Fail of the Week: Magnetic Flow Measurement Gone Wrong

Physics gives us the basic tools needed to understand the universe, but turning theory into something useful is how engineers make their living. Pushing on that boundary is the subject of this week’s Fail of the Week, wherein we follow the travails of making a working magnetic flowmeter (YouTube, embedded below).

Theory suggests that measuring fluid flow should be simple. After all, sticking a magnetic paddle wheel into a fluid stream and counting pulses with a reed switch or Hall sensor is pretty straightforward, right? In this case, though, [Grady] of Practical Engineering starts out with a much more complicated flow measurement modality – electromagnetic detection. He does a great job of explaining Faraday’s Law of Induction and how a fluid can be the conductor that moves through a magnetic field and has a measurable current induced in it. The current should be proportional to the velocity of the fluid, so it should be a snap to whip up a homebrew magnetic flowmeter, right? Nope – despite valiant effort, [Grady] was never able to get a usable signal out of the noise in his system. 

The theory is sound, his test rig looks workable, and he’s got some pretty decent instrumentation. So where did [Grady] go wrong? Could he clean up the signal with a better instrumentation amp? What would happen if he changed the process fluid to something more conductive, like salt water? By his own admission, electrical engineering is not his strong suit – he’s a civil engineer by trade. Think you can clean up that signal? Let us know in the comments section. 

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What Can We Learn From a Cheap Induction Cooktop?

Sometimes tearing down a cheap appliance is more interesting that tearing down an expensive one. A lot of the best engineering happens when cost is an issue. You may not solve the problem well, but you can solve it well enough for a discount shelf.

[openschemes] purchased a 1.8kW induction hot plate at a low price off Amazon. The reasons for the discount soon became apparent. The worst of which was a fully intolerable amount of high frequency switching noise. Wanting to know how it worked, he took it apart.

After he had it apart on his desk, he deciphered the circuit, and wrote about it clearly. As usual with extremely cheap electronics, some clever hacks were employed. The single micro-controller was used for monitoring, and generated a PWM signal that was instantly converted to DC through some filters. All the switching was done the old fashioned way, which explained why the hotplate seemed so brainless to [openschemes] when he first turned it on.

Lastly, he did some work on manually controlling the cooktop for whatever reason. The good news? He managed to figure out how to control it. Unfortunately he also destroyed his unit in the process, via a misapplication of 1200 volts. A fitting end, and we learned a lot!

Thanks [David Balfour] for the tip!

A Small, 1000W Induction Heater

[Proto G] built a small, desktop induction heater that is capable of making small castings, melting small amounts of metal, and functioning as one of the best solder pots we’ve ever seen.

The induction heater is built from a custom Zero Voltage Switching (ZVS) driver and powered by a small 48V, 1000W power supply. While this makes for an exceptionally small induction heater, it’s still very capable. In the video below, it only takes a few seconds to heat a screwdriver up to a temperature that will melt solder.

While an induction heating machine is essentially useless for irons unless you have a few antique, unpowered, blowtorch-powered soldering irons, it does make for a great solder pot. [Proto G] replaced the working coil in his induction heater with litz wire. The actual solder pot is made out of steel conduit wrapped with aerogel-infused fiberglass insulation. Compared to his old solder pot, this machine heats up instantly, and is more than capable of wetting a few wire connections.

The future plan for this inductive heater is to make a few more attachments for different metals, and a [Proto G] has a few aerogel blankets he could use to make some small metal castings.

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3D Printering: Induction Heating

Every filament-based 3D printer you’ll find today heats plastic with resistive heaters – either heater cartridges or big ‘ol power resistors. It’s efficient, but that will only get you so far. Given these heaters can suck down only so many Watts, they can only heat up so fast. That’s a problem, and if you’re trying to make a fast printer, it’s also a limitation.

Instead of dumping 12 or 24 VDC into a resistive heater, induction heaters passes high-frequency AC through a wire that’s inductively coupled to a core. It’s also very efficient, but it’s also very fast. No high-temperature insulation is required, and if it’s designed right, there’s less thermal mass. All great properties for fast heating of plastic.

A few years ago, [SB] over on the RepRap blog designed an induction heater for a Master’s project. The hot end was a normal brass nozzle attached to a mild steel sleeve. A laminated core was attached to the hot end, and an induction coil wrapped around the core. It worked, but there wasn’t any real progress for turning this into a proper nozzle and hot end. It was, after all, just a project.

Finally, after several years, people are squirting plastic out of an induction heated nozzle. [Z], or [Bulent Unalmis], posted a project to the RepRap forums where he is extruding plastic that has been heated with an induction heater. It’s a direct drive system, and mechanically, it’s a simpler system than the fancy hot ends we’re using now.

Electronically, it’s much more complex. While the electronics for a resistive heater are just a beefy power supply and a MOSFET, [Z] is using 160 kHz AC at 30 V. That’s a much more difficult circuit to stuff on a printer controller board.

This could be viewed as just a way of getting around the common 24V limitation of common controller boards; shove more power into a resistor, and it’s going to heat faster. This may not be the answer to hot ends that heat up quicker, but at the very least it’s a very neat project, and something we’d like to see more of.

You can see [Z]’s video demo of his inductive hot end below. Thanks [Matt] for the tip.

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A Simple LED Flashlight Composed of a Relay and a Magnet

In our tips line we sometimes receive hacks that are amazing just because of their ingenuity. This relay-powered flashlight is definitely one of them. It has been named RattleGen by its creator [Berto], who apparently often makes simple hacks used in his everyday life (have a look at his YouTube channel).

To understand this hack, you first need to know (in case you didn’t already) that a magnet moving near a conductor (here a coil) induces a voltage at its terminals. This is called electromagnetic induction. In the picture you see above, you may distinguish a disassembled relay with a magnet located on the lever’s end. As a ferromagnetic metal is already placed inside the coil, the lever is by default ‘stuck’ in this position. By continuously pressing the latter on its other end, important voltage spikes are created at the coils terminals. [Berto] therefore used a bridge rectifier to transform the AC into DC, and a 1000uF capacitor to smooth the power sent to his super bright LED. A video of the system in action is embedded after the break.

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More Lights for your Presents


Lights on the tree? Check. Presents under the tree? Check. Lights in the presents? Why not! If your gifts don’t look festive enough and you have a spare inductive charging system lying around the house—though, you could always build your own from scratch—you can brighten things up by installing a few LEDs in the packaging.

The Instructable takes advantage of those new-fangled LED Christmas lights, one strand of which typically draws under 1A and requires around 5V, putting it in the ballpark for popular induction systems used to charge cell phones such as the Powermat. In this particular example, the strand ran off 3 AA batteries, or 4.5V, which meant stepping down the voltage either with a power regulator or, more conveniently, a simple diode in series.

Some additional modifications to the packaging tidy up the installation, including carving out some of the cardboard to recess the receiver and securing everything with hot glue before wrapping it all in paper. You can see a quick demonstration video below.

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Rattle generator is a new type of dynamo for a bicycle


This project is in one of our favorite categories; the kind where asking “why?” is the wrong question. [Berto A.] built the device after observing some power generation by placing a large magnet next to a mechanical relay coil and quickly clicking the relay’s lever. From this humble beginning he built up the RattleGen, a bicycle spoke driven generator.

To get the most power possible he searched around for a massive relay and found one which was originally meant for telephone exchanges. He cut the case open and strapped a big bar magnet to the side of the coil. Next he fabricated an arm which will press against the relay’s lever. To that he added a small wheel which is pressed each time a spoke from the bicycle passes by it. This repeated clicking of the relay lever generates a current (and a rattling sound) that is harvested by the joule thief circuit built on some protoboard. An LED is illuminated, with excess current stored in the capacitor bank. Don’t miss the build and demonstration video after the break.

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