Proper Decoupling Capacitors

If you’ve been building circuits for any length of time, you probably know you need decoupling capacitors to keep your circuits stable. But even though it’s a favorite technique of ours, just scattering some around your PCB and hoping for the best isn’t necessarily the best approach. If you want to dig deeper into the why and how of decoupling, check out [Stephen Fleeman’s] post on the topic.

It is easy to think of capacitors as open circuits at DC and short circuits at high frequencies, shunting noise to ground. But the truth is more complex than that. Stray resistance and inductance mean that your simple decoupling capacitor will have a resonant frequency. This limits the high frequency protection so you often see multiple values used in parallel to respond to different frequencies.

Because the stray resistance and inductance plays a part, you may want to use fatter traces — less resistance — and shorter runs for less inductance. Of course, you can also use power and ground planes on the PCB as a form of decoupling. At the end of the post, [Stephen] talks a little about the importance of digital and analog ground that interact in a specific way.

If you want to do some empirical testing, you can build a test rig and do the work. Or check with [Bil Herd] about PCB inductance.

Bricking Your 3D Printer, In A Good Way

In our vernacular, bricking something is almost never good. It implies that something has gone very wrong indeed, and that your once-useful and likely expensive widget is now about as useful as a brick. Given their importance to civilization, that seems somewhat unfair to bricks, but it gets the point across.

It turns out, though, that bricks can play an important role in 3D-printing in terms of both noise control and print quality. As [Stefan] points out in the video below, living with a 3D printer whirring away on a long print can be disturbing, especially when the vibrations of the stepper motors are transmitted into and amplified by a solid surface, like a benchtop. He found that isolating the printer from the resonant surface was the key. While the stock felt pad feet on his Original Prusa i3 Mk 3S helped, the best results were achieved by building a platform of closed-cell packing foam and a concrete paver block. The combination of the springy foam and the dampening mass of the paver brought the sound level down almost 8 dBA.

[Stefan] also thoughtfully tested his setups on print quality. Machine tools generally perform better with more mass to damp unwanted vibration, so it stands to reason that perching a printer on top of a heavy concrete slab would improve performance. Even though the difference in quality wasn’t huge, it was noticeable, and coupled with the noise reduction, it makes the inclusion of a paver and some scraps of foam into your printing setup a no-brainer.

Not content to spend just a couple of bucks on a paver for vibration damping? Then cast a composite epoxy base for your machine — either with aluminum or with granite.

Continue reading “Bricking Your 3D Printer, In A Good Way”

Do You Know WHY You’re Supposed To Use Decoupling Capacitors?

[Bertho] really enjoyed pawing through the pile of projects submitted to the 7400 logic contest. But one thing kept hitting him with the vast majority of the entries: decoupling capacitors were missing from the circuits. If you’ve worked with microcontrollers or digital logic chips you probably know that you’re supposed to add a small capacitor in between the voltage and ground pins for decoupling purposes. But do you know why? [Bertho] put together a great post that looks that the benefits of using decoupling capacitors in your circuits.

He set up a circuit using a 74HC04 inverter and put it to the test. The image above shows current measurments with the inverter under load. Images on the right show a decoupled circuit and the ones on the left shows a circuit without that capacitor. You can see that the decoupled circuit has much smoother signals when driven high. But it’s not just the smoothness that counts here. [Bertho] goes on to discuss the problem of slow rise-time caused by a dip in current flowing into a chip’s VCC pin. It can take a long time to get above the threshold where a chip would recognize a digital 1. Throwing a capacitor in there adds a little reservoir of current, just waiting to fill in when the power rail dips. This feeds the chip in times of need, keeping those logic transitions nice and snappy.