Thursday, May 25, 2023

Niimbot D110

What is a Niimbot D110? It is nót a kind of robot. It is not related to a Nimbus 2000 from Harry Potters magical world. It is small, light, not to expensive and it can help in organizing things. It is a relative cheap thermal label printer. When i did see the price i knew this is not something to put my whish list and wait.  This is something i need to buy now especially as i am reorganizing my workshop.
However before placing the order i did watch several Youtube videos and i also installed the Niimbot app to test the software. 
One day after placing my order the playstore requested me to update the software and a short time later a second update for the app.. After this two updates i did try the software again and at that moment i had doubts if i was happy with my order. This as the software did not work anymore. I didn't know if this was due to the fact that i had no Niimbot connected or if the software had a bug. I could till cancel my order easy as it was not shipped yet, however i decided to wait. This as i probably would not be the only one with this problem and if the printer did not work at arrival i could return it anyway. The printer arrived relative fast and luckely another app update came before the printer arrived and it worked all fine.
The Niimbot D110, a small thermal label printer can only print black and the current price is just above 20 euro's including one label roll I think the low price if for two main reasons: 
1) Only Niimbot thermal labels can be used. The labels on the roll are not cut by the label printer and have fixed sizes. There are many different labels available, different sizes and also labels with colors and printed colored figures. 
2) The device itself has not much controls, only one switch with an led and you need to control it via a smartphone app using bluetooth. 
The app if free and in several app-stores. It contains a label editor and it is possible to print barcodes, QRcodes, using several fonts and font sizes, change direction or the content, and a use library with pictures and icons. You can also take pictures with your smartphone or use images to put on your label (no colors, only black). Importing a (small) Excel file to print a series of labels is also possible however i didn't try this yet.
More fonts and icons are in the payed VIP version of the app for a monthly. I found the VIP functionalities not sufficient interesting for its price and for normal use this is not needed.
When writing this review I already started labeling my inventory. The app to design the labels and the printer work very wel and i am happy with my Niimbot D110. I did buy a set that came with more rolls of labels. Also i did buy some transparent labels. (I did pay it for myself so this is not an advertorial or sponsored message!)
It is possible to buy labels in packs of 3 5 or 6 to get a better pice. I did not yet buy or tried other kind of labels. The label roll contains an RFID chip so the printer (and your app) knows which labels are currently in the printer. I already have an empty label roll and kept it to perhaps play with it using an RFID reader.
Changing labels is relative simple. However the first label after changing will probably not be alligned correct. Do not open the printer to fix this. The second label will be correct automatic. 
I will mention now some little things that could be improved / added to the app to make it even more usefull:
1) Exporting the print history is not possible. When you could export the print history e.g. to Excel you could get a complete list of your inventory after labeling. (You can import excel to make labels, however when inventarizing it is more easy to be on location, create a label on your phone, print it and stick it immediate on the item that to create a list in excel, print labels and match label per label with the item.)
2) Missing icons. There are several nice icons already in the app and een more in the payed VIP version.  However i do miss icons for standard hardware (diffent kind of bolts and nuts, flat/round top, to be used with normal, phillips screwdriver or special bits) that you can find in almost every home. Also icons for electronic components would be a nice addition. (Diodes, transistors, ICs, resistors, capacitors, leds etc.). I know the last set (electronic components) is perhaps somewhat specialistic. Standard hardware (nuts and bolts) is relative general. This would for me be more usefull than e.g. the icons for gardening.
It is possible to make this images yourself and use them with the printer, however i did not do this (yet). It would be nice if this where standard included icons. I did take some photo's of items to put it on a label. As far as i could see, even in the payed VIP version electronic of nuts and bolt icons are not available.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Inventory system part 2 – tools to use for NFC and QR

 As type NFC tag I selected round NTAG213 stickers. I experimented already with these tags. They have sufficient capacity for this applications, are easy to attach and also can be ordered easy (Aliexpress).

I have a lot of A4 printer labels 7cm x 2.5cm (3 columns 10 rows) and I wanted to use them also.

I like a relative big QR code and also a storage number written in digits. On small storage drawers a 7cm*2.5cm label is too big. So I decided to print text for two labels on one label and after printing cut the 7cm in 2x3.5cm. So in theory fit 6columns and 10 rows = 60 labels on one A4. Unfortunately I could not easy fill the complete A4 width. There missed a little piece of the QR code in the last column. So I decided to not use the last column and print 5 columns each 3.5 cm x 2.5 cm and discard the last 3.5 cm column. On small drawers I did put the label with the QR and number in readable format on the backside. At the front I want a small label with the content as text (and perhaps a small QR code).

It is possible to create QR codes that direct link to a webpage with the ID on the tag in the URL. However I decided not to do that and create a QR code that only gives the number.

To use NFC tags and QR code some tools are needed. I can build something to read and write NFC tags with a microcontroller like Arduino or ESP32. As my android smartphone as this is most times already available, using my phone is preferred.

For NFC tags several apps are available in the app-store(s). One app that draw my attentions and is Scan-it to office. With this app you can read an NFC tags, read a QR code, take a pictures, enter some text, and do several things more. The scan results can end up in a Google spreadsheet, a word or excel document, a database, a webform (using chrome browser) or are send to your (Windows or Apple) computer as if you entered the data using your keyboard. The free “demo” version that, at random intervals, does not send the captured data but a message. A paid version that doesn’t has this limitation costs (at the moment) less than 4 euros for one month for one smartphone. A three months or a year subscription gives discount and there is also a licence for use on multiple smartphones (e.g. for a company). A review and more details about Scan-it to office will be presented in a separate blog post. As already mentioned I will write on my blog also about some other NFC apps and what they can do.

To bulk print labels with QR code and a number, using my 7cm x 2.5cm (3 columns 10 rows) labels on A4 works good. Creating small labels describing the content of small drawers is a bit more difficult as you can only print a lot of labels at the same time, and after that you need to sort out on which drawer to put which label. There are now relative cheap small label printers available that can print directly from a smartphone app. I ordered one to check if this can help me with my inventory system.

So currently a lot of material that can be used for my blog posts even when I have not much time for real electronic projects. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Inventory system part 1 - using NFC and QR (intro)

 I like #NFC / RFIDtags. ( RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification, a contactless one-way communication method at varying distances. NFC, Near Field Communication, allows for two-way communication and  requires action by the user.)

You can read and write to NFC tags with a special reader/writer(/or clone) device, a NFC smartphone (most modern smartphones do have NFC) or using a microcontroller like ESP32 or Arduino using a cheap NFC interface. 

Especially the NTAG213 tags are very nice and are in bulk relative cheap available as stickers that can be used for labelling inventory.  The NTAG213 even has a built in counter that, in enabled, counts how many times you did scan the tag.  (For my last order in China of NTAG213 stickers I did pay EURO 11.83 for 100 pcs). 

Normal stickers with QC or bar code are cheaper. NFC stickers have the advantage that you can also write and modify information on it however labelling everything with NFC would be more expensive. 

When printing a QR or barcode you can at the same time print a numerical or text value for easy identification without using a device.

With a cheap NFC reader connected to an Arduino you can change the bytes on the NFC tag. However I also want to use my smartphone. I have some NFC apps on my smartphone. Reading or changing individual bits is not always possible with every android apps.

Therefore in one of my next blog posts I will describe some of the NFC apps on my phone with features and also some details about the NTAG213 .

Currently I am reorganizing all my electronics material due to a major change of my workshop. That is also the reason why i current publish less projects. However this is also the reason you will see some posts about topics related to this reorganizing. For my storage system there have some must haves and some wishes.

  • It needs to be a big improvement to the current situation
  • I want more standardization in my boxes (not a lot of different sized boxes with components that are difficult to stack…)
  • It must have an overview and searchable lists of components (in a computer system)
  • It needs to be extreme flexible and easy to adapt, maintain and correct
  • It may have (some) redundancy
  • I want to have more than just labels with some text my boxes. I like to experiment with things like NFC tags and QR codes for easy interfacing. However at the moment also OCR is relative good and can be uses.
  • It must be not too expensive

As I want it to be not too expensive it will not be possible to put NFC tags on everything. NFC are not extreme expensive however still cost more than 10 cents per tag and a QR code printed on a label is cheaper. Due to the kind, the amount and diversity of items I want to store the storage easy can become expensive compared to the price of the items.  However I want to use NFC tags on some items and put QR codes on every storage location (also on the locations where I did put an NFC tag.

On some drawers, boxes and more expensive items I did put a NFC tag and a QR code with an unique number. On small drawers and boxes for nuts, bolts and electronic components I did put only a QR code. The QR codes contains the number. In a follow-up post I will describe the numbering system I used. The NFC tag - number / QR code only indicate a storage location. The storage location is a “container” that can have  items inside. What is in a “container” can be indicated on a separate label on the “container”. A “container” (or “container” ID) is not a real indication where exactly an item is as e.g. the location of two component drawers may be swapped (intentionally or by accident). It is only an indication in which “container” the item is.

I want my storage system robust enough to handle swapping/changing the locations of “container”. So all my components will be inside unique numbered “containers”. A “container” can also be inside another “container”, sometimes together with other “containers” and other items. (E.g. a box can be in a drawer.) I hope this will give sufficient flexibility to store (and find) my components.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Mailbag may 2023

Time for a new mailbag blogpost (may2023). 
There are still some weeks in may left and i am expecting some more items. However after last mailbag post i received already several items and it is time to post a small selection.

Raspberry Pi extension to breadboard.
To get the Raspberry Pi GPIO connection pins easy to a breadboard

Raspberry Pi Extension hat.
To plug in multiple extensions to a Pi. At the moment i will use this only to connect the extension to the breadboard and at the same time the ventilator for the cooling of the Pi.
USB connectors.
The connectors i ordered only have wires for the power. There are also availables with wires on all ins.
Some cheap screwdrivers /  voltage testers.
I had an old one for many that was broken and repaired with tape. Now i ordered a set of 10 new. I did put them in different locations and some toolboxes (and did put some in stock). 
A small and cheap wifi camera.
Several different ICs/ chips for projects. (I did not put all pictures)
Privacy clips for smartphones / computers.
Easy temporary cover a camera lens for privacy.