Gardening with Conductive Helical Coils 2016

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So despite the blog and my internet presence being quite mute as of late i actually have been up to quite a lot. My homemade Lulzbot Mini 3d Printer this summer was a success, amd i have constantly been improving it. At some point i will take some photos of it’s final progress. A few of my pea breeding crosses from last year were successful, including one i’m excited to grow again which is a cross of the Purple Passion dark purple seeded pea (which is a small genetically weak pea variety) with another stronger pea variety. That should produce something really cool in the coming years. And this fall and next spring i’m experimenting with school by going through a Precision Machinist course and am learning how to use milling machines, lathes, and CNC equipment to produce Aerospace quality components. Not sure if that’s something i want to do long term, but they are skills i’m interested in and can use throughout my life. So that’s new.

Anyway though, as a throwback or a revisit to my post in 2010 titled “Do Plants Really Need Sunlight?“, which has actually been one of the most visited posts on my blog over the years, i finally got around to building a few of those coils that sounded so interesting.

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Conductive Helical Coil around the stem of a plant

So the basic premise or idea behind using a coil of wire with electricity is that it produces a small amount of electricity or a magnetic current through the air. This is the same idea Nicola Tesla was after all those years ago when his imagination was captured with the idea that everything could have wireless electricity. And in many cases his dream has come true with an ever increasing amount of technology these days using induction to wirelessly power or heat things. The basic premise of applying this technology to plants comes from an article i read once that talked about how researchers were able to measure a small direct current from trees in a forest by placing nails in them. They then had ideas about placing nails in many trees and hooking them up together to power small electronics like a battery or cell phone charger, or a smoke alarm. Basically all plants (and maybe all living things) produce a bioelectric field of energy. If one can tap this field to harvest electricity, then why cant we tap into it and feed these plants with extra electricity to help them grow.

One question i asked in my old blog post was if plants even need sunlight at all as long as they are getting some form of energy to grow. I still haven’t done an experiment to test that idea, but it’s still an interesting question. Because it makes me wonder if there are ways plants could be grown in complete darkness.

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Regardless, this summer i finally built a prototype plant coil. I built it rather late in the season, so i really wasn’t able to give it a good test. My original plan was to plant 3 or 4 genetically identical tomato plants near each other in the relatively same soil with at least one plant being the control. I was then going to observe over the course of the summer f the tomato plants within the coils had larger and better growth than the control. That was plan anyway, i just didn’t quite get to it.

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You can see here we were trying to use a volt meter and another coil to see if we could detect that our coils were working. We weren’t having much success with the meter in the beginning and i don’t remember if we did later after increasing the power supply a bit. But in theory you should be able to measure with a second coil.

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I placed it on three smallest tomato plant clusters in the very late planted tomato patch. Interestingly enough, the three plants it happens to be on might be the only three blue tomato genetic varieties that survived my haphazard tomato disasters this year. Since placing the coils on these plants i have noticed an improvement in them and they have since catched up to the growth of the other tomato plants in that spot. Although at the same time i did also make a furrow and started watering them more. But even so i’d be willing to go out on a limb and say that the coils did help them go from “runt” status to catching up to the others. I may yet get a few tomatoes from the larger two before winter hits. Thanks to Gilbert for providing the motivation to actually build this project. And a thanks to the Homegrown Goodness plant breeding forum where i get so many of my adventurous gardening and plant breeding ideas. You guy’s are the best and a continual inspiration to me. Read more: http://alanbishop.proboards.com/thread/8623/breeding-tower-potato-ideas-wanted?page=13#ixzz4LoiDtFZE

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So, while my experimentation was a bit haphazard this year i think i still did ok. It was a fun project that went from an interesting patent to a cool project idea in my head and at the back of my mind, to a fully functional project / prototype. Plus i think these coils look cool. haha.

But it makes me wonder what other cool patents are out there that i can exploit, reverse engineer and build to experiment with. One of my next projects i think will go the opposite route and will be heavily steeped in Open Source as i think i will try and build a “Food Computer“. Basically it’s a small climate controlled aeroponic grow box. It should allow me to continue my plant breeding efforts even in the winter which is really what i want. Plus it will allow me to learn more about this “urban gardeng”, “vertical gardening”, and “aeroponic” stuff. I can’t wait to get back to pea, bean, and tomato breeding even though the summer and fall are waning fast. I think i’m going to repurpose my 2ft x 2ft t-slot frame that i was intending to turn into a large 3D printer and/or CNC mill. But it’s still going to be a long time before i finish that project, so i figured hey why not actually use it for something useful in the meantime! So.. that’t the plan.. 😀

 

 

Modding the Lulzbot Mini

So recently i’ve finally gotten my homemade / homebuilt Lulzbot mini working. And it’s working pretty good. The most critical problem i was facing was that my 3d printer would start printing either too close to the heat bed (or if i added extra bed leveling washers) it would print too far away. This was a critical problem as the first few layers are the most important and if you can’t get you prints to stick to your print bed then the rest of the print will usually unstick and fail. Thanks to some helpful people on the Lulzbot forum i was able to adjust my z-offset to the correct height that worked for me.

The second issue is that recently i’ve noticed my large and tall prints failing miserably at a certain height and the filament not coming out thick enough and the top gets all cob-weby like a spider web, but worse. Apparently this is called “Heat Creep”. The problem in part may be caused by the tiny blower fan on the Lulzbot mini not providing enough cooling and heat slowly rising in the hot end until the filament actually melts too soon and cannot be extruded properly. This makes sense as the problem only occurs after a long time printing. So the logical step was to replace the tiny blower fan (or squirrel fan) with a larger fan that will do the job. The new Taz 6 has obviously taken that tiny fan into consideration and has changed it to a large 40mm fan.

EDIT: The failing on large prints may be due to me using a half-size stepper instead of a full size stepper motor for the extruder. This means too much voltage is being applied to the motor and it is getting super hot. Over time this means the motor looses steps and probably causes my printing problems.

Unfortunately the Taz 6 x-carriage and modifications are not a drop in replacement for the Lulzbot Mini i decided to make my own. This is what i came up with and it seems to work beautifully. http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1587110

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I have only tested this on HIPS so far, but it has eliminated the heat creep i was getting with HIPS. PLA apparently suffers more from heat creep problems than other filaments, but this mod will likely help with PLA heat creep issues as well.

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Homebuilt Lulzbot Mini First Prints!

Here are a few photos from my first test prints on my new, now functional (for the most part), DIY Lulzbot Mini that i made myself from scratch (minus the frame and electronics). All hardware assembly and electrical wiring were done by me. Phew. What a ride it’s been. The upside is i now now how this printer works inside and out. The downside it was more trouble that it was worth and i wish i had just bought one instead. lol. Whatever though.

 

Progress on my Homebuilt Lulzbot Mini

Today i made significant progress on building my own Lulzbot Mini 3D printer from scratch. Technically i now have two 3d printers i’m building from scratch, but the other one is bigger and one i’m designing myself. Just like me to not finish one project before starting another. At least i’m going to work on this one and finish it before continuing on my other one (which might be converted into a homemade CNC mill).

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Today was a major milestone because most of the components are put together and i finally was able to test part of the electronics i wired up myself. I was able to test the Y-axis motor and limit switches as well as the X-axis stepper motor. All seemed to function correctly using Lulzbot’s Cura software. The software did have an unexpected safety feature however, it wouldn’t let me turn any of the motors on without the bed thermistor wired up. So i had to wire up a temporary 10k thermistor for testing purposes. It worked great. I was running the Cura software under Ubuntu Linux. The Cura software gave me an error that it could not autodetect the serial port or something like that, so i ran it as the root super user and that fixed the problems.

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Since i’m building this thing from scratch instead of buying one premade i’m trying to find ways of cutting costs. Although i think i will end up spending more than i hoped. But anyway, part of that is looking into ways that i might be able to replace expensive commercial products like the IGUS bearings and the Leadscrew nut. I’ve already drafted up a 3d printable version of the leadscrew nut and posted it here on Thingiverse. The nut has yet to be tested, but i’ve also had some RJM-01-08 IGUS bearing replica prototypes made in Nylon. The RJM-01-08 IGUS replica bearings turned out to be too tight, but with a drill i was able to make them usable. They are currently being used to remove the wiggle and slop i was experiencing from using the 1mm too small LM8UU ball bearings.

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I originally got the LM8UU bearings as a cheaper alternative to the commercial RJM-01-08 IGUS stock bearings the Lulzbot mini uses thinking they would work. They work, and i am currently using some, but the stock STL files from Lulzbot have holes that are 1mm too big because of the slight size difference between them and the LM8UU. I might try to modify the STL files [i have modified the lulzbot solidworks files] to make LM8UU compatible parts in the near future, but for now i’m happy with my 3d printed nylon ones. I’ve heard PLA might work too, so i will experiment with that in the future as well.

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Here are some more pictures:

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DIY 3D Printer progress piece by piece

One of my newly resurrected projects is my ambition to deign and build my own functional 3d printer. Eventually i’d love to just purchase a nice one, but i’d also like to build my own (besides i already have most of the parts and mine would be bigger too). The pre-made model i would buy is the Lulzbot mini. Mainly because they are fantastically built machines, but also because they are produced by a company here in my own town! Plus they have a philosophical commitment to open source which i love.

Anyway, building off of my original post in 2011, I’m designing from scratch a 2ft x 2ft 3d printer. I’ve been steadily making good progress piece by piece, step by step. My main design criteria are: as close to a 2ft x 2ft build area as possible (maximizing build area vs machine footprint), using 1″ 10 series 80/20 t-slot extruded aluminum, minimizing unneeded parts by using t-slot linear bearings (real aluminum ones and 3d printed working replicas), and trying to just have a simple design by default. I’ve had fun these last few weeks by printing out working 80/20 linear bearing CAD models into working plastic prototypes. My next step is to print out some motor mounts. I’ve designed two motor mounts so far. The first one is a snug mount that shapely fits around a motor and has built in t-slot mounts intended for the z axis lead screws. The second is a simple right angle slotted mount for y-axis that has a belt drive. I have them modeled in Solidworks 2007. I just need to print them out to see if they will work.

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3d printed linear bearing (80/20 t-slot)
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Initial frame of diy 3d printer with 3d printed linear bearings in view (80/20 t-slot)

Rediscovering 3d CAD because of 3D Printers

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This past week (maybe 2) I’ve been utterly obsessed with 3D printer stuff. It has gotten me excited about 3D drafting and CAD all over again. Simply because you can create a 3 dimensional object on a computer in a matter of minutes or hours and render it to look completely realistic, but now because of 3d printers you can actually make those objects (if you so wished)! Awesome!

Yesterday and Today I’ve been playing around with Solidworks again. My ancient 2007 version of solidworks. lol. But it works non-the-less. Although i’d love to try out Autodesk 123d Design (which is free). But, why oh why are there still no good CAD programs that run nativity on Linux. Especially if you have a Mac version. If it runs on Mac it can easily be ported to Linux. Why do you think the Arduinos and the rep-raps, and open-source, and so many other great things have taken over the world by storm? Yes it’s because they are great products, but also because they are cross-platform! Okay, End-Of-Rant.

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But Seriously, i actually really like designing something in CAD if it’s something i’m excited about. Today i ventured into the realm of something relatively simple, test tube racks. But sadly there are not currently very good designs for test tube racks available. Which actually surprised me. The three best places I look for pre-made CAD files are at 3dContentCentral, which is the oldest site of this kind that i ever encountered. It is mostly for people who use solidworks, but the great thing about the site is that it has a tool that can convert to and from many different CAD formats, including solidworks formats, IGES, STEP, STL, etc. The second is GrabCad. GrabCad is a new community also aimed at engineers sharing CAD models freely. It dosen’t have the nice file converter that 3dContentCentral has, but it has a vibrant community that provides feedback, help, and will check out your designs. Someone on GrabCad actually helped render the nice  looking wood rendering of my 1950s style test tube rack. How nice! Thank You! And the third is the famous MakerBot Thingiverse. Thingiverse is less focused on CAD formats and instead is focused on creative designs optimized for 3D printing. At minimum an STL file will be available for anyone to download and print on any 3d printer they have access to. I currently dont own my own 3d printer, but am currently using the Lulzbot mini that currently resides at my local library. How’s that for public access?!!

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So these are the three test tube racks i modeled today in Solidworks. Not super amazing i suppose, but i’m proud of them. My favorite is the nice wooden 1950s style test tube rack. I partly chose to start with that one because i have one that looks just like that looks like it was made by a monkey in china. It seriously is not as nice as my virtual one and not anywhere near as fancy looking either. But also because it is the standard test tube rack featured in the banned 1960s DIY chemistry book: The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments. It was just begging to be brought into the modern world.

I then ventured into modeling a simple test tube rack because there were none available that i liked. I may make a smaller version of this one for 3d printers that have small print beds. Perhaps one with only 4 test tubes.

The last one i modeled after a nice round plastic test tube rack I’ve seen on the internet. I don’t have one, but I’ve been meaning to buy one. But i wanted to model one in Solidworks and create one that fit on a Lulzbot mini 6″ X 6″ print area that other people could print out too. So i made one of appropriate size and then made it able to split in two to be printed easily. I really like how the design came out. I hope to be able to test it out by printing my own sometime.

1950s Style Test Tube Rack:

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Economy Style Test Tube Rack:

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Round Mini Test Tube Rack:

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Updating and perfecting the XYZZY Motor Controller

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I’m working on finishing and perfecting an old project of mine (by a few years). The XYZZY Motor Controller (H-bridge). The old design was only somewhat functional. Enough to prove proof of concept (barely), but i want a sleek, finished version that people can actually use. So i’m working on perfecting this prototype design. I’ve just updated several things on the top board, and i think it’s done. The biggest issue was a pretty major design flaw which was that i forgot to add the safety diodes for motor kickback. In simple terms that meant that when the motor stopped turning or i switched it from forward to backward the electrical energy would destroy the Mosfets! …oh.. noo… Yup.

Not to worry, they are there now. I will be wiring them in manually to some of my old prototype boards to test soon. This design is progressed enough to update it to V1.0 instead of Rx.x number. Although the top board is finished, the bottom board needs quite a bit of work and possibly major redesigning. from the looks of my old design for the bottom board it looks like one feature i wanted to implement was an I2C bus. That would make it cool to connect them together and then to a microprocessor to monitor them in real-time. The only sensors to monitor at this point was the inclusion of a crude temp sensor and monitoring the RPM of the fan. Although i was hoping to build an arduino chip built in. When i eventually purchase new PCB’s i think this revision is finally deserving for the color red! Although purple or black would look pretty sick too. Any comments are welcome.

This is an Open Source Hardware Design.

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