There is a joke around about how engineers operate under the idea that “If it isn’t broken, it doesn’t have enough features or do enough.” Humorous as that is, it sometimes comes close to the truth. In the pursuit of making it better, I have started a project that, like many of my projects, is targeted toward making something better for someone else.
My girlfriend uses a cheap, battery powered alarm clock that with a rather potent buzzer. She buys them for about six dollars each and they last about a year. I asked her one day why she didn’t get a nicer one and she gave me a couple of reasons, among them that the alarm clock she really wanted was an expensive unit that used a chime bar instead of the buzzer. These units sell for about a hundred dollars and consist of a bamboo box with the chime bar, a small striker, and a flip-up lid with the clock display. I looked at one of them in the store for about five minutes and was not impressed with the build quality or the value for the money. The clock didn’t even seem to be backlit. Based on her requirements and my own desire to do something creative, I started the design for my own version of the chime alarm clock.
The design centers around an aluminum bar chime tuned to A# or about 1121 MHz. I used an app on my smartphone to do the tuning so it isn’t exact. The bar is suspended on woven aramid fiber strings so that I can tighten it very tightly and so that they don’t stretch significantly over time. An aluminum frame will support the mounting strings and provides the strength needed to keep the strings tight. The outer housing will be made of hardwood, probably a combination of different colors and grains to give the finished unit character. Right now I am thinking about maple for the sides and walnut or mahogany for the end caps. One of the parts that I disliked about the commercial version is that the chime sits inside the box and is somewhat muted by the box. To better expose the chime, the aluminum frame will slide upward out of the wooden housing when the user does some action to open the clock.
A large backlit 2-line LCD will be framed into the front of the wooden housing and will display time, day of the week, date, and alarm status. The housing will conceal and mount the Ardiuno Nano and time chip that will run the clock and the battery pack that will provide power. The chime is activated with a pull-type solenoid mounted to the aluminum frame. The solenoid pulls a lever to which a striker is mounted. The striker impact on the bar causes the bar to chime and a spring retracts the solenoid and striker bar. I started thinking about the whole arrangement of the solenoid and striker bar with the idea that making the striker movable along the striker arm would enable a rudimentary volume control.
To test this idea, I used the Robox to fabricate a frame, the striker, and the striker bar. The frame was made from ABS, printed on the default fine settings. It turned out pretty well, though it did require some deburring. I printed it to allow the solenoid to be pressed into the housing with a little force to keep from having to secure the solenoid with a fastener. The chime bar and striker were printed with Taulman T-Glase PETT. This material has become my new favorite for printing on the Robox because it is strong, durable, doesn’t break, and prints rather easily. It also seems to give better surface finish results than ABS and it doesn’t smell nasty. Since the striker would be a forced fit onto the striker bar, I wanted the flexibility of the T-Glase for the striker. I ended up needing to print four strikers since it has an overhang and the first one fused to the support material too well. Two of the replacement parts also had issues but the fourth turned out ok. I drilled a couple holes for the aramid string and an anchor screw and assembled everything. Tapping the chime bar with a hex key yields a clear note at about A# and flicking the solenoid plunger with a finger results in a slightly flatter tone, mostly due to the dwell time of the striker against the chime bar. The Arduino controlled motion showed significantly better performance and, other than some clacking from plastic parts, performed very well: (AlarmClockVideo) The test of the volume concept showed that there was a volume change by moving the striker closer to the striker bar pivot point but that it wasn’t really significant. I am going to look into adjusting the position of the solenoid to see if that will help adjust the volume.
The next step with this project will be to tune the chime bar to the exact note she wants using the test frame. Since the chime bar is supported on the aramid strings, I am not foreseeing a difference in tone between the ABS mount and the final aluminum mount. I am considering replacing the PETT striker with an aluminum or acetal resin striker just to give a little clearer note.
The Robox will most likely be used to prototype the remainder of the frame parts and the extension/retraction mechanism to make sure they work as intended. One of the reasons I bought a 3D printer is to be able to test these complex mechanisms before I spend the time and money making the final parts. I like to work with hardwood, the exotic varieties of which can be rather expensive. This project will likely be the first one to use the 3D printer heavily and I foresee several iterations to get everything set in the housing so I have room for the batteries, all the electronics, and the chime frame.
A few more details I plan to add on the alarm clock will, I hope, blur the line between form and function to make the final result a balance of both. These include a programmable display color, adjustable backlight brightness (a requirement from my girlfriend), capacitive sensors for the sleep bar and possibly for the control panel. Silver and contrasting hardwood inlays will add a decorative touch and will give visual indications of the control locations. I chose Arduino for the brains because of the price and flexibility of the platform. With a little programming and a few parts, I will be able to give this alarm clock functionality that the cheap alarm clocks don’t have, including multiple alarms, alarms by day, different display brightness depending on the day, or with an added light sensor, on ambient light. A battery status is easy to add and will minimize the chance of getting caught with a low battery when it is inconvenient.
This is the design state after a year of off-and-on work. Hopefully with the Robox I will be able to run the prototypes of the frames and get things moving a little faster. Maybe in time for Christmas this year.
We are moving forward on production now and the teams’ focus is moving from mechanical improvement to software features and all the systems we need in place before the general public can buy, register and use their Robox. For long time we’ve tried to blinker ourselves and only work towards a stable mechanical and electronic platform to set a good foundation for the Robox system, but we are now in a position to start looking at the new features, and print quality improvements.
Chris White has been beavering away at the user manual, safety information guide, quick start guide and warranty registration. The links on this download page will go live soon.
Tony has been working on a feature we are all very excited about; the ability to place any face of the model down on the bed with only two clicks. We have had a version of this working before in the office but Tony’s eye for detail has ironed out most of the final bugs and we hope to include this on the next release of AutoMaker.
Chris E and Ian have been focused on improving print quality and are experimenting with and implementing new ways of closing the needle valves without leaving imperfections on the surface of the printed model. We say Chris E has been working, but he’s mostly been playing with Ian’s new code then telling Ian what is wrong and what is right, Ian’s been doing most of the work! But the good news is we’ve found and removed a few bugs in the process and are starting to dramatically improve print quality. These software changes will be passed internally to our test guys so we can bullet proof them and generate the new print profiles to take full advantage.
Peter is busy still in the forums and support portal talking to our BETA team, helping them where needed and gathering all the user information that’s feeding back into the development of Robox.
My Mini Factory
IMakr are interested in stocking our product and we’ve had a few interesting discussions, but one of the cool things that’s come out of these conversations is the idea that we will integrate their online model parts library MyMiniFactory with AutoMaker. All the models on this site are tested and confirmed to be 3D printable!
The MOST common question we get asked by people who haven’t yet considered 3D Printing to be part of their future is:
“All very nice, but what would I print?”
A leading high street retail group has also started talks with us and we are planning to get a Robox demo into their key stores. One day we envisage Robox being sold in place of all those 2D printers, doing all the jobs they did and so much more. This retail group are fighting the fact that a lot of us go online to buy our tech so to draw people back to their stores they are introducing a selection of bleeding edge tech to demo to the public. This fits perfectly with Robox as 3D printing is an amazing process to watch, and no one displays the process better than we do.
Selling Robox to business users will be much easier than the large but very new retail market for 3D printers. There are a few very large industry supply groups servicing the UK and Europe, we have a very exciting contract in place with probably THE BIGGEST of all. Schools, design offices spare parts suppliers, table-top gaming shops and any business which deals with physical objects anywhere between idea and reality will want one of our printers and we are well on the way to having easy and familiar channels to get Robox where it is needed.
Professional 3D printing usually brings to mind large, expensive machines and expensive media. Prints are of good quality, materials are strong and often production quality with the right materials. The price, though, makes it unreasonable for every engineer to have a 3D printer or even to have access to one if the company isn’t large enough to afford them.
Personal 3D printers often conjure images of Yoda prints and plywood frames holding bare electronics. Only recently have personal 3D printers become polished enough to be part of the toolkit available to anyone who has the need for one. Each user also needs to be able to know the software to generate the 3D files and to tweak the output to the printer to optimize the results.
The Robox has the potential to change all of this. With the material profiles and print profiles being easily transferable and shareable, with the AutoMaker software able to import most stl files, it isn’t hard to see a personal 3D printer as part of an engineer’s standard equipment. For the cost of a second workstation, every engineer in a company has the ability to rapidly and cheaply print a prototype. The profiles that have been shown to work well are shared with everyone and the same materials can be used throughout the company. Because the material profiles are loaded on the smart reels, material changes are as easy as swapping reels. The AutoMaker software cuts the learning curve providing fast results with a minimum of training.
Couple the out-of-the-box simplicity of Robox with a local support representative and you have a 3D printer solution that is very difficult to beat. A new machine can be set up and ready to print onsite in less than two hours, faster if the initial calibration is performed by the support representative before delivery. The AutoMaker software plays a large part in that speed due to its simplicity and user-friendliness. A new user who is trained in CAD will be able to start importing profiles and parts to be printed in a matter of minutes and will be ready to print shortly thereafter.
Robox and the shared common framework that accompanies the product represent the next step in day to day access to 3D printing, both for the home user and for industry. Improvements slated for Robox will build on that strength. The dual material head, for instance, will allow support material or dual color prints with the same Robox simplicity that the current single material capability provides now. There is room to grow and Robox has the potential to continue to be a contender in a rapidly growing market.
I chose to support the Robox project for the qualities outlined. As an aerospace professional working on complex, cutting edge technology and also as an inventor and maker, I see the need to be able to make a physical model very soon in the development cycle. My use of the Robox will be to create prototypes, to make test units so that I can confirm geometry and operation of a design, and to make parts for small production runs of products. In ten years of experience in my industry and in twice that in personal projects, the uses for a 3D printer have been uncountable. The Robox brought simplicity, ease of use, and a high level of adaptability, both in material types that it can use and in the potential to change out the head to add capability. Even in the beta period, the Robox has been valuable in confirming that a design works and has potential in the application it was intended to fill. The prototype I printed helped the customer feel comfortable with a technology even though it hasn’t been fully tested and confirmed. That alone makes the project worth the money and time I have spent this far and in the future I fully expect it to pay for itself in ease of prototyping and in reduced production cost as I move products to market though small-scale production.
We love reading about the latest trends for 3D printing, as companies strive to invent the coolest gadgets to take the media world by storm.
These stories are brilliant for illustrating just how versatile 3D printing can be, and allow readers to use their own imaginations and dream up their own innovative designs.
Some of the most impressive 3D printed parts have to be the prosthetic limbs which have benefited people all over the world, and even 3D printed human tissue. Scientists one day hope to be able to create human organs on a 3D printer, and while developments towards this are being made daily, we’re probably a couple of decades away from seeing a 3D printed organ appearing in a hospital operating theatre.
The team at Robox are passionate about 3D printing being used for worthwhile causes, and will soon hope to be instrumental in making human hands along with The Open Hand Project leader Joel Gibbard … watch this space for more info.
Other great achievements have been 3D printed furniture which allows homeowners to create a unique living space, 3D printed cars, innovative rocket designs, hand washing devices to solve hygiene problems in Lebanon, hats and clothing, and even story books.
The most recent news comes from BAE scientists who have announced that in 2040 we may see Transformer-style 3D printer drones flying through the skies, after researchers have spent time designing and researching futuristic aircraft technologies.
Read more about developments these experts believe could take place in just 26 years time:
We at Robox certainly love Transformers, so the thought of being able to print and send mini unmanned aircraft into the stratosphere sounds great!