Nov 01

Honey Stick Machine, Part 2a

Some of the outputs of the Phidgets USB interface will be used to drive AC voltage. For these I’ll simply use a solid state AC/DC relay because it provides reliability and isolation from the AC line. Plus it’s much cheaper than building your own circuit unless more than an Amp or so needs switched.

The rest of the outputs will be used to drive solenoids using a MOSFET solenoid driver as pictured below. The MOSFET driver was chosen simply because I was concerned about the somewhat limited mechanical life of the relays in a transistor relay driver.

MOSFET solenoid driver

MOSFET Solenoid Driver: This is a very simple circuit and is repeated for each of the solinoid or other DC devices we wish to control with the Phidget USB interface. It accepts a digital 5 volt input and can drive a significant amount of voltage and current depending on your selection of MOSFET. I have added a LED to the circuit as well to indicate the state, after all… the most important part of a fancy machine is a lot of blinking lights.

R2 is a a 1M Ohm resistor intended to drain the voltage on the input when it goes to 0 and speeds up the switching speed (as the MOSFET gate can act as a capacitor. R1 should be sized to limit the current though the LED, with a typical LED with a 1.7 voltage drop and 20mA current rating , R1 = (V – 1.7)/ 0.02. Or 515 Ohms at 12V or 1115 Ohms at 24V, etc. (round up to the nearest resistor).

Phidgets recommends D1 be a 1N4148 diode, which is a high speed 200mA 100V diode. Due to some of the currents I will need to be switching, I’ll be using a 1Amp or better version instead.

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Oct 26

Honey Stick Machine, Part 2

SolenoidAs previously mentioned, I intend to use the Phidgets 8/8/8 USB interface and a computer to control the honey stick machine. Before I get too much into the actual mechanical design, I need to define the steps involved and all the output’s and inputs required.

First the outputs…. I intend to use solenoids for most of the moving parts of the device. They seem to be more readily available than the pnumatic cylinders used in the Sticky machine, and for me at least, I’m much more familiary with the electronics with my electrical background. Plus, with a rated life of 2,000,000 cycles they should be reliable enough. I originally intended to drive them with simple transitor driven relays, and even designed the driver circuit, but I was concerned with the mechanical rating of only 100,000 cycles on the relays. This may sound like a lot, but with a machine in the $3000 price range, if it needed replaced every 100,000 honey sticks, it would cost 3 cents per stick just for the machine cost alone, or around $132 per 5 gallon bucket of honey processed, nearly the price of just sending the honey to someone else to fill (at $175). So to minimized the cost per stick, I’ve opted to use mosfet solenoid drivers, and solid state relays for the AC devices (the pump, etc.) which should reduce the cost of operation by a factor of 10 or more.
The outputs are as follows:

  1. Straw feeder, drops the next straw into the machine (solenoid)
  2. Straw ejector, kicks out the filled straw from the machine (solenoid)
  3. Clamp, holds the straw while in the machine (solenoid)
  4. Filler nozzel, moves the filler nozzel into place (solenoid)
  5. End positioner, effectively clamps the straw horizontally while filling (solenoid)
  6. Right sealer (solenoid)
  7. Left sealer (solenoid)
  8. Honey pump (120V AC pump, AC relay)
  9. optional – Honey heater (AC relay)
  10. optional – right sealer heater (AC relay)
  11. optional – left sealer heater (AC relay)
  12. not used

Of course one should note that more than 8 outputs allowed by the USB driver are proposed. While we could do without the heater relays, it would be nice to control everything from the computer and I’m not quite sure what I’ll run into once I get into the guts of the machine so an extra output is good.

Demultiplextor and driver circuits are to follow in the next post….

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Oct 24

Honey Stick Machine, Part 1

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am attempting to build my own automated honey stick machine. After making observations making hundreds of honey sticks using a manual method, and studing the machine the use to be on the market, I’ve decided to take a bit different approach. Of course any automated honey stick machine will follow the same basic steps, dispensing a straw, filling then sealing it; But I’m hoping the different approach will solve a few problems (and solve the biggest problem – the fact I don’t have one!)

Phidget InterfaceKit 8/8/8 Instead of a embedded controller, I’ve deciced to go with a USB interface to the computer, then simply program the computer to drive the machine. I’ve chosen the Phidgets Interface 8/8/8 as the USB interface (pictured to the right). It’s capable of driving 8 binary outputs as well as accepting 8 binary and 8 analog inputs. It’s also pretty easy to program in many different languages on both unix and windows machines. I will likely use Visual Basic as I’m very familiary with it. The only limitation that may be a problem is that it may be possible that more than 8 outputs are needed for controling solinoids, pumps, etc. However, instead of purchasing a second interface I intend to use to 3 to 8 decoder and a latch to turn on and off some of the outputs one at a time.

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Oct 23

Philips Invents the Cardboard DVD

Philips Cardboard DVDI recently purchased a pack of 15 DVD for use at work. They were Philips 4x DVD+R (I no longer have the model number as the package’s sleeve went strait in the trash). It contained 15 ordinary looking DVDs and one ordinary looking cardboard disk (pictured to the right). However on closer inspection the cardboard disk is the most extrodinary thing I’ve seen in quite some time in the removable media market.

The small print on the cardboard disk reads “Before using this disk in a 2.4x DVD+R data drive, you need to check how to get the required firmware upgrade. Full details can be found on the banderole”

Unfortunately I have already disposed of the sleeve (banderole) so I have no instructions where to get drivers so I can use this cardboard disk in my DVD drive. I can only speculate at this time how fast or how much data this cardboard DVD may hold. The language on the disk is a bit confusing. Does it hold 15 DVD’s worth of information at 4.7 GB each, or just a total of 4.7 GB?

Trying the cardboard DVD in my DVD writer at work didn’t work and I’ve been unable to locate any newer drivers that the ones I currently have. Perhaps Philips is keeping this new driver under wraps while they seek a patent on this new (and probably very cheap) DVD.

Cardboard DVD Instructions

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Oct 22

Honey Stick Update

To give credit where it is due…. Anthony of recently made an apperance on Apparently he has had the problem most small business owners and some hobbiests only hope to have. Too many orders and customers that he has fallen behind filling orders. He has promised to make it right and is working on fixing the problem. I hope he does follow though as it is the only honey stick machine currently on the market, and even if it is a manual machine, it relatively cheap and looks like it does a pretty good job. Still, it may still be wise to purchase COD or give him a call first to see if he is caught up.

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Oct 20

Fall Is Here

Last week brought our first hard freeze finishing off what goldenrod remained and the last of the tomatoes in the garden.  Only the small white asters remain for the bees.  Most of the hives are all set for winter and have plenty of stores, but I am still feeding quite a few of the mid summer splits and built up mating nucs, and probably will be feeding as long as they will take it.  The splits simply did not build up this summer like they normally do but it’s not terribly surprising when the honey harvest itself was off 50%.

I am feeding sugar syrup this year.  It is a bit more work to prepare the 2:1 sugar syrup than using HFCS (corn syrup), but a honey creaming mixer on a 1/2″ drill makes pretty quick work of it.   The positive side is that it ends up being much cheaper than HFCS because I’ve found a place to buy damaged sugar (grocery store returns).
One other last task remains as the long cold and windy winter sets in.  As the windy weather of the past week reminded me with hive tops blown off at my house, I need go get bricks back on all the hives.

It will be about 6 months (March) before nectar and pollen are available again.

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Oct 06

Honey Sticks

My wife and I have been making honey sticks (or honey stix) for some 6-9 months now and they do seem to be fairly popular. But that’s where the problem lies. We basically make them by hand. This is fine for making a small number for samples, but really does get tedious when making them by the hundred. (For those who don’t know, honey sticks are simply drinking straws filled with honey and sealed on both ends. This is great for a snack, to carry when you need to increase your blood sugar (apparently it’s better than table sugar), or to take to work or a restaruant for your coffee or tea)Honey Sticks

Initally we used a large plastic syring from US Plastics, and this did work well, but was really slow as you had to refill the syring after every 10 or 12 sticks. We did find that using a device to hold a dozen straws made the sealing pretty easy with an impulse sealer, but filling the straws was a big problem. We have since switched to a stainless steel pressure tank, the kind premixed carbonated drinks came in. The tank is connected to a air compressor and a hose with a nozzel and valve to fill the straws. This works quite well so long as you keep the tank warm so the honey flows quickly. But this still takes quite some time and is still very labor intensive (and gets quite boring). I really have better things to spend my time on.

So an exaustive search for a honey stick machine was made. Unsuccessfully. There are (or were) two such machines on the market.

  • Goldrush from This is a manual machine and really isn’t any better than what we are already doing. I also think it heats the honey up too much and it appears the straws aren’t sealed exactly on the ends so they need cut and/or washed out after sealing them. The price is around $600 and claims to be patent pending. Most disturbingly it appears the owner may not be very trustworthy several reports of machines not delivered and refunds not made (or only partially made) posted on beesource. Plus the owner use to sell them on ebay but his account was mysteriously closed.
  • The Sticky Machine from Busy Bee Farm. This machine looks like it has promise as it is more fully automated. I did manage to contact the owner and unfortunately the machine is no longer being made. The owner did state that another person has taken it over but does not know when he may begin making machines. (Another source indicated that this has been the story for the past several years, and given the lack of updates to the Busy Bee Farm website it could very well be true). In addition the machine does appear to have some fundamental problems involving the sealer that needs cleaned every 100 sticks and the video on the website shows that the finished stick must be manually removed. The machine costs $3000 delivered (2003 prices from the website) and appears to be protected under us patent 7,047,709. (Note: the abstract of the pantent makes it appear so general as to apply to any automated honey stick machine ever made, though the actual text of the patent is much more specific in it’s claims.)

That pretty much sums it up. There are two machines, but don’t expect to get ahold of either of them. (If anyone is interested I’d be happy to post the deails of how we fill our honey sticks currently).

So I’m now working to develop my own honey stick machine before my wife decides to lynch me when the next honey stick order comes in.

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Oct 03


No SpamI wondered how long it would take before spammers found this blog. Turns it it only took a little over a month before I started getting spam as comments. Fortunately comments are moderated. As is the Beekeeping Resource Directory, which typicaly gets 1 or 2 spam entries per day . It’s nothing new, but is one thing I really hate about the internet. Cheap open communication for everyone, Including those no one wants to hear.  I don’t think anyone invisioned spam when proposing ‘free speech’.  Of course you have the right to say want you want, but I also have the right not to listen.  And it shouldn’t mean I have to spend money to buy software to filter out the 200 spam e-mails I receive daily.

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Oct 02

Time for the yearly paycut.

Tis that time of year again. Every October 1st. That’s the day when our companies (my day job‘s) health care plan is renewed or switched if they can find a better rate. The rate aways goes up, often many times the rate of inflation. Several years ago the company decided it could no longer shoulder the increases themselves which were in the 15-26% range for several years. So now the employees pay a portion of the bill. Plus typically co-pay’s and deductibles go up, which effectively is another pay cut (unless no one in a family of 5 gets stick all year, which isn’t likely).

In reality I am pretty lucky.  We still do have insurance and the company does pick up most of it.  Far more than the average.  However, every time I receive a statement from the health company summarizing a claim it reminds me how big a rip-off many health care services are.  I know the health care industry tells us that they need to charge such large fees for services, but when I receive the statement and the insurance company has settled for pennies on the dollar I can’t believe such claims.  They’ve paid such things as $15 allergy shots for $0.75, x-rays for 30% of the billed amount, etc.  Then there the medications where the insurance companies co-pay is actually higher than the cost of the medication if you payed cash.

Of course the people this all really hurts are the uninsured.  They get to pay the full bill with no discounts because they can’t afford the $10,000 for a typical family plan up front.

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Sep 29

Honey Harvest, the Epilogue

The honey harvest is finished as of this past weekend.  I was a bit dissapointing this year as the yield was 40% less than last year.  Considering I had more hives in production than last year and the average per hive was probably 50% of normal (and perhaps 60% of last years average).  But it is done and we’ve recovered from the mess of a few weeks earlier.  I will need to start melting down the capping wax in the next couple of weeks as well as begin creaming the completely raw and some strained honey for sale.  We also saved several buckets of the cappings (with honey) to cream because we have had several requests for honey with more ‘stuff’ in it.  We only did a few and we should see how it sells.  The Really Raw Honey company gets a pretty premium price for the stuff ($1 per ounce).

The weather has turned cooler with the past two days not getting above 60 and some mornings there is a little ice on the truck’s windows, but no real frost yet.  This weeked we’ll begin feeding the weaker hives that didn’t build up because of the poor honey flow, and we’ll be crossing our fingers and hope that the frost holds off for a few weeks so that the stronger hives can work the golden rod.  With some luck those hives won’t need any feed.

With the finish of honey harvest our workshop is set back up which means we’ll also be busy filling orders for woodenware that came in over the past couple weeks.

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