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Dec 17 14

2014 Retrospective

by Wayne

Wayne and Layne is a two person electronics company in Minneapolis. We design and sell electronic kits and projects for kids and adults, beginners and experts. Most of our products are sold online, but some of our products are sold in retail stores across the world!

So far, we’ve given away all our designs. This is so you can learn how we put it together, but we believe so much in giving the designs away that we’re willing to let you do anything with our designs–even to make your own kits for sale. We ask that if you use our designs, you give away your modifications too. (A link and some credit would be nice too!) This is called open source hardware.

We also do design work for other people, like Kickstarters and museum exhibits. Most of this work isn’t open source, but it helps fund our open source work. (We also explicitly reserve the right to release new products that are not open source.)

It might not look like it from our blog, shame shame, but 2014 has been an amazing year for Wayne and Layne! We finished a lot of awesome projects with clients, got an office, put a bunch of cool tools in it, worked on new products, and improved a lot of things behind-the-scenes. On top of that, we worked on open source software like Kicad that everyone can use for free, and your purchases of our products helps us volunteer!

You can follow us here, on Twitter at @wayneandlayne, and Adam and Matthew both have Twitter accounts: @adamwwolf and @mbeckler.

We have an office!

Up until April or so, all of Wayne and Layne was at Adam or Matthew’s apartments, and we’d meet with clients at coffee shops or hackerspaces. This worked great when Wayne and Layne was just starting out, but now that we’re more established, we were outgrowing the space we could carve out of our apartments. It also meant we had to buy twice as much of everything, or ship things around and it seemed like we never had what we needed where we needed it. Now that Matthew and Adam both live in Minneapolis, this seemed like a waste. This came to a head when Adam had to clear out his Wayne and Layne office to turn it into a nursery. (!!!) We tried storing all our inventory in a storage unit, continuing to work from our apartments, but after a month, we decided to look for an office. We looked at some online listings, then put the call out on Twitter, and it didn’t take long before we found a great spot.

We have some space in Minneapolis that isn’t fancy but

  • has a great landlord
  • is on good bus lines
  • we can afford
  • is across from a Chinese place that serves xiao long bao

so really, we can’t ask for more!

We have some awesome equipment in our office!

In our new space, we have a pick and place machine, reflow oven, hot air station, stereo microscope souped up for assembly, as well as a laser cutter, an Othermill, and a reliable 3D printer! We also have less fancy equipment, like a shipping station with label printer, laser printer, scale, and barcode scanner. We don’t plan on doing large manufacturing runs in our space, but we’ve definitely leveled up on the prototyping we can do in-house!

We finished our work on the Choosatron!

The Choosatron is a little interactive fiction gaming device funded on Kickstarter. Jerry brought us in before the Kickstarter launched to help with the PCB layout and to help design for manufacturing. It’s just about ready to ship, and it’s turned out even better than we expected.

We made more museum exhibits!

We continued our partnership with a local museum exhibit design company, and helped with lots of new exhibits. Our exhibits this year are all over the US, including right here at the Minnesota State Fair! We had our hand in quite a few of the exhibits you see in the Energy Building. With the museum exhibits, we began to see some patterns in our “one-off” designs, and are investigating how to turn some of those into products. We have some exciting news about our partnership, but can’t reveal it yet. (You can see examples of our museum work at http://www.wayneandlayne.com/exhibits/)

We invented new wearable visual effects with Dessa!

We did a pair of projects with Dessa! We had talked previously on a project that fell through due to scheduling issues with overseas suppliers. This year, she came to us with some rough ideas of wearable visual effects she wanted for a show. (One idea was a still from a cartoon.) We completely blew it out of the water! Everyone was really impressed (including us) by how awesome they turned out. More details on this later!

We presented at Maker Faire NY!

We were unable to make it to Maker Faire SF this year–Adam was too close to becoming a new dad that his wife couldn’t fly and he couldn’t risk being away, but we did make it to Maker Faire NYC in September. We gave two presentations, one on Lego and Arduino robotics, and another on low-cost pick-and-place machines where we announced our Kicad-to-TM240A converter program.

We supported open source software, like Kicad!

We often write patches for bugs we find in the software we use. We have a one or two line patch in Jenkins, for example. We don’t really keep track of those.

However, in 2014, there were some changes to the Kicad leadership, and we’ve been much more involved since then. We have been spending *lots of hours* since September working on getting usable Mac builds coming out of a continuous integration server. There is a Kicad dev team priority of an official “stable” release on Windows, OS X, and Linux. We’ve got team buy-in on a real feature freeze before stable release–it’s going to be slick, folks! Combined with the amazing work that CERN is doing, like the push-and-shove router, OpenGL acceleration, and the upcoming RF improvements, we are extremely excited to see what Kicad looks like at the end of 2015!

Some of the stuff we did is completely behind the scenes, for example:

We redid all our internal infrastructure.

We completely revamped almost all of our internal infrastructure. This doesn’t mean a lot to you, but we have an easier time getting the right stuff done that we need to in order to be successful. Our revamp also dramatically increases our disaster recoverability. After we did this, we had a 1TB SSD containing ten virtual machines completely die without warning, and we were back up and running within an hour or two! (With no website interruption, I might add!)

This was by no means a complete list of our work this year, just the highlights.

Quick ones:

  • Adam wrote two chapters for an upcoming book, “Maker Pro”: an interview with Emile Petrone of Tindie, and an essay about the Blinky Grid and Blinky POV retail launch.
  • We taught a weeklong class at Leonardo’s Basement to teenagers on Minecraft and digital logic. We built things in Minecraft with Redstone, and in real life with breadboards, LEDs and switches, and 7400 logic chips.
  • We taught a half-day class on working with EL wire at Leonardo’s Basement.
  • Adam went to PyCon for the first time, and started a “Python + Embedded” room.
  • We’re on an advisory board for an unannounced project that you’ll definitely hear about in 2015!

What’s coming up?

We don’t like to announce our stuff too far ahead of time, but we’re far enough along in some projects that we’ll let them slip out here:

  • New Bricktronics hardware and software
    We did a lot of Bricktronics work this year. We have new Bricktronics (our LEGO Mindstorms + Arduino line) products ready to be released. They’re waiting on the other cool Bricktronics thing we did this year, which was to revamp the software support and make it even more beginner friendly, while opening up some more options for more advanced programmers. This new software support relies on some features of the Arduino IDE which are not available in the official builds, but is coming soon.
  • A stable, usable OS X Kicad release
  • More products, and a new product line
    We’re excited to get back to our roots with new products!
  • More museum exhibits
  • A new website
  • A new shipping backend
    This is probably boring to you, but it means means more accurate (cheaper) shipping, order status notifications, and your order will go from ordered to shipped even faster!

That’s about all–I have a brand-new Othermill to play with when I’m done with this post.

Happy hacking, folks!

Oct 27 14

“Run After Tests” Plugin for IntelliJ IDEs

by Wayne

blink(1) is an open source hardware USB RGB LED indicator by ThingM. I wrote a plugin “Run After Tests” for IntelliJ-based IDEs like PyCharm and CLion so it can display the status of your tests as different colors.

blink(1), an open source hardware USB RGB LED indicator

blink(1), an open source hardware USB RGB LED

The blink(1) has a variety of control mechanisms, including a command-line tool, blink1-tool. It’s as open source as things come, really, and it’s by Mike Kuniavsky and Tod E. Kurt. I’ve talked with Tod a few times–we were stationed in the Maker Shed next to each other at a few Bay Area Maker Faires, so when I saw a tweet where someone got blink(1) working with a Ruby IDE to indicate test status, I decided to extend the blink(1) ecosystem and write a plugin for my favorite IDEs.

While I still write a lot of code in vim, if I’m not in vim, I’m in PyCharm or CLion. PyCharm and CLion are tools by JetBrains, and are based upon the IntelliJ IDE. IntelliJ is written in Java, something I don’t particularly enjoy working with, but it’s a testament to how great PyCharm and CLion are that they don’t trigger my Java allergy.

Today, I spent a little more than an hour, opened some docs, and wrote an IntelliJ plugin “Run After Tests” for automatically running arbitrary commands after a test suite completes, with one configuration for when all the tests pass, and a second configuration for one when some of the tests fail. It seems to work for me.

I can see this being used a few different ways–including with blink1-tool so I can see the status of my tests at a glance!

I have posted the project and a binary release, and I’d appreciate some feedback. I would like to submit it to the JetBrains Plugin Repository, but I want to make sure the tool works for other folks first.

After writing the plugin and testing it, I purchased two blink(1)s. As soon as they arrive, I’ll update the post with the two commands you’ll need to get this working with a blink(1).

Sep 21 14

Kicad converter for TM-240A Pick-and-Place machines

by Layne

tm240a

In the summer of 2014, Wayne and Layne purchased a Pick-and-Place machine, specifically the Neoden TM-240A. After doing a few small prototype production runs, we decided to create a presentation at the 2014 World Maker Faire in NYC, to share the tips and tricks we’ve learned about working with this PnP machine, as well as an honest analysis of its capabilities, strengths, and limitations. You can also download our slides (PDF). The PDF slides don’t include the embedded video, but that video has been posted to YouTube.

The Pick-and-Place machine needs to know where to place each part, and we have created some software to help convert the PCB design data from our favorite ECAD tool, KiCad, into the proper file format needed for these PnP machines. The documentation for this software is below. We hope that it’s useful for your needs.


tm2x0

tm2x0 is a Python package for working with Neoden TM220A and TM240A pick and place machines.

It currently has a script for generating a .CSV input file for the PnP from a KiCad .pos file, using an interactive command-line menu.

It was developed by Adam Wolf and Matthew Beckler of Wayne and Layne, LLC, with no affiliation with Neoden other than we own one of their machines.

Installation

tm2x0 is a Python module. You should be able to install it through pip or however you normally install Python modules.

Let us know if you have problems.

read more…

Jan 15 14

Nice review of Blinky POV from BigMessO’Wires

by Layne

Steve over at Big Mess O’ Wires wrote up a nice review of our Blinky POV kit. A few excerpts are below, you can read the whole thing at the Big Mess O’ Wires blog post.

My oldest daughter Alice has an occasional interest in electronics, and as her dad I try to encourage her without becoming too annoying. We’ve done some past projects like Snap Circuits experiments, building a Drawdio pen, and constructing an animated Halloween LED display. Recently we had a chance to build a Blinky POV from Wayne and Lane. Or more accurately I should say she had a chance to build it, since my role was limited to talking her through the steps and taking photos. It’s impressive what an 11-year-old can do with a soldering iron!

The main reason I selected Wayne and Lane’s Blinky POV instead of another similar one was the novel method used to program it. Instead of a PIC programmer, a serial connection, or some other conventional interface, it uses a pair of photo sensors to program new messages using flashes of light. Go to the Blinky Programmer web page, design some pixel or text-based messages, and click “go”. A clever bit of javascript flashes two squares on the screen, and when the Blinky POV is held near these flashing squares, it reprograms the stored messages in about 30-60 seconds. In our experience this method was very reliable, and much less hassle than dealing with virtual serial ports or other wired interfaces. And it actually made programming fun – like magic! The web page interface is surprisingly versatile, too. You can design pixel art or text messages, adjust the scrolling speed, switch between multiple stored messages, and define what should happen at the end of each message.

Reprogramming using photo sensors

This is starting to sound like a Wayne and Lane commercial, so I should probably add that I have no affiliation with them other than being a satisfied customer. If there’s a young builder in your life who might enjoy a simple but fun-filled electronics project, give Blinky POV a try.

Read more: http://www.bigmessowires.com/2014/01/12/building-the-blinky-pov/

Jan 12 14

Bricktronics Breakout Board review by Xander at Bot Bench

by Layne

Xander at Bot Bench wrote up a nice review of our Bricktronics Breakout Boards:

These adapters would definitely be indispensable if you’re planning to do any kind of tinkering with your Arduino and whatever NXT peripherals you had in mind.

I had a lot of fun putting them together and they plugged into the breadboard very easily and sat very snugly afterwards. They’re very reasonably priced at just $4 a piece. They come with the required 82K Ohm resistor, which you will need for the pull-up.

Read more: http://botbench.com/blog/2014/01/12/bricktronics-breakout-board/

Jun 11 13

Nice review of Blinky POV SMT kit by MobileWill

by Layne

MobileWill posted a great review of our Blinky POV SMT kit!

mobilewill_pov_1

The Blinky POV SMT is similar to the Blinky GRID but it only has one row of LEDs. By waving the Blinky in the air you can see the design/text due to the effect of persistence of vision. This happens because your retina sees the image slightly longer than it is being displayed. Read more about persistence of vision.

Last Thursday I came home and there it was, waiting for me to rip it open! Since I was leaving for a weekend trip, I decided I would assemble it that night so I could show it off. So at 10:30pm I got started.

mobilewill_pov_2

Read more: MobileWill: Blinky POV SMT

May 18 13

New Bricktronics Updates!

by Layne

Today at the Bay Area Maker Faire, we are announcing a couple of cool new projects we’ve been working on with the Bricktronics Kits.

bricktronics_logo
1. Bricktronics Megashield – Build robots and contraptions! Experiment with mechatronics using Arduino and LEGO Mindstorms NXT! Our latest kit, the Bricktronics Megashield, to connect up to and to an Arduino Mega. Works with the standard LEGO NXT motors and the touch, ultrasonic, and color sensors. Uses the same easy-to-use software interface as the original Bricktronics Shield, but supports more motors and supports all types of sensors on all ports.

finished_600w

The Megashield is available for purchase at the Maker Faire this weekend, and is now available for purchase from the Wayne and Layne store!



ThorLEGOSuperHeroesMinifigurec
2. Project codename “Trifrost” – We created a small python web framework for connecting local serial devices (such as an Arduino) to Linux computers (such as the RaspberryPi and the BeagleBone) to get real-time web dashboards and interactivity. This is still a work in progress, and we have tons of ideas for extending and enhancing it, so stay tuned.



Raspi-PGB001-300x267
3. Bricktronics + RaspberryPi = Awesome! – The Raspberry Pi and other low-cost embedded Linux single-board computers are all the rage these days! We combined an Arduino with Shields, and connected them to a RasberryPi, to create a high-power interactive robotics platform. Using a WiFi adapter and a tablet computer, you can use the touchscreen to wirelessly interact with the motors and sensors.



raspi_bricktronics_demo_board_600w

We also created a mobile robot platform, using a LEGO tank platform, an Arduino with Bricktronics Shield, and a Raspberry Pi. Again using the WiFi network connection and a tablet, you can wirelessly drive the tank and read the sensor values.

raspi_tank_1_600w

Once we get more hardware information about the upcoming LEGO Mindstorms EV, we’ll be working on a single-board solution for bringing the power of embedded Linux to LEGO Mindstorms electronics.

For more information about any of these cool projects, subscribe to our RSS feed, or check back in the future for more info.

Note: Wayne and Layne, LLC and our products are not connected to or endorsed by the LEGO Group. LEGO, Mindstorms, and NXT are trademarks of the LEGO Group.

Apr 2 13

Script to query Gerber file outer dimensions

by Layne

At Wayne & Layne, we design a lot of circuit boards. During the request-for-quote (RFQ) process for getting a PCB fabricated, the outside dimensions of the PCB are an important driver of the overall per-unit price. As part of the W&L “prepare PCB for RFQ” process, we have a little script that uses the PCB’s board outline Gerber file to determine the dimensions of the PCB’s bounding box.

Pass in the filename of the PCB “board outline” Gerber file, and it will print out the dimensions in both the original units (decimills for Gerbers exported from Kicad) as well as inches (again, assuming decimills). It does this by analyzing all the lines of the gerber file, and determining the minimum and maximum in both x and y directions. The script is based on a little chunk of code written by @laen on Twitter (who makes no claim to the code, and also runs the most excellent OSH Park PCB service). We’re releasing this script into the Public Domain, use it however you like.

#!/usr/bin/env python
# Gerber query script
# Usage: ./gerber_query.py board_edges.gbr
# Written by Matthew Beckler for Wayne and Layne, LLC
# Based on a script from @laen
# Released into the Public Domain. Have fun
 
def main():
    import sys
    if len(sys.argv) < 2:
        print "Usage: %s gerberfile" % sys.argv[0]
        sys.exit()
 
    import re
    filename = sys.argv[1]
    xmin = None
    xmax = None
    ymin = None
    ymax = None
    with open(filename, 'r') as fid:
        for line in fid:
            results = re.search("^X(\d+)Y([\d-]+)", line)
            if results:
                x = int(results.group(1))
                y = int(results.group(2))
                if not xmin or x < xmin:
                    xmin = x
                if not ymin or y < ymin:
                    ymin = y
                if not xmax or x > xmax:
                    xmax = x
                if not ymax or y > ymax:
                    ymax = y
    print "Board dimensions:"
    w = xmax - xmin
    h = ymax - ymin
    print " ", (w, h), "original units"
    print "  (%.4f, %.4f) inches" % (w / 10000.0, h / 10000.0)
    print "  (%.4f, %.4f) mm" % (w / 10000.0*25.4 , h / 10000.0*25.4)
 
 
if __name__ == "__main__":
    main()
Feb 27 13

Kicad Tutorial: Gerber file generation

by Layne

This is part of a series of short tutorials on advanced topics of using Kicad, the favorite schematic/PCB design software here at Wayne and Layne.

Once you’ve finished working on your PCB and are ready to send it off for fabrication, one step remains: “Plotting” the PCB design to Gerber files. The Gerber file format is a very old format with its roots in the 1960s, and is used to completely describe a single layer of a PCB design. You need to generate one gerber file per layer of your PCB design (Copper, SolderMask, and SilkScreen, for both the top and bottom sides, plus the PCB Edges layer). The information about where the holes are drilled, and what size the hole should be, are stored in a separate file with a different format, called the Excellon format, named after the market leader in CNC drilling machines during the 1980s.

To generate the gerber and drill files for production, click on the Plot toolbar button in PCBNEW. It is located in the top toolbar and looks like a printer with a “P” overlaid. This brings up the plot dialog box. (Click to enlarge image.)

gerbers_01_plot

Here, ensure that the “Plot format” is “Gerber”. Leave the “Output directory” field blank, and it will default to saving the files into the project directory. Make sure you check all the layers you want to send to production. If you didn’t use back-side silkscreen, or don’t want to use any back-side silkscreen (some places charge extra for that), you can un-check the B.SilkS layer. The other checkmark boxes are the defaults, but ensure that “Exclude PCB edge layer from other layers” and “Use proper filename extensions” are checked. Press “Plot” to generate the files, one per layer. You will see output in the “Messages:” box at the bottom. When that is finished, click “Generate Drill File” to bring up the next dialog box. (Click to enlarge image.)

gerbers_02_drill

Again, leave the “Output directory” text field empty. The settings here are very important, especially the Drill Units (Inches), Zeros Format (Suppress leading zeros), and Options (Minimal header). You absolutely must check “Minimal header” and un-check “Mirror Y-Axis”. Since we aren’t making a drill map, the “Drill Map File Format” option doesn’t matter. Click the “Drill File” button to generate the drill file. Then press “Close” and “Close”.

Now you can zip up the generated gerber/drill files and send them off for fabrication. At Wayne and Layne, we really like the prototype PCB fabrication services from OSH Park. They describe themselves as

This is a community printed circuit board (PCB) order. We take designs from lots of people, put them all together on a panel and then order the panel from a fab. Since we’re all splitting the panel setup cost, this lets us make circuit boards inexpensively.

This service grew out of the DorkbotPDX PCB Order run by @laen and now comprises of a two-layer panel every other day, a four-layer panel every three weeks and a periodic two-layer medium run service for people needing more than 150 square inches of board.

They have very inexpensive rates, decent production time, and very high-quality output. Plus, the gold and purple boards just look very nice! Here are the details about pricing and design rules (minimum clearance and trace width, minimum hole size, etc).


Other tutorials in this series:

Feb 27 13

Kicad Tutorial: Using the autorouter

by Layne

This is part of a series of short tutorials on advanced topics of using Kicad, the favorite schematic/PCB design software here at Wayne and Layne.

Routing, the process of connecting all the pads of a printed circuit board (PCB) layout, can be a time-consuming and tedious process. To avoid the time and frustration of manually routing your PCB, there are various software tools called autorouters which can do this for you. This post will show you how to use the external autorouter from the FreeRouting website.

First, ensure that you have selected the proper trace thickness and clearance values in Kicad’s PCBNEW application, by going to “Design Rules”->”Design Rules”. Once you have confirmed the design rule settings, press the “traffic sign” icon in the top toolbar to bring up the FreeRoute interface.

autorouter_01_button

The three buttons on the left will let us export the DSN file that is input to the autorouter, launch the autorouter application, and finally import the SES file that was exported from the autorouter. To start with, press the top button on the left, “Export a Specctra Design (*.dsn) File”. This will open up a file save dialog box, and you can just accept the filename as the default filename is correct.

autorouter_02_export_dsn

Now, click the second button to launch the autorouter. This utilizes the Java Network Launching Protocol (JNLP), which downloads a small XML file that is used by your Java system to download the rest of the autorouter. You may see a browser window open up briefly when the JNLP file is downloaded. Chrome gives a warning about the file type, you can press “keep” to retain the file for use. Your browser might do the Right Thing with the .jnlp file, and open it with Java. If not, you can probably double-click the downloaded freeroute.jnlp file to launch it, or on Linux you can type “javaws freeroute.jnlp”. When the Freerouter window opens up, click “Open Your Own Design”.

autorouter_03_load_own_design

Due to the Java security restrictions, unsigned applets downloaded from the web are not trusted very much, so you have to give it permission to read files on your machine. For whatever reason, on my computer it won’t let me check “Always allow this action”, so it asks me every time.

autorouter_04_read_warning

Click “Allow” and then navigate to select the .dsn file you exported from PCBNEW earlier. Click on “Open” and it will load your design.

autorouter_05_select_dsn

When your design has finished loading (which may take a minute or two) all you need to do is to click the “Autorouter” button, then sit back and watch the magic happen. The autorouter will do an initial route, then go through a series of optimization steps to try and reduce the number of vias used, as well as trying to reduce the total trace length.

autorouter_06_autoroute

You can wait for the optimization steps to finish, or you can click once in the board area to interrupt the optimization if you are in a hurry, or the results are already good enough.

autorouter_07_done_routing

When you are satisfied with the routing, use the “File”->”Export Specctra Session File” menu option to save the routing results to the .ses file. You will likely get another security warning, click “Allow” to continue. Navigate the file system to where you found the .dsn file, and save as the same filename but with a .ses extension.

autorouter_08_save_ses

In PCBNEW, select the third and final button on the left. It will open a file select dialog box, and it should already have selected the .ses file you just exported from the autorouter. Accept the filename and Kicad will load the file into your design. It will ask if you want to reload the board connectivity. I’m not exactly sure what this means, but I always click “Yes”.

As a side note, some people dislike autorouters, considering their own manually-routed designs to be superior, and there’s some truth to that feeling. Sometimes the autorouter makes silly decisions, sometimes I can spot ways to route things different and save a via or two, but generally I prefer to let the autorouter have a go at it, then clean up the results.


Other tutorials in this series: