I help where I can in the Tux-Lab effort to rebuild the old thermoforming machine. I’ve been doing more learning than helping, though, since others have more experience with industrial machinery than I do. The initial goal is to get things up and running under manual control, and we’ll tackle automation later.
That doesn’t keep us from chatting about ideas for the automation effort, which is roughly divided up into three tiers of complexity.
At the low-end, we can drive it with a PIC micro controller. A modern PIC should be more than capable of duplicating the level of automation that existed in a decades-old machine. It would be the lowest-cost solution, if the cost difference was significant enough to matter.
The mid-tier option is an Arduino. It should be the easiest to get up and running due to the components already integrated on an Arduino board and the large existing library of code we can draw upon.
Both of the above would offer the option of reusing the control panel as-is, which would be important if we wanted to preserve the exterior appearance of the machine. At the moment it is not a goal to do so – we are not a museum and see little value in historical preservation on this machine. Especially since it’s a huge mess of wires in there.
So, as can be expected of a bunch of tinkerer types, the dreams started getting wilder and wilder. It wasn’t long before we started talking about a touchscreen-controlled thermoforming machine that is network-connected for job monitoring and logging. Which leads us to the high-tier option: a Raspberry Pi with the matching LCD touchscreen.
The team has members with experience in PIC programming, and in Arduino programming, but we’re light on Raspberry Pi programming expertise. Since this is something I wanted to learn to do anyway, I volunteered to investigate.
In the short term we’re still focused on the manual toggle switch operation mode. In the medium term we might still implement Arduino control. And that might be a good enough place to stop, but I wanted to see if we can turn the wild dream into reality.