PCB Reflow With A PCB

We wonder if [Carl Bugeja] was looking at a 3D printer’s heated bed when he got the idea to create a PCB reflow heater using a PCB. He tried a quick test to heat up a standard PCB and made it self-reflow. That worked, though it obviously wouldn’t be practical for all boards. But it proved he could make it work.

To improve the heating performance, he laid out a metal core PCB, along with some custom control electronics. The board’s resistance didn’t quite perform to calculations, but luckily, it was too high so a shunt wire was able to reduce the overall resistance. One important thing to consider is that the heater board needs to use higher temperature solder so it doesn’t desolder its own components

We were glad to see [Carl] use a metal core board as standard PCB material can get cranky at high temperatures over 130C. Even so, it would be good to check the boards you plan to use this way to make sure they are rated for the kind of temperatures required.

We’ve seen lots of reflow heat sources. Halogen lights come to mind. Or, raid the toy closet and find an Easy Bake oven.

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WebSerial: Browser Based Development For Your Boards And Electronic Badges

For years, one of the most accessible and simplest-to-implement methods of talking to a dev board has been to give it a serial port. Almost everything has serial in some form, so all that’s needed is to fire up a terminal. But even with that simplicity, there are still moments when the end user might find a terminal interface a little daunting. Think of a board aimed at kids for example, or an event badge which must be accessible to as many people as possible.

We’ve seen a very convenient solution to this problem in the form of WebUSB, but for devices without the appropriate USB hardware there’s WebSerial, an in-browser API for communicating with serial ports including USB-to-serial chips. [Tom Clement] argues that this could serve as the way forward for event badges. Best of all it can be a retro-fit to enable in-browser development for older badges or dev boards with a serial port.

The boards on which he demonstrates the technique are the series of event badges running the badge.team firmware platform including his own i-Pane from CampZone 2019 and going right back to the SHA 2017 badge, but there’s no reason why the same technique can’t be extended to other boards.

There’s a snag with all this though, sadly only browsers in the Chrome family support it at the time of writing, with no plans from Mozilla and apple, and silence from Microsoft. So things look likely to stay that way. It is however inevitable that in time there will be commercial products taking advantage of it via the use of cheap USB to serial chips, so perhaps the case to incorporate it will make itself.

Header: Mobius, Public domain.

Hackaday Links: March 21, 2021

If you think you’re having a bad day at work, pity the poor sysadmin at Victoria University of Wellington in Australia New Zealand, who accidentally nuked the desktops of pretty much everyone at the university. This apparently happened last week and impacted everyone connected to the university network with a Windows machine, which had any files stored on their desktops deleted and also appears to have reset user profiles to the default state. This caused no end of consternation, especially among those who use their desktop folder to organize work in progress; we’d imagine more than one student at VUW is hating life right now for not storing work on a backed-up network drive. The problem seems to have started with an attempt to clean up files and profiles left behind by former students; how that escalated to nuking files on the desktop will require some ‘splaining.

Speaking of mea culpas, there was quite a dustup this week in the Cricut community. It started when the maker of CNC cutting machines announced its intention to limit uploads to their online design software unless the user signs up for a $10 a month account. After getting an earful from the users, the CEO of the company announced that these changes would be delayed until the end of 2021. That decision still didn’t sit well with the community, which includes a fair number of users designing PCBs, and two days later, the CEO announced that they were throwing in the towel on the whole plan, and that everything was going back to status quo ante. Story over? We’ll see — it seems like Cricut has tipped its hand here that they’re looking to extract more money from the users, and the need for that likely hasn’t gone away just because they relented. As Elliot Williams pointed out when we discussed the whole debacle, it’s easy to see how Cricut could start adding new features to the paid version of their software, basically abandoning the free user base. We’ll have to see how the obviously vociferous community responds to something like that.

Much interesting news from Mars this week, where the Perseverance rover is getting used to its new home and getting itself ready to roll. Late last week, Perseverance successfully dropped the “belly pan” that was covering the sensitive instruments under the rover, including the Adaptive Sample Caching system that will seal up Martian core samples and drop them out onto the surface for later pickup. This seemingly simple task was a critical one; had the pan not cleanly separated, the mission could have been severely impacted. Perseverance also did a little test drive this week, and recorded what it sounds like to drive on Mars. The audio clip is 16 minutes long, and the noises coming from the billion-dollar rover are just awful at times. We hear clunks and clanks and squeals galore, and while we’re sure they all have a good explanation and will provide valuable engineering data, they sound somewhat alarming to us.

But not so alarming as the sounds that must have come from a Jeep that suffered a bad tow job recently. The cringe-making story starts with a brand-new Jeep being towed on its wheels behind a motorhome, which allows the RV owners to park their rig and still have something to drive around in while they camp. The towed vehicle, or “pusher”, is normally equipped with a manual transmission, as towing with the wheels on the ground for extended distances is easier with them. Unfortunately, the Jeep’s owner set up the shift levers wrong and left the transmission in first gear, with the transfer case in low range. The linked article estimates the gearing ratios meant that the poor Jeep’s engine was being spun at something like 54,000 RPM; chances are good the engine exploded long before that point. The damage shown in the video accompanying the article is just brutal — the oil pan and bell housing are gone, the bottom of the crankcase is blown out, and at least two pistons and their share of the crankshaft are missing in action. We feel sorry for the owner, but really wish the Jeep had had a belly cam like the one on Perseverance.

Arduino CLI For I/O Pin Testing

Need to quickly toggle or read some logic signals without the hassle of writing a quick program? [Thor_x86], aka [Eric], built an Arduino sketch that does just that — and he threw in the ability to send (or receive) serial messages, too. This is a neat idea — kind of a simplified Bus Pirate.

We should warn you that this is an early release, and there are a few minor issues which we are sure [Eric] will iron out soon. We discovered the function strtol() was misspelled in cmd_send.cpp, and there are some configuration #defines which need to be sorted out in file parsePin.cpp, depending on which Arduino module you are running. We got it running on an Arduino Leonardo the quickest, because it has support for Serial1().

Don’t be discouraged by these glitches in this rev 0 deployment — [Eric] has really made quite a nice tool here. Check his GitHub repository for updates (or submit corrections yourself). All in all, it’s a good addition to your digital tool box. On a completely unrelated note, we really like [Eric]’s USB cable with the right-angle micro connector, grungy though it may be.

Besides the standard tools like Bus Pirate, GreatFET, FTDI modules, etc., are there any similar tools you like to use for bit banging and serial testing? Let us know in the comments below.

Retrotechtacular: Manufacturing Philco Germanium Transistors

There was a time when all major corporations maintained film production departments to crank out public relations pieces, and the electronic industry was no exception. Indeed, in the sea-change years of the mid-20th century, corporate propaganda like this look at Philco transistor manufacturing was more important than ever, as companies tried to pivot from vacuum tubes to solid-state components, and needed to build the consumer electronics markets that would power the next few decades of rapid growth.

The film below was produced in 1957, just a decade since the invention of the transistor and only a few years since Philco invented the surface-barrier transistor, the technology behind the components. It shows them being made in their “completely air-conditioned, modern plant” in Pennsylvania. The semiconductor was germanium, of course — the narrator only refers to “silly-con” transistors once near the end of the film — but the SBT process, with opposing jets of indium sulfate electrolyte being used to both etch the germanium chip and form the collector and emitter of the transistor, is a fascinating process, and these transistors were quite the advance back in the day. It’s interesting, too, to watch the casual nature of the manufacturing process — no clean rooms, no hair nets, and only a lab coat and “vacuum welcome mats” to keep things reasonably clean.

As in most such corporate productions, superlatives abound, so be prepared for quite a bit of hyperbole on the part of the Mid-Atlantic-accented narrator. And we noticed a bit of a whoopsie near the end, when he proudly intoned that Philco transistors would be aboard the “first Earth satellite.” They were used in the radio of Explorer 1, but the Russians had other ideas about who was going to be first.

And speaking of propaganda, don’t forget that at around this time, vacuum tube companies were fighting for their lives too. That’s where something like this designer’s guide to the evils of transistors came from.

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Arduino And FPGA Done Differently

FPGA guru [Max Maxfield] recently took a look at the XLR8 (pronounced accelerate) board from a company called Alorium. On the surface, it looks like another Arduino UNO clone. But instead of a CPU, it contains an Intel MAX10 FPGA that runs a softcore AVR processor. Of course, that’s only part of the story. If the board was just a mock Arduino using an FPGA, that’s not very interesting for practical purposes. However, by incorporating accelerator blocks or XBs, you can add FPGA modules to the soft CPU. [Max] shows an example that you can see in the video below where an FPGA block controls servos more easily than a standard Arduino. There’s also a version that looks like an Arduino Nano, but can clock much faster as well as use the XBs.

In addition to prebuilt XBs, there is a workflow to build your own if you are familiar with working with FPGAs. The products aren’t exactly new, but we enjoyed [Max’s] take on the product. We also appreciated the simple code examples showing exactly how you would convert a program to use the accelerated functions. Continue reading “Arduino And FPGA Done Differently”

Flip-Dots Enter The Realm Of Fine Art

Flip-dot displays look and sound awesome. At least to all of us electronics geeks who dumpster dive for second-hand panels to add to our collections of esoteric display technology. But there are people thinking beyond the yellow/white dots on a black background. [BreakfastNY] have produced a new take on what a flip-dot display can be with color and a bit of theatrics.

Mechanically these are standard pixels that use an electromagnetic coil to pivot a disc between two states. But immediately you’ll see the inert display has a mosaic printed right on the dots. It gets even more fun to realize the same image is present on the rear of the dots but in a different color palette. In the case of this piece, entitled Empire State, it looks like a sunny day on one side and an overcast day on the reverse.

We wondered what this art collective was up to when they began selling flip-dot modules they had designed back in 2016. Having those kinds of connections meant they were able to sweet-talk their manufacturing partners into custom printing colors on the discs during manufacture. The group continues to use their camera-based interactivity that represents silhouettes on the display. The innovative color palette still lets that work quite well, but one really interesting animation choice here is an indeterminate flutter of the pixels. It builds a Matrix-style waterfall animating into the image, beckoning the viewer to walk over with the ulterior motive that this brings them within camera range.

If you want to give the flutter effect a try for yourself, you might want to peek at the 30 FPS flip-dot driver we saw a few weeks back as a responsive option.

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