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A computer-controlled gantry crane

Our latest Project Spotlight features Philip Drew's new computer-controlled gantry crane, demonstrated at this year's International Meccano Model Show. You can watch it on our Videos page or via our YouTube channel.

Philip has built on his previous MECControl experiment (see our previous Spotlight) to create a crane controlled from his laptop via keyboard commands. The operator simply enters a letter and a number and the crane moves to the corresponding row and column. Further keyboard commands allow the arm to be raised and lowered, and the grab to be opened and closed. The current status of the crane is displayed on the laptop screen.

The crane uses four motors, three potentiometers and one microswitch, controlled via an Arduino Uno and two L298 H Bridge modules, both of which are available to buy from the MECControl shop along with the MECControl software.

International Meccano Model Show

I´ll be at the International Meccano Model Show in Skegness from tomorrow, Friday 23rd June until Sunday 25th June, giving demonstrations of the MECControl system and answering questions. Plus I have many of the items that you´ll find in our shop available for sale too.

The show is on from 10am to 5pm each day at the Embassy Theatre on the Grand Parade — find out more here: https://embassytheatre.co.uk/shows/international-meccano-model-show.

Hope to see you there!

Arduino/Genuino Mega support

The Arduino/Genuino Uno can be a bit limiting sometimes, as it only has 12 digital pins and 6 analogue pins available for you to connect devices to when it’s used with MECControl.

So MECControl now supports the Arduino/Genuino Mega, the Uno’s big brother, giving you 52 digital pins and 16 analogue pins to play with! Even better, 15 of the digital pins can used for controlling motor speed or LED fading.

When using an Arduino/Genuino Mega with MECControl, make sure that you place the Board command somewhere in your sequence, otherwise MECControl will assume that you are using an Arduino/Genuino Uno.

If you have previously purchased the software, you can download the new version from the order summary after logging into your account.

Because there are some changes to the MECControl firmware too, you will also need to download and install firmware version 1.3.0 on your Arduino/Genuino Mega.

  • If you only using an Arduino/Genuino Uno with MECControl, there is no need to download the new version or update the firmware at this time, as no other changes have been made to the software or firmware.

If you have any questions, please let me know!

MECControl update!

A small update to MECControl is now available to download, and it includes a few improvements to the new display window feature plus a new shortcut for commenting-out lines:

  • Stop now restores the display window if it is maximised and located on the same monitor as the main window.
  • Pressing F11 now maximises and restores the display window.
  • Improved display window performance.
  • Added the ability to press CTRL + - to comment out selected lines.

If you have previously purchased the software, you can download the new version from the order summary after logging into your account. There is no need to update your Arduino/Genuino Uno firmware.

Displaying shapes and text

The latest version of the MECControl software is now available to download. You can now draw shapes and write text in your sequences using the new display window feature.

To find out more, take a look at ‘Using the display window’ here and check out these new commands:

  • Clear — clears the whole display window, or specific shapes or text displayed on it.
  • Draw — draws lines, circles, rectangles and squares.
  • Use — allows you to change the appearance of shapes and text.
  • Write — writes text, numbers stored in variables, or any combination of the two.

If you have previously purchased the software, you can download the new version from the order summary after logging into your account. There is no need to update your Arduino/Genuino Uno firmware.

If you have any questions, please let me know!

Keyboard input

Hot on the heels of our last ‘small’ update comes a larger one! You can now use the Wait command to wait for a keypress, then use Jump commands to make decisions based on the key that was pressed.

You can test for most of the keys on the keyboard — there’s a list on the Jump help page, plus an example sequence. The Wait help page has been updated too.

If you have previously purchased the software, you can download the new version from the order summary after logging into your account. There is no need to update your Arduino/Genuino Uno firmware.

A computer-controlled crane

Our first Project Spotlight video features a crane built by Philip Drew from the Runnymede Meccano Guild. You can watch it on our Videos page or via our YouTube channel.

Philip’s crane has two motors providing slew and jib raise/lower motions, with positional feedback provided by two potentiometers. Meccano parts can be picked up using an electromagnet. Everything is controlled from a laptop running a MECControl sequence.

The electronic parts include a compatible Arduino Uno connected to the laptop and two L298 H bridge modules which control the motors and electromagnet.

  • Have you built something great with MECControl that could feature in a future Project Spotlight? Please get in touch.

MECControl update!

An small update to MECControl is now available to download, which amongst other things fixes a long-standing bug which sometimes left MECControl unable to connect to a plugged in Arduino/Genuino Uno.

If you have previously purchased the software, you can download the new version from the order summary after logging into your account. There is no need to update your Arduino/Genuino Uno firmware.

MECControl at your command (line)

The latest version of the MECControl software is now available to download, and it adds a new feature for advanced users: command line control. This can allow you to control the basic behaviour of MECControl from your own programs or batch files using the command line.

Support for motors has also been improved — if your H Bridge circuit only requires Enable and Direction inputs, you can now specify just two pins in the Connect command.

If you have previously purchased the software, you can download the new version from the order summary after logging into your account. There is no need to update your Arduino/Genuino Uno firmware.

More video tutorials…

The latest videos in my MECControl tutorial series are now online, covering the connection of buttons, switches and motors. You can watch them here, via the MECControl YouTube account, or via the new links in the Help section.