Getting Ugly, Dead Bugs, and Going to Manhattan

Back in the 1980s I was a budding electronics geek working in a TV repair shop. I spent most of my time lugging TVs to and from customers, but I did get a little bench time in. By then new TVs were entirely solid-state and built on single PC boards, but every once in a while we’d get an old-timer in with a classic hand-wired tube chassis. I recall turning them over, seeing all the caps and resistors soldered between terminal strips bolted to the aluminum chassis and wondering how it could all possibly work. It all looked so chaotic and unkempt compared to the sleek traces and neat machine-inserted components on a spanking new 19″ Zenith with the System 3 chassis. In a word, the old chassis was just – ugly.

Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have been so judgmental. Despite the decades of progress in PCB design and the democratization of board production thanks to KiCad, OSH Park, and the like, it turns out there’s a lot to be said for ugly methods of circuit construction.

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Adding A Backlight To A Cheap Multimeter

We don’t all need super high quality electronic testing gear. Sometimes second-hand or inexpensive equipment is accurate enough to get the job done. Though it can be a bit annoying to miss out on some of those “luxury” features. [Ekriirke] had this problem with his cheap multimeter. He wished the LCD screen had a backlight for easier visibility, so rather than upgrade to a more expensive unit he just added one himself.

After opening up the multimeter [Ekriirke] found that it ran on a single 12V battery. He realized that the simplest thing to do would be to wire up four white LEDs in series. The four LEDs were arranged within the case off to each side of the LCD, one in each corner. The leads were bent at 90 degree angles and soldered together “dead bug” style. Thin strips of copper foil tape were attached to the PCB in such a way that the anode and cathode from the LEDs would make contact when the case was closed back up.

The tape wraps around to the other side of the PCB where there was more room for the next piece of the circuit. A capacitor, resistor, and transistor are used in conjunction with a momentary switch. This circuit allows [Ekriirke] to turn on the light for about ten seconds by pressing the button one time. The circuit also runs through the meter’s dial switch, preventing the LEDs from being turned on while the meter itself is turned off.

[via Reddit]

A Deadbugged GPS/GLONASS/Geiger Counter

So you think you’re pretty good at soldering really tiny parts onto a PCB? You’re probably not as good as [Shibata] who made a GPS/GLONASS and Geiger counter mashup deadbug-style with tiny 0402-sized parts.

The device uses an extremely small GPS/GLONASS receiver, an AVR ATxmega128D3 microcontroller, a standard Nokia phone display and an interesting Geiger tube with a mica window to track its location and the current level of radiation. The idea behind this project isn’t really that remarkable; the astonishing thing is the way this project is put together. It’s held together with either skill or prayer, with tiny bits of magnet wire replacing what would normally be PCB traces, and individual components making up the entire circuit.

While there isn’t much detail on what’s actually going on in this mess of solder, hot glue, and wire, the circuit is certainly interesting. Somehow, [Shibata] is generating the high voltage for the Geiger tube and has come up with a really great way of displaying all the relevant information on the display. It’s a great project that approaches masterpiece territory with some crazy soldering skills.

Thanks [Danny] for sending this one in.

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Volumetric Circuits

Building a circuit Manhattan style with small bits of copper and solder is a skill all its own, and building a prototype dead bug style is close to a black art. [Anderson] is taking it to the next level with his volumetric circuits. Not only is he building a free-form circuit that’s also a one-bit ALU, he’s also designing software to make these sort of circuits easy to design and build.

[Anderson] is calling his 3D circuit design software Pyrite, and it does exactly what it says on the tin: creates three-dimensional, grid-aligned physical circuits. Automating the construction of a circuit  is not a trivial task, and soldering all these components together even more so.

With the first prototype of his software, [Anderson] entered the schematic of a simple one bit ALU. The resulting layout was then carefully pieced together with solder and hot glue. It didn’t work, but that’s only because the schematic was wrong. Designing the software is still an incredible accomplishment, and now that [Anderson] has a rudimentary system of automatically designing free form and dead bug circuits, there are a lot of interesting possibilities. Ever wonder if the point to point wiring found in old radios was the most efficient layout? [Anderson] could probably tell you.

You can check out a few videos of [Anderson]’s work below.

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Hand soldering BGA parts should be a circus act

Okay, we think it’s questionable when people say they have no problem soldering QFN packages, but BGA? Granted this chip has far fewer balls on it than many, but it’s still quite impressive that [Xevel] was able to solder this BGA breakout by hand.

The chip you see above is a TMP006 infrared temperature sensor from TI. [Xevel] picked up the part but didn’t want to break the bank when prototyping by buying a proper PCB to host it. There are only eight conductors on it, arranged in a grid with 0.5mm pitch. That didn’t seem to scare him off, as the video after the break shows him connecting each to a conductor on a hunk of stripboard.

[Xevel] mentions that this is a dead-bug style project. Usually you glue the part upside down when using that technique, but it needs line of sight to get an accurate temperature reading so he first cut a hole in the substrate. We’d bet he’s using wire-wrapping wire to make the connections. It’s a very fine solid core wire which is perfect for this kind of work.

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Got Dead Bugs In Your Stereo?

It happens to the best of designers, spending untold amounts of time designing a complex device just to find out that you missed a trace, or you couldn’t rout something to something else. As time marches on its becoming a bit less common to pop open a commercially produced device and see a little jumper wire or 2 flying across a pcb, or a resistor straddling an IC.

But when [Ilektron] opened up a Yamaha Dolby Pro Logic receiver to scavenge for parts he saw a very big “oops” and a even wilder fix. The maker took a pair of relays, flipped them “belly up” and hot glued them into place on top of a pair of ICs. Then the mess was “dead bug” wired to the circuit using insulated and uninsulated bus wire, contacts were then reinforced / insulated using more hot glue.

This is one of the most hacky fix we have seen in a commercially produced product, but we would love to hear your amusing horror stories of “WTH did they do?” So join us in the comments after the break.