Preview: Upgraded Bread Machine Incubator TR444 [in progress…]

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Ok. So! Back to hardware / electronics projects!! Yay!

This is a preview for an upcoming post. I am currently working on upgrading my Hacked Breadman Breadmachine TR444 Incubator from a previous project. I’m adding some RGBW neopixel LEDS from Adafruit for light. It will have a button to change lighting sequences from White to red/blue to purple, to blue, to black. All the colors one would need to 1. see into the machine. 2. Color LEDs to grow seedlings for gardening. 3. blue which may come in handy for bacteria cultures? IDK. maybe not. But whatever. I currently have the arduino code for the light sequence working.

I will also be adding a fan for circulation. I 3D printed the fan holder. I may or may not have a button to control the fan. I will have a big red button to start the incubator cycle (37 Degrees C for bacteria / fungal petri dishes). And i am considering another button for a programmed Dry Heat Sterilization routine. As mentioned before, according to Wikipedia:

The proper time and temperature for dry heat sterilization is 160 °C (320 °F) for 2 hours or 170 °C (340 °F) for 1 hour.

I also think i will be integrating my Chronodot real-time clock for use with this dry heat sterilization routine and possibly some other incubating cycle as well. Cool! Fun stuff! Lets get working!!

p.s. post in the comments if these are the kind of projects you’d like to see more of of! 🙂

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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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DIY Modified Bread Machine Incubator

I hereby present: “The Breadman Incubator”… TaDa!

I will admit that i never truly got into the DIYbio movement, but to say it didn’t leave an impact on me also wouldn’t be truthful. So what is this machine? And what is it for? Well, I’m glad you asked…

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In short this is a modified bread machine. Only modified to the extent that the native electronics have been replaced with an arduino (in this case an old low-cost diavolino), an arduino screw-shield, the native thermistor replaced with my own 10k ntc thermistor, and a 7 segment display from sparkfun electronics. Oh, and my own custom orange plexiglass cover! I’m quite proud of that cover! It’s main design is to regulate specific temperatures. In the case of DIYbio, in theory it can be used to regulate a temperature to be an incubator. Mainly bacteria, but it could also be used as an egg incubator, or a “hyper germination chamber” for squash seeds!. This last one is the only one i have actually tested, and i was able to see a squash seedling emerge in only one day! All of these potential uses still fall within the category of do-it-yourself biology.

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Currently the programming is limited to a pre-set temperature at 37 degrees Celsius. This is often the optimal temperature to cultivate bacteria. Or so i’m told by Wikipedia. It is also the max temperature listed as being able to germinate squash seeds. huh, who knew?

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Now, a lot of people out there might say: “why on earth would you want to cultivate bacteria!” and one step further: “why on earth would you make a machine to grow bacteria!; Isn’t that dangerous?!” Well, umm.. I never said i actually would grow bacteria in this thing, more i created it just because i like the “i could” factor. In reality this is more of a proof-of-concept design built only to impress myself. But to answer the second question/statement.. Yes, growing bacteria is potentially dangerous.. unless you know what you are doing, what kind of bacteria is safe to work with, and proper safety protocols. Those who are familiar with the DIYbio movement will know that such safety concerns have been discussed before and that the general consensus is basically “use common sense” and “know what you are doing”. If these two principles are followed everything will be fine.

Besides, the great thing about this is that in theory this could be programmed to be it’s own sterilizer too! That’s a great plus for safety. Wikipedia say’s this:

Eventually, the entire item reaches the proper temperature needed to achieve sterilization. The proper time and temperature for Dry-Heat sterilization is 160 °C (320 °F) for 2 hours. Instruments should be dry before sterilization since water will interfere with the process. Dry-heat destroys microorganisms by causing coagulation of proteins.

I did a basic programming test to see if this machine could reach 160 degrees Celsius. It seemed like it could. The only thing needed would be a way to accurately keep track of time (like the unused chronodot i have lying around) and a button or something to initiate a programmed sterilization routine.

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In this design i have not implemented use of the motor. One because i really couldn’t think of a good use for it. But two because in my initial testing phase i accidentally destroyed both an arduino mega and my computer (i assume by not properly protecting them from the kickback electricity from the motor). Yeah, it was “my bad”! Quite literally. Yeah, so a caution to anyone who decided to build a similar project, i recommend not programming your arduino while it is plugged into the electronics of your bread machine. Program it first, and then hook it up to test it. It was only when the usb cable of my arduino were plugged into my computer (with the motor running (i think)) that bad things happened. 😦

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I found this old piece of scrap aluminum that handily fits at the bottom to cover the motor thingy. It gives it a nice flat surface. Petri dishes or anything that needs a flat surface will need something like this.

So.. Does it work?.. Yup. At least in a basic sense. It definitely could use some improvement. The programming is very basic in terms of turning the relay on if it is under a preset temperature (in this case 37°C) and turning it off it is above. While this works, it is not efficient nor really all that accurate. A PID loop would probably improve it much. Also adding a chronodot would help to have a temperature compensated accurate time clock in case i wanted to incubate something for a specific amount of time. I probably will add the chronodot at some point. A fan to help regulate temperature might also be a good fix, but if the autoclave feature were implemented it would have to be autoclavable (or removable). The fan could unintentionally introduce mold spores, but if proper sterilizing techniques were used this could be avoided. And perhaps a magnet switch to turn things off when the cover is opened.

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The arduino code for this project can be found here.