Parts.io Aims at Better Component Discovery

Online parts search and ordering is a godsend compared to the paper-catalog days of yore. This is fact, there is no argument otherwise (despite [Dave Jones’] assertion that sourcing connectors is so much simpler if you have pages full of images). Just being able to search was a game changer. But how far do you think the concept has come since the transition online? [Chris Gammell] plans to spark a leap forward with Parts.io, an electronic component info delivery system that spans both manufacturers and distributors.

So what’s wrong with what we’re doing now? Nothing… unless you hate wasting time. Sourcing parts is time consuming. Certainly the parametric search on distributors’ sites like Mouser and Digikey have improved. Plus we’ve seen hacks that do things like automatically pull in stock data to a spreadsheet. But the real issue isn’t figuring out how to buy stuff, it’s figuring out what to use in a design. Surely there is opportunity for improvement.

Parts.io has its sights set on a better path to part discovery. Yes, this is parametric search but it will return data for all parts from all manufacturers. The distinction may not be completely obvious, but for example if you are searching on Element14 you’re only getting data on the parts that Element14 carries. Once you have drilled down to a reasonably manageable pool of components you get what you would expect: one-click datasheets and a roundup of pricing and availability from worldwide distributors. The presentation of the parts is grouped into families that differ in trailing parts designators, and I must say I am impressed at the interface’s ability to roll with you. It feels easier to find alternative parts after the drilldown where in my past searches I would have started completely over again.

The service started in private alpha in October but is now available for public use. You can search for a part without logging in, but a few features have been held back for those that sign up for a free account. Most notably this includes the ability to upload your BOM, add parts as favorites, and access their forums.

Is this a game changer? That’s for you to decide. You can give it a try yourself or watch [Chris’] feature walkthrough video found after the break.

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A Low Cost Bench Supply

Everyone needs a power supply on their bench, but a standard lab supply isn’t cheap. [ludzinc]’s PSU Console is a cheap alternative, which provides the basic features you’d expect in a lab supply.

The basis of this PSU is a DC/DC module based on the LM2596 step down switching regulator. These modules cost less than a single LM2596, but have all the required components for a buck DC/DC converter. Sure, they might not last forever, and they’re not the most efficient regulators, but the price is right.

The front panel has four displays for voltage and current, which are just low cost voltmeter displays. The potentiometers are used for adjusting the voltage of the DC/DC, and controlling the current limiter. This limiter monitors current through a shunt, and shuts off a MOSFET when the limit is exceeded.

The final product looks like something that’s ready for daily use, and was much cheaper than most supplies with these features. These low cost DC/DC modules are worth a look if you’re considering a similar build.

Save Data from Old Scopes with a GPIB Disk Emulator

If you still use old test equipment on a regular basis, you probably have been frustrated by the lack of options for pulling data off these aging devices. Many higher-end devices are equipped with GPIB ports, which are general purpose buses for communicating with a variety of obsolete peripherals. Since GPIB disk drives aren’t too common (or practical) these days, [Anders] made a GPIB adapter that emulates a disk drive and stores data to an SD card.

[Anders] designed a PCB with a PIC microcontroller that plugs into a GPIB port. The PIC emulates a disk drive using the AMIGO protocol or the SS/80 protocol, which can be selected in a configuration file on the SD card. Most test equipment supports one of these two protocols, so his adapter should work with pretty much any GPIB-equipped kit.

Data is saved to a single image file on the SD card, which is encoded in a native HP disk format. The image file can be opened on Windows and Linux with some utilities that [Anders] mentioned on his project page. If you have any old test equipment withGPIB lying around and want to build your own, the schematic and source code are up on his site or [Anders] is selling bare boards.

Now if it’s a protocol converter that you need we’ve seen those in a couple of different varieties.

Sigzig data loggers ditch the noise while pimping the case

We ran into [Paul Allen] at CES. He was showing off Sigzig, a super-low noise data logger which his company is just rolling out.

IMG_20150107_174520A couple of years ago he worked on a standalone chemical sensor and had a few extra boards sitting around after the project was done. As any resourceful hacker will do, he reached for them as the closest and easiest solution when needing to log data as a quick test. It wasn’t for quite some time that he went back to try out commercially available loggers and found a problem in doing so.

The performance of off-the-shelf data loggers wasn’t doing it for [Paul’s] team. They kept having issues with the noise level found in the samples. Since he had been patching into the chemical sensor PCBs and getting better results, the impetus for a new product appeared.

The flagship 24-bit 8-channel Sigzig samples 0-5v with less than 1uV of noise. A less expensive 4-channel differential unit offers 18-bit with 10-12 uV of noise. They are targeting $199 and $399 price points for the two units. We asked about the sample rate in the video below. The smaller version shown here captures up to 240 samples per second. The big guy has the hardware potential to sample 30,000 times per second but since the data is continuously streaming over USB that rate is currently limited to much less.

Update: It has been pointed out in the comments that USB may not be the choke point for sample rate.

 

Circuit Plotting With An HP Plotter

Over the last few years we’ve seen a few commercial products that aim to put an entire PCB fab line on a desktop. As audacious as that sounds, there were a few booths showing off just that at CES last week, with one getting a $50k check from some blog. [Connor] and [Feiran] decided to do the hacker version of a PCB printer: an old HP plotter converted to modern hardware with a web interface with a conductive ink pen.

The plotter in question is a 1983 HP HIPLOT DMP-29 that was, like all old HP gear, a masterpiece of science and engineering. These electronics were discarded (preserved may be a better word) and replaced with modern hardware. The old servo motors ran at about 1.5A each, and a standard H-Bridge chip and beefy lab power supply these motors were the only part of the original plotter that were reused. For accurate positioning, a few 10-turn pots were duct taped to the motor shafts and fed into the ATMega1284p used for controlling the whole thing.

One of the more interesting aspects of the build is the web interface. This is a small JavaScript app that is capable of drawing lines on the X and Y axes and sends the resulting coordinates from a server to the printer. It’s very cool, but not as cool as the [Connor] and [Feiran]’s end goal: using existing Gerber files to draw some traces. They’re successfully parsing Gerber files, throwing out all the superfluous commands (drills, etc), and plotting them in conductive ink.

The final iteration of hardware wasn’t exactly what [Connor] and [Feiran] had in mind, but that’s mostly an issue with the terrible conductivity of the conductive ink. They’ve tried to fix this by running the pen over each line five times, but that introduces some backlash. This is the final project for an electrical engineering class, so we’re going to say that’s alright.

Video below.

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Cheap DIY Microscope Sees Individual Atoms

This is not an artist’s rendering, nor a physics simulation. This device held together with hardware-store MDF and eyebolts and connected to a breadboard, is taking pictures of actual atomic structures using actual measurements. All via an 80¢ piezo buzzer? Madness.

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Gold atoms in a crystal.

This apparent wizardry is called a scanning tunneling microscope which takes advantage of quantum tunneling. The device brings a needle atomically close to the object to be measured (by hand), applying a small voltage (+-15V), and stopping when it starts to conduct. Depending on the distance between the tip and the target, the voltage varies and does so precisely enough to identify whether an atom is underneath or not, and by how much.

The “pictures” are not photographs like a camera might take from a standard optical microscope, however they are neither guesses nor averages. They are representations of real physical measurements of specific individual atoms as they exist on the infinitesimal area being probed. It “sees” by measuring small voltage changes. Another difference lies in the “scanning.” The probe examines atoms the way one would draw ASCII images – single pixels at a time until an entire atom was drawn. Note that the resolution – as shown in the pictures – is sub-atomic. Sizes of atoms are apparent as are the distances between them. In this they are closer related to the far more expensive Scanning Electron Microscope technology, but are 10-100x zoomier; resolving 0.00000000001m, or 0.00000000039″.

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Scan Head – Piezo cut into quadrants

One would presume that dealing with actual atoms requires precision machining vast orders of magnitude beyond the home hobbyist but, no. Any one of us could make this at home or in our hackerspaces, for nearly free. Apparently even sharpening a tip to a single atom is, as [Dan] says “not as hard to achieve as you might think!” You take some tungsten wire and pull on it as you cut so that it shatters diagonally. There are better ways he suggests, but that method is good enough.

The ordinary piezo buzzer that is key to the measurement is chopped into quadrants with an ordinary X-Acto knife by hand. Carefully, because it is fragile, but, nothing more to it than that. There are two better and common methods but they cost hundreds of dollars, not 80 cents. It should be carefully glued since soldering heat will damage it, but, [Dan] soldered his anyway because it was easier. Continue reading “Cheap DIY Microscope Sees Individual Atoms”

DIY Parts Tumbler Cleans Your Parts Good

Part tumbling is a method of deburring and cleaning relatively small objects. This is done by capturing the parts and media inside a rotating container. The agitation continually moves the media around all surfaces and corners of the part, smoothing them out resulting in a uniform finish. The media can be anything from specialty ceramic shapes to ball bearings to even sand. This process can be done in either a wet or dry condition. Think about the beach, the rocks there are smooth. This is due to the waves repetitively rubbing together the sand and stones which result in smooth round shapes.

[imp22b] recently got into ammo reloading and needed a way to clean his used shell casings. The casings are brass and after a little research online, [imp22b] found that a wet tumbling process with stainless steel pins for media was a DIY proven method for this casing material. He then went on to find a commercially available tumbler to model his build after, in this case a Thumler Model B. There is certainly no need to re-invent the wheel here.

As you can see in the photo, aluminum extrusion was used as the frame. Mounted to the frame are 4 pillow block bearings with shafts between each pair. A motor drives one of the bearing-mounted rods which in turn rotates a container resting on the rods. [imp22b] started with a 1/15 hp motor that he had kicking around but that wasn’t powerful enough so he did have to step up to a 1/3 hp unit. The container is made from off the shelf PVC pipe pieces and holds the media and casings along with some water. A bit of Lemon Shine and Dawn detergents are also added and help clean the parts. After a few hours of tumbling, the casings look pretty darn good.

DIY Parts Tumbler

If you’re interested making your own simpler tumbler, check out this one that uses a hand drill or this one that uses a coffee can.