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  • Snow Brick Making Machine?!?!

    Discussion in 'The main mechanical design forum' started by nightwork, Jan 24, 2011.

    1. nightwork

      nightwork New Member

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      Hello everyone,

      I hope that this is an appropriate place to post this, I am just wanting to think out loud and get some feedback.

      We had a pretty good snow here the other day and my engineering brain started turning gears. This tends to happen to me a lot and I come up with some crazy ideas. This is definitely one of them. What if I build a simple machine to compact snow into bricks. I have seen kids toys that you hand pack snow into to make a brick. If you took that idea but bigger. If it is possible to make bricks relatively quick and easy, then building snow designs would be simple. Stack up the bricks and build castles, walls, table and bench, or even a ramp to sled down.

      Here is my current ideas for building it.

      *Basic metal frame welded or bolted together to create the mold.
      *Pneumatic cylinder to compact the snow. This could be run from a shop air compressor. A small portable one should work fine.
      *Shovel the snow into a bin that guides the snow into the mold. The mold will be about twice the size of the finished brick.
      *The cylinder compacts the snow.

      Now here is where I still thinking about what to do. How to get the bricks out. I am afraid that the brick might get stuck. I was thinking that a second cylinder that pushes the bricks out might be best. It could also make it faster to make bricks.

      Now for the shape. I think that standard brick sizes would be a good start. Perhaps something like the size of a cinder-block. It is big enough to make structures quickly, but still a reasonable size and weight. I was thinking that a solid rectangle shape would be easiest, but I was thinking that the hollow sections in cinder-blocks might be possible and useful. The would use less snow and be lighter, but still be pretty strong. I know they use these holes to fill with cement / concrete. Might be possible to do something similar with snow / slush / water or something like that.

      Or maybe something like lego bricks. It the shape could interlock it might be stronger.

      Well these are the thoughts that are running around in my heads. I would love to hear some other peoples thoughts about this project. Do you think it would be cool? or a waste of time? I am just imagining my house with castle walls around my yard, and two 8ft towers on either side of my driveway. Bring on the snowball fights then.

      Cant wait for your thoughts,
      Josh
       
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    3. AndrewNew

      AndrewNew Well-Known Member

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      Sounds like fun! You might want to consider electric actuation rather than pneumatic (more portable I would think). I've seen people build igloos on the telly and they use chamfered blocks (imagine the tapered blocks used to make an arch but with a taper in two directions, since with an igloo you are making a dome). You might not want to restrict yourself to an igloo, of course.....
       
    4. cwarner7_11

      cwarner7_11 Well-Known Member

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      For ideas, you might want to have a look at the CINVA ram, used to make Compressed Earth Blocks (CEB). There are designs out there using manual force (the original CINVA design from the 1950's) or hydraulic cylinders. Molds can be made for any size or shape, including hollow and interlocking. There are portable powered units that run from diesel or gasoline engines, but the CINVA manually-operated style would most likely be the best approach to play with...
       
    5. nightwork

      nightwork New Member

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      Thanks for the Cinva Ram. That is vary close to what I was thinking. I also like how it ejects the bricks. I am not sure if I want to use manual or powered design. I think that air powered will be better then fully electric. Because of speed and power needed. Since it will use a small amount of air, I think a portable air compressor will be fine. I also already have a rather large one for my woodworking shop.

      I think I will try to do some tests to get an idea of the force needed and the compaction ratio. The cinva ram is made for clay and soil which will compact much less then snow. I think for snow, the volume will change much more then soil. I think I can make a simple wood form and manually compact the snow to get some useful data. We have been having some rather warm weather now and much of the snow is melted. :(

      As for interlocking blocks, I think I will start with simple rectangle blocks. But I will make sure the design includes the ability to change the top and bottom part of the mold to allow interlocking bricks to be made. I am keen on the idea of large snow lego looking blocks.

      Thanks for the ideas,
      Josh
       
    6. Dana

      Dana Well-Known Member

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      One problem you would run into is the huge variation in snow density... it might take one shovelful of heavy wet snow, but ten shovelfuls of light fluffy snow.

      How about a long travel ram pushing the snow down a rectangular tube. At the other end is a short ram, stroke equal to the block thickness. The long ram packs the snow down, final density based on the force applied. Then the short ram retracts away from the open end of the tube, the long ram extends by the same amount (if the original force crushes an unsupported block, you might have to use reduced force or distance control), and you slice the block off (saw? hot knife? use your imagination).

      Or forget the short ram... slide or pivot the endplate out of the way, advance the ram by the desired amount, and slide the endplate back in (in this case the endplate is the knife.

      Neither of these approaches allow for the interlocking blocks, though it might not be necessary.

      Then take it a step further and mount the whole thing on top of a big rotary snowplow... drive down the road and spit out bricks...

      Of course at this point you might have to wait until next winter to test it...
       
    7. nightwork

      nightwork New Member

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      Thanks for the ideas. Our winters has been very inconsistent this year. We had several heavy snowfalls, but almost all the snow was melted withing 3-5 days. Then we would have amazing warm weather for a few weeks until the next heavy snow. So very little testing could be done this year.

      I believe you are correct about the difference in snow. I have been considering this aspect for a while and have a few thoughts. My first thought is that the machine must be very adjustable. Instead of doing many tests before building a prototype, I feel its better to build a prototype to do the testing. So it will need to have a wide range of adjustments. The most important will be applied force, and compaction volume. I would like the final blocks to be a consistent size, so changing the force and pre-compacted volume should allow for this.

      Additionally, I think the working range of snow will be smaller then initially considered. While snow can vary a lot with moisture content, very wet and very dry snow will not be suitable for block making. Experience making a snow man teaches us that not all snow will work. So we can limit the range of workable snow. Personally I am fine with needing the correct type of snow, just like when you make a snow man.

      I think a pneumatic ram set to a constant force will be my first prototype. The snow will be loaded into mold and the ram will extend to compact it. A mechanical stop will insure the blocks are the same size. The volume can be increased until the ram can not compact enough to reach the stop. This then becomes the limit. I assume the limit will change each time blocks are made, but should be fairly consistent throughout each block making session.

      However, I really like your saw idea. It may be a future design. Perhaps it would be faster to compact a large block and cut it into smaller ones. Also, I think you are correct that I will have to wait until next winter before testing can start. But that just means I have all year to design it and build it. :)

      josh
       
    8. maniacal_engineer

      maniacal_engineer Well-Known Member

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    9. nightwork

      nightwork New Member

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      Thanks for the links. In my research I did come across this and watched several videos about it. I really like the idea, however I think the compaction ratio of snow is much higher. That is to say that the volume with decrease much more with snow then dirt. This means the travel of the press for snow would need to be much longer. I do not think this design can support that.

      That being said. I did like how the brick was removed with a lever. My first thoughts were to use pneumatics to move the parts. While I still like the speed they can provide and a portable air compressor should be plenty of power; using only mechanical motion has several advantages. The foremost is lack of electronics which do not play well with snow.

      I have been considering using bicycle chain and sprockets to increase compaction by human power. One idea is a top loading device with a foot powered slide. The operator would step on the slide, pushing it straight down along a guide. The slide is connected via chain to the bottom plate which would rise up compacting the snow. Then a second slide, or lever would push to block out of the mold. A possible addition to this design would be a ratcheting slide, which could be stepped on more then once to compact the snow. This would provide the option for much higher forces. One question I am still lingering on is how much force do I need to make a quality brick. 100lbs, 500 lbs? Without snow to test I will just have to design a machine which can be scaled.

      If anyone has snow and would like to test please let me know. I was thinking of using a pvc tube and plunger to make some simple measurements. What I am interested in is compaction ratio (Pre-compacted volume / compacted volume) and force required.

      Josh
       
    10. mahadeo

      mahadeo New Member

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      Hi Josh, All,

      I realize this thread is 2 year old but still... Yesterday when I was walking around my neighborhood through knee-deep snow, I got the exact same idea about making snow bricks, ideally a mechanical machine similar to a lawnmower that would eat snow and spit out bricks.

      Today I've experimented with making snow bricks using a plastic box (similar to plastic snow brick maker kid toys available on the internet).
      1. I've got fluffy, light, fresh snow
      2. The temperature outside was about -3 degrees Celcius which corresponds to about 25 Fahrenheit.
      3. My method was: put snow into the square plastic box to make it full. use shovel to compact snow a bit, then top up the box again. Then put a lid (just a wooden plank approximately the size of the plastic box) and lightly press on it. Add water and mix the snow and water using a shovel. Now finally press the snow for real, as hard as I could, with the same wooden lid by stepping on it with my foot. I weigh something like 90 kilos = 200 pounds. then wait a couple minutes before removing the brick from the box.
      4. Trying to press fluffy snow into bricks without water didnt work at all -- the bricks fell apart right away
      5. I was able to get a pretty stable brick by mixing water into the fluffy snow. I left it outside for the night to see how hard its going to become after it freezes in the night.
      6. My estimate of the compaction ratio is about 3:1 or 4:1 for fluffy snow (I was expecting much higher compaction ratio like 10:1). However this might be because of "caveman" equipment I used -- just pressing snow with my foot using a wooden plank into a plastic box. It's possible that using a more solid equipment like the steel cinva machine referred above it's possible to compact snow even better.

      That's all I've got for now. I'll probably continue with my experiments tomorrow -- I expect a week more of cold weather. Let me know if you want me to try something else.
       

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