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Finding Parts for Home-Made 'Bots? 20

Peter DeWeese asks: "For beginners in the field of anatomical robots, it is quite hard to find resources and shops from which to obtain small parts to build joints. Customized ball joints and a few other types are all that should be needed, and I am sure that others out there have built such machines from their own basements. Does anyone have any good resources on how to build/obtain small unarticulated mechanical joints that would be suitable? Please keep in mind that beginners often don't have metal lathes and high temperature welding torches."
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Finding Parts for Home-Made 'Bots?

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  • by Aix ( 218662 ) on Tuesday August 13, 2002 @04:12PM (#4064201) Homepage
    I would start out looking at Small Parts [] and McMaster-Carr []. These guys have all kinds of stuff. No flame intended, but there are lots of resources out there on the web for this sort of thing. Use Google [].

  • Check out these (Score:3, Interesting)

    by EMIce ( 30092 ) on Tuesday August 13, 2002 @05:02PM (#4064648) Homepage
    Check out the link below for a few surplus electronic parts distributors. I personally use bgmicro (they are listed at the URL) a lot. They have a great PDF catalog you should check out. It's impossible to afford electrical hobbies on a typical college student income without these surplus shops. Even with their help, expect to drop a few hundred dollars initially. Microcontroller programming kits, motors, IC's, PCB's/Chemicals, test equipment, tools and such really add up.

    Electronics Sources: Surplus []
  • One good starting place to find such parts is the nightstand of any resident females.
  • Matter of degree... (Score:4, Informative)

    by kamandi ( 56201 ) on Tuesday August 13, 2002 @05:09PM (#4064689)
    A lot depends on how durable/rigid/strong you need the parts to be. There are a lot of great parts available from Lego Technics and other building kits that mimic organic joints. But they don't have the power to lift or hold much. If you really need strength then you are stuck with higher priced alternatives.

    I ended up buying a metal lathe and high temp welding gear after years of frustration trying to find/adapt parts. Metal lathes can be had (for very small parts) for around $150, see the Clisby Lathe []. It's easy to spend more than that and you should always count on spending 150% of the price of the machine on tooling for it.

    Casting small parts is also feasible for some solutions, check out the small parts casting info at Micro Mark []. It's conceivable that you could use Lego parts as the model for parts you cast in metal (zinc and aluminum are easy but there are lower temp alternatives.)

    The really cool anatomical robot stuff is being done with Air Muscles [] which can be home brewed with a little ingenuity.

    • Alternative muscles (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Glonoinha ( 587375 )

      Look for the MuscleWires, Shape Memory Alloys, and NanaMuscles. These are all electric based muscles, the wires heat up and contract or expand to short degrees. A good alternative to the AirMuscles (which are cool, no doubt) when you have electricity but no compressed air.

      If you have to compare two systems with a stopwatch, they are the same speed.
  • by netringer ( 319831 ) <> on Tuesday August 13, 2002 @05:16PM (#4064734) Journal

    You could build a B9 robot replica from the "Lost in Space" TV show. The B9 Robot Builders club [] trades information and parts.
  • eBay... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by 216pi ( 461752 )
    This guy [] built some robots [] for this company []. And he told me, that he bought most parts, even the engines for arms etc. from eBay [].
  • with this sort of thing could be a real headache, you know?
  • by stefanlasiewski ( 63134 ) <(slashdot) (at) (> on Tuesday August 13, 2002 @06:48PM (#4065349) Homepage Journal
    American Science and Surplus sells many small parts that could be used in robots. They have a whole "robot part" section.

    They sell surplus equipment of just about every geek persuasion. Beakers to supermagnets to glow in the dark stickers to discounted microscopes from Russia. Periscopes from WWII Sherman Tanks, white coveralls (with a hood and an input for your oxygen tanks), with witty descriptions for every product.

    Great for geeks, great for robots, great for halloween.

    It's probably one of the funnest geek sites out there, check em out at [].
  • Two words... (Score:2, Informative)

    by majorero ( 572108 )
    ...Lego Mindstorms

    Seriously! Why build from anything else? Unless of course you're going to be subjecting it to extreme stresses. If not, well then you get motors, gears, joints, an easily programmed controller, etc. You can add a remote, sensors of various kinds and there are a multitude of homebrew and DIY websites out there.

    Good Luck!
  • by cybermace5 ( 446439 ) <> on Tuesday August 13, 2002 @07:45PM (#4065918) Homepage Journal
    Hey, there's a little mad scientist in you already, if you're trying to build a robot. Why not go all the way and find dead equipment, harvesting them for their parts?

    Sometimes you get an idea of how something's supposed to be, and no other options seem possible. When you're ripping apart an old copier, or cash register, you'll see a lot of ways to get things done. You can adapt what you need to what you have.

    My best sources for parts have been various pieces of office equipment. These are all robots in some way or another, since they fulfill the requirement of a machine doing something that a human would normally do manually. Old scanners and printers are full of gears, motors, toothed belts, pulleys, rollers, shafts, hubs, hinges, etc. Get into a bigger piece of equipment like an old copier, and you'll have a goldmine of parts.

    The best part is, you'll have a hard time paying much for the best pieces of equipment. If you want a tiny stepper motor, for example, you'll be looking for a full-height RLL 20MB hard drive. Also, really old 5-1/4" and 8" floppy drives are great sources of small stepper motors, worm drives, etc.

    Just keep an eye out for old equipment, make some kind of deal with whatever woman controls your life at this time, and build up a stockpile.
    • I built an entire circuit-board assembly line out of old PC's/printers/drives and a Burroughs tape cabinet. Of course the junk I had left over filled a 7-yard container and some of it was pretty funky.
      (Y'know the cool little spritzers that real assembly lines have to coat boards with flux? Mine was a corner-roller from the paint-department of the local hardware store, tilted at 45 degrees so one face dipped into the flux - held in the shell of an old full-height 5.25" hard-drive - and carried it up to the underside of the board passing over it :)
      But yeah, floppy drives and printers (esp. old inkjets) can give you positioning accuracy down to a 1000th of an inch and you'd be amazed how strong the steppers can be in some of those old line printers. Plus most of your interfacing and sensing work's done for you, it's just a matter of getting it to all fit together physically.
      • I have mod points right now and started to mod you up ,but I have to respond instead, because you are my new hero. I mean holy cow I am freaking impressed. You should post a website explaining how you built it, that would beat all the case mod articles all too hell.
        • Hmm, I suppose that is an idea. Only problem is I have no pictures (this was years ago) and it'd be hard to explain it all clearly enough to understand.
          I did run across a tiny piece of it long after I scrapped it though which I saved as a memento.
          It's a gripper made out of an RC servo, and floppy/printer/typewriter parts. It was a design which worked in theory but became unreliable after a few hours of continuous duty and got tossed in a box of junk thereby missing getting pitched with the rest when I moved a few years later.
          Think I should post a picture of it somewhere with a general explanation of the whole project?
    • I was going to say similar comments. The Sci.Electronics.Repair FAQ has a wonderful section on salvaging parts which you could easily look to as inspiration or as just a great resource. Check it out.

      Find it at []
  • Sources I've seen (but not tried) in the UK include Display Electronics [] (who have a "Robot Wars" button on their front page) and Bull Electrical [] who have one of the worst "online shopping" sites I have seen in a long while.

    If any other UK reader has surplus equipment suggestions, please post here. Matt
  • First off, learn to weld, use a torch, and grind steel - I guarantee you will find a use for that someday. Maybe not robotics (depending on the size of your machines), but someday when you have a house, a car, etc - you will thank me.

    See if there is an electronics junk yard in your area. Here in Phoenix, Arizona, we have an excellent one called "Apache Reclamation and Electronics". There is also a place here called "Equipment Exchange" - last time I was there they had a full size Unimate, hydraulic pump, end-effector, and control computer - just waiting for someone. Also, there is a place here called "EMC - Electronic Materials and Computers" that sometimes has good, smaller stuff (but mostly computer parts).

    Learn to scavenge and dumpster dive - great parts just waiting there from old copiers and printers behind office buildings.

    Auto parts suppliers are also great places to find parts - check out salvage yards as well.

    Depending on the area, you might be able to root around in a metal scrap yard, though it can be extremely dangerous - still, some interesting gems can be found in such places, hopefully before they meet the shredder (which is an impressive machine on its own).

    Good luck!

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