Teardown Shows Why Innovative Designs Sometimes Fail

Some ideas are real head-scratchers from a design standpoint: Why in the world would you do it that way? For many of us, answering that question often requires a teardown, which is what [Ben Katz] did when this PCB motor-powered weed whacker came across his bench. The results are instructive on what it takes to succeed in the marketplace, or in this case, how to fail.

The unit in question comes from an outfit called CORE Outdoor Power. The line trimmer was powered by a big lithium-ion battery pack, but [Ben] concentrated on the unique motor for his teardown. After a problematic entry into the very sturdy case at the far end of the trimmer’s shaft, he found what looks like a souped-up version of [Carl Bugeja]’s PCB brushless motors. The rotors, each with eight large magnets embedded, are sandwiched on either side of a very thick four-layer PCB with intricately etched heavy copper traces. The PCB forms the stator, with four flat coils. The designer pulled a neat trick with the Hall-effect sensors needed for feedback; rather than go with surface-mount sensors, which would add to the thickness of the board, they used through-hole packages soldered to surface pads, with the body of the sensor nestled in a hole in the board. The whole design is very innovative, but sadly, [Ben]’s analysis shows that it has poor performance for its size and weight.

Google around a bit and you’ll see that CORE was purchased some years back by MTD, a big player in the internal combustion engine outdoor power market. They don’t appear to be a going concern anymore, and it looks as though [Ben] has discovered why.

[Jozef] tipped us off to this one. Thanks!

OpenSCAD Handles The Math In 3D Printed Holder For Magnetic Spheres

3D printed holder mounted to bike wheel, fitting precisely 38 magnetic spheres around its perimeter. Tedious math? Not if you make OpenSCAD do it.

Off-the-shelf components are great; the world and our work simply wouldn’t be the same without. But one of the constraints is that one has to design around them, and that’s what led [Antonio Ospite] to create a parametric design in OpenSCAD for a 3D printed holder which snugly fits a number of magnetic spheres around its diameter.

If that sounds a bit esoteric, it will become much clearer in the context of [Antonio]’s earlier work in making a DIY rotary encoder out of a ring of magnetic spheres. He found that such a ring in front of two Hall effect sensors was low in cost, high in precision, and thanks to 3D printing it also had a lot of potential for customizing. But hampering easy design changes was the need for the spheres to fit snugly around whatever shape was chosen for the hardware, which meant constraints on the encoder diameter.

In this case, [Antonio] wished to create an encoder that could be attached to a bicycle wheel but needed to know what outer diameter would best fit a ring of magnetic balls perfectly, given that the balls were each 5 mm. OpenSCAD did the trick, yielding a design that fit the bike wheel and spokes while perfectly nestling 38 magnetic balls around the outside edge with a minimum of wasted space.

OpenSCAD is a CAD program that’s really more like a programming language than anything else. For those who are not familiar with it, [Brian Benchoff] walked through how to make a simple object in OpenSCAD, and [Elliot] has sung the praises of a few advanced functions. Now that this project makes DIY encoders easier, perhaps they could be used to add intuitive new controls to OpenSCAD itself.

Magnetic Spheres Line Up For Rotary Encoder Duty

When it comes to rotary encoders, there are plenty of options. Most of them involve putting a credit card number into an online vendor’s website, though, and that’s sometimes just not in the cards. In that case building your own, like this encoder using magnetic spheres, is a pretty cool way to go too.

If he’d had less time to spare, we imagine [Antonio Ospite] would have gone for a commercial solution rather than building an encoder from scratch. Then again, he says his application had noise considerations, so maybe this was the best solution overall. He had some latching Hall effect sensors lying around, but lacked the ring magnet that is usually used with such sensors in magnetic encoders. But luckily, he had a mess of magnetic spheres, each 5 mm in diameter. Lined up in a circle around a knob made from a CD spindle, the spheres oriented themselves with alternating poles, which is just what the Hall sensors want to see. The sensors were arranged so the pulses are 90° apart, and can resolve 4.29° steps. Check out the video below to watch it work.

Small, cheap and effective are always good things. But magnets aren’t the only thing behind homebrew rotary encoders. A couple of microswitches might do in a pinch, or maybe even scrapped hard drives would suffice.

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Completely Scratch-Built Electronic Speed Controller

Driving a brushless motor requires a particular sequence. For the best result, you need to close the loop so your circuit can apply the right sequence at the right time. You can figure out the timing using a somewhat complex circuit and monitoring the electrical behavior of the motor coils. Or you can use sensors to detect the motor’s position. Many motors have the sensors built in and [Electronoobs] shows how to drive one of these motors in a recent video that you can watch below. If you want to know about using the motor’s coils as sensors, he did a video on that topic, earlier.

The motor in question was pulled from an optical drive and has three hall effect sensors onboard. Having these sensors simplifies the drive electronics considerably.

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High Speed Imaging Of Magnetic Fields

Some time before experimenting with MRI machines and building his own CT scanner, [Peter Jansen] wanted to visualize magnetic fields. One of his small side projects is building tricoders — pocket sensor suites that image everything — and after playing around with the magnetometer function on his Roddenberry-endorsed tool, he decided he had to have a way to visualize magnetic fields. After some work, he has the tools to do it at thousands of frames per second. It’s a video camera for magnetic fields, pushing the boundaries of both magnetic imaging technology and the definition of the word ‘camera’.

When we last looked at [Peter]’s Hall effect camera, the device worked, but it wasn’t necessarily complete. The original design used I2C I/O multiplexers for addressing each individual ‘pixel’ of the Hall effect array, limiting the ‘framerate’ of the ‘camera’ to somewhere around 30 Hz. While this would work for visualizing static magnetic fields, the more interesting magnetic fields around us are oscillating — think motors and transformers and such. A much faster magnetic camera was needed, and that’s what [Peter] set out to build.

Instead of an I/O expander, [Peter] re-engineered his design to use analog multiplexers and a binary counter to cycle through each pixel, one at a time. Basically, the new circuit uses two analog muxes for the columns and rows of the Hall effect array, a binary counter to cycle through each pixel at Megahertz speed, and a fast ADC to read each value. It is, bizarrely, the 1970s way of doing things; these are simple chips, and the controller (a Chipkit Max32) only needs to read a single analog value and clock the binary counter really fast.

With the new design, [Peter] is able to get extremely fast frame rates of about 2,000 Hz. That’s fast enough for some beautiful visualizations of spinning motors and transformers, seen in the video below. Further improvements may include three-axis magnetometers, which should allow for some spectacular visualizations similar to [Ted Yapo]’s 3D magnetic field scanner.

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Make Your Own Current Clamp Probe

If you want to measure AC or DC current with an oscilloscope, a current clamp is a great way to do it. The clamp surrounds the wire, so you don’t need to break the connection to take your measurements. These used to be expensive, although we’ve seen some under $100, if you shop. We don’t know if it was cost or principle that motivated [Electronoobs] to build his own current clamp, but he did.

This probe design is little more than a 3D printed case, an old power supply toroid, and a conventional alligator clamp to make the business end. The sensor uses a ferrite core and a hall effect sensor. The ferrite toroid is split in half, one half in each side of the clamp. An opamp circuit provides a gain of 100 to boost the hall effect sensor’s output.

In addition to building a homebrew probe, the video also shows a teardown of a Hantek current probe and explains the theory behind the different kinds of current probes, including some tricks like using a compensation winding to prevent core magnetization.

Does it work? You bet. After calibration, it did just fine. It’s not as pretty as a $100 unit, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and we are suckers for homebrew gear so we will say it is certainly more interesting. If you have a fair junk box (and a 3D printer), this probe could be made very inexpensively. The hall effect and a BNC connector are likely to be the most expensive parts. Even if you bought everything and used a non-printed case, we would be hard-pressed to think you’d spend more than $25.

If you want to see how the big boys do it, Keysight had a good break down last year. We’ve seen other homebrew builds for current probes and some of them are very accurate.

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Flying The Friendly Skies With A Hall Effect Joystick

There are plenty of PC joysticks out there, but that didn’t stop [dizekat] from building his own. Most joysticks measure position mechanically using potentiometers or encoders. Only a few high-end models use Hall effect sensors. That’s the route [dizekat] took.

Hall effect sensors are non-contact devices which measure magnetic fields. They can be used to measure the position and orientation of a magnet. That’s exactly how [dizekat] is using a trio of sensors in his design. The core of the joystick is a universal joint from an old R/C car. The center section of the joint (called a spider) has two one millimeter thick disc magnets glued to it. The Hall sensors themselves are mounted in the universal itself. [Dizekat] used a small piece of a chopstick to hold the sensors in position while he found the zero point and glued them in. A third Hall effect sensor is used to measure a throttle stick positioned on the side of the box.

An Arduino micro reads the sensors and converts the analog signal to USB.  The Arduino Joystick Library by [Matthew Heironimus] formats the data into something a PC can understand.

While this is definitely a rough work in progress, we’re excited by how much [dizekat] has accomplished with simple hand tools and glue. You don’t need a 3D printer, laser cutter, and a CNC to pull off an awesome hack!

If you think Hall effect sensors are just for joysticks, you’d be wrong – they work as cameras for imaging magnetic fields too!