Sunday, June 19, 2016

Engraving Robot Mark III

Having received a small "order" for a few engraved pieces of cutlery and LEGO parts, I've built a new version of the engraving robot. This one has been rebuilt to avoid most disadvantages of the previous designs, and is smaller, more reliable, slightly faster, and puts parts under less strain.

As opposed the previous versions 1 and 2 ran by NXT, this one is based on EV3 controlled directly from the PC in realtime, via the MindControl Python library unveiled earlier. The reason behind it was the EV3's support for four motors. Beside the two required for X-Y movements and the third one that raises and lowers the drill, the fourth one actually drives the PF switch which turns the drill motor on only when needed. This approach lets it cool down during long movements into desired position. The drill motor itself is not controlled directly by EV3 ― it is a standard 74569 powered by an old train controller.

Similar to the previous versions, this Mark III employs long linear actuators for X-Y movements and compensates for backlash by over-turning the motors in one direction and then returning to the desired point. Drill is lowered by another linear actuator, connected via the parallelogram linkage connected by friction pins, in order to provide very accurate movement control.

The drill point, a standard diamond-tip sort bought in a local hardware store, is the only part which is not pure LEGO. It is connected to the motor shaft via a small holder which keeps two rubber 2L connectors tightly together. The entire module consisting of a drill point, holder, motor and its supporting structure is actually moving while lowering the drill, and it can also be raised and leaned aside to allow easy access to the platform and the object being engraved. As before, the movement mechanism had to be rather sturdy to minimize backlash as much as possible, and the standard Technic frames did just all right for the purpose.

The overall performance was satisfactory. I'd prefer the entire mechanism to work faster, though; the 4x2 tile with a design of average complexity took about 25 minutes. I think it can be reduced by at least a half, but running the risk of the drill moving too fast and not engraving deep enough. Interestingly, the overall results were slightly better on metal than on a plastic surface, mostly because of plastic's softness, allowing some slack and shake while drilling.

This was an interesting experiment. However, I guess the next direction to improve towards is not speeding the process up further, but rather expanding the drilling surface, which is currently limited to the extents of the linear actuators, i.e. approximately 40x40 mm. Employing the new sliding racks it should be possible to double that at the very least.