Now This Is A Maker’s PCB Shaker

Anyone who has ever etched their own PCB knows that the waiting is the hardest part. Dissolving copper in ferric chloride takes time, much like developing a Polaroid picture. And although you really should not shake a fresh Polaroid to speed up development, the PCB etching process thrives on agitation. Why wait an hour when you can build a simple PCB shaker and move on to drilling and/or filling in 10 minutes?

We love that [ASCAS] was probably able to build this without reaching past the the spare parts box and the recycling bin. There’s no Arduino or even a 555 — just a 12 VDC geared motor, a DC-DC buck converter, and an externalized pot to control the speed of the sloshing.

It’s hard to choose a favorite hack here between the hinge used to rock this electric seesaw and the crankshaft/armature [ASCAS] made from a sandwich spread lid and a Popsicle stick. Everything about this build is beautiful, including the build video after the break.

Did you know that unlike ferric chloride, copper chloride can be recharged and reused? Here’s a one-stop etching station that does just that.

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Using PoE With A Raspberry Pi 3 For About Two Bucks

When the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ was announced in March of 2018, one of its new features was the ability to be (more easily) powered via Power-over-Ethernet (PoE), with an official PoE HAT for the low price of just twenty-one USA bucks. The thing also almost worked as intended the first time around. But to some people this just isn’t good enough, resulting in [Albert David] putting out a solution he calls “poor man’s PoE” together for about two bucks.

His solution makes it extra cheap by using so-called passive PoE, which injects a voltage onto the conductors of the network cable being used for PoE, without bothering with any kind of handshake. In general this is considered to be a very reliable (albeit non-standard) form of PoE that works great until something goes up in smoke. It’s also ridiculously cheap, with a PoE injector adapter (RJ-45 plug & 2.1×5.5 mm power jack to RJ-45 jack) going for about 80 cents, and a DC-DC buck converter that can handle the input of 12V for about 50 cents.

The rest of the $2 budget is mostly spent on wiring and heatshrink, resulting in a very compact PoE solution that plugs straight into the PoE header on the Raspberry Pi 3 board, with the buck converter outputs going into the ground and +5V pins on the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO header.

A fancier solution would implement any of the standard PoE protocols to do the work of negotiating a suitable voltage. Maybe this could be the high-tech, $5 solution featuring an MCU and a small PCB?

Circuit VR: An (Almost) Practical Buck Converter

In the last installment of Circuit VR, we walked around a simplified buck converter. The main simplification was using a constant PWM signal. The result is that the output voltage is a fixed fraction of the input voltage. For a regulator, the pulse width will need to depend on the output voltage so that any changes in the output are self-correcting. So this time, we’ll make a regulator, although we’ll still use a few Spice elements you’d have to replace in a practical design. In particular, we’ll assume you can generate a triangle wave, which is easy enough, and produce a stable 2.5 V reference.

The idea is to take a voltage reference and compare it to the output. We’ll think of the difference between the two as an error voltage, and use a comparator combined with a triangle wave generator to produce a PWM signal that is proportional to the error, and thus works to hold the output voltage constant.

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Open Hardware Takes Charge In Papua New Guinea

You probably don’t think much about charging your phone. Just find an outlet, plug it in, and wait a while. Can’t find a cable or wall wart? A rainbow of cheap, candy-colored options awaits you down at the brightly-lit corner drugstore.

This scenario couldn’t be further from reality in third world countries like Papua New Guinea, where people living in remote jungles have cell phone coverage, but have to charge their phones by hooking them up directly to cheap solar panels and old car batteries.

[Marius Taciuc] wants to change all of that. At the suggestion of his friend [Brian], he designed an intermediary device that takes any input and converts it to clean 5 volts with a low-cost, reliable buck converter. The inputs are a pair of alligator clips, so they can be connected to car battery terminals, bare-wire solar panel leads, or 9V connectors.

Mobile phones mean so much to the people of Papua New Guinea. They’re like a first-world care package of news, medical advice, and education. At night, they become simple, valuable lanterns. But these dirty charging hacks often lead to house fires. Someone will leave their phone to charge in the morning when they go off to hunt, and come home to a pile of ashes.

This is an open, simple device that could ultimately save someone’s life, and it’s exactly the type of project we’re looking for. [Marius] hopes to see these all over eBay someday, and so do we. Charge past the break to see [Marius] discuss the Brian Box and the people he’s trying to help.

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Circuit VR: Simple Buck Converters

The first thing I ever built without a kit was a 5 V regulated power supply using the old LM309K. That’s a classic linear regulator like a 7805. While they are simple, they waste a lot of energy as heat, especially if the input voltage goes higher. While there are still applications where linear regulators make sense, they are increasingly being replaced by switching power supplies that are much more efficient. How do switchers work? Well, you buy a switching power supply IC, add an inductor and you are done. Class dismissed. Oh wait… while that might be the best way to do it from a cost perspective, you don’t really learn a lot that way.

In this installment of Circuit VR, we’ll look at a simple buck converter — that is a switching regulator that takes a higher voltage and produces a lower voltage. The first one won’t actually regulate, mind you, but we’ll add that in a future installment. As usual for Circuit VR, we’ll be simulating the designs using LT Spice.

Interestingly, LT Spice is made to design power supplies so it has a lot of Linear Technology parts in its library just for that purpose. However, we aren’t going to use anything more sophisticated than an op amp. For the first pass, we won’t even be using those.

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Buck Converter Efficiency

We always appreciate when someone takes the time to build something and then demonstrates what different design choices impact using the real hardware. Sure, you can work out the math and do simulations, but there’s something about having real hardware that makes it tangible. [Julian Ilett] recently posted two videos that fit this description. He built a buck converter and made measurements about its efficiency using different configurations.

The test setup is simple. He monitors the drive PWM with a scope and has power meters on the input and output. That makes it easy to measure the efficiency since it is just the ratio of the power output to input. You can see the two videos, below.

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A DIY 5V-3V Switching Converter In The Space Of A TO-220 Package

We’re suckers for miniaturization projects. Stuff anything into a small enough package and you’ve probably got our attention. Make that something both tiny and useful, like this 5-volt to 3.3-volt converter in a TO-220 sized package, and that’s something to get excited about. It’s a switch mode power supply that takes the same space as a traditional linear regulator.

Granted, the heavy lifting in [Kevin Hubbard]’s diminutive buck converter is done by a PAM2305 DC-DC step-down converter chip which needs only a few supporting components. But the engineering [Kevin] put into this to squeeze everything onto a scrap of PCB 9-mm on a side is impressive. The largest passive on the board is the inductor in 0805. Everything else is in 0603, so you’ll be putting your SMD soldering skills to the test if you decide to make this. Check the video after the break for a speedrun through the hand soldering process.

The total BOM including the open-source PCB only runs a buck or two, and the end result is a supply with steady 750-mA output that can handle a 1-A surge for five seconds. We wonder if a small heatsink tab might not help that; along with some black epoxy potting, it would at least complete the TO-220 look.

[Kevin]’s Black Mesa Labs has a history of turning out interesting projects, from a legit video card for Arduino to a 100-watt hotplate for reflow work that’s the size of a silver dollar. We’re looking forward to whatever’s next — assuming we can see it.

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