DIN Rails For… Everything

Cross-section of a 35mm top hat DIN rail.

One of the great things about the Internet is it lets people find out what other people are doing even if they normally wouldn’t have much exposure to each other. For example, in some businesses DIN rails are a part of everyday life. But for a long time, they were not very common in hobby electronics. Although rails are cheap, boxes for rails aren’t always easy or cheap to obtain, but 3D printing offers a solution for that.

So while the industrial world has been using these handy rails for decades, we are starting to see hobby projects incorporate them more often and people like [Makers Mashup] are discovering them and finding ways to use them in projects and demonstrating them in this video, also embedded below.

If you haven’t encountered them yet, DIN rails are a strip of metal, bent into a particular shape with the purpose of mounting equipment like circuit breakers. A typical rail is 35 mm wide and has a hat-like cross-section which leads to the name “top hat” rail. A 25 mm channel lets you hide wiring and the surface has holes to allow you to mount the rail to a wall or a cabinet. These are sometimes called type O or type Ω rails or sections.

There are other profiles, too. A C-rail is shaped like a letter C and you can guess what a G section looks like, too. Rails do come in different heights, as well, but the 35 mm is overwhelmingly common. However, there are 15 mm rails and 75 mm rails, too.

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Hackaday Links: April 26, 2020

Gosh, what a shame: it turns out that perhaps 2 billion phones won’t be capable of COVID-19 contact-tracing using the API that Google and Apple are jointly developing. The problem is that the scheme the two tech giants have concocted, which Elliot Williams expertly dissected recently, is based on Bluetooth LE. If a phone lacks a BLE chipset, then it won’t work with apps built on the contact-tracing API, which uses the limited range of BLE signals as a proxy for the physical proximity of any two people. If a user is reported to be COVID-19 positive, all the people whose BLE beacons were received by the infected user’s phone within a defined time period can be anonymously notified of their contact. As Elliot points out, numerous questions loom around this scheme, not least of which is privacy, but for now, something like a third of phones in mature smartphone markets won’t be able to participate, and perhaps two-thirds of the phones in developing markets are not compatible. For those who don’t like the privacy-threatening aspects of this scheme, pulling an old phone out and dusting it off might not be a bad idea.

We occasionally cover stories where engineers in industrial settings use an Arduino for a quick-and-dirty automation solution. This is uniformly met with much teeth-gnashing and hair-rending in the comments asserting that Arduinos are not appropriate for industrial use. Whether true or not, such comments miss the point that the Arduino solution is usually a stop-gap or proof-of-concept deal. But now the purists and pedants can relax, because Automation Direct is offering Arduino-compatible, industrial-grade programmable controllers. Their ProductivityOpen line is compatible with the Arduino IDE while having industrial certifications and hardening against harsh conditions, with a rich line of shields available to piece together complete automation controllers. For the home-gamer, an Arduino in an enclosure that can withstand harsh conditions and only cost $49 might fill a niche.

Speaking of Arduinos and Arduino accessories, better watch out if you’ve got any modules and you come under the scrutiny of an authoritarian regime, because you could be accused of being a bomb maker. Police in Hong Kong allegedly arrested a 20-year-old student and posted a picture of parts he used to manufacture a “remote detonated bomb”. The BOM for the bomb was strangely devoid of anything with wireless capabilities or, you know, actual explosives, and instead looks pretty much like the stuff found on any of our workbenches or junk bins. Pretty scary stuff.

If you’ve run through every binge-worthy series on Netflix and are looking for a bit of space-nerd entertainment, have we got one for you. Scott Manley has a new video that goes into detail on the four different computers used for each Apollo mission. We knew about the Apollo Guidance Computers that guided the Command Module and the Lunar Module, and the Launch Vehicle Digital Computer that got the whole stack into orbit and on the way to the Moon, but we’d never heard of the Abort Guidance System, a backup to the Lunar Module AGC intended to get the astronauts back into lunar orbit in the event of an emergency. And we’d also never heard that there wasn’t a common architecture for these machines, to the point where each had its own word length. The bit about infighting between MIT and IBM was entertaining too.

And finally, if you still find yourself with time on your hands, why not try your hand at pen-testing a military satellite in orbit? That’s the offer on the table to hackers from the US Air Force, proprietor of some of the tippy-toppest secret hardware in orbit. The Hack-A-Sat Space Security Challenge is aimed at exposing weaknesses that have been inadvertantly baked into space hardware during decades of closed development and secrecy, vulnerabilities that may pose risks to billions of dollars worth of irreplaceable assets. The qualification round requires teams to hack a grounded test satellite before moving on to attacking an orbiting platform during DEFCON in August, with prizes going to the winning teams. Get paid to hack government assets and not get arrested? Maybe 2020 isn’t so bad after all.

The Open Makers Cube: Have Hack, Will Travel

Don’t bother denying it, we know your workbench is a mess. A tangled pile of wires, tools, and half-completed projects is standard decor for any hardware hacker. In fact, if you’ve got a spotless work area, we might even be a bit skeptical about your credentials in this field. But that’s not to say we wouldn’t be interested in some way of keeping the electronic detritus in check, perhaps something like the Open Makers Cube created by [technoez].

This all-in-one hardware hacking station uses DIN rails and 3D-printed mounting hardware to allow the user to attach a wide array of tools, gadgets, and boards to the outside surface where they’re easily accessible. The OpenSCAD design includes mounts for the usual suspects like the Raspberry Pi, Arduino Uno, and general purpose breadboards. Of course, your own custom mounts are just a few lines of code away.

The Cube also includes a lighted magnifying glass on a flexible arm so you can zoom in on what you’re working on, a simple “helping hands” attachment, and provisions for internal USB power. It even features angled feet so the front side of the cube is held at a more comfortable viewing angle. All of which is held together by a lightweight and portable frame built from square aluminum tubing.

We can understand if you’ve got some doubts about the idea of mounting all of your tools and projects to the side of a jaunty little cube. But even if the jury is still out on the mobile workspace concept, one thing is for sure: the Open Makers Cube is easily one of the best documented projects we’ve seen in recent memory. Thanks to NopSCADlib, [technoez] was able to generate an exploded view and Bill of Materials for each sub-assembly of the project. If you’ve ever needed proof that NopSCADlib was worth checking out, this is it.

The DIN Rail And How It Got That Way

Unless you’ve spent some time in the industrial electrical field, you might be surprised at the degree of integration involved in the various control panels needed to run factories and the like. Look inside any cabinet almost anywhere in the world, and you’ll be greeted by rows of neat plastic terminal blocks, circuit breakers, signal conditioners, and all manner of computing hardware from programmable logic controllers right on to Raspberry Pis and Arduinos.

A well-crafted industrial control panel can truly be a thing of beauty. But behind all the electrical bits in the cabinet, underneath all the neatly routed and clearly labeled wires, there’s a humble strip of metal that stitches it all together: the DIN rail. How did it come to be, and why is it so ubiquitous?

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Bench Power Supply Packs A Lot Into A DIN-Rail Package

We’re not sure why we’ve got a thing for DIN-rail mounted projects, but we do. Perhaps it’s because we’ve seen so many cool industrial control cabinets, or maybe the forced neatness of DIN-mounted components resonates on some deep level. Whatever it is, if it’s DIN-rail mounted, chances are good that we’ll like it.

Take this DIN-mounted bench power supply, for instance. On the face of it, [TD-er]’s project is yet another bench supply built around those ubiquitous DPS switching power supply modules, the ones with the colorful displays. Simply throwing one of those in a DIN-mount enclosure isn’t much to write home about, but there’s more to this project than that. [TD-er] needed some fixed voltages in addition to the adjustable output, so a multi-voltage DC-DC converter board was included inside the case as well. The supply has 3.3, 5, and 12 volt fixed outputs along with the adjustable supply, and thanks to an enclosed Bluetooth module, the whole thing can be controlled from his phone. Plus it fits nicely in a compact work area, which is a nice feature.

We haven’t seen a lot of DIN-rail love around these pages — just this recent rotary phase converter with very tidy DIN-mounted controls. That’s a shame, we’d love to see more.

Arduino Controlled Dahlander Motor Switch

 

Dahlander Switch

[Jean-Noel] is fixing a broken Lurem woodworking machine. This machine uses a three-phase Dahlander motor, which has three operation modes: stop, half speed, and full speed. The motor uses a special mechanical switch to select the operating mode. Unfortunately, the mechanical bits inside the switch were broken, and the motor couldn’t be turned on.

To solve the problem without sourcing a new switch, [Jean-Noel] built his own Arduino based Dahlander switch. This consists of three relays that select the wiring configuration for each speed mode. There’s also a button to toggle settings, and two lamps to show what mode the motor is currently in.

The Arduino runs a finite-state machine (FSM), ensuring that the device transitions through the modes in the correct order. This is quite important, since the motor could be damaged if certain restrictions aren’t followed. The state machine graph was generated using Fizzim, a free tool that generates not only FSM graphs, but also Verilog and VHDL code for the machines.

The final product is housed in a DIN rail case, which allows it to be securely mounted along with the rest of the wiring. The detailed write-up on this project explains all the details of the motor, and the challenges of building this replacement switch.