A Builders Guide For The Perfect Solid-State Tesla Coil

[Zach Armstrong] presents for your viewing pleasure a simple guide to building a solid-state Tesla coil. The design is based around a self-resonant setup using the UCC2742x gate driver IC, which is used in a transformer-coupled full-wave configuration for delivering maximum power from the line input. The self-resonant bit is implemented by using a small antenna nearby the coil to pick up the EM field, and by suitably clamping and squaring it up, it is fed back into the gate driver to close the feedback loop. Such a setup within reason allows the circuit to oscillate with a wide range of Tesla coil designs, and track any small changes, minimizing the need for fiddly manual tuning that is the usual path you follow building these things.

Since the primary is driven with IGBTs, bigger is better. If the coil is too small, the resonant frequency would surpass the recommended 400 kHz, which could damage the IGBTs since they can’t switch much faster with the relatively large currents needed. An important part of designing Tesla coil driver circuits is matching the primary coil to the driver. You could do worse than checkout JavaTC to help with the calculations, as this is an area of the design where mistakes often result in destructive failure. The secondary coil design is simpler, where a little experimentation is needed to get the appropriate degree of coil coupling. Too much coupling is unhelpful, as you’ll just get breakdown between the two sides. Too little coupling and efficiency is compromised. This is why you often see a Tesla coil with a sizeable gap between the primary and secondary coils. There is a science to this magic!

Pretty Lithium Carbonate plasma

A 555 timer wired to produce adjustable pulses feeds into the driver enable to allow easily changing the discharge properties. This enables it to produce discharges that look a bit like a Van De Graaff discharge at one extreme, and produce some lovely plasma ‘fire’ at the other.

We’ve covered Tesla coils from many angles over the years, recently this plasma tweeter made sweet sounds, and somehow we missed an insanely dangerous Tesla build by [StyroPyro] just checkout that rotary spark gap – from a distance.

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Homemade EDM Machine Moves From Prototype To Production

Of all the methods of making big pieces of metal into smaller pieces of metal, perhaps none is more interesting than electrical discharge machining. EDM is also notoriously fussy, what with having to control an arc discharge while precisely positioning the tool relative to the workpiece. Still, some home gamers give it a whirl, and we love to share their successes, like this work-in-progress EDM machine. (Video, embedded below.)

We’ve linked [Andy]’s first videos below the break, and we’d expect there will be a few more before all is said and done. But really, for being fairly early in the project, [Andy] has made a lot of progress. EDM is basically using an electric arc to remove material from a workpiece, but as anyone who has unintentionally performed EDM on, say, a screwdriver by shorting it across the terminals in a live outlet box, the process needs to be controlled to be useful.

Part 1 shows the start of the build using an old tap burning machine, a 60-volt power supply, and a simple pulse generator. This was enough to experiment with the basics of both the mechanical control of electrode positioning, and the electrical aspects of getting a sustained, useful discharge. Part 2 continues with refinements that led very quickly to the first useful parts, machined quickly and cleanly from thin stock using a custom tool. We’ll admit to being impressed — many EDM builds either never get to the point of making simple holes, or stop when progressing beyond that initial success proves daunting. Of course, when [Andy] drops the fact that he made the buttons for the control panel on his homemade injection molding machine, one gets the feeling that anything is possible.

We’re looking forward to more on this build. We’ve seen a few EDM builds before, but none with this much potential.

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An EV Motor Controller Home Build

Many of us will have experimented with brushless motors, and some of us will have built our own controllers rather than using an off-the-shelf part. Doing so is a good way to understand their operation, and thus to design better brushless motor powered projects. Few of us will have gone as far as [etischer] though, and embarked upon building our own controller for a 300V 90kW traction motor.

The tricky part of a high power brushless motor controller lies not in the drive but in the high-power switching arrangements. He’s using a bank of IGBTs, and to drive them he’s using a smaller industrial variable frequency drive controller with its own output transistors removed. He takes us through some of the development of the system, including showing him blowing up a set of IGBTs through having too much inductance between transistors and reservoir capacitor, and then to his final design.

This is part of a project VW first converted ten years ago, and as part of a series of videos he’s produced one going through the whole project. It’s a fascinating breakdown of the parts required for an EV conversion, and the teething troubles he’s encountered along the way.

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Improbably Cheap Pocket Welder Gets An ESP32 Makeover

If you move in certain shady circles, you may have noticed the crop of improbably cheap “pocket welders” popping up on the market these days. They’re all variations on a theme, most with wildly optimistic specs minimal accessories of the lowest possible quality. But their tiny size and matching price make them irresistible to the would-be welder, as well as attractive to hardware hackers.

With a 220-V outlet in the garage waiting to be filled and well-knowing the risks, [Mr. RC-Cam] purchased one of these diminutive welding machines. Its shortcomings were immediately apparent, and a complete rework of the welder was undertaken. After addressing safety issues like the lack of a ground connection, [Mr. RC-Cam] added a color-matched 3D-printed hood to house a fancy new LCD touchscreen display. Backing that up is an ESP32 with Bluetooth, which supports remote control via a key fob. He also added a current sense board that uses the welder’s current shunt to measure welding current. Expediently calibrated using a waffle iron and a milli-ohmmeter, the sensor showed that the 200A max advertised for the welder was more like 100A. He tried adding some big electrolytics to fix the current issues, but no dice. With a decent stinger and ground clamp, the modified welder is good enough for his needs, and much was learned in the process. We call that a hacking win.

As an aside, [This Old Tony] recently did a review on a similar welder if you want more details on the internals. We also covered the conversion of a buzz-box to a TIG welder recently, should that be more your style.

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Fun With A Hydrogen Thyratron

There’s something oddly menacing about some vacuum tubes. The glass, the glowing filaments, the strange metal grids and wires suspended within – all those lead to a mysterious sci-fi look and the feeling that strange things are happening in there.

Add in a little high voltage and a tube that makes its own hydrogen, and you’ve got something extra scary. This hydrogen thyratron ended up being just the thing for [Kerry Wong]’s high-voltage, high-current experiments. One would normally turn to the solid-state version of the thyratron, the silicon controlled rectifier (SCR), to switch such voltages. But the devices needed to handle the 30 amps [Kerry] had in mind were exorbitant, and when the IGBTs he used as a substitute proved a little too fragile he turned to the Russian surplus market for help. There he found a TGI1-50/5 hydrogen thyratron, a tube that has a small hydrogen gas generator inside – thyratrons are actually gas-filled rather than vacuum tubes and switch heavy currents through plasma conduction. [Kerry] set up a demo circuit with a small RC network to provide the fast switching pulse preferred by the thyratron, and proceeded to run 3500 volts through a couple of 1/4-W resistors with predictable results. The video below shows the fireworks.

Can’t get enough of the thyratron’s lovely purple glow? We’ve seen it before on this beautiful old switch-mode power supply. The versatile tubes also helped rebuild the first vocal encryption system.

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Open Source High Power EV Motor Controller

For anyone with interest in electric vehicles, especially drives and control systems for EV’s, the Endless-Sphere forum is the place to frequent. It’s full of some amazing projects covering electric skateboards to cars and everything in between. [Marcos Chaparro] recently posted details of his controller project — the VESC-controller, an open source controller capable of driving motors up to 200 hp.

[Marcos]’s controller is a fork of the VESC by [Benjamin Vedder] who has an almost cult following among the forum for “creating something that all DIY electric skateboard builders have been longing for, an open source, highly programmable, high voltage, reliable speed controller to use in DIY eboard projects”. We’ve covered several VESC projects here at Hackaday.

While [Vedder]’s controller is aimed at low power applications such as skate board motors, [Marcos]’s version amps it up several notches. It uses 600 V 600 A IGBT modules and 460 A current sensors capable of powering BLDC motors up to 150 kW. Since the control logic is seperated from the gate drivers and IGBT’s, it’s possible to adapt it for high power applications. All design files are available on the Github repository. The feature list of this amazing build is so long, it’s best to head over to the forum to check out the nitty-gritty details. And [Marcos] is already thinking about removing all the analog sensing in favour of using voltage and current sensors with digital outputs for the next revision. He reckons using a FPGA plus flash memory can replace a big chunk of the analog parts from the bill of materials. This would eliminate tolerance, drift and noise issues associated with the analog parts.

[Marcos] is also working on refining a reference design for a power interface board that includes gate drivers, power mosfets, DC link and differential voltage/current sensing. Design files for this interface board are available from his GitHub repo too. According to [Marcos], with better sensors and a beefier power stage, the same control board should work for motors in excess of 500 hp. Check out the video after the break showing the VESC-controller being put through its paces for an initial trial.

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Repairing And Adding Bluetooth Control To An Induction Cooker

When his 6 years old induction cooker recently broke, [Johannes] decided to open it in an attempt to give it another life. Not only did he succeed, but he also added Bluetooth connectivity to the cooker. The repair part was actually pretty straight forward, as in most cases the IGBTs and rectifiers are the first components to break due to stress imposed on them. Following advice from a Swedish forum, [Johannes] just had to measure the resistance of these components to discover that the broken ones were behaving like open circuits.

He then started to reverse engineer the boards present in the cooker, more particularly the link between the ‘keyboards’ and the main microcontroller (an ATMEGA32L) in charge of commanding the power boards. With a Bus Pirate, [Johannes] had a look at the UART protocol that was used but it seems it was a bit too complex. He then opted for an IOIO and a few transistors to emulate key presses, allowing him to use his phone to control the cooker (via USB or BT). While he was at it, he even added a temperature sensor.