Mind / Iron
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ERVO FOR THE ROBOT INNOVATOR
6 SERVO 09.2015
Working with robotics — whether it be finishing the legs of a crawler with
epoxy paint, soldering a chip to a printed circuit board, or cleaning the metal
gears in a servo with Acetone — can be a potentially hazardous operation.
Volatile organic compounds (or VOCs) expelled into the air can be dangerous to
your health. To avoid permanent neurological damage, I do my best to open the
windows and wear an appropriate breathing mask when I work with cleaners
and other VOC producing substances. However, I often cheat on the small five
minute projects. Not a good practice.
The breathing masks with cartridges specific for various compounds aren’t
that expensive — starting at about $30 for a basic mask from 3M and $10 for a
pair of cartridges — but I’m not sure how well they work. I can’t tell when the
cartridges are used up. Part of the problem is that many VOCs are odorless.
Others have a sweet, almost pleasant smell.
As a result, I’ve moved to “low VOC” solvents and chemicals, but they’re
not always available and often don’t perform as well as conventional versions.
I’ve also added VOC sensors and alarms to my workspace. I’ve found it’s much
easier to limit the release of VOCs in my workshop rather than trying to filter
them out later with a mask or move them outside with a fan.
Commercial room VOC monitors are relatively expensive. A good VOC
detector unit for the home or shop starts at about $300 (Amazon). A much
more affordable approach is to build your own. For example, I built an Arduino-based detector/alarm for my shop for about $50, including a $20 VOC sensor
board from SeeedStudio. You can also purchase VOC sensors from the usual
supply houses (such as Digi-Key and Mouser) for $10-$20.
I haven’t calibrated my detector, but it’s sensitive enough to sound off as
soon as I open a container of cleaning fluid. That’s when I’m reminded to open
the windows and turn on the fans and air conditioner. I can no longer get away
with the quick five minute projects. Instead, I’m immediately reminded to put on
my mask and open the windows.
Even if you’re not interested in monitoring room air for volatile organic
compounds, gas sensors are worth looking into. Imagine a robot constantly
searching for gas leaks, or a “wash me” detector that lets you know it’s time to
change and launder that shirt — a task that clearly qualifies for one of the four
applications robots are known for: dull, dangerous, boring, and dirty. Keep your
workshop healthy by looking into VOC detectors today. SV
Workshop Air Quality