COVID-19 Quarantine STEM: Elenco AmeriKit Learn to Solder Kit

Another weekend of COVID-19 quarantine lockdown means another weekend to dust off some of the STEM projects Santa Claus gave the kids this past Christmas that were sitting in the basement 😉

Elenco Amerikit Learn to Solder Kit

The kit impressed me. It comes with a decent soldering iron and a simplistic but effective stand for the soldering iron when not in use.

We divided work on the kit into two days . The first day they practiced soldering the pads on the circuit board and then soldering wire to the board.

My daughter is practicing her soldering skills

On the second day we assembled the kit. Along the way we got to discuss resistors, capacitors, transistors, and potentiometers.

Some of the electronics that came with the Elenco Amerikit learn to solder kit

After the kids had the basics of soldering down and were comfortable using the equipment we pivoted towards assembling the actual kit. I think it took us about 2 hours of relaxed zen-like soldering to complete the kit. It was very relaxing and enjoyable actually.

The kit is supposed to have flashing LEDs and a European siren when completed. We were able to get the LEDs to perform the alternating blinking pattern but alas, we could not get the siren to work on either child’s kit. We spent a good half hour troubleshooting, but in the end my hunch is that we may have applied too much heat to the 555 timer chips.

Final Thoughts:

We were somewhat disappointed we couldn’t get the siren to play after all of the components were soldered to the board, but I chalk that up to user error on our part. The real goal of having the children obtain a real world STEM skill of soldering was successfully accomplished. The kit was very effective at teaching this skill. Santa picked out a fun, practical, and educational gift for the kids to grow their soldering skills.

Prusa i3 MK3S 3D Printer

My foray into 3d printing begins!

Santa got us a Prusa i3 MK3S 3D printer for Christmas . I’ve seen the Prusa crew and their printers in action several times at the NYC Maker Faire and at other smaller MakerFaire over the past three years. Make magazine has printed several articles in their “best gear” editions and the Prusa printers are almost unanimously identified as the best bang for the buck.

The unboxing of the Prusa i3 MK3S

The Prusa model comes in two options. There is a preassembled option for $999 and a build it yourself option for $750. I opted to go for the DIY built it yourself model. I’ve believed the only way to have a fully fundamental understanding of how the device works is to build it from the ground up. I also figured if the printer needed any future maintenance, repair, or installation of upgrades I would need this knowledge of how everything comes together.

Fasteners, fasteners, and more fasteners
It comes with all the tools you need to assemble
Partially assembled with a pause to eat the fabled Harbo gummy bears

The Build

I assumed the build would take a few hours (initially I just assumed less than 3). I was so naive! I read online that an average build time to put the 3d printer together can easily take 10 hours. I think mine took close to 16 hours. I really took my time with setting the tension of the belts and the final electrical wiring. If you are going to build your own printer from the Prusa kit I would recommend setting aside a large chunk of time (about 4 hours) over three days.

The kit comes with the infamous bag of gummy bears which seem novel at first, but rewarding yourself with the very specifically prescribed number when you finish the macro level sections of the build is surprisingly very rewarding and fun.

If you take your time, don’t rush, and read the instructions carefully, then almost anyone should be able to do this build. The final wiring up of all the servos, sensors, and power cables is relatively easy, it just requires a very slow and methodical attention to detail. I can’t tell you how relieved I was when the LCD powered on and fully successfully performed all of the calibration checks!

I did the majority of the build on the dining room table with my son and daughter watching closely beside tme. The build is an excellent way for young minds to see mechanical engineering principles slowly combine and manifest into a fully working device. As we built the printer we discussed concepts such as servo motors, the concept of a power supply, gears, set screws, linear bearings, hardened rods, extrusion nozzles, and sensors. I can’t understate the educational value of this build for young engineering minds.

First 3d print – A whistle!

Our first print was a whistle from the supplied SD card. It took about 20 minutes. After we got the hang of setting up the printer we printed a vase, a pug dog figure, and a gear set from files included with the SF card from Prusa. I am still amazed at the quality of the print. The detail exceeded my expectations. Simply unbelievable!

Ant weight “pusher” battle bot combat robot 3d printed by Prusa i3 MK3S

Since the main reason for getting the printer was to generate prototypes for combat robotics we pulled an ant-weight combat robotics .STL file from thingaverse to print. This print room about 6 hours. We let it run overnight, and like magic it was waiting for us there in the morning.

3d printed antweight combat robot body


Embrace technology! I’m excited for the moment when some small part breaks around the house and we can re-engineer a CAD file to print a replacement part on the spot. Just having the device here has me thinking about ways to use this new in-house (pun intended 😉 ) capability. The Prusa 3D printer models are the best value for your dollar and are an affordable foray into on-the-spot design and manufacturing. Building the unit from the parts level is a labor of love and an experience to be cherished.