not forget anything, that is what I will need to do before I can start to print. Here is hoping that the machine is still in working order.

Oasis and 2019

It is getting better, 16 people reading this. The last post was in May, only 7 months ago.

Oasis 3DP

The Hackaday prize is done, and so is Oasis. Did I win the contest? Nope, but Oasis is now printing, which is also really important to me. There are still plenty of thing left to do on Oasis. The firmware and software need more work, I need to study materials, I want to be able to sell printhead controllers when everything is more stable, and I do have lines open for better printheads. All things I can do in 2019. These updates will not happen within the first month of 2019, but I am working on it. Oasis for the foreseeable future will only receive small, incremental changes. I do hpe to write a more complete page on Oasis on Ytec in 2019 as well.

https://hackaday.io/project/86954-oasis-3dp

2019

What else will I be doing in 2019? The first thing I want to do in 2019 is finish the Turret, mentioned in the previous blog post. This will take me a few months, so do expect a bit of radio silence on that, but I hope to be done before April. I also want to finish the robotic board game, also mentioned in the previous blog. It has less priority, and might not be finished before the end of 2019, but I do hope to finish it in 2019.

There are plenty of other, smaller projects I am currently working on. These range from domotics hardware (I have domoticated my house, and hope to do more with it), some small electronics projects like hexagonal matrix displays, and heat exchangers again. As always, none of this is set in stone, but that is what can be expected in 2019.

I will post more on the site again. I have been more on Hackaday.io last year, and might keep doing stuff there as well, but I do have this site, and I like working on it.

Until somewhere next year
-Yvo

I should post more often

I really should, The last post was in 2015. It is not like I am dead or anything, just busy.

On what you might ask, one of the 15 people reading this? Glad you asked. There have been 3 massive project that have taken most of my project time the last year or so. All 3 are still set to be finished somewhere this year (or early next year) and all 3 are awesome. The projects in no particular order are:

Oasis 3D printer

A powder and inkjet 3D printer, 4 years in the making. After I finished Plan B I set myself the goal of making a newer, better’er 3D powder printer with newer hardware. This hardware was the HP45, and this printer was Oasis. In those 4 years I have done a lot of work, but I have failed to make a new 3D printer. Setbacks, feature creep and me being distracted has made sure that no new 3D printer does yet exist. There is good news though. I have entered the Hackaday prize with what I hope to be a real attempt. I have already made it to the finals, so I think I am committed now.

https://hackaday.io/project/86954-oasis-3dp

(The printer is actually further than this, but click the hackaday link for that)

Full scale Turret

Did you know we had a turret (running gag at my local hackerspace). For SHA 2017 we (I) wanted something awesome to show off. When we made the decision to make something, I had about a month left. That something that was going to be made was a full scale, opening and closing, talking, watching, shooting turret. To all the people that said that it can’t be done, you are right, but only just. Mechanically it was done, it was shooting, it was moving, it was awesome. It just was not finished. The mechanism jammed, the electronics failed constantly and the software was basically non existent. After spending every waking hour for a month on the Turret, I did not feel like finishing it. Was going to start this March, but then the Hackaday prize happened. The turret will probably be the first thing I will work on after Oasis, and I promise it will be awesome.

Robotic boardgame

The answer when playing roborally and not wanting to move the pieces constantly. This let met to start on one of these ‘a lot bigger than they seem’ projects. To make a robotic playing board that can move pieces in a game of roborally. The game has a gantry with magnets and cardreaders to read the playing cards. It actually moves just fine, only the game rules firmware and the cardreaders are left. The thing that stalled this project was that I moved. If it weren’t for that, I might actually be finished. After moving I wanted to work on something else first. That was the Turret, and then Oasis. This project will probably be finished after the Turret. It does not have the same grandeur as the Turret, but is still really neat.

And now that I have posted and thought about posting more often, it will still probably be a year before I post again. Until then.

Welcome to the family

a new 3D printer

On the right, my current UP! Plus, on the left, my New UP! Mini

 

Hello accidental clickers of the blog button.

3D printer

The title says it, hello, new 3D printer. I for some dark and mysterious reason won a 3D printer. with what, you might ask? with this: http://www.instructables.com/id/Hand-in-hand-clock/. Technically it won in 3 contests, but 2 of those were just runner ups. When I saw I was in the finals, I was thrilled and expected another Instructables shirt, but somehow I won a 3D printer. The printer in question, an UP! mini. A slightly smaller version of the UP! Plus. A welcome addition, because I often have massive under capacity. A lot of 3D printed projects will now print twice as fast. The only issue I have with the new printer is this. It is called the UP! mini, and yet it is larger in size than the UP! plus.

Hydroponics

I have been working on a few versions of a hydroponics controller for quite a while now. I did not have real hands on experience with hydroponics, but I reckoned that that would grow with the development of the controller. My hydroponics setup was built and started working, but all work on the hydroponics controller stalled for various reasons. And then I discovered something. You see, my current hydroponics setup is running on just 2 simple timeclocks. Nothing more. No sophisticated sensors, no environmental control. Just… 2… timeclocks.

I am basically banging rocks together here, and somehow, my balcony is now on par with some rain-forests. I will admit, for some time, the system ran like garbage, but once I got decent nutrients, the thing just exploded. Plants everywhere. This leaves me thinking, with diminishing return and everything, just how much more can I get from a controller. Can’t be that much. Maybe I am overthinking this all. I am going to experiment with ordinary hydroponics for a few seasons before I am going to rethink a controller. I need to learn a lot more before I can come up with something relevant. From what I have learned so far, 90% of what you get comes from the nutrient.

 

Props

In the category things I am more experienced with. Props. The Pip-Boy Mark IV has hit the internet, and boy has it hit. This website was on the point of crashing multiple times, but it never actually did. Yay me. The Fallout 3 Laser rifle is also done, so to all the people that wanted a Laser Rifle, here you go. In light of Fallout 4 it may seem a bit redundant, but I started it way before the Fallout 4 announcements, and I was not throwing it away just because there was going to be a new one.

Now at this point I have no more props on the official Prop list. I am open to suggestions. Always wanted a cosplay prop 3D printable but it is not available. Throw it at me, maybe it will stick. Anything is allowed as a suggestion, books, graphic novels, series, movies, games. Smaller is better because it is easier, but that shouldn’t stop anyone. I heard the Fallout 4 Laser pistol come along, and considering it’ s similarity to the laser rifle from fallout 3, it is worth a thought, but it is a big one, so I also like other ideas. Go to the new forum (see below) and leave a suggestion.

Hand in hand clock

The Hand in hand clock has thus far been the most worthwhile project I’ve had. Not because it did that extremely well by itself, but because it took only 6 days to make. It has won me a bunch of small prizes, and a complete 3D printer. I do have a confession to make about it though. It has been hanging on my wall, but it hasn’t been running in months. I found it too noisy, and with all other projects, I simply did not have the time to make it quieter. I want to do this by adding a DC motor with encoder. These motors have smoother power, and should be orders of magnitude quieter.

I also had people suggest making a skeleton clock version of the Hand in Hand clock, and I really think that would be awesome. I am an engineer. I don’t want minimalist clocks, I want to see gears. I have made a design of it and it and I think it came out really well. I spent a bit more time designing it, so hopefully this version will be a bit easier to assemble. I don’t know when I will actually make it, but I will definitely make this skeleton version.

2015-08-21 23.48.04

HIHCS1 WIP 2

 

 

Plan B

Plan B is now completely done. No more updates will happen (other than one tiny software update that does not want to work) to anything Plan B related. Plan B has given me invaluable knowledge on 3DP printing, but I can not learn any more from Plan B. It is built as a prototype printer, a platform to perform basic tests on. It has fulfilled it’s purpose, now it can rest. The original Plan B I have is also completely tired. It had numerous upgrades, and has run for more hours than expected. It needs a complete overhaul and with the amount of work that is, that is not going to happen.

While the lessons I learned from Plan B can not be told in just one Blog entry, I have done some major Upgrades in the Year I used it:

  • 3 different controllers, A Megatronics V2, V3 and a homebrew DUE controller. The V2 was replaced by the V3 because some I/O’s burned out. The DUE controller was to give Plan B more speed, which it did quite well.
  • Full firmware streamline to go along with the DUE controller, fully utilizing the additional speed and RAM memory. This made Plan B basically 4x as fast.
  • A spreader upgrade. The original Plan B had a static tube for a spreader. I later replaced it with a rolling spreader, and any next printer will be built with a rolling spreader. It just leaves a better and denser layer. Period.
  • A spotlight. It may not seem like much, but I had Makerfaires to attend to. Light is good. Also, the bed heater broke down, so the halogen spot did some heating.
Forum

Ytec has a new Forum. You can find it here: http://ytec3d.com/forum/

The forum was replaced because I was fed up with BBPress’ complete lack of any features, and it being incompatible with my theme. Login in was hard to do, and even stopped working from time to time. It had no preview, you couldn’t upload pictures to it and basically nothing was possible other than posting text to it. I now have a shiny new forum running besides WordPress, and even though it is pretty much generic, I like it.

New printer ideas

There are 2 printers I have in the official project planning. One is already in the first stages, one is on the Planning for somewhere early 2016.

The first printer is Tesseract. It is going to be an FDM, but it will be capable of unloading itself due to some stainless steel black magic. Keep an eye on the Forum for more information on that. First experiments will should within a month. After that it should go fast.

The Second printer is Oasis, the next powder printer in the queue. It was originally going to be Iris, but I am saving that one for a printer capable of printing in color. Oasis is going to be cheaper and more versatile in terms of modifiability. I hope that Plan B was the Darwin of the 3DP printers (proof of concept, but not that useful in real life). With that I hope that Oasis will be a Mendel (the basis for all future printers of it’s kind and actually useful by itself). I still need a printhead, and my sights are still on the HP45, so the first thing will be hacking that.

 

Now that I am moved in

I can finally pick up where I left. Hello to the dozens of people that click (and maybe even read) this page.

I have moved, and now live in the gorgeous Enschede in the east of the Netherlands. I got a new job in this area, and driving the distance every day was not an option. It took me a while to get properly settled (especially the internet, which took a full month), but I am now at a point where I can pick things up again. This means that there will be more projects again.

The first thing I did is already public, a new clock. A clock was missing here, and as a tinkerer, I just had to build one myself. It also marks the ‘I am moved in’ point. First a small tour of the house. I now live in a one room apartment. This is a challenge, because my bedroom is my living room is my workshop, but I made it work. This is where I will do most of my projects, notice how my workspace is under my bed:

Hydroponics

I also haven’t been standing still with my hydroponics. I did have the small setback of moving, making the greenhouse I built useless to me. I did manage to get a full setup running on my balcony, which is starting to pick up. I have dutch buckets growing tomatoes, pepper, zucchini, melon and I have a NFT tube growing mostly strawberries, but also a bit of lettuce in the future. Right now, it is controlled by 2 digital timeclocks and some willpower, but with this is the setup I will fine tune my hydroponics controller.

The hydroponics controller also had a setback. I started last winter, with an Arduino Mega powered hydroponics controller, with tons of features, and a gorgeous graphical display. Then, when the winter came and the project slowed down a bit, I had an epiphany. People who run hydroponics don’t need a controller with tons of features capable of running a commercial sized greenhouse. They need something cheap and simple. I have binned the old controller mostly, and started from scratch with an Arduino Uno, and a smaller, simpler shield. The interface is simpler, using only a simple 2×16 display, and the features are a bit more limited. The biggest challenge now is fitting all remaining features on the tiny programming space of the Uno. I am at 31% of the programming space, with EEPROM, outputs, PH, EC, temperature, environment and water level remaining.

The information on the Hydroponics page of this site is now outdated. I will see if I can change it some time soon.

Hydroponics comparison

On the left, the new one, on the right, the partially stripped old one.

The difference in GUI, going from a graphic lcd to a alphanumerical one

Plan B

Plan B has been starting and stopping for the past year now, but no real progress has been made. Part of this is me not being the guy to experiment with materials, part of it is me having other interests, and part of it the biggest bottleneck of 3DP printing, the printhead. The thing I have been working on is a faster controller, based on the DUE, but since the last post, nothing has happened to that. I hope to make a controller that I can sell kits of, but design on the PCB has stalled for various reasons. I hope to finish work on the new controller when I finish the hydroponics controller and when the makerfestival this weekend is done.

I have also done a lot of conceptual work and concept tests on the next printer, Project the 3rd. The keywords will be cheap and updatability. It will be a cheap platform for the technique to grow on. Plan B was like the Darwin of Reprap printers (clunky and limited, but working), I hope to make the 3rd like the Mendel, so the 4th can be full color by default. Work will not start on that for months, but the staring point is a printhead I have had here for a month or so now.

Side project

There is also a side project I have been working on. It is labeled a low priority long term project, meaning that it will progress very slowly and with no rush at all (unlike the clock). It is the Laser Rifle from fallout, 3D printable and with working reloading mechanism, sound and laser. I have about 30 hours in the design so far, and shape wise it is mostly done. I only need to design the reloading mechanism and optimize for 3D printing. Designing is going to take at least 10 more hours. Printing is currently estimated at 50-80 hours and 2kg of plastic, painting at 20 hours. It may still take months to complete, it having no priority and everything, but I hope to finish this one. It has been requested and next to the Pip-Boy, is the most popular Fallout prop. Plus, it would look wicked mounted to my wall together with my laser pistol.

AER9 WIP1

AER9 WIP2

More SPEED!!!

Now that is a catchy title.

Plan B

A faster DUE based controller for Plan B is now in prototype phase. It has most of the features of a Megatronics V3, including most of the pinouts (but not all). This controller was made to get the printing speed of Plan B up to acceptable levels. With huge amounts of ram memory for buffering, and a fast, 32bit, 84MHz processor, it is orders of magnitude faster than the 8bit 16MHz Atmega 2560 the Previous controller ran on.

This new controller may get a version that is for sale. This can not only be used for Plan B, but in theory should also be usable for normal 3D printers. This might happen, but it will depend on demand and cost. Schematics and sources will be posted regardless of a version for sale.

The controller comes together with more updates and improvements. A small list of improvements:

  • Speed firmware upgrade, now printing at 150mm/s (Done)
  • Double direction printing properly implemented (Done)
  • Rolling spreader upgrade (Done)
  • Acceleration for spreader motion (Done)
  • Select files from SD card (In Progress)
  • Make Plan B converter software stand alone (Pending)

Have a video printing a single layer. First I will go to Groningen with it, then I will post the files and upgrades for a faster Plan B, and perhaps I will make a controller for sale.

Events

I will be on the Maak Festival (maker faire) in Groningen (the Netherlands), 12 April 2015 (maakfestival.nl). If you want to see Plan B in person or want to talk, Groningen will be the place.

Also I will attend the Maker Festival Twente. It is in Enschede (also the Netherlands), 30 and 31 May 2015. (makerfestivaltwente.nl)

Moving

I am moving to Enschede May this year. This means that: 1, I have more space for bigger projects but 2, I will be quite busy for a while, and so site support and projects will move a bit slower for a while.

Geodesic greenhouse

I have build a geodesic greenhouse. I might make it a page on this site, it will appear at some point on instructables. I was planning on using it for Hydroponics experiments, but I will not be using it myself. I am moving, right after I finish it. My parents will use it the old fashioned way. It is almost done, but here’s a picture of it.

Ignore the beam in the middle, that will be fixed later.

Ignore the beam in the middle, that will be fixed later.

Hydroponics controller

I was working on a hydroponics controller. I have gotten some doubts about the execution of the project since I started on it, fearing that it is overly complicated, but it is now a workable machine. The problem is that I am going to move, and the greenhouse I built for my hydroponics setup is not coming with me. I am moving to an apartment with a nice balcony, so I will take some space from that to place my plants. Updates when they happen perhaps.

SAMSUNG CSC

The controller and all of the stuff Related with hydroponics, like PH and EC sensors, and pumps.

 

 

 

A Happy New year

Hello to the roughly 300 people that have clicked this link.

It is now officially 2015, and while still a very tiny amount of people read this blog, I wanted to write something. 2015 has some nice things planned, and I wanted to share these potential projects with anyone who accidentally clicked this link.

3D printers

First of is the next Plan B (project Iris for now). This one has hit a snag. I am forced to wait on people more skilled at software and electronics who are busy with the CN642A or other printheads. A lot of great people have started hacking, and after the first bit of information was shared, I knew one thing. I am going to be useless helping hacking this thing. Communication happens with huge speed and with electronics that are beyond my skill. So for now, I am stuck waiting on progress made by other people before I can start work on project Iris again. When people have successfully hacked the CN642A, I will divert all my available resources back to 3DP printing. Until then I have some other things planned.

One of the two main projects planned is a better form of DLP printing. That is all I can share for now, I will have to play my cards pretty close to my chest for now. There are things I need to figure out before I will share all of it. Rest assured that everything will remain open source, though patents may occur.

Hydroponics

The second big project is Hydroponics. There was already a page on this (though it is terribly outdated) with rough explanations. Short summary, it is growing plants (mostly fruits and vegetables) in a soil-less environment, where the water carries all of the oxygen and nutrients. This technique is a lot more efficient with water and fertilizer than conventional growing. You might not guess it from the other content of the site, but I actually like growing plants. I also like building electronics, and I like efficiency, so this project is perfect for me. Programming is happening as we speak, I will post when interesting things have happened.

Some specs of the controller are:

  • Arduino Mega 2560 controller;
  • Graphic LCD with rotary encoder switch input;
  • RTC built in;
  • SD card support for logging and complex settings;
  • 12 outputs (4 mosfet outputs @12V, 8 relay outputs on connector);
  • 2 bidirectional DC motors (for peristaltic pumps);
  • 4 servo motors support;
  • I2C support;
  • DS1820 support (accurate temperature sensor);
  • 10K thermistor support (cheap temperature sensor);
  • 3x Analog inputs for PH and EC sensor;
  • Additional ports for auxiliary functions (such as fish feeders or weather monitoring);

 

P1070296

Props and sideprojects

Without my UP!, I have no real printer to make props. I do have a borderlands prop planned, but that one has no priority right no with no good 3D printer. There are also side projects, such as RC projects, and things I don’t know of right now.

That is roughly what is going to happen this year. I wish everyone on the forum, and everyone in general a happy new year, and until next time.