Three-Conductor Pivot for E-Textiles is Better Than Wires

Pivots for e-textiles can seem like a trivial problem. After all, wires and fabrics bend and flex just fine. However, things that are worn on a body can have trickier needs. Snap connectors are the usual way to get both an electrical connection and a pivot point, but they provide only a single conductor. When [KOBAKANT] had a need for a pivoting connection with three electrical conductors, they came up with a design that did exactly that by using a flexible circuit board integrated to a single button snap.

This interesting design is part of a solution to a specific requirement, which is to accurately measure hand movements. The photo shows two strips connected together, which pivot as one. The metal disk near the center is a magnet, and underneath it is a Hall effect sensor. When the wrist bends, the magnet is moved nearer or further from the sensor and the unit flexes and pivots smoothly in response. The brief videos embedded below make it clear how the whole thing works.

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Flexible Battery Meter Bends Over Backward to Work

A lithium-ion battery tester seems like a simple project, at least electrically. But when you start thinking about the physical problem of dealing with a huge range of battery sizes, things get a little more complicated. Sure, you can 3D-print adapters and jigs to accommodate the different batteries, or you can cheat a bit and put the charger and tester circuit on a flexible PCB.

Maybe it’s the Kapton talking, but we really like the look of [Androkavo]’s project. The idea is simple – rather than use a rigid FR4 printed circuit board, a flexible polyimide film PCB a little longer than the biggest battery to be tested was fabricated. With large contacts on each end, the board can just be looped across the battery to take a reading. For charging, neodymium magnets on the other side of the board keep the charger in contact with the battery. The circuit itself is built around an STM8S003 8-bit microcontroller and a handful of discrete components. There’s a bar graph display for battery voltage that covers 2.0 to 4.9 volts, and a USB port for charging. The charger works with everything from the big 21700 cells down to the short 14500s. With the help of another magnet to keep the board from bending too sharply, even the diminutive 10180 can be charged. Check out the video below, which has some of the most relaxing music and best microscope shots of SMD soldering we’ve seen.

Flexible PCBs are versatile things. Not only can they make projects like this successful, but they can also wriggle around, swim, or even play music.

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Flexible PCBs Make The Fins Of This Robotic Fish

We love a little outside-the-box thinking around here, and anytime we see robots that don’t use wheels and motors to do the moving, we take notice. So when a project touting robotic fish using soft-actuator fins crossed the tip line, we had to take a look.

It turns out that this robofish comes from the fertile mind of [Carl Bugeja], whose PCB motors and flexible actuators have been covered here before. The basic concept of these fish fins is derived from the latter project, which uses coils printed onto both sides of a flexible Kapton substrate. Positioned near a magnet, the actuators bend when a current runs through them. The video below shows two prototype robofish, each with four fins. The first is a scrap of foam with a magnet embedded; the fins did flap but the whole thing just weighed too much. Version two was much lighter and almost worked, but the tether to the driver is just too stiff to allow it to really flex its fins.

It looks like it has promise though, and we’re excited to see where [Carl] take this. Perhaps schools of tiny robofish patrolling for pollution?

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Kapton: Miracle Material with a Tragic History

On a balmy September evening in 1998, Swissair flight 111 was in big trouble. A fire in the cockpit ceiling had at first blinded the pilots with smoke, leaving them to rely on instruments to divert the plane, en route from New York to Geneva, to an emergency landing at Halifax Airport in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. But the fire raging above and behind the pilots, intense enough to melt the aluminum of the flight deck, consumed wiring harness after wiring harness, cutting power to vital flight control systems. With no way to control the plane, the MD-11 hit the Atlantic ocean about six miles off the coast. All 229 souls were lost.

It would take months to recover and identify the victims. The 350-g crash broke the plane into two million pieces which would not reveal their secrets until much later. But eventually, the problem was traced to a cascade of failures caused by faulty wiring in the new in-flight entertainment system that spread into the cockpit and doomed the plane. A contributor to these failures was the type of insulation used on the plane’s wiring, blamed by some as the root cause of the issue: the space-age polymer Kapton.

No matter where we are, we’re surrounded by electrical wiring. Bundles of wires course with information and power, and the thing that protects us is the thin skin of insulation over the conductor. We trust these insulators, and in general our faith is rewarded. But like any other engineered system, failure is always an option. At the time, Kapton was still a relatively new wonder polymer, with an unfortunate Achilles’ heel that can turn the insulator into a conductor, and at least in the case of flight 111, set a fire that would bring a plane down out of the sky.

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Worried About Running Out Of Filament Mid-Print? Join It!

If you’ve ever cringed over throwing away any printer filament you know wouldn’t cover your next small part — let alone an overnight print — you may appreciate [starlino]’s method for joining two spools of filament together.

While there are other methods to track how much filament you’re using, this method removes some of the guesswork. First, snip the ends of the filament on a diagonal — as close to the same angle as possible. Cover both ends with shrink wrap tubing — 2mm tubing for 1.75mm filament for example — ensuring that the two ends overlap inside the wrap. Tape the filament to a heat resistant mat with Kapton tape, leaving exposed the joint between the two filaments. A temperature sensor may help you to find your filament’s melting point, or you can experiment as necessary to get a feel for it.

Melt the filament inside the tubing with a hot air soldering station or heat gun and cool it down promptly with a few blasts from an air duster. All that’s left is to cut the filament free of the tape and shrink wrap, scraping away any excess so as to prevent printer jams. Done! Now, back to printing! Check out the tutorial video after the break.nning

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Repairing Flex Circuits By Accident

A while ago, [drygol] was asked to repair a few old Amiga keyboards. The key switches worked fine, but in the past decade or two, the flexible PCB ribbon connector has been mistreated, and was in an unworkable, nonfunctional state. The fragile traces underneath the green epoxy coating were giving way, but [drygol] found a few cool ways to repair these flex cables.

The end of this keyboard cable was beyond repair, but the Commodore engineers were gracious enough to leave a bit of slack in this keyboard connector. After cutting off the most damaged section, [drygol] had a strip of plastic, a few copper traces, and a green coating that had to be removed. The first attempt to remove this green covering used methanol, but that didn’t work. The next chemical attempt was with an epoxy solvent that contained nasty chemicals. This was applied to the end of the flex cable, with the remainder of the cable masked off by Kapton. It worked remarkably well.

In removing the Kapton masking tape, [drygol] discovered this green film sticks better to Kapton than it does to copper and plastic. A mechanical solution was found, allowing these keyboard cables to be easily repaired.

Of course, this was only half of the problems with these flexible circuits. Over the years, a few cracks appeared in the traces. To repair these broken traces, [drygol] turned to silver glue and a few laminations of Kapton to make this keyboard cable whole again. It worked, and the ancient keyboard was returned to service. Great work, and a fantastic observation for anyone with one of these keyboards sitting around: just grab a roll of Kapton to repair these circuits. It can’t get any easier than that.

One-Off Kapton Solder Masks

soldermask

With the proliferation of desktop routers, and a number of easy methods to create PCBs at home, there’s no reason anyone should ever have to buy a pre-made breakout board ever again. The traditional techniques only give you a copper layer, however, and if you want a somewhat more durable PCB, you’ll have figure out some way to create a solder mask on your homebrew PCBs. [Chris] figured Kapton tape would make a reasonable soldermask, and documented the process of creating one with a laser cutter over on the Projects site.

The solder mask itself is cut from a piece of Kapton tape, something that should be found in any reasonably well-stocked tinkerer’s toolbox. The software for [Chris]’ laser cutter, a Universal Laser Systems model, already has a setting for mylar film that came in handy for the Kapton tape,

Of course, getting the correct shapes and dimensions for the laser to cut required a bit of fooling around in Eagle and Corel Draw. The area the laser should cut was taken from the tCream and tStop layers in Eagle with a 1 mil pullback from the edges of the pads. This was exported to an .EPS file, opened in Corel Draw, and turned into a line art drawing for the laser cutter.

The result is a fast and easy solder mask that should be very durable. While it’s probably not as durable as the UV curing paints used in real PCBs, Kapton will be more than sufficient for a few prototypes before spinning a real board.