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Arduino Linear Actuator Control :: Member Project

Ever need to measure something within a thousandth of an inch?  Repeatedly?

For Bill, he found using a tape measure to be less accurate as he would have liked. So to solve this problem, he used Arduino to create his very own linear actuator stop, which can measure lengths with an accuracy up to the thousandth of an inch!

That’s some pretty good accuracy compared to measuring with a tape measure. Read on to find out how Bill turned a small interest in Arduino into this really cool project!

linear actuator stop

So Bill, can you tell us a little bit about what you built?

I made a linear actuator position stop. It can be used on a saw, drill, or any machine where you want to precisely position material.

You can input the length of the part you want to cut and the stop will move to that position, right to the thousandth of an inch.

Thousandth of an inch, that’s incredible!

Yes, typically you would have to use a tape measure and pencil to mark a spot, clamp a block to act as a stop, then do a sample cut. Then you would have to move the stop if it were not positioned correctly. With this positioner, the first cut is accurate.

It’s also quite difficult to read a number like 24.763 on a tape measure.

And how is it powered?

The actuator is powered using a wall outlet

So what type of Arduino board does your project use?

I am using an Arduino Mega 2560 clone.

And what other components did you use?

A button, servo motor, stepper motor, keypad, switch, enclosure, and an LCD display

Why did you build this linear actuator stop?

Well, I saw an article in a magazine that showed an Arduino board being used to control a wood router position. I had never even heard of an Arduino before reading that article, and it looked very interesting and affordable.

I work in a factory that uses commercially available linear actuator position stops. They work great but can cost anywhere between $6,000 to $10,000 each. I thought that with the Arduino, I could maybe make a much cheaper version, so I bought an Arduino starter kit off of Amazon, just to get my feet wet.

It looks like you were successfully able to make a far more affordable version!

Indeed! It seems like you can make almost anything with these Arduinos.

I started off with making a small prototype actuator to prove to myself that I could do it. I took it to my workplace and talked my boss into allowing me to make a full-sized unit.

I also made one for my home shop. I have now made several of these and am starting to make them for other divisions in our company.

I have actually made several changes to my design. At first, I used a stepper motor to drive the actuator, which worked, but this would sometimes lose counts.

I made the next version with servo motors. This fixed the issue with the missed steps. The first several positioners I made were directly driven from the motor to the pulley driving the belt actuator.

Since then, I have since added a gearbox between the motor and pulley with great results. Now, I am able to use a smaller powered motor. My next goal is to improve the user interface from a stick-on keypad with a small LCD screen to a 7-inch touchscreen.

You have some big plans in place for updates, that’s awesome. Amazing that you had no prior experience with Arduino before this!

Yeah, since I had no prior programming experience with Arduino, I had a lot to learn. The first versions I made were based on programs I found on the internet.

So was the training at Programming Electronics Academy able to help you build your Arduino skills?

Yes, it did! When I looked at other people’s code, I really didn’t understand things like for loops, while loops, if statements, matrix’s, and the general rules of Arduino programming.

The training from Programming Electronics Academy is very well laid out and easy to understand.

What were some of the other struggles you encountered as you worked through this project?

In the original design, which used a stepper motor (Euclid Machine and Design), I had to modify the program to work with my hardware.

When I upgraded to the servo motor I also found another program on the internet (neo7cnc.com). It also needed a few changes to work with my hardware.

After making 6 actuators I wanted to try and make one with a touchscreen. I knew it was going to be a lot more programming, but I was up for a challenge. After about a month of trying to make it work, I realized how big a challenge it was.

The screen needed to be programmed for every little detail shown on the screen and after I got the look I wanted, I was at about 600 lines of code. When I tried to make the buttons actually work I learned it was probably going to take thousands of line of code to work.

I knew I had to find an easier way, so I found the Nextion touchscreens and tried them (which made such a huge difference). It still took me a while to make it look and work the way I wanted, but it was so much easier and with way fewer lines of code.

Plus all the touchscreen code is run on the Nextion itself and that frees up the Arduino a lot.

linear actuator touchpad

I learned a lot about programming from your Programming Electronics Academy. Before that, I used Youtube often.

Until I tried your course I really didn’t understand much of what I was seeing in other peoples codes.

I have learned that there are many ways to write code to make a project do what you want it to do. I know I have a lot to learn, but I am starting to be able to write some of my own code now instead of relying on other people’s code.

Arduino Code:

Bill was kind enough to share the code files he has been using for his linear actuator stops.

Front Line Stop Code

Front Line Stop Code Version 2

 

Nextion Stop Code

About Bill

Bill works at a window and door factory. He has made many different machines over the years, and has even programmed a few PLCs. His work with maintenance has allowed him to work with electronics for the last 30 years, and he’s done ladder logic programming for the past 20 years. He didn’t even know about Arduino until 8 months ago! But with his newfound knowledge, he hopes to make more linear actuators in the future and maybe even sell them!

6 Comments

  1. Avatar Bill Byrd on May 23, 2019 at 7:15 am

    .5920000076
    Is this the number you meant to reference? I bet your machine will get much closer than that.

    • Avatar Michael James on May 23, 2019 at 3:16 pm

      Thanks Bill – we had the wrong number in there. The post was corrected. Much appreciated!

  2. Avatar Wade on May 23, 2019 at 9:42 am

    Does Bill have a website where he sells these things?

    • Avatar Michael James on May 23, 2019 at 3:09 pm

      Hi Wade, I don’t believe so, but I’ll ask him.

  3. Avatar John on May 23, 2019 at 10:56 am

    How can I get additional info on your “Linear Actuator” project ?
    Thanks

  4. Avatar Ward Campbell on May 23, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    Pattern Sewing and pattern cutting are changing the way mass market products are made. The quality in workmanship is stunning. Same thing in screen printing screen production and embrodery. Because the machine head can move in both the x and y plane at the same time this creates a near infinite number of positions inside a finite space.

    This creates precision manufacturing processes that can create made products here in the usa that can compete with same products made in china. The demand and need for precision positioning in cutting and sewing has increased dramatically. Wilcom hatch in embrodery and circuit in home based pattern cutting are example companies and their are many others.

    This project suggests small computers, plus inexpensive cam software can be developed here in the United states and used to compete with expensive cam technology being developed overseas in forien markets by very smart people.

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