Doing hands on experiments or simulations has always been an important method for me to learn new skills and techniques. During my MSc & PhD Mechanical Engineering at the Eindhoven University of Technology I am lucky enough to have access to high-end rapid-prototyping solutions from Speedgoat or dSPACE.
The current Covid-19 pandemic highlights to me the importance of accessible experimental platforms for both education and small-businesses.
Unfortunately, during the Covid-19 outbreak our department had no access to the lab, limiting the availability of experimental platforms for our research. Moreover, in the foreseeable future, full access to all facilities for both faculty and students is unlikely. Therefore, I recognize an increasing need for low-cost experimental platforms both for education and small-businesses in order to perform preliminary testing of algorithms and techniques.
Closed-loop control of a print head using Simulink
The hardware required for this setup consists of low-cost and easy to obtain items such as an Arduino Uno, an H-bridge motor driver and a voltage regulator. And of course, an old torn down inkjet printer.
The software implementation is straightforward thanks to the excellent hardware support package for Arduino supplied by Mathworks. The Simulink model is easy to understand and the necessary code to interact with the setup is contained in a single S-function.
Desktop printer setup
The system under test is a linear head positioning stage salvaged from an old inkjet printer. It can be stripped of all unnecessary components to leave just the head positioning stage, the motor and the encoder assembly.
The setup is stand-alone and compact enough to be placed on your desk, allowing for easy use without external hardware. Building these types of small scale setups and overcoming the challenges when doing so provides a great learning opportunity. Moreover, once completed, it serves as a perfect platform to learn the basics of digital control theory.
While it is unlikely that this solution is going to replace existing high end rapid-prototyping platforms it offers an approachable first glance at the wonderful world of mechatronics.