An Open-Source Turbomolecular Pump Controller

It’s not every project write-up that opens with a sentence like “I had this TURBOVAC 50 turbomolecular pump laying around…”, but then again not every write-up comes from someone with a lab as stuffed full of goodies as that of [Niklas Fauth]. His pump had an expired controller board, so he’s created an open-source controller of his own centred upon an STM32. Intriguingly he mentions its potential use as “I want to do more stuff with sputtering and Ion implantation in the future“, as one does of course.

So given that probably not many Hackaday readers have a turbomolecular pump lying around but quite a few of you will find the subject interesting, what does this project do? Sadly it’s a little more mundane than the pump itself, since a turbomolecular pump is a highly specialised multi-stage turbine, this is a 3-phase motor controller with analogue speed feedback taken from the voltage across a couple of the motor phases. For this reason he makes the point that it’s a fork of his hoverboard motor controller software, the fruits of which we’ve shown you in the past. There isn’t a cut-out timer should the motor not reach full speed in a safe time, but he provides advice as to where to look in the code should that be necessary.

This is by no means the first turbomolecular pump to make it to these pages, in 2016 we brought you one taking inspiration from a Tesla turbine.

15 thoughts on “An Open-Source Turbomolecular Pump Controller

  1. These writeups are starting to sound a bit like episodes of television shows centered around pawnshops or salvage finds or storage unit sight unseen auctions that clearly plant things and have experts on call already to make the shows and process appear to be much more noteworthy than they actually are. Look, I found a laser cutter that weights hundreds of pounds and was free but just needed somebody to take it off their hands and a bit of Arduino work to make a controller! There have been at least 3 of these articles in the last week or two. Not complaining, just amused.

    Am I missing seriously great salvage yards somehow or other sources of really nice but ultra niche gear? This at least looks like a standard Leybold Turbovac 50 or so and a cursory look around at least shows a few to be available at somewhat sane prices in whatever used condition they happen to be in.

    Also, is there a backing pump used here?

    1. “These writeups are starting to sound a bit like episodes of television shows centered around pawnshops or salvage finds or storage unit sight unseen auctions that clearly plant things and have experts on call already to make the shows and process appear to be much more noteworthy than they actually are.”

      The secret lives of geeks and nerds.

    2. Trends in styles in periods of time.

      A group I’m on was just noting all the electronics salvage, used equipment warehouses and/or resale operations that have closed down and went out of business. I’m not sure if due to the further complexity of the newer devices and equipment or more the “throw away” mentality of the more recent generations with some false sense of no ownership and rights to own software, hardware and documentation when reselling. Training makes a little more sense to have to pay for again along with tangible materials expense from the manufacturer or sales or service contractor.

      Software, hardware and documentation can easily be made available now days with the low cost of storage and even free storage online available to most the World. Owning the hardware that is easily maintainable and maybe even more complexly hackable to be upgradable is what I want before is scrapped or sold overseas.

      I’m all for dumpster dive, left by the road for trash pickup or whomever, second hand shops, trading pots, warehouses, salvage yard, free postings online like craigslist/letgo and recyclers finds.

      I dislike the pawn shops the most and just don’t use them typically. I enjoy reading these different implementations.

      Try to keep in mind different developmental stages of the writers, readers and authors I’m thinking. Some of the elder generation forgot to train the next generations and I think that is why we lost our jobs to overseas operations that were willing and wanting to learn new things… not only the immigrants who might have really passive hostile targeted those trainers to pass on the jobs to the locals who might not have been so greedy.

  2. You wouldn’t believe the stuff that a typical university throws out, though you really need to have some kind of formal affiliation with one to keep in the loop about the really good stuff. I’ve seen everything from rotary vane pumps to mass spectrometers to a $2m protein crystallisation setup sitting outside the department awaiting scrapping. Before you write to lament such things, be reassured that most of this stuff finds a welcoming new home thanks to a network of hacker-minded spotters :)

    1. yes, that is how I became the owner of a complete Sercon 20/20 Hydra Mass Spectrometer. I am rebuilding it (for fun) but need schematics for the Edwards EXC100 controller. I have 3 of them and none of them are working.

  3. Very, very interesting. I have a TMP150 pump which I got from university years ago (the bearings were knackered, but everything else was in good condition) and always planned to make my own 3-phase controller for it. A heads-up for those who don’t want to go down the route of building their own – there are 0-1000Hz VFD inverters available from everyone’s favorite Chinese shopping site for a few hundred bucks. These are intended for running 60000rpm machining spindles (I’ve got a couple and they run really nicely for tiny tools), but could probably be reprogrammed easily to drive a turbopump. You’d need to make some guesses at current limits, ramp up/down speeds etc., but I don’t imagine these are too critical.

    1. while “Hacking” your own controller has its merits….
      even your suggestion of using a chinese box is worthwhile…

      Its important to note that you can usually pickup a used leybold controller for $2-500 used.

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