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Case study: How OpenIOLabs helps makerspaces connect and create

How many simple pieces of equipment does your lab rely on daily? Are they connected, and if not how would that improve your workflow? Often these simple pieces of equipment lack connected control, but a few simple and inexpensive additions can change that.

You may want real-time information on, for example, the water level in a reservoir tank or how long a piece of apparatus is used for, but most simple pieces of equipment don’t have that capability. OpenIOLabs, with its flexible architecture, can link to anything, instantly creating connected control for all your equipment – large or small, simple or complex.

User story – Makespace Cambridge and OpenIOLabs

One group who are pioneering use of OpenIOLabs is our local makerspace community, an organisation who provide equipment, training and support to local engineers, makers and creatives. Makespace Cambridge is utilising our hardware and OpenIO LabBook to monitor equipment for a variety of reasons.

Monitoring use of a 3D Printer

One of Makespace’s most popular pieces of equipment is a 3D printer, used by a variety of groups daily. The team wanted to measure how often it is used and how long for in order to ensure it is maintained regularly. Knowing how often it is used can also help the team decide whether to invest in a new printer to meet demand.

They placed a simple i2c light sensor next to the lights of the printer. This sensor, which costs only a few pounds, senses when the printer is switched on and off. The sensor, connected to OpenIOLabs, sends the reading to the OpenIO LabBook which records how long the printer was on for, and therefore how long it was in use. This has been achieved without making any physical changes to the printer or disturbing it when in use – the light sensor works in the same way as a person standing in front of a printer and seeing the lights switch on.

This very simple change allows the team to get the best from their printer as they’re able to look after it properly and judge demand from the community.

Measuring water levels

Makespace have also used OpenIOLabs and our LabBook to ensure plants in an experiment are watered at the right time. They used a very simple dip sensor in plant watering apparatus, the sensor is able to measure water levels and therefore let the system know how much water was being given to the plants. The dip sensor was connected to an IOI with an analogue to digital converter, the OpenIOLabs IOI then sent the levels to the OpenIO LabBook, where the results can be interpreted at the team’s convenience. The same IOI is also being used to monitor the temperature of several motors to ensure they are not damaged by overuse.

Small investments, big results

The Makerspace team were able to increase the capabilities of two very simple pieces of equipment with a very small investment. As they are a community organisation budgets are tight, so it has been great to see them improve their workflow with little investment.

Their equipment is connected without the team having to invest in lots of new equipment or learn new techniques. The connected status of their 3D printer and their dip sensor allows them to access more data for their work, maintain equipment properly and protect their experiments.

These two case studies represent the practicality of the OpenIOLabs system, and how straightforward it can be to implement for the smallest team. A robust and flexible product that can turn it’s hard to challenges both large and small!

Read more about the OpenIOLabs system or find out how our LabBook works.

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