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Project: bead printer Answered

Hey everyone!
My name is Michael and I have a project I'm working on: a fuse beads automatic "printer".
After I got my mechanical eng. degree I was looking for a project to prove to myself it was worth it. I guess being a maker was my secret ambition, and I felt I needed some project to be proud of. 
While babysitting my little cousins and doing some works with Perler beads, I thought to myself: hey! this is cool- I should try making something bigger! and so, as my works grew larger, I began to wonder- can I make it automatic?
What are fuse beads?
These are small beads made from plastic that come in various colors, and can melt under a regular home iron. Its a kids toy- you place a pattern on a mat, iron it- and get cool results. google it!
What is it supposed to do? 
The idea is simple: place individual beads of various colors on a mat full of small spikes according to a pattern. sounds simple, doesn't it?
I think its good to first look at a 2 color (black-white) simple scheme and try to print it on a small part of the board. Once the mechanical part is finished, the real programming will start.
Some numbers: 
The beads are about 5[mm] in diameter and in height. A typical board is 30X30 spikes. A piece could usually contains 2-10 main colors.
Before you read my concept, I would like to know- how would you try to make this project? I have had this idea in my mind for over a year now, and I'm looking for new ideas.
The concept so far:
As I've mentioned, its been a long journey already. I am far from having a working prototype and am open to suggestions.
The "printer" I designed is similar to a CNC machine: a tube has 15 beads in it. The tube is moved above the board, placing the beads. Refill will be done manually since I wish to prove the mechanics first.
I made the printer with Lego and an NXT controller and engines, simply because I had it at home.
I tried making a 2 axis motion using a rack and gear (with transmission), moving a tube with beads in it. To my dread, the beads do not like falling off when placed on top of one another (in the tube), so I used a third engine, converting the rotary motion into linear one, applying a small force over the tube to prevent the beads from falling, moving them to the next position, than letting go.
I discovered the engines are not as accurate as I would have wanted, and the results are meh.
I will add some pictures at a later time as I need to re-assemble it.
Thanks a lot for reading, and I hope we can make this dream come true- lets have some fun!


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4 years ago

You should look into pick and place machines used in electronic circuit board manufacturing. They have preloaded cassettes of small parts that are accurately selected and positioned at a high speed. A lot of it probably depends on computer vision but you could probably work with mechanical sensors. Good luck.