Fail of the Week: The Semiconductor Lapping Machine That Can’t Lap Straight

It seemed like a good idea to build a semiconductor lapping machine from an old hard drive. But there’s just something a little off about [electronupdate]’s build, and we think the Hackaday community might be able to pitch in to help.

For those not into the anatomy and physiology of semiconductors, getting a look at the inside of the chip can reveal valuable information needed to reverse engineer a device, or it can just scratch the itch of curiosity. Lapping (the gentle grinding away of material) is one way to see the layers that make up the silicon die that lies beneath the epoxy. Hard drives designed to spin at 7200 rpm or more hardly seem a suitable spinning surface for a gentle lapping, but [electronupdate] just wanted the platter for its ultra-smooth, ultra-flat surface.

He removed the heads and replaced the original motor with a gear motor and controller to spin the platter at less than 5 rpm. A small holder for the decapped die was fashioned, and pinched between the platter hub and an idler. It gently rotates the die against the abrasive-covered platter as it slowly revolves. But the die wasn’t abrading evenly. He tried a number of different fixtures for the die, but never got to the degree of precision needed to see through the die layer by layer. We wonder if the weight of the die fixture is deflecting the platter a bit?

Failure is a great way to learn, if you can actually figure out where you went wrong. We look to the Hackaday community for some insight. Check out the video below and sound off in the comments if you’ve got any ideas.

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Fail of the Week: 3D Printed Worm Gear Drive Project Unveils Invisible Flaw

All of us would love to bring our projects to life while spending less money doing so. Sometimes our bargain hunting pays off, sometimes not. Many of us would just shrug at a failure and move on, but that is not [Mark Rehorst]’s style. He tried to build a Z-axis drive for his 3D printer around an inexpensive worm gear from AliExpress. This project was doomed by a gear flaw invisible to the human eye, but he documented the experience so we could all follow along.

We’ve featured [Mark]’s projects for his ever-evolving printer before, because we love reading his well-documented upgrade adventures. He’s not shy about exploring ideas that run against 3D printer conventions, from using belts to drive the Z-axis to moving print cooling fan off the print head (with followup). And lucky for us, he’s not shy about document his failures alongside the successes.

He walks us through the project, starting from initial motivation, moving on to parts selection, and describes how he designed his gearbox parts to work around weaknesses inherent to 3D printing. After the gearbox was installed, the resulting print came out flawed. Each of the regularly spaced print bulge can be directly correlated to a single turn of the worm gear making it the prime suspect. Then, to verify this observation more rigorously, Z-axis movement was measured with an indicator and plotted against desired movement. If the problem was caused by a piece of debris or surface damage, that would create a sharp bump in the plot. The sinusoidal plot tells us the problem is more fundamental than that.

This particular worm gear provided enough lifting power to move the print bed by multiplying motor torque, but it also multiplied flaws rendering it unsuitable for precisely positioning a 3D printer’s Z-axis. [Mark] plans to revisit the idea when he could find a source for better worm gears, and when he does we’ll certainly have the chance to read what happens.

Fail Of The Week: Never Assume All Crystals Are Born Equal

You should be used to our posting the hacks that didn’t quite go according to plan under our Fail Of The Week heading, things that should have worked, but due to unexpected factors, didn’t. They are the fault, if that’s not too strong a term, of the person making whatever the project is, and we feature them not in a spirit of mockery but one of commiseration and enlightenment.

This FOTW is a little different, because it reveals itself to have nothing to do with its originator. [Grogster] was using the widely-available HC-12 serial wireless modules, or clones or even possibly fakes thereof, and found that the modules would not talk to each other. Closer inspection found that the modules with the lack of intercommunication came from different batches, and possibly different manufacturers. Their circuits and components appeared identical, so what could possibly be up?

The problem was traced to the two batches of modules having different frequencies, one being 37 kHz ahead of the other. This was in turn traced to the crystal on board the off-frequency module, the 30 MHz component providing the frequency reference for the Si4463 radio chip was significantly out of spec. The manufacturer had used a cheap source of the component, resulting in modules which would talk to each other but not to the rest of the world’s HC-12s.

If there is a lesson to be extracted from this, it is to be reminded that even when cheap components or modules look as they should, and indeed even when they appear to work as they should, there can still be unexpected ways in which they can let you down. It has given us an interesting opportunity to learn about the HC-12, with its onboard STM8 CPU and one of the always-fascinating Silicon Labs radio chips. If you want to know more about the HC-12 module, we linked to a more in-depth look at it a couple of years ago.

Thanks [Manuka] for the tip.

Fail of the Week: The Spot Welder Upgrade That Wasn’t

Even when you build something really, really nice, there’s always room for improvement, right? As it turns out for this attempted upgrade to a DIY spot welder, not so much.

You’ll no doubt recall [Mark Presling]’s remarkably polished and professional spot welder build that we featured some time ago. It’s a beauty, with a lot of thought and effort put into not only the fit and finish but the function as well. Still, [Mark] was not satisfied; he felt that the welder was a little underpowered, and the rewound microwave oven transformer was too noisy. Taking inspiration from an old industrial spot welder, he decided to rebuild the transformer by swapping the double loop of battery cable typically used as a secondary with a single loop of thick copper stock. Lacking the proper sized bar, though, he laminated multiple thin copper sheets together before forming the loop. On paper, the new secondary’s higher cross-sectional area should carry more current, but in practice, he saw no difference in the weld current or his results. It wasn’t all bad news, though — the welder is nearly silent now, and the replaced secondary windings were probably a safety issue anyway, since the cable insulation had started to melt.

Given [Mark]’s obvious attention to detail, we have no doubt he’ll be tackling this again, and that he’ll eventually solve the problem. What suggestions would you make? Where did the upgrade go wrong? Was it the use of a laminated secondary rather than solid bar stock? Or perhaps this is the best this MOT can do? Sound off in the comments section.

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Fail Of The Week: An Electric Bicycle, Powered By AA Batteries

Very slowly, some very cool parts are coming out on the market that will make for some awesome builds. Supercapacitors are becoming a thing, and every year, the price of these high power supercaps go a little lower, and the capacity gets a little higher. It’s really only a matter of time before someone hacks some supercaps into an application that’s never been seen before. The Navy is doing it with railguns, and [David] is building an electric bike, powered by AA batteries. While [David]’s bike technically works with the most liberal interpretation of ‘technically’, it’s the journey that counts here.

This project began as an investigation into using supercapacitors in an electric bicycle. Supercaps have an energy density very much above regular capacitors, but far behind lithium cells. Like lithium cells, they need a charge balancer, but if you manage to get everything right you can trickle charge them while still being able to dump all that power in seconds. It’s the perfect application for a rail gun, or for slightly more pedestrian applications, an electric bike with a hill assist button. The idea for this build would be to charge supercaps from a bank of regular ‘ol batteries, and zoom up a hill with about fifteen seconds of assistance.

The design of the pulsed power DC supply is fairly straightforward, with a mouthful of batteries feeding the supercap array through boost regulators, and finally going out to the motor through another set of regulators. Unfortunately, this project never quite worked out. Everything worked; it’s just this isn’t the application for the current generation of supercapacitors. There’s not enough energy density in [David]’s 100F supercaps, and the charging speed from a bunch of AA batteries is slow. For fifteen minutes of charging, [David] gets about fifteen seconds of boost on his bike. That’s great if you only ever have one hill to climb, but really useless in the real world.

That doesn’t mean this project was a complete failure. [David] now has a handy, extremely resilient array of supercaps that will charge off of anything and provide a steady 24V for a surprising amount of time. Right now, he’s using this scrapped project as a backup power supply for his 3D printer. That 100 Watt heated bed slurps down the electrons, but with this repurposed supercap bank, it can survive a 20 second power outage.

It’s a great project, and even if the technology behind supercaps isn’t quite ready to be used as a boost button on an electric bike, it’s still a great example of DIY ingenuity. You can check out [David]’s demo of the supercap bank in action below.

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Fail Of The Week: Casting A Bolt In A 3D-Printed Mold

Here’s a weird topic as a Fail of the Week. [Pete Prodoehl] set out to make a bolt the wrong way just to see if he could. Good for you [Pete]! This is a great way to learn non-obvious lessons and a wonderful conversation starter which is why we’re featuring it here.

The project starts off great with a model of the bolt being drawn up in OpenSCAD. That’s used to create a void in a block which then becomes two parts with pegs that index the two halves perfectly. Now it’s time to do the casting process and this is where it goes off the rail. [Pete] didn’t have any flexible filament on hand, nor did he have proper mold release compound. Considering those limitations, he still did pretty well, arriving at the plaster bold seen above after a nice coat of red spray paint.

One side of the mold didn’t make it

He lost part of the threads getting the two molds apart, and then needed to sacrifice one half of the mold to extract the thoroughly stuck casting. We’ve seen quite a bit of 3D printed molds here, but they are usually not directly printed. For instance, here’s a beautiful mold for casting metal but it was made using traditional silicon to create molds of the 3D printed prototype.

Thinking back on it, directly 3D printed molds are often sacrificial. This method of pewter casting is a great example. It turns out gorgeous and detailed parts from resin molds that can stand up to the heat but must be destroyed to remove the parts.

So we put it to you: Has anyone out there perfected a method of reusable 3D printed molds? What printing process and materials do you use? How about release agents — we have a guide on resin casting the extols the virtues of release agent but doesn’t have any DIY alternatives. What has worked as a release agent for you? Let us know in the comments below.

Fail of the Week: How Not To Build Your Own DGPS Base Station

GPS is the modern answer to the ancient question about one’s place in the world yet it has its limitations. It depends on the time of flight of radio signals emitted by satellites twenty thousand kilometers above you. Like any system involving large distances and high velocities, this is bound to offer some challenges to precise measurements which result in a limit to achievable accuracy. In other words: The fact that GPS locations tend to be off by a few meters is rooted in the underlying principle of operation.

Today’s level of precision was virtually unattainable just decades ago, and we’re getting that precision with a handheld device in mere seconds. Incredible! Yet the goal posts continue to move and people are working to get rid of the remaining error. The solution is called Differential GPS or ‘DGPS’ and its concept looks surprisingly simple.

What’s fascinating is that you can use one GPS to precisely measure the error of another GPS. This is because the inherent error of a GPS fix is known to be locally constant. Two receivers next to each other pick up signals that have been affected in the same way and thus can be expected to calculate identical wrong positions. This holds true for distances up to several kilometers between individual receivers. So in order to remove the error, all you need is a GPS receiver in a known location to measure the current deviation and a way to transmit correction information to other units. DGPS does just that, using either terrestrial radio in some regions and satellites in others. Mobile solutions exist as well.

So a raspi with a USB GPS dongle in a known location should be able to act as a DGPS over IP base station, right? In theory, yes. In practice… fail.

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