Surface mount components have been a game changer for the electronics hobbyist, but doing reflow soldering right requires some way to evenly heat the board. You might need to buy a commercial reflow oven — you can cobble one together from an old toaster oven, after all — but you still need something, because it’s not like a PCB is going to solder itself. Right?
Wrong. At least if you’re [Carl Bugeja], who came up with a clever way to make his PCBs self-soldering. The idea is to use one of the internal layers on a four-layer PCB, which would normally be devoted to a ground plane, as a built-in heating element. Rather than a broad, continuous layer of copper, [Carl] made a long, twisting trace covering the entire area of the PCB. Routing the trace around vias was a bit tricky, but in the end he managed a single trace with a resistance of about 3 ohms.
When connected to a bench power supply, the PCB actually heats up quickly and pretty evenly judging by the IR camera. The quality of the soldering seems very similar to what you’d see from a reflow oven. After soldering, the now-useless heating element is converted into a ground plane for the circuit by breaking off the terminals and soldering on a couple of zero ohm resistors to short the coil to ground.
The whole thing is pretty clever, but there’s more to the story. The circuit [Carl] chose for his first self-soldering board is actually a reflow controller. So once the first board was manually reflowed with a bench supply, it was used to control the reflow process for the rest of the boards in the batch, or any board with a built-in heating element. We expect there will be some limitations on the size of the self-soldering board, though.
We really like this idea, and we’re looking forward to seeing more from [Carl] on this.
Continue reading “Internal Heating Element Makes These PCBs Self-Soldering” →
If you design printed circuit boards, then you will have also redesigned printed circuit boards. Nobody gets it right the first time, every time. Sometimes you can solder a scrap of 30gauge wire, flip a component 180°, or make a TO-92 transistor do that little pirouette thing where the legs go every-which-way. If you angered the PCB deities, you may have to access a component pad far from an edge. [Nathan Seidle], the founder of Sparkfun, finds himself in this situation, but all hope is not lost.
Our first thought is to desolder everything, then take a hot iron and tiny wires to each pad. Of course, this opens up a lot of potential for damage to the chip, cold joints, and radio interference. Accessing the pin in vivo has risks, but they are calculated. The idea is to locate the pin, then systematically drill from the backside and expose the copper. [Nate] also discovers that alcohol will make the PCB transparent so you can peer at the underside to confirm you have found your mark.
In a real, “fight fire with fire” idea, you can rework with flex PCBs or push your PCB Fu to the next level and use PCBs as your enclosure.
When current flows through a conductor it becomes an inductor, when there is an inductor there is an electromagnetic field (EM). This can cause a variety of issues during PCB layout if you don’t plan properly, and sometimes we get burned even when we think we have planned for unwanted inductance and the effects that come with them.
When doing high speed logic we need to be able to deliver sudden changes in current to the devices if we want to have proper switching times and logic levels. Unfortunately inductance is usually not a friend in these circumstances as it resists those sudden changes in current. If the high speed devices are driving capacitive loads, which themselves are resisting changes in voltage, even more instantaneous current is needed.
Simply put, inductors resist a change of current, and can act as a low pass filter when in series with the signal or power supply flow. Inductors do this by storing energy in the flux surrounding the conductor. Alternatively capacitors resist a change in voltage (again by storing energy) and can act as a high pass filter when in series with the signal. This makes them a valuable tool in the fight against unwanted inductance in power supply distribution.
In the video below, and the remainder of this article, I’m going to dive into the concept of inductance and how it affects our design choices when laying out circuit boards.
Continue reading “Inductance In PCB Layout: The Good, The Bad, And The Fugly” →
If anything about electronics approaches the level of black magic, it’s antenna theory. Entire books dedicated to the subject often merely scratch the surface, and unless you’re a pro with all the expensive test gear needed to visualize what’s happening, the chances are pretty good that your antenna game is more practical than theoretical. Not that there’s anything wrong with that — hams and other RF enthusiasts have been getting by with antennas that work without really understanding why for generations.
But we’re living in the future, and the tools to properly analyze antenna designs are actually now within the means of almost everyone. [Andreas Spiess] recently reviewed one such instrument, the N1201SA vector impedance analyzer, available from the usual overseas sources for less than $150. [Andreas]’s review does not seem to be sponsored, so it seems like we’re getting his unvarnished opinion; spoiler alert, he loves it. And with good reason; while not a full vector network analyzer (VNA) that will blow a multi-thousand dollar hole in your wallet, this instrument looks like an incredible addition to your test suite. The tested unit works from 137 MHz to 2.4 GHz, so it covers the VHF and UHF ham bands as well as LoRa, WiFi, cell, ISM, and more. But of course, [Andreas] doesn’t just review the unit, he also gives us a healthy dose of theory in his approachable style.
[The guy with the Swiss accent] has been doing a lot of great work these days, covering everything from how not to forget your chores to reverse engineering an IoT Geiger counter. Check out his channel — almost everything he does is worth a watch.
Continue reading “Putting A Poor Man’s Vector Analyzer Through Its Paces” →