engineer

tim   .

                                                      


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.   hunkin

                                                         


cartoonist

 

COMPONENTS

 


Modern logistics and distribution systems are wonderful. I can get almost anything delivered the next day, even living in the depths of the country. Increasingly I buy things online from small suppliers (often advertising on Ebay). I still sometimes prefer to browse a paper catalogue, these are some of my favourites:

RS Components
A huge selection of electronic and mechanical parts, well written so its tell you most of what you need to know about everything, though it can be pricey. Sadly they are now in recession mode, the free 'next day' delivery is now only for orders over £20 and their catalogue is contracting.

RAPID ELECTRONICS
Cheaper than Radiospares and friendly, and a range of the basics. Particularly good for school educational parts and kits. 

TRANSDEV 
They sell basic components for conveyor systems, and are good value for chain, sprockets etc

CPC
Good range of cheap disco and computer parts, and even spares for washing machines and vacuum cleaners etc.

AXMINSTER
good tool catalogue, with reasonable delivery rates. Large range of wood tools, but limited range of metalworking tools.

J&L
metalworking catalogue. Huge range but usually pricey

MACHINE MART
  good value tools, pumps, compressors etc

COMAR 
for lenses and all optical bits, brilliant technical help


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THE STORES

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Having stores of ‘stuff’ is still vital, even though I can get almost anything delivered the next day.  I'm often puzzled that stores like this tend to be regarded as old fashioned and eccentric - because to me they are so efficient.  The stores make it possible to try out ideas extraordinarily quickly. They are also almost an extension of my brain because they act as a physical version of a memory map, reminding me of ways to solve problems or make things.

Everytime I go to a scrapyard I come back with a bit more ‘stuff’ for the stores. The important thing is to go through the stores every few years, throwing things out and remembering what is still there.

BARGAINS

   The materials I use for making things have changed a lot since I started 40 years ago. Through my teens and twenties there were wonderful industrial surplus shops in London. After going into the Observer to deliver and edit my cartoon strip, I would often fill my cycle panniers with beautifully made motors, cam timers and other bargains from Lisle street or Edgware Rd.

One by one the surplus shops closed, but for me their place was taken in the mid 80s by the local scrapyards, particularly Sackers of Ipswich, which received all the scrap from British Telecom research labs. Complete machine tools, elaborate industrial automation machines, endless entertaining boxes of mysterious electronics. My friend Rex used to go to the scrapyard every day.

In their turn, the scrapyards closed down. Scrapyards are now so efficient and full of ingenious recycling machinery that Rex and I are not allowed in when they're running.

But I'm now making a living by building contraptions instead of by drawing, so I often buy new stuff, especially from R S components. Here you can find a vast range of stuff – with prices – order it – and have it the next day - without any oily salesman calling round. However, the cost of new industrial stuff soon mounts up, and doesn’t have the appeal of using ‘free’ stuff. Although I to look back on the industrial surplus shops and scrapyards with fondness we have entered a new, different age of technological bargains –  consumer electronics. Burglar alarm motion sensors for £9, boom boxes for £20, DVD players for £40, PCs for £170, the list is endless. And for anything more exotic there's Ebay - I increasingly buy stuff direct from Hong Kong

These are some of the consumer parts I use in my clocks and arcade machines. Before I start I have to apologise for not giving details of product models – they seem to change every 6 months, so the ones I’ve used will already be unavailable by the time I finish writing this. Don’t worry though, the changes are usually just cosmetic – the underlying technology changes much more slowly.

MOTION SENSORING OUTDOOR LIGHTS
About £10. In place of the light, connect it to any other mains operated device – disorientate burglars by switching on your lawnmower or starting up a CD player (see below). Its also easy to change motion sensors into beam sensors by sticking a tube on the front to make them ‘blinkered’.

WASHING MACHINE SOLONOID VALVES
At about £5, these are at least ten times cheaper than any other valve of a similar flow rate. They work just as well with air as with liquid. There are two slight drawbacks – first they need a bit of space (the input and output connections are different and both quite clumsy and bulky) – second, they won’t switch low pressures, which I often find frustrating – but hard to grumble at the price. 

CAR WINDSCREEN WIPER MOTORS
£5-£25 from a car scrapyard, £50-£70 new. Fantastically powerful, long-lasting and quiet. I have one on my clock on Southwold pier which has been switching on and off every one and a half seconds for over two years – despite being in the salt air and nor waterproofed. DC motors have an enormous starting torque, a huge speed range, simply adjusted by the input voltage – 12 volt car wiper motors work slowly at three volts but still have useful power and are completely silent. Use diodes to reduce the speed (.7 volts per diode) - not resistors (Under load, the motor has little resistance so the resistor just gets hot and the motor doesn’t move).

 COMPUTER SPEAKERS
£20-£25 from most electrical shops. This is the cheapest way to buy an amplifier and speakers.

 DVD PLAYERS
Down to about £25. They play everything, even MP3s,
certainly bargains for adding video and sound to a contraption. 
I used to connect wires to the switches in the remote control, as this meant the player was untouched, and could be easily swapped and returned under warranty if it went wrong. However, this did not prove to be as reliable as wiring directly to the buttons on the player.  
The only problems with the really cheap players are they don't have many buttons on the front so you usually would have to wire to the remote control, (fiddly and not always reliable). The other problem is that they are now so cheaply made they aren't lasting well. They are still a good way to have a go at making a simulator, but mine are getting used so much that I've had to change to using compact flash card kiosk video players. These cost £165 but are really stable. 

MEDIA PLAYERS
In my arcade, I now use compact flash card 'kiosk' media players. No moving parts, so they are generally more reliable, though it took a while to find a good solution. I've been through several and I'm currently using the Brightsign HD120 (which does HD video).  

 PERSONAL COMPUTERS 
 I have tried using PCs in my machines, but they are always hassle. They are far to complicated for the simple stuff I'm trying to do do. When they go wrong its really hard to get to the bottom of the problem. My Expressive photobooth still runs with a PC, but I've probably spent more time keeping it running than all the other machines in the arcade put together. 

ARDUINO MICROCONTROLLERS
About £22 for a main board and another £5 for a shield board. I've been using Arduinos to send serial data to displays, media players and ticket printers. The great thing about them is that they are open source. There are sample programs of almost anything you might want to do online, and if you get into trouble you can post a question on a forum and it gets an answer very quickly (within two minutes in my most recent case). I'm still very slow at the programming language C++, but I am getting better. I went on a weekend beginners course which was brilliant. It really gave me the confidence and motivation to start experimenting by myself. The other breakthough was finding a shield board. An Arduino nearly always needs some input and output circuitry for any real application. This was possible with veroboard, but wires kept falling out. Everything is just much quicker and more reliable with a shield board.

 

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