Nixie Clock Failure Analysis, [Dalibor Farný] Style

We’ve become sadly accustomed to consumer devices that seem to give up the ghost right after the warranty period expires. And even when we get “lucky” and the device fails while it’s still covered, chances are that there will be no attempt to repair it; the unit will be replaced with a new one, and the failed one will get pitched in the e-waste bin.

Not every manufacturer takes this approach, however. When premium quality is the keystone of your brand, you need to take field failures seriously. [Dalibor Farný], maker of high-end Nixie tubes and the sleek, sophisticated clocks they plug into, realizes this, and a new video goes into depth about the process he uses to diagnose issues and prevent them in the future.

One clock with a digit stuck off was traced to via failure by barrel fatigue, or the board material cracking inside the via hole and breaking the plated-through copper. This prompted a board redesign to increase the diameter of all the vias, eliminating that failure mode. Another clock had a digit stuck on, which ended up being a short to ground caused by pin misalignment; when the tube was plugged in, the pins slipped and scraped some solder off the socket and onto the ground plane of the board. That resulted in another redesign that not only fixed the problem by eliminating the ground plane on the upper side of the board, but also improved the aesthetics of the board dramatically.

As with all things [Dalibor], the video is a feast for the eyes with the warm orange glow in the polished glass and chrome tubes contrasting with the bead-blasted aluminum chassis. If you haven’t watched the “making of” video yet, you’ve got to check that out too.

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Think IN18s Are Cool? Get A Load Of This Must-Have Custom Nixie Tube

Us: “I’ll take Retro style displays we absolutely have to have for $200, Alex.”

Trebek: “This nixie tube is unlike any conventional tube you’ve seen before, handbuilt and NOT numbers or letters.”

Us: “What is FriendlyWire’s new logo tube?”

Trebek: “Heck yeah.”

Nixie tubes are the vacuum technology that manages to do far less than a graphic LCD while looking about a million times cooler. Generally speaking, these tubes are no longer manufactured, and the old stock you can get your hands on usually contain a set of filaments shaped like numbers. But @FriendlyWire’s tweet of this Nixie tube by [Dalibor Farny] breaks both of those rules. This handmade tube isn’t just a numerical display or a colon display (the punctuation mark, get your head out of the gutter). It’s a custom logo, and it’s beautiful.

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Nixiewatch Looks Stylish In Aluminium

Nixie tubes are a perennial favorite, with their burnt orange glow bringing a smile to the face of even the most jaded maker. Due to their power requirements they’re usually seen in desktop clocks, but [RemcoK3] decided to whip up a Nixiewatch, with stylish results.

Packing twin Nixie tubes, the watch displays hours first, then minutes. An accelerometer is fitted, switching the tubes on when the user checks the watch. There’s also Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity, which can be used to set the time as well as check the remaining battery life. Standby time is estimated to be 350 hours, thanks to a low-power microcontroller and keeping the tubes off most of the time.

The presentation is where this watch really shines, sporting as it does an RGB LED for backlighting and an attractive aluminium case. The design is simple, helping to highlight the industrial beauty of the Nixie tubes themselves. The housing was first mocked up with 3D printed parts, before the final piece was CNC milled. [RemcoK3] is contemplating anodizing the watch, but we think that the brushed aluminium already looks perfect.

If you’ve grown tired of the Nixie aesthetic, fear not – numitron watches are also a thing!

Old Nixie Display Rides Again As 3D-Printer Filament Meter

We’re not sure about the name of this Nixie tube filament meter that [Scott M. Baker] built. He calls it a “filadometer”, perhaps a portmanteau of “filament” and “odometer”, in which case it makes sense. It may not flow trippingly from the tongue and we can’t come up with anything better, but whatever moniker you use it’s actually a pretty cool build.

The filadometer started life as something completely different and utterly typical for Nixie tube projects – a temperature and humidity gauge. [Scott] decided to recycle the eight-tube display to keep track of his Prusa, and in doing so he reveals a pretty remarkable degree of forethought in his design process. The original Nixie display has all the usual trappings – the driver chips, the shift registers, and the high voltage power supply. What stands out is the modularity of his design: the tube sockets and drivers live on a backplane PCB, with a Raspberry Pi and a separate HV supply board plugging into it. The original display had a Model B Pi, so there was plenty of room for a new Zero W. A new printed case and a little programming to capture the filament use from Octoprint is all it took to put this nifty little build back in action. The video below shows the details.

We’re always excited to see new videos from [Scott] because we learn so much from looking over his virtual shoulder. If you haven’t checked out his stuff, take a look at his homage to the 8″ floppy or his dual-port memory hack for retro gaming.

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Web Interface Controls Nixie Tube Clock

We love our clocks around here and we love nixie tubes as well. The combination of the two almost seems to be a no-brainer. With the modern twist of an ESP8266, Reddit user [vladco] built a minimalist nixie tube clock.

The build starts with the nixie tubes, Russian In4s, each one mounted on its own small circuit board. Each board is chained together and they’re mounted on a wooden frame. The frame is mounted inside a nice wooden case which was designed in Fusion 360 and milled out of oak at a local hackerspace.

There are no controls on the case. No buttons or knobs. This clock is set via the EPS8266 which gets the time and updates the shift registers that set the numbers on each of the tubes. The clock dims at night so it’s not as bright. [vladco] wrote a web UI to set the time and interact with the  tubes.

The code and files for the case and circuit board are available online. The result is a nice, minimalist clock for your desk. There are plenty of clock builds on the site, several built from nixie tubes, including another nixie tube clock with an ESP8266, and another.

via Reddit

The Display For When You Want Nixies Without All The Hassle

If you want to display numbers, just go for Nixies. There’s no better way to do that job, simply because they look so cool. Unfortunately, Nixies require high voltages, controlling them is a tiny bit strange, and they suck down a lot of power. These facts have given us a few Nixie alternatives, and [Dave] is here with yet another one. It’s a light pipe Nixie, made from acrylic rod.

The idea of using lights shining into a piece of acrylic to display a number is probably as old as the Nixie itself. There were a few tools in the 60s that used side-lit plastic panels to display numbers, and more recently we’ve seen a laser-cut version, the Lixie. This display is just ten sheets of acrylic etched with the numbers 0 through 9. Shine a light through the right acrylic sheet, and that number lights up.

You can do just about everything in acrylic, and it’s already used for a light pipe, so [Dave] grabbed some acrylic rod and bent it into the shape of a few numbers. With a little work, he was able to make his own FauxNixie by mounting these numbers in a carefully modified lamp socked wired up with ten individual LEDs. The results make for big, big, big Nixie-style numbers, and the perfect clock for the discerning glowey aficionado.

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Arduino Shield Makes Driving Nixies Easy

Nixie tubes are adored by hackers across the world for their warm glow that recalls an age of bitter nuclear standoffs and endless proxy wars. However, they’re not the easiest thing to drive, requiring high voltages that can scare microcontrollers senseless. Thankfully, it’s possible to score an Arduino shield that does the heavy lifting for you.

The HV supply is the heart of any Nixie driver.

The shield uses HV5812 drivers to handle the high-voltage side of things, a part more typically used to drive vacuum fluorescent displays. There’s also a DHT22 for temperature and humidity measurements, and a DS3231 real time clock. It’s designed to work with IN-12 and IN-15 tubes, with the part selection depending on whether you’re going for a clock build or a combined thermometer/hygrometer. There’s also an enclosure option available, consisting of two-tone laser etched parts that snap together to give a rather sleek finished look.

For those looking to spin up their own, code is available on Github and schematics are also available. You’ll have to create your own PCB of course, but there are guides that can help you along that path. If you’re looking to whip up a quick Nixie project to get your feet wet, this might just be what you need to get started. Of course, you can always go straight to hard mode, and attempt a functional Nixie watch. Video after the break.

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