A freshly reballed BGA chip next to a clean PCB footprint

Working With BGAs: Soldering, Reballing, And Rework

In our previous article on Ball Grid Arrays (BGAs), we explored how to design circuit boards and how to route the signals coming out of a BGA package. But designing a board is one thing – soldering those chips onto the board is quite another. If you’ve got some experience with SMD soldering, you’ll find that any SOIC, TQFP or even QFN package can be soldered with a fine-tipped iron and a bit of practice. Not so for BGAs: we’ll need to bring out some specialized tools to solder them correctly. Today, we’ll explore how to get those chips on our board, and how to take them off again, without spending a fortune on equipment.

Tools of the Trade

For large-scale production, whether for BGA-based designs or any other kind of SMD work, reflow ovens are the tool of choice. While you can buy reflow ovens small enough to place in your workshop (or even build them yourself), they will always take up quite a bit of space. Reflow ovens are great for small-scale series production, but not so much for repairs or rework. Continue reading “Working With BGAs: Soldering, Reballing, And Rework”

New Part Day: TI Jumps In To The Cheap MCU Market

One of the interesting areas in the world of new parts recently has been at the lower end of the microcontroller market. Not because the devices there have new capabilities or are especially fast, but because they are cheap. There are now quite a few parts from China under 10 cents apiece, but have the Western manufacturers been able to follow suit? Not quite, but Texas Instruments has a new line of ARM Cortex M0+ parts that get under 40 cents in volume in their cheapest form.

That bottom-of-the-range chip is the MSPM0L1105, a single-core 32 MHz part with 32k of Flash and 4k of RAM. It’s got all the usual peripherals you’d expect on a small microcontroller, but the one which made our heads turn was the on-board 1.45-Msps ADC. On a cheap chip, that’s much faster than expected.

So there’s another microcontroller, and it’s not as cheap as some of its competition, so what? Aside from that ADC there are several reasons to be interested, it has TI’s developer support if you’re in that ecosystem, and inevitably it will find its way on to the dev boards and SBCs we use in our community. It remains to be seen how it will fare in terms of the chip shortage though.

Meanwhile, here’s a reminder of that cheaper competition.

Thanks to the several friends who delivered this tip.

This Open Hardware Li-Ion Charger Skips The TP4056

There’s a good chance that if you build something which includes the ability to top up a lithium-ion battery, it’s going to involve the incredibly common TP4056 charger IC. Now, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. It’s a decent enough chip, and there are countless pre-made modules out there that make it extremely easy to implement. But if the chip shortage has taught us anything, it’s that alternatives are always good.

So we’d suggest bookmarking this opensource hardware Li-Ion battery charger design from [Shahar Sery]. The circuit uses the BQ24060 from Texas Instruments, which other than the support for LiFePO4 batteries, doesn’t seem to offer anything too new or exciting compared to the standard TP4056. But that’s not the point — this design is simply offered as a potential alternative to the TP4056, not necessarily an upgrade.

[Shahar] has implemented the design as a 33 mm X 10 mm two-layer PCB, with everything but the input and output connectors mounted to the topside. That would make this board ideal for attaching to your latest project with a dab of hot glue or double-sided tape, as there are no components on the bottom to get pulled off when you inevitably have to do some rework.

The board takes 5 VDC as the input, and charges a single 3.7 V cell (such as an 18650) at up to 1 Amp. Or at least, it can if you add a heatsink or fan — otherwise, the notes seem to indicate that ~0.7 A is about as high as you can go before tripping the thermal protection mode.

Like the boilerplate TP4056 we covered recently, this might seem like little more than a physical manifestation of the typical application circuit from the chip’s datasheet. But we still think there’s value in showing how the information from the datasheet translates into the real-world, especially when it’s released under an open license like this.

How To Make A Larger Air-Cored Inductor

Radio amateurs often have a love-hate relationship with home-made inductors, sharing all kinds of tips and tricks as to how the most stable nanohenry inductor can be wound. But there’s another group in the world of electronics with an interest in high-quality inductors, namely the audio enthusiasts. They need good quality inductors with a values in the millihenries, to use in loudspeaker crossover networks. [Homemade Audio] takes us through their manufacturing process for these coils, and the result is a watchable video resulting in some very well-made components.

The adjustable former is a machined aluminium affair of which we’re treated to the full manufacture. It’s likely the same results could be achieved with a 3D printed reel. The free-as-in-beer Coil64 on Windows is used to calculate the dimensions and number of turns, and it’s set up on a jig with a cordless screwdriver doing the winding. The best technique for flat layers of turns is explained, and a coat of varnish is put on each completed layer. We’re guessing this is to stop the coil “singing” at audio frequencies.

With a set of cable ties holding it together the result is a very tidy component. It’s adjusted a few turns to get the right value with an LCR meter, however experience tells us that a tiny percentage either way won’t harm the resulting network too much. If you make your own speakers, the video below the break could be extremely useful.

Need a loudspeaker primer? We have just the article for you.

Continue reading “How To Make A Larger Air-Cored Inductor”

A Hackaday.io page screenshot, showing all the numerous CH552 projects from [Stefan].

All The USB You Can Do With A CH552

Recently, you might have noticed a flurry of CH552 projects on Hackaday.io – all of them with professionally taken photos of neatly assembled PCBs, typically with a USB connector or two. You might also have noticed that they’re all built by one person, [Stefan “wagiminator” Wagner], who is a prolific hacker – his Hackaday.io page lists over a hundred projects, most of them proudly marked “Completed”. Today, with all these CH552 mentions in the Hackaday.io’s “Newest” category, we’ve decided to take a peek.

The CH552 is an 8-bit MCU with a USB peripheral, with a CH554 sibling that supports USB host, and [Stefan] seriously puts this microcontroller to the test. There’s a nRF24L01+ transceiver turned USB dongle, a rotary encoder peripheral with a 3D-printed case and knob, a mouse wiggler, an interface for our beloved I2C OLED displays, a general-purpose CH55x devboard, and a flurry of AVR programmers – regular AVRISP, an ISP+UPDI programmer, and a UPDI programmer with HV support. Plus, if USB host is your interest, there’s a CH554 USB host development board specifically. Every single one of these is open-source, with PCBs designed in EasyEDA, the firmware already written (!) and available on GitHub, and a lovingly crafted documentation page for each.

[Stefan]’s seriously put the CH552 to the test, and given that all of these projects got firmware, having these projects as examples is a serious incentive for more hackers to try these chips out, especially considering that the CH552 and CH554 go for about 50 cents a piece at websites like LCSC, and mostly in friendly packages. We did cover these two chips back in 2018, together with a programming guide, and we’ve seen things like badges built with its help, but having all these devices to follow is a step up in availability – plus, it’s undeniable that all the widgets built are quite useful by themselves!

A Milliwatt Of DOOM

The seminal 1993 first-person shooter from id Software, DOOM, has become well-known as a test of small computer platforms. We’ve seen it on embedded systems far and wide, but we doubt we’ve ever seen it consume as little power as it does on a specialized neural network processor. The chip in question is a Syntiant NDP200, and it’s designed to be the always-on component listening for the wake word or other trigger in an AI-enabled IoT device.

DOOM┬árunning on as little as a milliwatt of power makes for an impressive PR stunt at a trade show, but perhaps more interesting is that the chip isn’t simply running the game, it’s also playing it. As a neural network processor it contains the required smarts to learn how to play the game, and in the simple circular level it’s soon picking off the targets with ease.

We’ve not seen any projects using these chips as yet, which is hardly surprising given their niche marketplace. It is however worth noting that there is a development board for the lower-range sibling chip NDP101, which sells for around $35 USD. Super-low-power AI is within reach.

Rubber Bands And O-Rings Give 3D Prints Some Stretch

Sometimes it would be helpful if a 3D printed object could stretch & bend. Flexible filament like TPU is one option, but [NagyBig] designed a simple bracelet to ask: how about embedding rubber bands or o-rings into the print itself?

Embedding objects into prints usually involves hardware like fasteners or magnets, but this is the first one (we can think of) that uses rubber bands. Though we have seen rubber bracelets running on printed wheels, and o-rings used to provide tension on a tool holder.

The end result is slightly reminiscent of embedding 3D printed shapes into tulle in order to create fantastic, armor-like flexible creations. But using rubber bands means the result is stretchy and compliant to a degree we haven’t previously seen. Keep it in mind the next time you’re trying to solve a tricky design problem; an embedded o-ring or rubber band might just do the trick.

Continue reading “Rubber Bands And O-Rings Give 3D Prints Some Stretch”