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E-TKT: anachronic label maker

E-TKT is a DIY label maker that mixes both old fashioned and contemporary technology to create something as simple as... Labels!

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The initial spark for this project came from an ordinary manual labeling device that I bought to organize my workshop. I was VERY UPSET when I noticed that it was basically rubbish, getting broken and unusable after just a few operations.

I knew I could easily buy a brand new modern electronic thermal label printer (such as Brother), but something about the vintage embossed finish fascinated me. Also, these new models use expensive proprietary cartridges that create a lot of trash after use.

After all, even though the pressing mechanism was poorly made, the characters' carousel was pretty sturdy and sharp. So I thought: can I build over its principles to create a functional device? If so, then why not make it physical-digital?

teaser_4

E-TKT: anachronic label maker

Andrei Speridião 2022 - http://andrei.cc

🙃 what is it?

étiquette f (plural étiquettes)

"ticket, memorandum, attach, stick, pierce, sting, to be sharp, goad, puncture, attach, nail"
  1. tag, label
  2. prescribed behavior

E-TKT is a DIY label maker that mixes both old fashioned and contemporary technology to create something as simple as... Labels!

🤔 why?

TLDR: curiosity, technical challenge and of course organizing stuff.

motex3

The initial spark for this project came from an ordinary manual labeling device that I bought to organize my workshop. I was VERY UPSET when I noticed that it was basically rubbish, getting broken and unusable after just a few operations. This little plastic hook (circled in red) grabs a gated cog (the white plastic part below) to feed the tape forward. I tried to fix and reinforce it, but the failure was unavoidable because there seems to be a critical flaw in the project: it is too weak for the lateral resistance imposed.

low_DSC8695 copy annotated

I knew I could easily buy a brand new modern electronic thermal label printer (such as Brother), but something about the vintage embossed finish fascinated me. Also, these new models use expensive proprietary cartridges that create a lot of trash after use.

After all, even though the pressing mechanism was poorly made, the characters' carousel was pretty sturdy and sharp. So I thought: can I build over its principles to create a functional device? If so, then why not make it physical-digital?

...why bother mixing an archaic printing method with current automation and connectivity features? Because why not? It was a technological blind spot to be explored!

...anachronism 🤓

I've later realized that it was what I’ve been attracted to. According to Wikipedia:

“An anachronism (from the Greek ἀνά ana, 'against' and χρόνος khronos, 'time') is a chronological inconsistency in some arrangements, especially a juxtaposition of people, events, objects, language terms and customs from different time periods”.

The point is: even though the process is digitalized, the resulting label is totally old school and there is no easy way of telling if it wasn't made in the traditional way.

⚙️ how does it work?

how

An ESP32 commands the label production and also serves an on demand web application to any device connected in a local network.

Neither internet is needed, nor installing any app.

The whole process of connecting the E-TKT machine to a local network and then launching the app is aided by a small OLED display that provides instructions and a dynamically generated QR code with the URL, according to the IP attributed by the WLAN.

The web app provides text validation, special characters, a preview of the exact size of the tape, an option to select the desired lateral margins and also real-time feedback during the printing (also present on the device screen). There are also commands for attaching a new reel, manually feeding and cutting the tape.

The label production itself uses the same mechanical principles as the original machine did, but is now automated. A stepper motor feeds the tape while another selects the appropriate character on the carousel according to a home position acquired by hall sensor. Then a servo motor imprints each character by pressing the carousel to the tape. That happens successively until the end of the desired content, when there is a special character position to cut the label. A light blinks to ask for the label to be picked.

💡 features

🌟 highlights

  • No need for internet, app installation, data cables or drivers;
  • Use from any device that is connected to a local network and has a web browser: desktop, tablet, smartphone;...
Read more »

e-tkt_014.stp

Source 3d file with all parts

stp - 10.07 MB - 06/14/2022 at 15:46

Download

I_top.stl

STL for 3D printing

Standard Tesselated Geometry - 14.39 MB - 06/14/2022 at 15:46

Download

O_carousel_coupling_2.stl

STL for 3D printing

Standard Tesselated Geometry - 764.83 kB - 06/14/2022 at 15:46

Download

L_caroulsel_cube.stl

STL for 3D printing

Standard Tesselated Geometry - 2.98 MB - 06/14/2022 at 15:46

Download

K_top_tapefeeder.stl

STL for 3D printing

Standard Tesselated Geometry - 5.56 MB - 06/14/2022 at 15:46

Download

View all 18 files

  • 200 × 3D print filament - PETG (~200g used)
  • 17 × screw - M3x20mm
  • 3 × screw - M3x18mm
  • 2 × screw - M3x16mm
  • 6 × screw - M3x8mm

View all 40 components

  • PCB version 0.9 - July, 2022

    Andrei Speridião07/22/2022 at 18:26 0 comments

    First of all, I'd like to start by saying a big thank you to Wesley Lee, an inspiring old friend of mine that gave me a lot of tips, suggestions and lessons about PCB design.


    Among several improvements, these were the major changes for this 0.9 version that already went into production:

    • Bucket 6V regulator: Wes suggested using it instead of a linear regulator (big drop from 12V to 6V), and why not? I've ended up learning a little bit about EMI;
    • Latch power switch: Wes also suggested that by sending me this reference from Dave's EEV Blog. Initially I was looking to use a MOSFET + small slide switch, but being able to use the same tact button as the other commands for that was a nice idea.
    • Visual identity: in a serendipitous coincidence I've found the superposition of routing tracks+ vias + the real scale "E-TKT" logo a great sum of what "anachronical" is. And this is all about a designer doing a PCB: I bent a little bit the best routes just for making it conceptual. We'll need to see the readability between the solder mask + FR4 + ENIG, but I think it will be alright. Also, I've done custom graphics for the commands, inspired by teenage engineering (I'll get there one day...).
    • Improved edge cuts: thanks again to Wes, now with proper achievable fillets and mouse bites;
    • Buzzer: because why not? Maybe simple quick tones as feedbacks;
    • Hierarchical sheets: not exactly on the PCB itself, but I've loved organizing the subsystems in modules, easing its reutilization.

    As soon as I receive the boards, I'll post here.

  • Working on PCB - July, 2022

    Andrei Speridião07/13/2022 at 21:00 0 comments

    After many years, I'm finally giving a try at designing a PCB by myself. For that, in the past weeks I have tried different software but KiCad 6 was the best in my opinion.

    So, below a few features I've been tinkering with:

    • USB C: many suggested and I found that is a good idea to use that connector, even if it is using only USB 2.0.
    • Fixed 12v power input: a power supply easier to find.
    • 6v and 3v3 power rails, as in the first prototype.
    • FTDI for serial communication.
    • ESP32D: I've pondered a lot about using the new ESP32-S3, but it is not so easy to find it around (including the devkit). In the future, it could be a good idea to experiment with it, being then able to remove the FTDI as it has embedded USB communication and many other perks that could be useful for automation, speech recognition, etc.
    • Auto boot & reset buttons, as in devkit modules.
    • Wi-fi reset button, adjacent to the above.
    • A4988 module (or maybe a DRV8825 for 1/32 micro stepping?), with output pins aligned to the NEMA motor input.
    • ULN2003 is now fully embedded. Also with its 5 output pins aligned to the motor.
    • Hall sensor, now with headers to directly plug the Keyes ky-003 breakout: 3d printed support is not needed anymore.
    • lots of LEDs to see things happening around: I love blinking stuff, lots of fun!
    • not related to the PCB itself, but projected a new top part to receive a bigger OLED display, with 128x64px (instead of 32px height) in order to ease the QR code reading.

    ...And of course, the board edge cuts, dimensions and mounting holes have been thought to improve the machine structural rigidity. Also, as I pointed above, all the I/O pin headers do respect the external physical components' position, aligned to ease cable management.

    Things yet to be defined:

    • Whether to handle USB power while connected to 12v: would be useful for using the machine while connected to a pc via serial, but other than that, not much — as in the prototype, right now there is a jumper to connect the 12v rail;
    • Using a switch for master on/off: I like the idea, but didn't find any switch that was nice and at the same time capable of handling the power. Them all seemed too bulky.

    That's it, I hope to have more updates soon! If you are curious or have any suggestions, there is a branch called "manufactured-pcb" on the GitHub repository ;)

  • Optimization, Extras and Documentation - May, 2022

    Andrei Speridião06/14/2022 at 15:55 0 comments

    • Implemented special symbols.
    • Few printing optimizations.
    • Documentation with texts, schemes, photos and video.

    🔤 label printing improvements along the way

    low_DSC8701 copy 2

    🤸 all the 3d printed iterations so far

    low_DSC8689 copy

  • Consistency and Usability - September-October, 2021

    Andrei Speridião06/14/2022 at 15:54 0 comments

    • More compact device, with smaller stepper motor for the carousel.
    • Tested using NFC to open web app on smartphone, failed (security standards?).
    • OLED display to help on configuration and feedback.
    • QR code as an alternative to quickly open web app.
    • Improvements on web app usability and visuals.


  • Printing Proof - March-June, 2021

    Andrei Speridião06/14/2022 at 15:53 0 comments

    • Stronger MG-996R servo resulted on successful tag printing.
    • Hall sensor for homing with precision.
    • Carousel direction on clockwise only to avoid tape screwing.
    • Migration for the ESP32.
    • Dual core tasks: one serves the network/app and the other controls all physical operations.

  • Improving Communication - March, 2021

    Andrei Speridião06/14/2022 at 15:51 0 comments

    Experiments using ESP8266 with self served app + receiving commands, still isolated from the main functionality.

    • Wi-fi manager.
    • First sketches for the web app user interface.

  • First Experiments - March, 2021

    Andrei Speridião06/14/2022 at 15:50 0 comments

    • Using Arduino mega, communication via serial.
    • Carousel homing with infrared sensor + one missing “teeth” led to inconsistent results and misalignment.
    • Testing with SG-90 servo, but it was too weak to press the tape.

View all 7 project logs

  • 1
    Overview
    This project has three pillars:
    • Code
    • Electronics
    • 3D printing
  • 2
    Code
    1. Clone the repository: https://github.com/andreisperid/E-TKT
    2. Make sure you have all the libraries installed on your computer (I've used platformio)
    3. Flash the code into the ESP32
    4. Upload the files ("data" folder) to the ESP32 using SPIFFS
  • 3
    Electronics

    One of the next steps is to create a PCB, but for now the scheme below can be used to create one using into a perforated prototyping board:

    Schematic_e-tkt_2022-05-30

    Power

    • 7-12v to be provided by an external power supply with at least 35w to deal with servo peaks current while pressing the label. It supplies the stepper drivers directly.
    • 6v out of the L7806 step down and is provided for both the servo and hall sensor.
    • 3.3v is provided by the ESP32 WROOM board (as in its logical ports).

    Logic Level

    • As the ESP32 uses 3.3v logic, we need this conversion for parts that are running on higher voltage (servo and hall sensor).

    Press

    • The servo uses 6v, higher voltages tend to damage it.

    Carousel

    • NEMA stepper, driver and a hall sensor to match the position origin.

    Wi-fi reset

    • A tact button that when pressed while booting, clears the saved credentials.

    Feeder

    • Reduced stepper motor along with its standard driver.

    User interface

    • Running on 3.3v an I²C OLED display and two LEDs (no need for resistors).

View all 4 instructions

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Discussions

DalChrome wrote 07/21/2022 at 15:50 point

Have you see the vwestlife video on these? He has a model with a changeable both disk which could be interesting for you. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3w95K0FOIo4

  Are you sure? yes | no

Andrei Speridião wrote 07/21/2022 at 17:01 point

Hello! Haven't seen that video yet, even though apart from the red label maker, I already knew the other two the author reviewed.

I'm planning to make the disks interchangeable, I think it will not be a big challenge.

PS: the "wooden" tape caught my attention, really cool vintage looking, 70s vibes.

Thank you for the tip!

  Are you sure? yes | no

petter.olofsson wrote 07/10/2022 at 13:22 point

Hi! Very cool, and I just bought a dymo omega for this purpose.. but thinking again and looking around, I have not seen what specific label maker you used? Did I miss it?

  Are you sure? yes | no

petter.olofsson wrote 07/10/2022 at 13:25 point

Also I would like to modify the setup a bit and integrate it into my home assistant, kind of the same idea with a local network web interface but a bit simpler. And I don't need another page open ;)

  Are you sure? yes | no

petter.olofsson wrote 07/10/2022 at 14:03 point

Right, found it now, a Motex E101. Would you recommend I just order one of those instead? 

The plan was to have a manual one also just in case, and for portability.

Also seems like the dymo I have might be called Xpress instead of omega online

  Are you sure? yes | no

Andrei Speridião wrote 07/10/2022 at 21:10 point

Hi Petter, thank you!

About the label maker model, yes, it seems this MOTEX is the exact model and I highly recommend you to use the same since the machine was projected with it in mind. It is sold with other names like CIDY, etc. Actually, if you take a look at the BOM, you'll see the disks are sold separately, so you can go straightforward to it.

About the home assistant, go on! Nice idea, and it will work because the E-TKT belongs to a WLAN. Whatever app can access it, can send instructions through a GET command.

PS: at the moment I'm working on a PCB for the machine ;)

  Are you sure? yes | no

petter.olofsson wrote 07/10/2022 at 21:59 point

Oh, i only needed the disk? And here I was so sure you would have used the tape feed as well.. my plan was to do any modifications needed with your project as a base, and the tape feed on the dymo was rather fiddly so I figured I'd need to keep it. But also it would damage the tape sometimes! I have ordered a Motex now anyway so it'll be interesting to see how it compares. Nice to be able to use your design as is!

I was thinking I'd add mqtt but GET should also work.. but then I do like the auto setup with mqtt devices in home assistant.. we'll see. Not sure how common iot label makers is yet.

Thanks for your time and the effort you put into documenting this, beautifully done

And a PCB would be great! Would you be willing to sell one?

  Are you sure? yes | no

petter.olofsson wrote 07/13/2022 at 12:45 point

BTW, with regards to the home automation and UI part of things, have you or anybody else heard of any voice assistant enabled label maker support? 

Would likely drive anyone insane misheard/misinterprated labels being made, but would be cool to explore if useful (and otherwise also a fun partytrick)

Should be fairly straightforward to implement with reagrds to the printer inferface, but i'm not to sure about what support there is among voice assistants to call custom functions and supply them with a custom string as input?

  Are you sure? yes | no

Andrei Speridião wrote 07/13/2022 at 21:37 point

Hi Petter! About the PCB, I don't know yet, just sketching it for now, I might need to study on how to sell it worldwide, but that's a nice idea! FYI I've just made a new log update with the PCB progress so far, if you might want to check it out.

About the home automation, I never heard of any kind of implementation of voice assistant to that specific need, but I think that having a spelled + visual (OLED display) confirmation before printing might solve this misprinting issue you've pointed out. Anyways, I've noticed that the wrong labels are the funniest :P Bug or feature?

This idea to explore voice assistants is something that interests me but a bit further into the future. An ESP32-S3 might be another way for solving this locally, since it has speech recognition capabilities. I didn't delve deeply though, might not be enough for that specific spelling need.

  Are you sure? yes | no

JP Gleyzes wrote 07/08/2022 at 20:07 point

I love this project !!!

It's a brilliant design very compact. Congrats

Would be cool to have it work without internet. As you have the ESP32 which Bluetooth Low energy compliant, you could write an android App to speak to your stuff directly. 

Could be quite straigthforward to do it

  Are you sure? yes | no

Andrei Speridião wrote 07/09/2022 at 19:20 point

Hey, thank you! It already works without internet :)
You just need a wireless local network, the "web app" is provided by the ESP32 itself.

  Are you sure? yes | no

K5BBoing wrote 06/30/2022 at 16:16 point

Brilliant Work I came here from Maker Update. ...Perfect Project

  Are you sure? yes | no

Andrei Speridião wrote 07/08/2022 at 20:02 point

Thank you very much :)

  Are you sure? yes | no

David Knochenhauer wrote 06/16/2022 at 08:49 point

What an awesome project! I love these old school labels and own a cheap version of it as well. I think I will do a build.

A few ideas to improve that thing further:

1. Wouldn‘t it be fantastic to have custom pressing discs? Maybe they can be done using resin 3D printing.

1b. If that disc has only elements of a 14-segment display, every character can be printed.

1c. Additional there could be simple dots in a column (8-12) to print simple icons

2. Maybe you can save some costs and room if the servo is replaced by a geared dc motor with a cam (one whole revolution per press)

3. I can assist in doing a custom PCB, if you like. Just drop me a PM

  Are you sure? yes | no

Andrei Speridião wrote 06/16/2022 at 14:12 point

Hi David, I'm glad that you liked it! Sure, give it a try! In case you need spare carousels: https://aliexpress.com/item/1005003984936889.html

And thank you very much for the ideas!

1.a Amazing, didn't think about it! I've been more of a FDM 3d printing guy until now. Do you know if is there any hard resin that wouldn't wear easily against the tape and the press, while keeping the flexibility? I guess the print precision might to be good enough... That opens many possibilities such as custom fonts and symbols... Nice!

1.b This could allow for a much smaller disk and thus, device. I've seen you are a fan of miniaturizing stuff, great.

1.c That goes in a direction of an idea that I had at the beginning of the project: making a braile printer. There is a braile tag maker that uses a disk too, but it seems expensive. On the other hand, braile have a matricial principle and I saw this project (https://github.com/carloscamposalcocer/OpenBraille) that uses a rotary mechanical encoder, it is another way for doing it, instead of using a carousel.

2. Nice, once I did a prototype had a geared motor that automatically turned itself off after a complete turn, might be a good try.

3. Cool, I was in fact planning to do a manufactured PCB (which would be my first), lets talk and see how to make it work, I'll PM you ;)

  Are you sure? yes | no

Richard Hogben wrote 06/14/2022 at 17:54 point

That top plate looks so cool.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Andrei Speridião wrote 06/14/2022 at 18:11 point

Thank you Richard! For that, I've used Cura with "Bottom Pattern Initial Layer" set to "Concentric". It somehow gives a "vinyl record" anisotropic appearance, doesn't it?

  Are you sure? yes | no

Richard Hogben wrote 06/14/2022 at 18:17 point

Yeah for sure it's like 3d printer art.

  Are you sure? yes | no

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