Current Sink Keeps The Smoke In

One of the most versatile tools on anyone’s work bench, at least as far as electrical projects are concerned, is a power supply. Often we build our own, but after we’ve cobbled together some banana jacks with a computer’s PSU or dead-bug soldered a LM317 voltage regulator to a wall wart, how will that power supply perform? Since it’s not desirable to use a power supply that’ll let the smoke out of everything it powers (or itself, for that matter) a constant current sink, or load, can help determine the operating limits of the power supply.

[electrobob] built this particular current sink from parts he had lying around. The theory of a constant current sink is relatively straightforward so it’s easily possible to build one from parts out of the junk drawer, provided you can find a few transistors, fuses, an op amp, and some heat sinks. The full set of schematics that [electrobob] designed can be found on his main project page. He’s also gone a step further with this build as well, since he shorted out his first prototype and destroyed some of the transistors. But, using a few extra transistors in his design also improves the safety and performance of the load, so it’s a win-win.

This constant current load also has the added feature of being able to interface with a waveform generator (an Analog Discovery, specifically) and as a result can connect and disconnect the load quickly. If you aren’t in need of an industrial-grade constant current sink and you have some spare parts lying around, this would be a great one to have around the work bench.

Get To Know Voltage Regulators with a 723

“Chapter 5; Horowitz and Hill”. University students of all subjects will each have their standard texts of which everyone will own a copy. It will be so familiar to them as to be referred to by its author as a shorthand, and depending on the subject and the tome in question it will be either universally loathed or held onto and treasured as a lifetime work of reference.

For electronic engineers the work that most exemplifies this is [Paul Horowitz] and [Winfield Hill]’s The Art Of Electronics. It definitely falls into the latter category of course books, being both a mine of information and presented in an extremely accessible style. It’s now available in its third edition, but the copy in front of me is a first edition printed some time in the mid 1980s.

The Art of Electronics, on regulators.
The Art of Electronics, on regulators.

Chapter 5 probably made most of an impression on the late-teenage me, because it explains voltage regulation and power supplies both linear and switching. Though there is nothing spectacularly challenging about a power supply from the perspective of experience, having them explained as a nineteen-year-old by a book that made sense because it told you all the stuff you needed to know rather than just what a school exam syllabus demanded you should know was a revelation.

On the first page of my Art of Electronics chapter 5, they dive straight in to the μA723 linear voltage regulator. This is pretty old; a design from the legendary [Bob Widlar], master of analogue integrated circuits, which first made it to market in 1967. [Horowitz] and [Hill] say “Although you might not choose it for a new design nowadays, it is worth looking at in some detail, since more recent regulators work on the same principles“. It was 13 years old when they wrote that sentence and now it is nearly 50 years old, yet judging by the fact that Texas Instruments still lists it as an active product without any of those ominous warnings about end-of-life it seems plenty of designers have not heeded those words.

So why is a 50-year-old regulator chip still an active product? There is a huge range of better regulators, probably cheaper and more efficient regulators that make its 14-pin DIP seem very dated indeed. The answer is that it’s an incredibly useful part because it does not present you with a regulator as such, instead it’s a kit of all the parts required to make a regulator of almost any description. Thus it is both an astonishingly versatile device for a designer and the ideal platform for anyone wanting to learn about or experiment with a regulator.
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DIY Pressure Regulator for Exciting SCUBA

To get a SCUBA certification, a prospective diver will need to find a dive shop and take a class. Afterwards, some expensive rental equipment is in order. That is, unless you’re [biketool] who has found a way to build some of his own equipment. If you’re looking for a little bit of excitement on your next dive, this second stage regulator build might be just the thing for you.

It’s worth noting that [biketool] makes it explicitly clear that this shouldn’t be used on any living being just yet. The current test, though, was at 120 PSI using some soda bottles and some scrap bike parts. The OpenSCAD-designed regulator seems to work decently well for something that’s been homemade using some 3D-printed parts and other things available to most tinkerers/makers/hackers. [biketool] also goes over some issues with the regulator leaking and discusses porosity issues inherent in FDM printing but overall this project looks promising. Whether or not you want a pressurized 3D printed vessel that close to your face is rife for debate.

We don’t see a lot of SCUBA-related hacks around here. After all, it’s one thing to power an air horn with SCUBA tanks, but it’s a completely different thing to build something that keeps you from drowning.

Thanks to [dave] for the tip!

Ode to the TL431, and a LiFePO4 Battery Charger

Nerd Ralph loves cheap and dirty hacks, and for that we applaud him. His latest endeavor is a LiFePO4 battery charger that he made out of parts he had on hand for under $0.50 US. (Although we think he really made it for the fun of making it.)

The circuit is centered around a TL431 programmable shunt regulator, which is an awesome and underrated chip in its own right. If you don’t know the TL431 (aka LM431), you owe it to yourself to fetch the datasheet and pick up a couple with your next electronics part order. In fact, it’s such a great chip, we can’t resist telling you about it for a minute.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: A 7805 Replacement

The 7805 voltage regulator is a great device if you want a simple way of bringing a voltage down to 5V. It’s a three-pin, one-component solution that puts out five volts and a lot of heat. Simple, not efficient. For his Hackaday Prize entry, [K.C. Lee] is working on a much more efficient drop-in replacement for the 7805.

Linear regulators like the 7805 are great, but they’re not terribly efficient. Depending on the input voltage you might see 50% efficiency. Going to a switch mode supply, that efficiency shoot up to about 90%.

For his drop-in replacement, [K.C. Lee] is using the LM3485, a switch mode regulator that only needs a few extra parts to turn it into a replacement for the 7805. You will need a cap on the input, but you should already be putting those in your circuit anyway, right?

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Reverse engineer a PSU to change its output voltage


[Semicolo] has a bunch of old PSUs on hand which he pulled out of some Lexmark dot matrix printers. In their stock form they put out 40V, which is close to the 35V max he needs to run the stepper motors on a 3D printer he’s been building. So he reverse engineered the PSU to change its output.

On the left you can see the top of the PCB. [Semicolo] flipped it over and snapped a picture of the traces on the bottom of the board. With a bit of work in The Gimp (FOSS image editing software) he was able to convert the traces to black and white. Overlaying the picture of the top with a 50% transparency of the traces made it rather easy see the connections and generate a schematic for the hardware. That’s a really cool trick!

Figuring out how it’s supposed to work is a big step in achieving his goal. The next step was to see if he could bend the circuit to his will. He had previously run across ATX PSU hacks which changed the reference voltage in order to alter the output. He grabbed a datasheet for the HA17431 variable shunt regulator. It lays out how to tune the output based on values of a few external components. He dropped in one resistor and the output measured 31V, well within his target range.

Building a bipolar supply from a boost converter

This DC-DC Bipolar PSU was developed for use with a guitar effects pedal. [Obsolete Technology] needed to source both positive and negative 15V. This is pretty easy to do if you’re converting from mains, but he wanted a solution that could work with a lower-voltage AC/DC wall wort or even from batteries.

The part that pulls it all together is the LT3467. It’s a switching power regulator which offers a range of features configured by the layout of a handful of external passive components. It can put out 80 mA on each line (positive and negative). Also extremely useful for this application is the chip’s high frequency operation. Depending on the version, it switches at 1.3 or 2.1 MHz. This is high enough that it will not introduce audible noise into the audio system.

We’ve got an exercise bike whose negative supply for the LCD is blown. We’re going to try build this circuit, trimming it for our voltage needs, and get the contrast working again.

[Thanks Olli]