Join us for Doors Open Milwaukee 2014!

This is your invitation to get out and explore Milwaukee!
We’re just one of several dozen buildings that will be open this weekend for guests to come and visit.  We will be giving tours both Saturday and Sunday this weekend, between 10 AM and 5 PM.  If you visit, please enter at the north side of our building which is on Otjen Street.

You can our building and all the events going on this weekend at the Doors Open website:
http://doorsopenmilwaukee.org/

$5 Upcycled Desk Clock

Last summer I came across a collection of car parts at a garage sale; instrument clusters, lights, gauges, and some digital clock displays.  For $5, I became the proud owner of a JECO Japan, vacuum fluorescent clock display.  The plastic housing held all the clock electronics, membrane buttons for setting the time, and a four-pin connector.  After powering it up, I realized one of the pins could be used to dim the display, which is a pretty nice feature to have.

I’ve worked on it off and on for a few months, but finally decided to finish it this weekend.  On Saturday, I tweaked some dimensions and laser-cut the final enclosure.  I wasn’t happy with the button holes and text I had on the front of the first iteration, so I got rid of them for the final.  You can adjust the time by slipping a jeweler’s screwdriver or a paper clip through a gap in between the plexiglass sides and pressing the buttons to add hours or minutes. 

I added a small single-pole, double-throw toggle to switch between bright and dim, then soldered the connections before closing it up.  The whole thing is clamped together by a single #10-32 machine screw and a wingnut.  The final result doesn’t look half bad.

DIY Exterior Ashtray

For the longest time, members and guests were treated to this gorgeous sight:
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We can do better! All it took was some scrap metal, an old light fixture, and scrounged hardware. Grinding, welding, drilling, done.
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Ninety minutes later, I had chucked the vile plastic bucket in the dumpster and this hotness was bolted to the wall. One project done and a great way to start the Memorial Day weekend.
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Laser Cutter Venting System, Version 5.0

Sometimes solving one problem creates a few new ones! As part of the Laser Cutter Room Reconfiguration, the exhaust system got an upgrade. A new, bigger, more powerful fan meant we needed a new way to control it. The previous system (Version 4.0) was a simple on/off switch. That just wasn’t going to cut it for this industrial grade blower. Tom G., Tony W., myself and others spent the holidays installing this new two-horsepower beast above the ceiling in the Craft Lab. Once it was hung from the roof joists with care, Tom got to work ducting it over to the Laser Cutter Room. Finally, when all the heavy lifting had been done and the motor drive had been wired up, all we needed was an enclosure for the switch.

The request went out on the message board. Pete P., Shane T., and I all expressed interest, but life got in the way and it soon became a matter of whomever got to it first would be the one to make it. I ended up devoting the better part of last weekend to this project (much more time than I anticipated) but I can honestly say I’m pretty happy with the result.

LCEC01

The goal was fairly straight-forward: make an enclosure for the switch Tom had already provided. It was a color-coded, 4-button, mechanical switch that had been wired to provide four settings: OFF, LOW, MEDIUM, and HIGH. The more laser cutters in use, the more air you’d need and the higher the setting you should choose. There’s four duct connections available for the three laser cutters we currently have.

There’s a saying: “Better is the enemy of done.” Truer words have never been spoken in a makerspace.

At first I wanted to build the enclosure out of acrylic. Then I remembered this awesome plastic bending technique that Tony W. and some others told me about. I found a video on the Tested website and got inspired. (If you don’t know about Tested, please go check it out. You’ll thank me later.) Unfortunately, my bends kept breaking and melting through, so after a few hours of tinkering I moved on.

Thankfully, we have a small cache of plastic and metal project enclosures on our our Hack Rack. I managed to find a clear plastic, vandal-proof thermostat guard. It looked workable.

I tried laser cutting it, but the moment I saw the plastic yellow and smoke, I knew there was probably some nasty, toxic stuff in it, so I moved to the CNC router. About an hour later I had my holes cut.

Then came the wiring. Up until this point I had been focused on the control box itself. Now I wanted to add a light!

No, two lights! Yeah!

One light to tell you when everything was off, and another that lit whenever the fan was in use. People could look at the lights from outside the room and instantly know if the fan had been left on. (It should be noted that the new fan, despite being twice as powerful than our last, is actually much quieter. Tom added a homemade muffler to the inlet of the blower and shrouded the whole contraption in 3″ fiberglass batt insulation. The best way to know if the fan is running is to open a slide gate damper and hear air being sucked in.)

OK, I totally got this.

Draw myself a ladder diagram and get out the wire connectors… Remember that I need to isolate the signals from each other so any button doesn’t call for 100% fan… A few more relays… Some testing… and done!

Wait a second… the motor drive doesn’t have a ground for the control signal.

Hmm.

Guess I can’t power it from the drive. I’ll just tie into the drive’s ground. Nope, that didn’t work.

I’ll read the motor drive manual. OK, it has a set of “run status” contacts I can monitor.
….and they’re putting out a steady 0.4 volts DC. That’s enough to light up a single LED! …except, no. It’s not lighting. Doesn’t seem to be any real current.

I’ll just use a transistor! That’s the whole point of a transistor!
….well nothing I tried worked.

I’ll build a voltage multiplier circuit!
….and this isn’t working either.

On Day 3 of this “little project” Ron B. made a comment about using a pressure switch of some kind.

Wait.

We have a Hack Rack full of junk and I know there’s this old bunch of gas furnace parts. It couldn’t be that easy…

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Yeah. So, three days (and a few frustrating epiphanies) later, this all came together. Press the beige button, get some air. Press the other buttons, get some more air. Any time there’s suction, the red light comes on. The indicator light is powered by its own 24 volt DC wall pack. The pressure switch has both normally open (N.O.) and normally closed (N.C.) contacts so it would be totally feasible to add another light at some point. The controller could display “OFF” or “SAFE” or whatever as well as “ON” or “FAN IN USE” or whatever. The text is just a red piece of paper with words printed on it, then holes laser-cut out to fit. We can trade it out with different words or graphics if we ever feel the need. I was just glad to have it done, so I called it. Better is the enemy of done, indeed.

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You can learn more about the evolution of our laser cutter venting system on our wiki!

Lighting Control Upgrade!

IMAG3517In an effort to make the lighting control system more user-friendly, the original board-mounted switches have been replaced with a laser-cut zone map! Instead of looking up which zone number corresponds to a particular bank of lights, each location is now identified by a green LED pushbutton.  You can read more about the lighting control system and how it’s been evolving on our wiki: http://wiki.milwaukeemakerspace.org/projects/mmlc

2013 Annual Member Survey Results!

Feedback and constructive criticism can be great tools for planning and managing any sort of endeavor.  Gauging the interests, concerns, and opinions of our group can help us make better decision on how to spend time and money as well as working with each other and the community.  Last month we asked our members to take a survey and share their thoughts with us.  Why do people come to Milwaukee Makerspace?  What do they do here?  What would they like to see more of?  What can we do better?  44 members responded (or about 39% of the total group) and after spending some time slaving over spreadsheets, we published the results.

Two of the biggest questions we asked survey-takers were: 1) What do you come to Milwaukee Makerspace for? and 2) What is important to you?  The following results can be found in our 19 page report, available for download here:  http://wiki.milwaukeemakerspace.org/_media/2013_annual_mms_member_survey.pdf

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Staying Stocked Up

The idea was simple: make something to help keep track of our supplies so we know when we’re running low on the essentials.  After weeks of kicking the idea around and various rough doodles, this project finally took shape.  Two days after the first cut on the laser cutter, it was complete.


Made from multiple layers of acrylic, cardboard, and wood, the “Milwaukee Makerspace Consumables Super Analog Status Board” is a clipboard-sized device with nine sliders installed in enclosed slots.  Sliding the tabs right displays more green to indicate “full” or “lots” and sliding left reveals the red acrylic below to indicate “empty” or “low.”  The user can carry the board around the Space with them as they check on supplies and when done, a large hole centered at the top allows the board to be hung up and displayed on a wall.

The hardware holding the whole thing together can be loosened and the layers disassembled.  The cardboard insert that the text resides on can be swapped out should we decide to change the list of items we want to keep tabs on.  The supplies being tracked currently include:

  • Toilet Paper
  • Paper Towels
  • Hand Soap
  • Welding Gases
  • Welding Wire
  • Propane
  • Soda
  • Duct Tape
  • Painter’s Tape

A digital version may or may not be planned for future release.

Remote-Controlled LED Room Lighting

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My apartment has sub-par to poor lighting.  Combine that with our lease’s “no painting walls” policy and you’ve got a one-way ticket to Drab-ville.  Many moons ago I planned to replace the over-cabinet lighting in our kitchen with RGB LEDs controlled by Arduino, but I never found the motivation to actually do it.  Then one […]