Open Actuator System: Maker Muscle

Customizable linear actuators made easy....and cheaper.

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While working on a project that required an specific actuator, I realized the linear actuator market is not very maker friendly when it comes to customization and cost. In trying to find a solution, I decide to make my own instead and came up with a modular actuator system that's lower cost, super customizable and adds a bunch of other benefits to fit the exact needs I have.

I'm calling this project "Maker Muscle" and this is the first public posting of this new invention in which I would like to keep things open and hopefully get some great feedback from the community to make it awesome.

Main Features:
- Fully customizable to almost any Length, Power/Speed, Motor
- Lower cost than any custom actuator you can find.
- T-Slots on all sides for infinite mounting options
- Easy to upgrade or replace parts
- Add only what you need to make your perfect actuator.
- Get features only previously available in super expensive industrial versions.

Maker Muscle is launching on Kickstarter on Thursday, May 18th at 5pm PST

I'm also planning to launch a kickstarter to help get the aluminum produce...even though I jumped the gun and started the process with an aluminum extrusion company anyways (which I'll post pictures as soon as I get some test pieces). This means I'll have the rewards ready super fast if all goes well. Getting these made is not cheap, but I'm so loving this project (plus I'm going to be using a bunch of these Maker Muscle for major projects) I'm just going to go for it. So stay tuned closely to this project to know when the launch date is, which should be before the Maker Faire (May 19th) sometime.

The Story:

Back a few years ago, I built a 3d scanning rig for my 3D printing store in Pasadena (Seen here with Metalnat). The purpose was to offer 3d selfies and then 3d print them (as we did at Hack-A-Day's 10th Anniversary party, room with green windows on right in the timelapse Eventually people kept asking me if they can buy it, and so last year I started working on a more portable (the current one was 2 meters tall, not easy to travel with) and sturdy one to offer on Kickstarter.

In the process of designing it, I came to a part where I wanted a nice looking, smooth and precise actuator to move an arm. After shopping around a lot, I realize that adding an actuator like what I needed was actually going to cost more than the whole rig it self...and I still wouldn't have the specifics I needed.

This gave me the idea to explore what it would take to create an amazing actuator while having it be much cheaper than getting some custom ones made (that were literally quoted above $1200 each!)

When I started, I made a list for myself of the features I wanted in the actuator and integrated them into the design. After some research, 3d printing some body housings shapes, and testing, I came up with the Maker Muscle concept.

I then went to a few friends that are actively working with robotics and got some amazing feedback. The great thing was that they asked me when they can get some Maker Muscles for their own projects... I said "soon my friends..."

....and that's how I got this started.

Details about target feature.

1. Has to be Customizable.

This is my most important goal for this project. Looking around the actuator market, I found that most actuators that can be customized in some way were super expensive (Check pricing at Misumi:

a. Custom Lengths

b. Custom Motor

c. Custom Screw Pitch

2. Modular

Being able to upgrade or change parts on an actuator, without buying a whole new one, I think is a critical feature to have. Modularity would save both time and money in a situation where you have an actuator already installed on something specific, but you just want to swap out the motor or a mounting bracket.

This is where the motor mount plates and attachments will come into play. As of now, you can install everything from steppers motors like NEMA 14, NEMA 17, NEAM 23 to almost any DC motor, with or without gearboxes.

I understand some Makers have a variety of motors they love to work with or maybe some robot contest have rules on the motor types, so with the Maker Muscle, you can turn your favorite motor into an actuator.

3. Must be lower cost.

Creating a standard for mounting and fittings allows for more universal options that would be cheaper to produce. Starting with the main core aluminum extrusion, the features i design into it will allow a huge of cheap options to mount things on to it.

4. Must allow many mounting option with T-Slots.

I love T-Slots. The Bukito 3D printer we designed in 2013 was a great example of how T-slots can be used to reduce parts and also give you the option to tweak or add more things with little effort.

So on the Maker Muscle, I thought that having T-slots on the outside would open up a world of creative...

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Total motor diversity with the Maker Muscle.

JPEG Image - 240.51 kB - 05/03/2017 at 01:25

Preview Download

Quick tests of motion and some electronics with bluetooth of my first prototype Maker Muscle actuator.

quicktime - 31.01 MB - 04/21/2017 at 02:43


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Francois Bujold wrote 05/20/2017 at 22:12 point

The project title refer to it as "open".  Besides the extrusion that is custom made, are the part files and drawing publicly available? I was looking at standard 40x0 extrusion instead of the custom one, Have you ever tried/consider some  40x40 extrusion?

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tangert wrote 05/15/2017 at 20:50 point

So why the kickstarter if you already have the material?  Why not just start selling it?  I would buy some right now depending on the price.  Also when is this kickstarter starting its the middle of May.

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RX HMP wrote 05/05/2017 at 09:39 point

very interested in costs. you do say cheaper but I cant see how.

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Kirschner Christoph wrote 04/04/2017 at 03:37 point

i'm very interessted in your project!! 

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Deezmaker wrote 04/21/2017 at 02:49 point

Thanks! It's coming along great so far.

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Deezmaker wrote 04/21/2017 at 02:50 point

Looks like you might be able to use this for your Solar project, and maybe even for the Cable Cutter.

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