Acrylic Materials For Panels

WTT5 color - 300I needed panels for my FAA project.  The original plan was to use aluminum panels supplied by one of the FAA support groups, but that proved to be unreliable.  At this stage of the project, the FAA was ordering in lots of ten, and the future of the project was uncertain.  I never knew if an order for ten units might be the last-ever order, and there wasn't enough money in the job to buy in quantity, not knowing if extra parts would be used.

I looked at Front Panel Express.  They will make small lots of custom-designed panels.  I quickly drew up the panel I needed using their software, and found the price.  One panel would cost a hundred bucks to make!  Buying 10 at a time brought the price down to $80 each.  Ouch.  This is for an aluminum panel, powder-coated, engraved and back-filled with paint, so it's probably not an unreasonable price, but it wouldn't fly for my project.  My contact at the FAA wanted a target price of $300 per unit.  The heavy duty industrial switches cost nearly $100 by themselves and the other parts costs were not small since each unit has two circuit boards of about 150mm x 100mm.  The Front Panel Express software is nice in that it shows you the cost of every operation; you can decide if that extra hole is worth the cost.

In this article, I'll share my exploration of using laser-cut acrylic panels as a cost effect alternative.

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Laser Cutting and Engraving May Be Closer Than You Think

laser warningI've often written about getting acrylic parts cut at Metrix, the local hacker space.  It's awesome to have a panel cut where, if you've measured carefully and made an accurate drawing, the holes are the right size and shape (like D-holes for switches and pots) and everything lines up.  You may be thinking "That's great for you, but what about me?  There's not a hacker space anywhere near me."

 
I made a discovery.  Many trophy shops have lasers these days to make plaques for trophies and awards.  In fact, engraving is one of the things they do all the time, so they may do a better job than a hacker space!  The trophy shop about 2 miles from my house did a superb job for me when I wanted better quality engraving than I got at the hacker space, and it was cheaper too.  They were happy to work with the file I supplied to cut and engrave my panel.
 

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Matrix/Game Shield Project (Firewing)

matrixGamepic1

Project by Gavin Wiggett.

I bring you the Matrix/Game Shield, (Red/Green 8x8 led matrix).

I started this Project just a few  months  ago (May 2013), the idea was to make a game system where you can design your own games for a 8x8 led matrix or even some cool animations, I have been into leds and led matrix displays for the last few years since the day I saw Brad Slattery 8x8 led The Great Race.

The concept was to make a shield that was compatible with Firewing and Arduino and to make a shield that used the least amount of I/O pins as possible. In this case the shield only uses 4 pins in total to control the red/green matrix and all 6 buttons, leaving the other I/O pins free and for use for other peripherals e.g. SD Card/Usart.

 

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SMT Protoboard Compendium - An Ongoing Project

SMT Prototype Board Compendium

teaserMany chips are only available in surface mount (SMT) packages and they are getting ever smaller as the drive towards miniaturization continues.  This makes it tough to experiment with the parts on a bread board.  Fortunately, they are a variety of adapter boards that make experimenting with these devices easier.  One of the challenges is finding a suitable board when you find a chip you want to use available in only some tiny package.  This article is meant to be a reference to find different boards.  As adapters or proto-boards come and go, this reference will evolve.

I've included a tiny fraction of the available boards here - I know there are many others.  I need your help to list different boards.  Please send me information about boards you may find.  Also, to continue this effort, I have to know that people are looking at the information and using it; your comments are not only welcome but are essential to continuing this project!

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Acrylic Bolted Joints and Cemented Windows

assembled joint 2 - 300I've been wanted to try a couple things with laser-cut acrylics.  For a long while, I've wanted to try bolted 90° joins, often seen at Thingiverse.  I started with information I found in How To: Make Cheap LaserCut Custom Boxes for Your DIY Electronics.  I wouldn't quite make the patterns shown in the article work with Visio, so I created my own.  My patterns are slightly different, in that I made the slot width the same as the nut dimension across the flats to better hold the nut.  The result is a rigid joint that's easy to assemble.

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A Replacement Meter Lens - Fail

meter - 300I recently found a great old Westinghouse AC Ammeter at Goodwill for a few bucks.  I love the look of these old meters but this one had a cracked lens and a 50 year accumulation of cigarette smoke and grim on the case.  I didn't take ant "before" pictures but here's how it looks cleaned up, minus a lens.

The meter face was almost brown from the accumulation of grime and cigarette smoke.  I took the front cover off the meter and scrubbed it.  It looks pretty good after cleaning as the above picture shows.

This article will show a great method of producing a life-size drawing of oddly shaped parts and document the less-than-successful process of replacing the lens.

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