TinkerMill's Electronic Access System

Our neighbors at TinkerMill used SparkFun parts to create a fully operational and customizable RFID electronic access system to their facility. Learn more about their project and what they do here!

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TinkerMill is a makerspace local to SparkFun - it's located in Longmont, CO, about 15 minutes from our HQ. TinkerMill offers space and equipment to members, and they truly have it all. In addition to their electronics shop where you can find some SparkFun gear, they have a metalworking shop, a blacksmithing tent, a pottery studio, a stained glass area, a sewing room, a woodshop, and a giant laser, among more trades and crafts.

At TinkerMill, equipment cost isn't a barrier to entry for talented folks looking to learn a new skill (or continue a craft they've been honing for a while). They even have some small businesses running out of their facility.

Different memberships at TinkerMill get you different equipment access, and some areas like the woodshop are open for member access 24/7 while other areas are only able to members who complete trainings on equipment management and safety. In order to manage different entry permissions throughout the facility, they built TinkerAccess.

Certain pieces of equipment, like this lathe, need to be unlocked via TinkerAccess.

TinkerAccess is an electronic access control system. Every member is issued a unique RFID key fob that they then use throughout the facility to open doors to certain areas. TinkerAccess limits access to certain various equipment until members have been properly trained on their use, as well as giving all members door access system to the building itself.

The hardware is based on a Raspberry Pi with a custom designed daughtercard containing an RFID reader. The main code is written in Python. There is also a Raspberry Pi based server that hosts the SQLite database and web server interface for controlling individual user access to specific equipment or doors.

A look under the hood.

Due to TinkerMill's safety setup surrounding certain areas and equipment, they knew they needed to implement a reliable RFID electronic access system that was flexible and customizable. They also wanted to have a fun time doing it. Being makers themselves, the attitude was "why would we buy a commercial product when we could make it ourselves," and it works perfectly!

They chose to use SparkFun for TinkerAccess because we're local and well-known in the maker community. The code examples and libraries available for our hardware made their implementation quite easy.

Here are all the products they bought from SparkFun that they used in their build::

RFID Reader ID-12LA (125 kHz)

RFID Reader ID-12LA (125 kHz)

SparkFun 16x2 SerLCD - RGB Backlight (Qwiic)

SparkFun 16x2 SerLCD - RGB Backlight (Qwiic)

Flexible Qwiic Cable - 200mm

Flexible Qwiic Cable - 200mm

Raspberry Pi GPIO Tall Header - 2x20

Raspberry Pi GPIO Tall Header - 2x20

Raspberry Pi 3 B+

Raspberry Pi 3 B+

Qwiic JST Connector - SMD 4-pin (Horizontal)

Qwiic JST Connector - SMD 4-pin (Horizontal)

Mini Pushbutton Switch - SMD

Mini Pushbutton Switch - SMD




TinkerAccess was a success! TinkerMill says that the biggest benefit is how it keeps equipment repair costs down by limiting access to trained individuals only. Their members are pretty good at reporting equipment damage and issues, but in cases where that doesn't happen, TinkerAccess has a log of the last users so they can make an inquiry into what happened. Also, since it is in-house designed, it is highly customizable to their changing needs. The question "can TinkerAccess do this?" comes up often, and the answer is almost always "yes." It typically just takes some code and database changes to make it happen.

TinkerMill and all its magic is made possible by volunteers.

TinkerAccess is a source of pride for those at TinkerMill who worked on it, and they love to show it off during open house tours. The success of TinkerAccess has been a team effort from TinkerMill's membership. Everyone who has contributed volunteered their time to work on it, whether it be writing code, designing a PCB, or even just maintaining and adding new installations. It's a good example of how volunteerism makes TinkerMill successful on the whole. It's constantly impacting the business by being expandable and customizable, so when they add new areas or equipment, TinkerAccess comes with.

You can find out more about TinkerAccess on their Github page.

Even if you're not local, you can take a virtual tour of TinkerMill to see all the cool stuff they have:

If you are local, check out TinkerMill's electronics and robotics shop. They offer classes and a great workspace where you can solder, 3D print, and tinker to your heart's content. If you're inspired by their mission, look into volunteering here.

All pictures were sent to us by TinkerMill or found on their website.

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