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Precision wobble?

Today’s post is all about freedom. And the Queen.

It seems to me that the design of mechanical systems might be described most simply as the selection of a set of idealized rules that, taken together, define how objects are allowed to move with respect to themselves and one another. For example: in addition to turning, the front tires on your car can rotate to the left and right (the steering) and move up and down (the suspension), but bad things have happened or will likely happen if they move either along or perpendicular to the direction of travel of the car. These rules or constraints are most often defined in three-dimensional Euclidean space in which there are three imaginary axes, each representing a single dimension, that pass through the centre of an object and (with engineering’s typical disregard for unintended double entendre) 12 degrees of freedom, or ways in which that object might move with respect to the axes: it can be translated, moved like a chess piece, in six directions, left-right, front-back and (unlike normal chess pieces) up-down and rotated backwards or forwards around the same three axes.

So before I get to the first production run of the pieces of the Lapera lever group, I thought it was worth revisiting the prototype piston assembly that I made some time ago. Rather than the fixed piston head and piston rod design typically used on most contemporary lever groups, I opted for a slightly more complicated articulated or floating-head design. The downside of complexity of course is that it always comes at a cost: more parts to make, more parts to assemble. The upside, which I think considerably offsets the disadvantages, is that the articulated piston is self-aligning: it automatically compensates for angular misalignment and eccentricity between the axes of the cylinder bore and the piston rod. This results in loads and consequent wear patterns on the piston seals that are more symmetrical. Even wear on the seals promotes seal longevity – which is a good thing!

The piston mechanism is perhaps best explained by an analogy to a part of the human anatomy: the wrist. Your hand is free to wave from side to side (like the Queen),

forwards and backwards (like Mikey)

and also to rotate (although this is not actually a design requirement for the piston assembly but I couldn’t resist the plastic, solar-powered Queen).

These rotations, or degrees of freedom, have limits of course; otherwise it gets really weird and creepy (think The Exorcist). In addition to rotating, the wrist permits the piston to translate laterally – similar (though not actually via the same mechanism) to another body part: the head.

So the piston assembly is sort of like a wrist, or a head, or maybe a neck. I don’t know anymore. I guess body part analogies only get you so far when trying to describe mechanisms. But I, at least, enjoyed the animated gifs. The upshot of all of this is that the chosen set of constraints embodied in the design of the wrist allow and restrict the 12 different types of motion and permit the force from the seals as they press against the cylinder wall to rotate and translate the piston into perfect alignment with the bore. Or perhaps you got it months ago and I could have saved myself a lot of writing by just posting another gif:

Here is a reprise of the fabrication process for the prototype of what I am still insisting on calling the wrist. Starting from a piece of 2″ C360 brass round bar stock:

Two slight angle cuts on the tip approximate a radius – this is quicker to setup than cutting an actual arc and makes little difference to functionality.

Then, using a cut-off/grooving tool, we add an undercut below what will be the flange. Spoiler: this is the clever bit of the design.

Another wider groove is cut above the flange to create the boss that will align the spring.

Then the part is cut off the stock…

…and flipped around to be drilled…

…and tapped with an M10 thread.

Then the part is moved over to the milling machine to complete the remaining features. This process starts with finding the centre with a touch-probe.

Then three clearing holes are drilled in the flange and boss.

After a little cleanup – a finished wrist prototype.

And here, with some very slight dimensional tweaks to adjust the permissible amounts of rotation and translation, is the production wrist part in the final material – AISI 304 stainless steel.

Mmmmmm – shiny 🙂

Next post will be on the piston. Can’t bear the suspense myself.

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Houston, we have interlock

© NASA, SpaceX, & that Elon guy no doubt, but he steals art to put on his coffee mugs, which he sells, so I feel OK about this.

Houston, we have interlock. “Interlock”?. Interlock is an engineering term which refers to two mechanisms that are mutually dependent. That is, one mechanism must be in a particular state if the other one is to operate and vice versa. A good, reasonably high stakes example of this would be, say, not being about to push the un-docking button while the door of your space capsule is open. There are many ways to achieve interlock, the un-docking button in question may be programmed to do nothing until a certain set of conditions are reached, but in its simplest and, for me, most elegant form, it is achieved through mechanical design and topology. For example: a dangerous machine that requires the operator to activate two separate switches simultaneously, thus ensuring that both of his/her hands are clear of the mechanism. Or the so-called “dead man” switch which must be actively maintained in the on position by the operator in order to keep the engine engaged, thus preventing runaway trains if the operator falls asleep or, er, dies.

At a more this-is-not-rocket-science level, how do you ensure that an electrical device is safe when you remove the cover? Of course, you can put a warning label on it…

…or, you can design the topology such that it limits or eliminates the possibility of error.

Even though the controller for the machine doesn’t have too much to do, it is still a mains-powered device. The two connectors on the bottom row are for power and the solenoid coil for the auto-fill, both of which are mains AC and therefore potentially dangerous. The top row is for the sensors and the interface, which are low voltage DC. The first thing to notice is that the connectors for the two rows are different. There is no way to plug a high voltage plug into a low voltage receptacle or the other way around. The green connector sets themselves are made of up two gendered halves: a female receptacle with male pins and a male plug with female sockets.

The male pins are exposed and could, at least potentially, come into contact with your hand, while the female sockets are completely enclosed by their plastic housing. It is the topology of this paring that determines the way in which it is employed in the design: the male plug with the female socket is the live half of the connection. The male pins in the receptacle cannot be live unless the female plug is in place – and of course, once they are plugged in and are live you can’t touch them.

Finally, the cases are machined with discrete openings for the AC power connectors. This means that the power connectors must pass through the wall of the box when they are assembled and that, conversely, the enclosure cannot be opened, exposing the live circuits inside, if it is plugged in!

Of course, that only lasts while those two tiny strips of plastic that increase the genus of the surface topology of the enclosure by two are intact. And all bets are off if you use the machine in the bath; idiot-proof being a relative term.

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big day

A small but nonetheless significant milestone was past today: the installation of the boilers! This what the assembly area looked like in the morning:

All of the difficult-to-access-once-the-boiler-is-installed parts are in place and it was time to put make the transition from seemingly random collection of wires and hydraulics into something closer to an actual coffee machine. Imagine!

One small detail that isn’t visible to the naked eye is the low-friction cushion tape that prevents the frame from being damaged by the boiler flange.

FOOOOOcus!!

Removing the boiler is not an operation that will happen many times over the lifespan of this machine (at least that is the plan), but preventing damage to the paint at a connection adjacent to a(n at least theoretically) consumable gasket is a good idea…

…details.

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hot porridge

Hot Porridge, Hannah Clarke Preston MacGoun, 1910

[Ed: re-post from Nov 17, 2018]

The new results in my ongoing quest for Goldilocks porridge (aka boiler-group thermodynamic interaction and stability, but porridge sounds much better) are in and I have to say that I’m rather pleased.

What are we testing?
This is temperature profile of the new boiler with diagonal HX and injector. The boiler and the HX chamber are both made of stainless steel but, unlike the previous Horseshoe HX prototype, the brew reservoir is now bronze (for reference, stainless is roughly 20 times less thermally conductive than copper and copper-based alloys). The diagonal HX configuration eliminates the separation between the HX chamber and the brew reservoir and they both form one single volume of hot water at a lower average temperate than the boiler water. Cold water is injected directly into this volume and the resulting mix, now at a lower temperature, moves on into the group during a shot.

Methodology
Methodology is similar to previous tests: the machine was turned on several hours in advance to make sure that everything is at its ultimate idle temperature. The probes are K-type thermocouples placed in the same spots as prior tests – the only difference being that the brew reservoir now has a dedicated threaded thermocouple socket – no more tape coming unstuck or clamps falling off. Shots are simulated by using a flow restricting valve placed on the outlet of the portafilter.

Shot simulation procedure is:

  • Pull
  • Pre-infusion 7 seconds (lever in down position) –
  • Shot 20-25 seconds for lever to return to the cam inflection point (lever just past straight up and down)
  • Post-flow 10-30 seconds (lever returns to rest position)

Various timings between the shots are tried: 5 minutes, 4 minutes, 3 minutes, 2 minutes, 3 minutes.

Comments
The pseudoScace™ device (puck temperature readings) has too large a thermal mass to give meaningful results for peak puck temperatures when inserted cold. I therefore left it in place, before, during and after the test to minimize its impact. The one second sampling time period is too long to give reliable readings at the moment of the pull. On a few of the shots there is a significant drop seen at the puck at the moment of the pull. I believe that this is due to the piston creating a vacuum as it is raised and drawing cold water back up through the pseudoScace from the waste line. A change in equipment would be required to eliminate this if this hypothesis is correct.

Conclusions and observations
The original Aurora diagonal HX I profiled back in May demonstrated uncanny thermal stability at the brew reservoir, but the group suffered per-shot heat-gain and was slow to return to its baseline idle temperature. These results show that the brew reservoir temperature is dipping significantly but the group and the puck temperatures are, by comparison to the antique machine, rock steady. The maximum overall delta at the puck is 3.1 C (between the walk-up and the third shots) but the inter-shot maximum delta is 1.8 C (the minimum inter-shot delta is 0.5 C for 2 minutes between shots).

Summary
So, to summarize: best performance at 2 minute intervals, significantly lower puck temperature fluctuation than the antique machine and little to no group heat-gain. This, I think, may be a slightly better mouse trap – though not really by design, rather by accident of the thermal interaction of the materials. I’m not going to complain.

If you will permit me, and at the risk of tooting my own horn:

Courtesy of UC Davis, Special Collections
Title: Magazine ad for Bank of America: hammer and nail montage.
Creator/Contributor: Halberstadt, Milton, Photographer

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Goldilocks part 3

The set of the bears. Plate 7, 1664, by Marcus de Bye, after Marcus Gheeraerts I, 1559. Gift of Bishop Monrad, 1869. Te Papa (1869-0001-67)

Though I’ve run out of three bears analogies, I’ve stuck with the story’s structure: first the porridge was too hot, then it was too cold, and finally Goldilocks found one that was just right. This iteration of the HX caused me to take my hat off, yet again, to the Italians. Many months ago, Dr. Pootoogoo brought a boiler from a later-model Brugnetti to my studio. The flange bolts were so badly rusted that it wasn’t ever going to go back into service without replacing them. It happened to be one with a diagonal HX that I hadn’t examined before and it inspired my to try a similar concept with the horseshoe HX prototype. I was quite surprised that the 60ml HX (baby bear) didn’t deliver water that was cooler than the brew reservoir temperature even though the HX volume was close to the 50ml shot volume. I also started thinking about what the ‘correct’ temperature for the brew reservoir should be. It occurred to me it might not be the best thing for it always to be the same. For example: if the group is at 75 C and the water coming in is at 102 C, the resultant water temperature at the puck is 92 C (these are roughly the numbers for both vintage machines) and we know that the group gains heat after a shot, let’s say for the sake of argument it gains 3 degrees and requires about 2 minutes per degree to recover i.e. 6 minutes. It follows then that for the next shot, if it is to be pulled [i]before the end of the recovery time,[/i] it would be preferable to have the brew reservoir water at a lower temperature than 102 degrees so that when it reaches the puck it will be at same magic 92 degrees. Because of the difference in thermal properties of the materials (i.e. the brass group and the water) and their relative volumes (i.e. big thermal mass of brass vs 50ml of water) it isn’t a one to one relationship. But it is linear – i.e. it will be a constant times the temperature rise of the group. So at any given time during group recovery, the required brew reservoir temperature is the reservoir idle temperature minus the group temperature rise times some constant. In math not English:

Tbr = Tbr_idle – K(Tgroup – Tgroup_idle)

In other words if the heat gain curve of the group could be inversely mirrored by the brew reservoir, then water will be at the right temperature when it reaches the puck [i]no matter when it is pulled[/i]. This is really just destructive wave interference:

If the brew reservoir temperature curve is positive (i.e. there is heat gain), then it will compound the problem of heat gain at the group. But if the brew reservoir temperature drops after a shot, then it will compensate.

The diagonal HX design consists of a large diameter pipe which connects directly to the back of the brew reservoir – essentially increasing the volume of the brew reservoir four-fold. In fact, the concept of the brew reservoir is pretty much gone altogether in this design – the group flange actually becomes one end of the heat-exchanger. A small diameter injector tube runs through the middle of the large diagonal pipe. Line water comes in through the injector too fast for the surrounding water to heat it to boiler temperature and mixes with the water behind the group to get the really stable results that we saw in the earlier testing.

I replicated the basic principal minus the diagonal tube and in so doing figured out why the diagonal design ended up that way i.e. diagonal.

The last kink in the 6mm tubing was only way to thread all the larger diameter fittings onto the injector. And this is a one-way operation: once it is brazed together you can’t take it apart again.

Brazed and (sort-of) cleaned.

And here are the results:

Blue – Boiler
Red – Brew reservoir
Purple – Group neck

Now, although the results aren’t perfect, it shows that the concept works. The group heat gain for successive (unnaturally) rapid shots has been significantly diminished and the recovery time for the group is less than half of what it was (less than 3 minutes). The length of the injector plays an important role in how much boiler temperature HX water mixes with the line water and consequently in the temperature of the water that reaches the brew reservoir. But, as I said, this is a one-shot fabrication and is too much trouble to alter. It would be much easier to change and/or maintain if the injector tube screwed into a straight length of larger diameter tube that maybe ran directly to the group right through the boiler, maybe on a diagonal…

Wait – someone already thought of that.

Enough porridge already.

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When last we left our heroes…

I have an indelible childhood memory of watching reruns of serialized television from the 50s in black and white. At the end of each episode the heroes always seem to be in an entirely intractable position: hurtling towards certain death as the car / rocket ship plunges to the ground or tied up as the bad guys abandon them to their fate as the building burns / volcano erupts. How do they escape? “Find out next week” on …

During the interlude since the last episode (during which I can assure you that the heroes have been frantically filing away at their shackles) I took stock. Here is the state of the production:

Frame – complete & painted. 100%

Cable harness – all modules of the cable harness are complete. A few remain to install with the bodywork. 100%

Controller – four out of five boards designed, tested and in production. One board under design revision. Machining and labeling of enclosure, assembly and installation remain. 75%

Firmware – functional with a few small problems to resolve before it is “good enough” as firmware is never “finished”. 90%

Hydraulics – the most complicated part of the plumbing including all tubing runs connected to the four lower boiler ports, the HX, solenoid, manifold and drain are complete. Six upper ports remain. Of these six, three require fabrication of tubing runs. 70%

Boiler – complete & installed. 100%

Group – The main casting is complete (no small milestone), machined and honed. All the fixed components are complete and on the shelf. The spring is out for quotes as are the parts for the piston assembly. One part remains to fabricate in house and then, once all the parts are in, the group can be assembled. 70%.

Bodywork – Two pieces remains to fabricate and one may have to be revisited. 70%

Millwork – LRFs are complete and installed. All of the cup rail parts are fabircated and finished and are waiting for installation. Tap handles are machined but need to be assembled and finished. Stock has been prepared for making the lever and portafilter handles. 85%

After final assembly is complete there remains testing and packing… in short, there are still a few episodes of this particular series left. How many? Find out next week on ….

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In praise of LRF

1

Left Ring Finger? Long Range Forecasting? Low Resolution Fox? Nope, definitely not the last one (look it up (yet another minor moral quandary about whether something sexist can also be amusing; probably not allowed, but I digress)). No, rather, I offer some small observations on Little Rubber Feet!

LRF are perhaps something that you might not have spent a lot of time thinking about, but they are ubiquitous and surprisingly important. They are a crucial component of almost every single contemporary household object: from the chair I’m sitting in, to the computer monitor in front of me and even the keyboard I writing this with. The underside of your mouse (if you still have one)? LRF, albeit very small and not at all rubbery. You might say that LRF, if one were to stretch the definition just slightly, are the industrial design equivalent of building foundations: the point(s) at which objects touch the surface they rest upon, negotiating the transfer of the load, evening out imperfections and keeping delicate surfaces away from harder ones. They come in a myriad of shapes and sizes. There are hard ones that slide, soft ones that grip and everything in between. In addition to being made from every kind of natural and artificial rubber and plastic imaginable, they also are made from wood, glass, felt, cork and occasionally even metal. The most special LRF are the orphans that turn up on the floor or being chewed on by your pet and or child. They only reveal their origins six months later when you finally find the lamp that now both wobbles and scratches the table. These are also the same kind that, origins revealed, you are guaranteed not to be able to find again or to just have finally thrown away. Not me though. I have a special LRF drawer.

The scale of a single group lever machine comes with a few challenges. Both the porta filter and the lever itself require the user to apply relatively large amounts of force to the device. Ideally, it should resist these forces without moving when they are applied. Although single group machines are quite large and heavy compared to most items that might sit on your counter, they are featherweights compared to multi-group machines. These are just in, custom made from a low-durometer self-adhesive backed 3mm silicone rubber. The weight of the machine forces the soft material to conform to minor imperfections in the supporting surface vastly increasing the contact area and friction. Result? It grips like a barnacle to a rock.

One more tiny detail closer to finishing.

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1 – Image: Brik Pixel Art Designs by BRIK.

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The rite of spring

IGOR STRAVINSKY – ERICH AUERBACH / GETTY IMAGES

So Stravinsky’s ballet caused a riot… perhaps it was the shocking juxtaposition of pagan and modern Weltanschauungen, maybe the audience just didn’t like the music. What can I say? Springs are contentious. With that warning, I shall begin trying to unravel the (minor) mysteries of one particular spring.

A little more than a year ago, it was brought to my attention that replacement springs for the Brugnetti Aurora lever group were no longer available. I checked a number of suppliers and looked for substitutes without any success and I immediately went to my local parts dealer and bought the rest of their stock – a shockingly large number: four.

This is a problem if you are me and want to make new groups, or, if you are not me, repair old ones. So I took the dive into spring design and started to think a bit more carefully about a part that I had presumed was going to be “off the shelf”.

I have since come to the conclusion, for a number of reasons that will further elucidated, that the spring that was sold to me as a replacement for part number A.29 for the Aurora group, may not be, well, a replacement for part number A.29.

When I changed the spring on my first machine (well before I embarked on this voyage deep into the jungle down the Congo River) I noticed that the new one was a little taller than the original, making it quite a bit more difficult to install. Installed it was however, and I thought no more about it. That particular machine dates from 1987 and was rebuilt by a local dealer in the mid 90s – but may well have kept its original spring given how much of a hassle they are to change.

Under normal operation, springs will deliver an amount of force that is directly proportional to the distance they are compressed: F = kx (where F is Force, x displacement and k is the spring constant). Put another way the spring constant is simply how much force the spring imparts per unit of compression. So determining the spring constant can be done by measuring force versus displacement. This is the setup used – the force gauge (i.e. bathroom scale) isn’t ideal because of the built-in “intelligence” which automatically tares (zeros out) small readings and shuts off the display, but it does measure up to 175Kg. Displacement is measured using a digital height gauge (not shown) that (as so long as the same datums are used and the gauge isn’t re-zeroed) provides more accuracy than required with enough precision (I can never keep those straight).

I believe that I have identified three different springs that were installed in the Aurora group at various stages:

The replacement “after-market” spring from the local dealer which has an uncompressed length of 133mm.
Antique spring #1 – which has an uncompressed length of 128mm.
Antique spring #2 – which has an uncompressed length of 116mm.

Here are the compression versus force profiles of those three plus a fourth new prototype spring.

The two trials of the after-market 133mm spring suffer from some measurement error – i.e. if you extend the lines back towards the X axis, they don’t intersect the origin coordinates; which they should, as zero spring displacement results in zero force. If they were to be normalized (i.e. shifted down until they would intersect the origin if extended) you can see that they correlate closely with the all of the other trials except the Antique 128mm. In fact the spring constants (calculated using the average slope of all the data points in each trial) for all but the 128mm spring are around 60 N/mm whereas the 128mm is significantly lower at 44 N/mm.

However, the fact that the springs are different lengths is not a minor detail. As the geometry of the piston assembly remains the same, the springs are all compressed to the same size when they are in use i.e. they have an installed length of 96.25mm (corresponding to the lever in the up position) and a fully compressed length (when the lever is in the down position) of 75.5mm.

Installing a springs of different lengths will mean they are operating over different force ranges. The corresponding pressures that the piston will deliver can be easily obtained from the equation P=F/A (where P is pressure, F is force and A is the surface area [19.63cm sq for the 50mm diameter piston in the Aurora group]).

Spring length(mm)Spring constant (N/mm)Force @ fully compressed (N)Pressure (bar)Force @ installed length (N)Pressure (bar)
aftermarket13362.80361118.4230811.8
antique #112844.39233011.914097.2
antique #211659.21239812.211696.0
lapera11661.99251112.812246.2

Presuming that you find tables at all interesting, some interesting points can be drawn from the one above (although now we are getting into subjective and therefore contentious territory). The first line shows that the replacement after-market springs from the local dealer are very likely incorrect as their theoretical operating range is 18-12 bar. I think most people would agree that this is too high. The case for these springs being incorrect is strengthened by the fact that a design analysis of that spring configuration, (i.e. the spring constant, wire size, number of turns, end conditions etc) results in a non-compliant design when used in this application (i.e. the installed length and travel) meaning that it is likely to fail to perform as expected or simply to fail over time.

The second point of interest is that the two antique springs, despite their different properties, yield very similar pressures in the installed configuration – approximately 12bar maximum and 6-7bar minimum. Without knowing more about the provenance of these particular parts, it is hard to know whether they have changed over time or whether they are still operating as designed. However, based on the subjective results of the quality of the coffee that the machine produces when it is operated over this pressure range, I believe that this was the design intent. Further testing of other old springs of known provenance would be helpful to confirm this hypothesis.

For the prototype I chose to use the shorter ~116mm format because it is significantly easier to install and opted for a similar 12-6bar range at the installed configuration. The new spring should be a drop-in replacement for the old Aurora groups.

Prototype Lapera spring on the left, 18bar monster on the right. We fervently hope this little one doesn’t dance herself to death.

Pina Bausch – The Rite of Spring

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Love in the time of cholera

Don’t know about you, but I think the penguin looks worried.

In these strangest of times, I hope that you are all well.

I’m not sure where to begin really. Writing about small goings on in my tiny corner of the vast tableau of human experience seems rather pointless given what the whole of humanity is currently enduring. But in the hope that some may find these musings mildly amusing and possibly a welcome diversion from the cataclysmic car crash of out there, we humbly soldier on.

I took delivery last autumn of the bulk of the sheet metal work from a new Canadian supplier. Since then, the stainless steel covers have been sitting on the shelf waiting for the completion of the frames so that all the parts that need to be painted can go to the shop at the same time. As those of you who follow the posts on that photo site owned by the social media company with the reputation for (among other things) being extremely cavalier about their users’ privacy will know, the frames were finished some time ago. So now it’s time to put the finishing touches on the covers. A long, long time ago, (you know, in 2020BC) I discovered that the straight folds on two front flanges of the cover didn’t have quite enough relief on the interior flanges (gasp) to allow the requisite over-bend during fabrication. The upshot of this is that the front panels are only nearly, not exactly, at 90 degrees to the sides (re-gasp). Always seeking to shave off another minute source of imperfection, adding a tab that connects the front flanges to the sides will resolve this and have the additional benefit of increasing the overall stiffness.

This of course requires a new tool. One strangely reminiscent of an earwig.

As always, you get what you pay for and this thing is neither terribly expensive nor terribly good. But it will do (some of) the job. As the following test shows, it can produce a mechanically sound, if slightly less than perfect, spot weld.

Bunch o’ tabs cut from some scrap stainless.

A tab spot-welded into place.

BUT… without radical modification, the spot welder can’t be positioned to make the second weld on the front flange. So, it’s back to the old fashioned (i.e. long and slow) way – TIG welding by hand – with a simple jig to get things all orthogonal-like.

Welding thin material is really easy to get wrong. We managed to pull these off without blowing any holes (or at least ones that I will show you pictures of).

Rinse, repeat:

Drive to nearest big-box store for, well, boxes so that they can be shipped to the painters 😀

… hmmm, wonder how they turn out.

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Lenovo Weldcenter

The control components and the wiring for the welding turntable are too delicate to leave exposed to the dust, metal chips and occasional flying tool around the shop. They have to go in a box. I could have drawn one up and had it fabricated along with the rest of the sheet metal parts for the bodywork, but (a) fabrication shops hate/love one-offs and charge accordingly and (b) a recently deceased Lenovo PC (born 2006, died 2019, R.I.P.) seemed like it might fit the bill.

At first glance, just a simple box.

Its apparent simplicity belies an extremely clever design that a lot of people thought long and hard about. It is also a masterclass in metal folding: the sophisticated locking(!) clamshell and double-pivot mechanisms are assembled from stamped and folded parts using only four screws. Very swish.

Having extolled the virtues of the Lenovo case I no longer need to feel guilty about cutting it up. Possibly voiding the warranty?

Time to start putting a few new things inside the now empty box. The heart of the controller is the stepper motor driver: a Geckodrive g203V. The literature states that the V stands for Vampire, as in unkillable. I have thus far failed to find the correct mixture of garlic and silver bullets required to prove them wrong. Other than an issue with making them play nicely with some common motion control boards that have a different electronic setup for their step and direction signals, these things are great, if not particularly cheap.

The heat sink from the GPU on the Lenovo motherboard is just the ticket for the stepper motor driver. It has a convenient spring-steel mounting clip that makes it easy to attach it to the opposing face of the motor mount.

A healthy application of thermal grease on all of the mating surfaces ensures the efficient transfer of heat from the driver to the sink.

Next, the new Weldcenter needs a face plate for the interface which will be made from a small scrap of 1/4″ acrylic. As usual, drawing up the cutouts and programming the CNC takes substantially longer than the actual cutting. Back surface first: a bunch of holes plus a relief pocket for the rotary pots that are designed for thinner material…

…and the front with engraved text for all of the various buttons, switches, sockets and dials.

Test fit of all the pre-wired controls including the LCD interface.

The front side, with residual laser-engraved tennis racket – the acrylic stock is a left-over from a sign project.

There were, of course, a couple of small, but in some cases mildly baffling, errors. The text at the bottom interferes with the mounting screws because I neglected to model them in CAD. Rather more inexplicable is the engraving of the “Gas” text which appears to have been outline, as opposed to single-line, engraved. Don’t know why, nor, as this is strictly a one-off will I spend any more time thinking about it. Much.

All the various bits and pieces stuffed into the box. Top left: the main cooling fan that used to be at the front of the PC. (For the ultra-observant, now you see why the fins of the heat sink below it are not oriented vertically the way they would be normally). Below the stepper controller is a solenoid for controlling the purge gas. Below that the microcontroller. The middle column is a DIN rail with a small (5 watt) 24 volt DC power supply and a bunch of terminal blocks for connecting everything together. The last column on the right is the other two power supplies. This is a bit of a kluge. There were only supposed to be two flavors of DC in the design: 5 volts for the microprocessor and 24 volts for the solenoid and motor and no fan. However, the 24 volt supply was very bulky so I swapped it for a much more compact 60 volt switching supply. The black box is a dual voltage (5 & 12) supply for an external hard drive of which I have many. So… four flavors: microprocessor 5 volt, fan 12 volt, solenoid 24 volt and stepper motor 60 volt. So much for simplicity. As always, the box is about 25% too small for all the stuff. There should really be cable tracks between each column and along the top and bottom. There aren’t so the resulting wiring is not exactly as neat as it might be.

The final piece of the puzzle is a foot control made from a couple of robust momentary switches (the kind used for guitar pedals), a nice metal case (ditto) and some three conductor wire (the extra green wire was spliced on).

The switches are wired in parallel with their corresponding button on the front panel of the interface. Pressing either the button or the foot switch triggers the control.

Finished foot controls. The throttle pedal, which is for an electric scooter and cost less than $10 (Canadian, including shipping), is extremely well made.

The Hall effect sensor inside it however, (the white stuff is silicon and isn’t as disgusting as it looks), is not. Either I killed it by miss-wiring it briefly while I was hooking everything up, or it was lousy to begin with (I lean towards the latter). Either way, a broken sensor means no throttle pedal which means the entire machine is about as useful as a third shoe. So I replaced the sensor with a brand-name version over-nighted from MagicKy (aka Digi-Key) – (which cost more than the entire pedal after shipping). Hall effect sensors work by measuring the flux of the magnetic field that passes through them. The stronger the magnetic field – i.e. the closer the magnet is to the sensor, the stronger the signal. The silver lining of replacing the sensor with a high quality part is that it has a bigger range – it detects lower strengths of the magnetic field and outputs lower minimum and higher maximum signal voltages, so the pedal response is far more sensitive. Coupled with a pseudo-logarithmic curve which is applied to the output from the sensor in software, the throttle pedal now allows very precise control at the lower end of the speed range where it is most important.

Et voila, the finished LenovoⒸ Weldcenter – running Windows Vista (ok, no it doesn’t).

The LED display shows the low and high RPM settings that are mapped to the throttle pedal output. The rewind amount is a fraction of a single rotation at high speed – a tap on the rewind button and the turntable reverses by that amount. In retrospect this turns out to possibly not have been the best way to do this as in practice the amount of rewind required changes too often. At some point I may (or possibly may not) add a mode where the rewind is active while the button/pedal switch is depressed. It also occurred to me too late that I could combine the two foot switches in a single cable and XLR jack, which means that I now have a spare jack for the ion cannon accessory.

A quick test with some scrap tubing before all the kinks with the code were worked out.