Wrangling High Voltage

Working with high voltage is like working with high pressure plumbing. You can spring a leak in your plumbing, and of course you fix it. And now that you’ve fixed that leak, you’re able to increase the pressure still more, and sometimes another leak occurs. I’ve had these same experiences but with high voltage wiring. At a high enough voltage, around 30kV or higher, the leak manifests itself as a hissing sound and a corona that appears as a bluish glow of excited ions spraying from the leak. Try to dial up the voltage and the hiss turns into a shriek.

Why do leaks occur in high voltage? I’ve found that the best way to visualize the reason is by visualizing electric fields. Electric fields exist between positive and negative charges and can be pictured as electric field lines (illustrated below on the left.) The denser the electric field lines, the stronger the electric field.

The stronger electric fields are where ionization of the air occurs. As illustrated in the “collision” example on the right above, ionization can happen by a negatively charged electron leaving the electrically conductive surface, which can be a wire or a part of the device, and colliding with a nearby neutral atom turning it into an ion. The collision can result in the electron attaching to the atom, turning the atom into a negatively charged ion, or the collision can knock another electron from the atom, turning the atom into a positively charged ion. In the “stripping off” example illustrated above, the strong electric field can affect things more directly by stripping an electron from the neutral atom, again turning it into a positive ion. And there are other effects as well such as electron avalanches and the photoelectric effect.

In either case, we wanted to keep those electrons in the electrically conductive wires or other surfaces and their loss constitutes a leak in a very real way.

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Aerogel Insulation for 3D Printers

A heated bed is nearly essential for printing with ABS. Without it, it is difficult to keep parts from warping as the plastic cools. However, heating up a large print bed is difficult and time consuming. It is true that the printer easily heats the hot end to 200C or higher and the bed’s temperature is only half of that. However, the hot end is a small insulated spot and the bed is a large flat surface. It takes a lot of power and time to heat the bed up and keep the temperature stable.

We’ve used cork and even Reflectix with pretty good results. However, [Bill Gertz] wasn’t getting the performance he wanted from conventional material, so he got a piece of aerogel and used it as insulation. Aerogel material is a gel where a gas replaces the liquid part of the gel. Due to the Knudsen effect, the insulating properties of an aerogel may be greater than the gas it contains.

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Fail of the Week: Rewiring Robosapien

fotw-rewiring-robosapien

Our first thought was “check out all of those TO-92 components!”, but then we saw the wiring nightmare. [Tom] picked up a Robosapien from an estate sale for just $10. Most hackers couldn’t resist that opportunity, but the inexpensive acquisition led to a time-consuming repair odyssey. When something doesn’t work at all you crack it open to see what’s wrong. He was greeted with wiring whose insulation was flaking off.

This is no problem for anyone competent with a soldering iron. So [Tom] set to work clipping all the bad wire and replacing it with in-line splices. Voila, the little guy was dancing to his own tunes once again! But the success was short-lived as the next day the robot was unresponsive again. [Tom] plans to do some more work by completely replacing the wires as soon as he receives the replacement connectors he ordered. So what do you think, is this an issue that will be resolved with a wire-ectomy or might there be actual damage to the board itself?


2013-09-05-Hackaday-Fail-tips-tileFail of the Week is a Hackaday column which runs every Wednesday. Help keep the fun rolling by writing about your past failures and sending us a link to the story — or sending in links to fail write ups you find in your Internet travels.