The “live hinge” on my overnight eyeglass case shattered when it hit the floor (these things happen), which prompted me to finish a longstanding project of replacing the inadequate / worn out padding in my most-used cases to reduce rattles while in my pocket.
I’d long ago cut craft foam sheets to fit some of the cases, so I started by scanning a sample:
Admittedly, black foam on a white background isn’t much to look at, but it did fit one of the cases pretty well.
Rotate the image to make things simple, convert it into a monochrome bitmask, import it into LightBurn, fair some Bezier curves around it, duplicate and tweak for the other not-quite half of the case:
I ended up with several different versions for various cases, but you get the general idea:
They’re all cut from 2 mm EVAfoam sheets which, despite the “vinyl” in their name, do not contain chlorine and are suitable for laser cuttery.
Some of the deeper case halves required strips of adhesive sheet to secure the foam, but most sheets dry-fit in place.
The four control “buttons” on the SmartHeart kitchen scale are copper-foil tabs that sense the presence of your finger though about 5 mm of white plastic and glass:
The main failure mode seemed to come from the microcontroller locking up and refusing to recognize any of the buttons, most annoyingly the On/Tare button, while continuing to measure whatever weight was on the scale with whatever zero point it chose. Recovery involved waiting until the thing timed out and shut itself off.
The two buttons on the left select Kilocalories for any of the various foods arrayed around the display. Depending on how it jammed during startup, it might display the Kilocalorie value for, say, sugar, while ignoring all button presses. As the manual does not mention any way to return to weights after activating the Kilocalorie function, other than turning it off, it’s not clear recognizing the other buttons would be much help.
Because we have no use for those functions, I unsoldered the wires to those sensor pads and it no longer jams in that mode:
The alert reader will note the PCB legend says I have unsoldered the ON/OFF and UNIT wires. If one believes the silkscreen, the PCB dates back to 2015, so it now carries a reprogrammed microcontroller with functions that no longer match the silkscreen.
The overall soldering quality resembles mine on a bad day.
With those out of the way, the scale still jammed and refused to recognize the remaining two buttons. I wondered if it was somehow sensing ghost fingers over both sensors and waiting for one to vanish, so I added a shield ring around the power tab:
That reduced the sensitivity of both sensors to the point where they pretty much didn’t work, without reducing the number of jams.
So I tried increasing the sensitivity of the power tab by replacing it with a larger copper foil sheet:
That definitely got its attention, as it will now respond to a finger hovering half an inch over the glass, as well as a finger on the bottom of the case: it can now turn on and jam while I pick it up.
More tinkering is in order, but it’s at least less awful in its current state than it was originally, so I can fix a few other things of higher priority.
The health plan I use pays $100 toward the year’s over-the-counter healthcare stuff, although with a caveat: you can only buy the stuff from a specific website. As you might expect, what’s available consists of no-name generic products with absurdly high sticker prices and, just to rub it in, the hundred bucks gets paid in quarterly use-it-or-lose it installments.
Seeing as how it was free, I got a kitchen scale:
It has two catastrophically bad design features:
Terrible battery life
Overly sensitive controls
It runs from a pair of series-connected CR2032 non-rechargeable lithium coin cells. Which would be fine, except that the blue LED backlight stays on for 30 seconds after each button touch and draws about 10 mA.
The battery lifetime is best measured in days.
The four control “buttons” on either side of the backlit LCD are touchless sensors using copper foil stickers:
The alert reader will spot those the empty CR2032 coin cell contacts over on the left and a pair of NP-BX1 batteries in the middle.
I figured there was no need to keep feeding it coin cells while I played with it, so I conjured a holder from the vasty digital deep. Normally, that would be an OpenSCAD solid model suited for 3D printing, but in this case the lithium cells exactly filled the space between the PCB and the bottom of the case, so it became a 2D design neatly suited for laser cuttery.
I planned to stick the orange cutout (in 1.5 mm acrylic) as a stabilizer around the pogo pins making contact with the cell terminals from the red cutout (in 3 mm acrylic), but just melting the pins into the acrylic seemed sufficient for the purpose. Strips of adhesive sheet saved from the margins of previous projects affix the holder (not the cells!) to the scale’s upper glass layer.
As far as I can tell, the scale is perfectly happy running on 7.4 V, rather than 6.0 V. The PCB has two terminals marked +3V and +6V, so it probably depends on which LEDs they use for backlights:
The alert reader will notice a peculiarity concerning the sensor pad connections along the top edge.
This was really a thinly veiled excuse for a deeper look at the QR code generator encoding the myriad parameters required to create the box and see what happens when you try to burn such a complex thing into chipboard.
Spoiler: chipboard has very low contrast and really does not work well with high-density QR codes.
Although the festi.info box generator can produce QR codes, I used qrencode (available in your Linux distro) on the command line to generate QR code image files with specific settings:
--size → size of the smallest square (“module”) in pixels
--dpi → DPI of the output image file
The default file type is PNG. The unusual 254 DPI makes each pixel exactly 0.1 mm wide and a peculiar 169.33 DPI = 0.15 mm came in handy for the first pattern.
The final parameter is the character string to encode, which you should definitely quote to prevent the shell from wrecking things while trying to help you.
A pattern with 4×4 pixel modules didn’t scan at all:
A closer look shows the modules have ragged edges due to laser timing variations during the engraving scans and gaps between successive scans because the spot size is less than the 0.15 mm scan interval:
Increasing the module to 6×6 pixels at a 0.1 mm scan interval :
A closer look shows the larger module reduces the relative size of the timing errors, while the decreased line spacing tidies up the blocks:
Reducing the power from 15% to 10% reduced the contrast to the point of illegibility:
A closer look shows the engraving barely punches through the surface and has somewhat more ragged edges due to the tube’s pulsating startup current at very low power:
I also tried 5×5 modules with similar results.
The laser spot size sets the engraving scan interval, which then determines the DPI value for the QR code image. With all that matched up, you can send the images directly to the laser in Passthrough mode, without having LightBurn resample the pixels and change the module’s shape.
Looked at from a different angle: given the laser spot size and the module size, the QR code image size is not under your control.
From another angle: given a QR code image size in, say, millimeters, and the engraving scan interval, the module size is not under your control.
All this is moot if you print QR codes on a high-resolution / high-contrast printer. It’s just the gritty nature of laser cuttery that limits what you can accomplish.
And, of course, using a material less awful than chipboard will definitely improve the results.
If you want a similar box of your own, here ya go:
Mary’s ResMed AirSense 11 saves the data from every overnight breath she takes on an SD card, which she uploads to OSCAR once a week. I figured she needed an SD card to USB adapter / card reader of her very own:
The LightBurn layout is pretty much what you’d expect, with the letter inside the outline of the USB dingus on a tool layer to get the size right:
The red layer is a “kiss cut” through the vinyl (remember: polyurethane) that leaves the backing paper mostly undamaged:
The cut uses Dot Mode, with the laser firing at 10% power for 2 ms, spaced every 0.1 mm along the cut. I found 0.1 mm spacing produced a more-or-less continuous cut in the PETG sheet for the Tek Circuit Computer cursor hairline, but this picture shows it’s definitely running in pulsed mode. In any event, Dot Mode is the only way a 60 W CO₂ laser can make a kiss cut, as a normal vector cut can’t run fast enough to prevent cutting all the way through the backing paper, even at 10% power, around those letters.
The edges of the letters are slightly melted with a raised border, although they look pretty good if you’re not peering at them through a microscope.
I cut the rectangular outline with scissors, peeled the waste vinyl away, and weeded the ‘a’ with tweezers:
Stick a snippet of transfer tape on top:
In theory, the transfer tape sticks more firmly to the cut letters than the letters adhere to their backing paper, so peeling off the tape also peels the letters off the backing paper.
Which did not go well:
The two adhesions obviously require a delicate balance to work properly and I would be unsurprised to learn different transfer tapes behave differently on each type of vinyl sheet, with no way to know the results without trying every possible combination.
A few retries got the “r” back in position on the transfer tape, but a bit of kink remains in the “M”.
A third adhesion balance occurs between the transfer tape and the USB card reader, where the tape must stick to the letters slightly less than the letters stick to the reader. Burnishing the tape + letters to the reader encouraged the letters to stick and the tape pulled off without dislodging them.
We deemed the result good enough for the purpose and the process taught me a few lessons along the way. Next time, maybe it’ll work out better.