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"
- tag, label
- prescribed behavior
E-TKT is a DIY label maker that mixes both old fashioned and contemporary technology to create something as simple as... Labels!
TLDR: curiosity, technical challenge and of course organizing stuff.
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.
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!
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?
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.
- 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;...