Set Your Nuts (and Bolts) Free With This Induction Heater

[Amon] built an induction heater to break stuck bolts loose. If you work on cars, machines, or anything big and metal, sooner or later you’re going to run into stuck nuts and bolts. Getting them unstuck usually involves penetrating oil, heat from a torch, and cheater bars. Heat usually works well, as heating the bolt makes the metal expand, helping it to break free. Torches aren’t exactly precision instruments though, and things can get interesting using one in tight spaces.

Fire isn’t the only way to heat a bolt through. Electricity can do the job as well. But why use a heating coil when you can grab an induction heater. Mechanics have had induction heaters in their toolboxes now for a few years, under names such as Bolt Buster or Mini Ductor. These devices cost several hundred dollars. However, you can purchase a 1000 watt induction heater from the usual sources for around $30. These are open frame Zero Voltage Switching (ZVS) power supplies, with uninsulated copper coils.

[Amon] bought one of these induction heaters, along with a beefy 24V, 40 amp switch mode supply to power it. He built the two into a plastic enclosure. A relay energizes the induction heater, so it isn’t always running. The key to this build is the handle. Rather than mount the induction coil directly on the supply, [Amon] ran two extension wires to a 3d printed gun style handle. This keeps the bulky part of the heater away from the work. The copper tube coil was re-shaped to better work with the gun. Some fiberglass sleeve keeps everything insulated, even at extreme temperatures.

The result is a very useful heater, ready to bust loose some bolts. We’ve seen homebuilt ZVS supplies powering induction coils before. It will be interesting to see how well these commercial units hold up.

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Cooking Eggs With Magnets In Motion

It’s probably always going to be easier to just find some dry wood and make a cooking fire, but if you’re ever in a real bind and just happen to have a bunch of magnets and a treadmill motor, this DIY induction cooktop could be your key to a hot breakfast.

For those not familiar with them, induction cooktops are a real thing. The idea stretches all the way back to the turn of the last century, and involves using a strong magnetic field to induce eddy currents in the metal of a cooking vessel. As [K&J Magnetics] explains, the eddy currents are induced in a conductor by changing magnetic fields nearby. The currents create their own magnetic field which opposes the magnetic field that created it. The resulting current flows through the conductor, heating it up. For their cooktop, they chose to spin a bunch of powerful neodymium magnets with alternating polarity using an old treadmill motor. The first try heated up enough to just barely cook an egg. Adding more magnets resulted in more heat, but the breakthrough came with a smaller pan. The video below shows the cooktop in action.

It’s worth noting that commercial induction cooktops use coils and a high-frequency alternating current instead or rotating magnets. They also are notoriously fussy about cookware, too. So, kudos to [K&J] for finding success with such an expedient build. As a next step, we’d love to see the permanent magnets replaced with small coils that can be electrically commutated, perhaps with a brushless motor controller. Continue reading “Cooking Eggs With Magnets In Motion”

Is Your Wireless Charger Working?

It’s that time of year at which the Christmas lights are coming out of storage, isn’t it. Some modern seasonal rituals: untangling half a mile of fairy lights, and replacing a pile of CR2032 cells in LED candles.

[RobBest] had a solution to the latter, owning a set of nifty rechargeable LED candles that came with their own wireless charger. Sadly the charger wasn’t working quite as intended, as the indicator light to show when it had finished its cycle was always on. How could he indicate that the induction system was in operation?

His answer was to take a non-functioning candle and strip it down to expose its induction pick-up coil. He could have simply hooked it up to an LED for a quick result, but since the device in question was a candle it made sense to give it a candle effect. A PIC microcontroller was therefore pressed into service to drive the LED with its PWM output, giving a pleasing flickering effect.

You don’t have to own a set of electronic candles to have a go at wireless charging. Instead you could try a trip to IKEA.

Inductive Loop Vehicle Detector Gets Modernized

Much like George Lucas and the original Star Wars films, many of us may find that our passion projects are never quite finished, especially when new technology comes around or we just want to make some improvements for their own sake. [Muris] was featured a while back for a vehicle detecting circuit, but is back with some important upgrades to his project. (Which, luckily, do not include any horrible CGI aliens.)

For starters, the entire project has been reworked from the ground up. For anyone unfamiliar with the original project, the circuit detected a vehicle via an inductive loop and was able to perform a task like opening a gate. It now has two independent channels which are polled separately, yet has a reduced parts count which should make construction simpler. The firmware has also been reprogrammed, and in addition to sensing a vehicle’s presence can now also measure the speed of any vehicles passing by.

The complete list of improvements can be found on the project page, and an extensive amount of documentation is available on this if you want to try to roll out your own inductive loop vehicle detector. Of course, this isn’t the only way to detect a vehicle’s presence if inductive loops aren’t really your style.

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Inventing The Induction Motor

When you think of who invented the induction motor, Nikola Tesla and Galileo Ferraris should come to mind. Though that could be a case of the squeaky wheel being the one that gets the grease. Those two were the ones who fought it out just when the infrastructure for these motors was being developed. Then again, Tesla played a huge part in inventing much of the technology behind that infrastructure.

Although they claimed to have invented it independently, nothing’s ever invented in a vacuum, and there was an interesting progression of both little guys and giants that came before them; Charles Babbage was surprisingly one of those giants. So let’s start at the beginning, and work our way to Tesla and Ferraris.

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Fail Of The Week: Magnetic Flow Measurement Gone Wrong

Physics gives us the basic tools needed to understand the universe, but turning theory into something useful is how engineers make their living. Pushing on that boundary is the subject of this week’s Fail of the Week, wherein we follow the travails of making a working magnetic flowmeter (YouTube, embedded below).

Theory suggests that measuring fluid flow should be simple. After all, sticking a magnetic paddle wheel into a fluid stream and counting pulses with a reed switch or Hall sensor is pretty straightforward, right? In this case, though, [Grady] of Practical Engineering starts out with a much more complicated flow measurement modality – electromagnetic detection. He does a great job of explaining Faraday’s Law of Induction and how a fluid can be the conductor that moves through a magnetic field and has a measurable current induced in it. The current should be proportional to the velocity of the fluid, so it should be a snap to whip up a homebrew magnetic flowmeter, right? Nope – despite valiant effort, [Grady] was never able to get a usable signal out of the noise in his system. 

The theory is sound, his test rig looks workable, and he’s got some pretty decent instrumentation. So where did [Grady] go wrong? Could he clean up the signal with a better instrumentation amp? What would happen if he changed the process fluid to something more conductive, like salt water? By his own admission, electrical engineering is not his strong suit – he’s a civil engineer by trade. Think you can clean up that signal? Let us know in the comments section. 

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What Can We Learn From A Cheap Induction Cooktop?

Sometimes tearing down a cheap appliance is more interesting that tearing down an expensive one. A lot of the best engineering happens when cost is an issue. You may not solve the problem well, but you can solve it well enough for a discount shelf.

[openschemes] purchased a 1.8kW induction hot plate at a low price off Amazon. The reasons for the discount soon became apparent. The worst of which was a fully intolerable amount of high frequency switching noise. Wanting to know how it worked, he took it apart.

After he had it apart on his desk, he deciphered the circuit, and wrote about it clearly. As usual with extremely cheap electronics, some clever hacks were employed. The single micro-controller was used for monitoring, and generated a PWM signal that was instantly converted to DC through some filters. All the switching was done the old fashioned way, which explained why the hotplate seemed so brainless to [openschemes] when he first turned it on.

Lastly, he did some work on manually controlling the cooktop for whatever reason. The good news? He managed to figure out how to control it. Unfortunately he also destroyed his unit in the process, via a misapplication of 1200 volts. A fitting end, and we learned a lot!

Thanks [David Balfour] for the tip!