Best Quadcopters and Quadrotors 2015

So you’ve decided to buy a quadcopter.  Congratulations are in order, you have decided to join one of the fastest growing hobbies.  The question is, where to start?

There are a multitude of quadcopters and quadrotors available and at first glance they all look the same – 4 rotors surrounding a center pod.  Upon closer inspection you will find the specs, performance, and size all vary wildly between models.  The good news is that there is a quadcopter to fit any budget, from toy to serious drone territory and everything in between.

The Toy


Estes 4606 Proto X Nano

A tiny but capable quadrotor.  A perfect entry point, this is great indoor fun.  Dip your toes into the quadcopter pool and learn how to control this stable yet inexpensive copter without ever leaving the couch.

Entry Level



A real starting point in this field.  Capable outdoors, easy to fly, and it has a built in camera.  That’s the trifecta right there.  Tough enough to survive a few crashes so it’s perfect for learning to fly outdoors.  Learn how to fly in wind and how to avoid encounters with trees.  The camera is nothing to write home about but overall this quadcopter has amazing performance for the price!

Getting Serious

DJI Phantom

DJI Phantom 2 Vision

Now we’re getting somewhere.  This is a serious but approachable outdoor quadcopter that’s built for high flying and video taking. Not a toy but still easy to use and simple to fly. This is the perfect quad for the entry level YouTube video shooter – stable and a built-in auto-return feature so your high flying antics won’t get away from you. Excellent battery life too. DJI is a well known brand and has a wide variety of accessories and support.

Super Serious

DJI T600

DJI T600 Inspire 1

Ready to put your quadcopter to work?  Maybe you want some return on your investment?  Use the T600 Inspire to start shooting beautiful video. This is a professional level quadcopter that is still accessible to most flyers.  Gimbaled camera, 4K recording, and a 720p live video feed make this copter a serious video shooting package.  It doesn’t get a whole lot better than this.

Review of the Etekcity 8250 Infrared IR Thermometer

I recently saw the Etekcity 8250 thermometer online and thought it looked like a cheap tool / gadget / toy / distraction that might have some actual use.  A non-contact thermometer has a thousand household uses, right?  I can’t actually remember the last time I needed to measure the temperature of something but this will be a tool of curiosity.

I conveniently forget about the order and was pleasantly surprised when it arrived.  What’s the first thing you do with a thermometer?

Measure against a convenient and known standard, human body temperature.

Etekcity 8250 Body Temperature

Human body temperature – measured at 92.1° F

Hmmm, at first glance this doesn’t appear to be correct but skin temperature is not the 98.6° F core temperature that I was expecting.  Some quick Googling reveals a narrow range of expected skin temperatures with 90° F at the lower end.

How about some other known (and convenient) standards?


Etekcity 8250 Ice Temperature

Ice cubes – measured at 11.0 °F

Ice from the freezer?  Convenient and cold.  11 °F sounds about right.


Etekcity 8250 Flame Temperature

Flame – measured at 172.5 °F

Lighter?  Hot and tricky to measure.  Very difficult to get a direct flame measurement.  Core flame temperature is expected at around 3,500 °F.  The thermometer is measuring the outside of the flame and the thermometer maxes out at 482 °F.  Inconclusive.


Etekcity 8250 Temperature Comparison

Room temperature – measured at 69.3 °F

How about an independent standard?  My AcuRite 02023 indoor/outdoor thermometer is on par with the Etekcity measurement.  Seems legit.


In conclusion?  A capable thermometer to keep in my kitchen drawer. Easy to use and instant temperature readings. It seems capable for cooking and curiosity measurements but I don’t think I’ll be using this for hard science any time soon.

Acoustic Camera

This is a neat gadget that’s like an acoustic version of FLIR.  Technology like this is becoming more important as consumer products and stringent safety regulations are requiring more acoustic analysis.  This could be very useful to quickly locate and troubleshoot annoying rattles in an industrial plant.

Manufacturer page here


High Speed Chip Placement

This is the Samsung SM421 surface mount chip placement platform (not to be confused with the SM421 showerhead).

The machine vacuum picks 6 tiny SMD components from cassettes in the front of the machine and moves to place them on a fixtured PCB.  The high speed precision and motion is amazing.

This video may not have the best clarity but the camera angles show a lot of the machine mechanics.

The individual axes are ballscrew driven and the flashes of red light are from a vision inspection process to check if each component has been picked correctly.  There’s a vision camera on the front of the placement head that appears to be used for PCB fiducial recognition or part inspection.

I’d like to learn more about the placement head because it’s not immediately apparent how the individual chip feeders are vertically actuated.  There are some clues that they’re belt driven but it’s still somewhat of a mystery.

Samsung SM421 Samsung SM421 Fixturing

Samsung SM421 data sheet

Assembling a Very Large Machine

How do you assemble a giant machine tool?  Very carefully.  A lot of thought needs to be put into the machine design early on to accommodate assembly, alignment, shipping, and installation.  Simple things like providing lifting points and making sure fasteners are easily accessible can help things go smoothly in the field.

The above video shows a time lapse of the installation of a Waldrich Coburg Powertec gantry style machining center for customer MAN Diesel.  There’s a lot going on so I’d like to break down the individual installation steps.


Pouring the Machine Foundation

PowerTec Bed Foundation

The installation starts with the machine bed foundation.  This is the foundation that will support the X-axis beds and ultimately the entire machine weight.  A thick foundation with a lot of reinforcing bar is important to minimize deflection in concrete due to the machine movement and operation.  Any deflection or settling in the foundation will ruin the machine precision relative to the workpiece.


Pouring the Workpiece Foundation

PowerTec Work Piece Foundation

The workpiece requires an isolated bed foundation.  Similar to the machine bed foundation, stiffness is the key.  Any deflection in either of these foundations relative to one another will ruin the machine precision.


X Beds

PowerTec X Beds

Installation of the X beds is an important step and one they appear to skip over in the video.  The X beds are anchored to the bed foundation and will ultimately form the X-axis of the machine.  The beds support and guide the machine with linear rail.  Straightness of this rail is critical to the machine precision and must be adjusted during installation using jacking screws built into the beds.  Some of this process is shown in the video. Gear rack for driving the machine must also be adjusted and spaced correctly during this process.

Installation of the workpiece fixturing plates is also shown during this stage.



PowerTec Way Covers

The X axis way covers are installed to keep chips and debris away from the X rails.  Interesting they’re installed this early, they can dent easily.


X Axis Carriages

PowerTec X Carriages

The X axis carriages are lifted and mounted to the X rail.  It depends on the style of rail but the bearing cars are likely already installed onto the rail and carriages are bolted down to the cars.


Z Towers

PowerTec Z Tower

The gantry legs with integrated Z axis are installed next.   They’re flown in via the overhead crane, stood up, positioned and installed onto the X carriages.  It appears that all of the necessary fasteners are installed prior to the legs being set into place.


Y Bridge

PowerTec Y Bridge

The Y bridge is flown into place and ties the two gantry legs together.  This takes some coordination with the crane operator and some time spent in the man-lift. The maintenance platforms and electrical cabinets also appear to be installed behind the gantry during this process.


Y Axis

PowerTec Y Axis

A tricky part of the installation.  It looks like they place the Y-axis on blocks during the installation process.  Careful positioning is required to attach the Y-axis to the bearing cars and ball nuts on the tower legs.  It’s important to make sure these fasteners are easy to access during the design phase.


Z Ram

PowerTec Z Axis

The Z-ram is bolted onto the Y-axis without a lot of hassle.  The assembly is lifting by red painted installation tooling bolted to the sides of the lower assembly.   Note the whole Y axis assembly is still resting on blocks.


Operator Platform

PowerTec Operator Platform

A movable operator platform is installed and bolted onto the front of the machine.  This makes getting right up to the tool point easy for the operator.  I’m speculating that this is for automated tool changing as well.



PowerTec Alignment

Axis alignment occurs before all the final way covers and bellows are installed.  Important to make sure everything has been installed correctly and running smoothly.  Most of the axes are modular but there can be some tricky alignment in the Z-axis due to the tandem configuration.


Assembly Complete

PowerTec Complete

Minor details such as decking and cell guarding are installed, the machine is bought off in a factory acceptance test, and everyone gets to go home!


Large Envelope Mill for Wind Turbine Blades

This has an impressive envelope for a mill and is used in the manufacturing process of wind turbine blades.  I initially guessed this was for composite trimming operations but the manufacturer lists the machine for work with “polystyrene, resins and fibres.”   This is possibly used for form or blade core manufacture?

This is a high-rail gantry style mill which can make part loading more difficult due to the mill legs but ultimately decreases the moving mass of the machine.  The numbered assembly hanging off the gantry appears to be a tool changer.

Manufacturer link here.  No information on tolerances.

Wind Turbine Blade Mill Tool Changer

Building a Solidworks PC – 2015 Edition

EDIT: This article has been updated in Building a Solidworks PC – 2017 Edition

The core of a good Solidworks workstation should be a fast CPU, lots of RAM, and a Solidworks approved workstation graphics card.

Solidworks performance is limited by the CPU and unfortunately only runs single-core for everything except simulation and rendering.  An Intel i7-4770 processor will provide good performance for the price even if you’re using only a single core on the chip.

16GB of RAM is a minimum and important for dealing with large assemblies.  This stuff is cheap and can easily be expanded in the future.

A basic CAD workstation graphics card should be sufficient and won’t hinder performance.  They key here is stability and performance with Solidworks which is why you want something like the Quadro K2000.  Workstations graphics cards are essentially glorified gaming cards but they have extremely stable drivers.

Those are the important bits, the following list covers the complete build.  All components are from Amazon because they have fairly competitive prices and good customer service.  Shop around though, your experience may vary.

The system price at time of writing is is $1495.  Part prices are not listed here because they seem to change week to week.  Expect the system price to trend downward in the next few months.

Processor – Intel i7-4770 – good performance for the price

Motherboard – MSI Z97 PC Mate LGA – feature-rich motherboard to provide flexibility in the future, has a fancy BIOS and will support up to 32gb of RAM

Graphics CardQuadro K2000 – you’re paying for stability here

Memory – Kingston 16GB – fast and cost effective

Storage – Samsung SSD 840 EVO-Series 500GB – a nice solid state drive for speedy performance, I think it’s important to stick with a name brand here to ensure good performance over the life of the drive

DVD LG Electronics 24X – sigh, can’t quite escape physical discs yet.  With writing feature for all of your documentation purposes.

Case – Corsair Carbide Series 200R – a nice clean case that’s easy to work on

Power Supply – Rosewill 80 PLUS BRONZE 550W – Solid power supply with more than enough wattage, will support expansion in the future

OS Windows 7 64-bit OEM – The old standard here, I prefer it over Windows 8

That’s everything you need for a complete build!  The case comes with all necessary hardware and fans, the power supply has all the cables, and the CPU has it’s own cooler and heatsink.

Need monitors?  I’m a big fan of the 24-inch Dell Ultrasharp because of the positioning flexibility.  It’s easy to setup your dual monitor view in any configuration.  Ergonomics are a big deal if you’re sitting in front of monitors for 8+ hours a day.


Move with Triad

Solidworks Triad

This is by far my favorite Solidworks feature that no one seems to use or even know about.  It’s called “move with triad” and it makes working with assemblies much easier.  Right click on any part in an assembly and it should be an available option.

Triad Menu Option

The triad tool allows you to constrain part translation or rotation to a single axis.  This removes a lot of frustration when positioning parts in an assembly prior to mating them.  The flexibility to position things easily can really speed up machine layout and concepting when things are loosely defined.

The triad can also help you locate parts lost in larger assemblies or move parts that have gotten lost inside other solids.

Bind it to your “T” key now!




Manufacturing a Composite Rocket Fuel Tank

This is an interesting video from NASA showing the manufacture of what appear to be different composite spacecraft parts including a fuel tank.

The center piece here is an articulated robot mounted on a “seventh” linear axis with a automated fiber placement end effector.  The end effector heats the area and applies strips of resin impregnated composite “tape.”  The whole process requires a high level of motion control especially with a rotating work piece.

I’m not an expert on the process but it’s easy to have an appreciation for the new manufacturing processes required by high performance composites.

The pair of blue “post” style machines in the beginning of the video appear to be testing for voids in the finished part.

Ultrasonic Void Testing Composite Tank Robot Composite Tank AFP