How TO dim EL wire: Current limiting the oscillator!

[Ch00f] finally made a breakthrough with his efforts dimming EL wire.  He’s been at it for months and the last we heard his TRIAC idea had sputtered out. Not to be discouraged and with an determination we have to admire he has been hard at work reverse engineering others’ and developing his own methods. He put all of this knowledge to task helping a friend of his with a sleeping disorder, and made a dream-catcher that pulses at the approximate rate of an average person’s breathing (as determined by Apple for their pulsing power button lights).

Essentially the whole thing boils down to simply using a transistor to limit the current to the oscillator. A 555 timer is used to pass a triangle wave to the current limiting transistor at approximately the same rate as the Apple button (1/5 Hz). [Ch00f] notes that this isn’t the sinusoidal wave that apple uses, but it’s good enough. Finally a timeout power off is built in to the night light using a decade counter to monitor the number of triangles from the 555. This should keep the EL wire from wearing down faster, though we are hard pressed to  think of a project we used EL on that has lasted anywhere near the 7 year service life of the wire.

Check out [Ch00f]‘s page as he walks us through the process, or just watch his circuit in action after the jump!

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How not to dim EL panels, TRIACs!

We’ve all been there: an exciting brilliant idea, scratched onto a napkin, hastily plugged into a breadboard, all for naught.  Even the best ideas sometimes suffer from a heavy dose of reality.  [Ch00f] over at ch00ftech recently had a similar experience dimming an EL panel of his using a TRIAC and some clever waveform manipulation. Instead of tossing the parts across the room in a fit aside and moving on he goes into a detailed analysis of what went wrong.

This method differs from the way most EL drivers dim output loads, instead of chopping the output like a PWM controlled LED the TRIAC snips the ends of the waveform and makes an ugly but less powerful output. The issue with this method is that when you cut the waveform during non-zero crossings it causes massive current spikes. These can wreak havoc on a cheap EL inverter and generally cause headaches all around.  [Ch00f ] speculates that his woes may be due to the fact that EL wire is a capacitive load, causing voltage to fall out of phase with the current. This is one of those engineering problems with a thousand and one answers, we can’t wait to see what he comes up with.

Check out the writeup for all the “deets” (as [ch00f] would say) as it is a pretty good primer on TRIAC operation. If there isn’t enough glowy wire in this post you can also check out this sound reactive panel or an informative guide on EL or even more from [ch00f] in general.

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