Epoxy Fix For A Combusted PCB

When the Magic Smoke is released, chances are pretty good that you’ve got some component-level diagnosis to do. It’s usually not that hard to find the faulty part, charred and crusty as it likely appears. In that case, some snips, a new non-crusty part, and a little solder are usually enough to get you back in business.

But what if the smoke came not from a component but from the PCB itself? [Happymacer] chanced upon this sorry situation in a power supply for an electric gate opener. Basking in the Australian sunshine for a few years, the opener started acting fussy at first, then not acting at all. Inspection of its innards revealed that some unlucky ants had shorted across line and neutral on the power supply board, which burned not only the traces but the FR4 of the board as well. Rather than replace the entire board, [Happymacer] carefully removed the carbonized (and therefore conductive) fiberglass and resin, leaving a gaping hole in the board. He fastened a patch for the hole from some epoxy glue; Araldite is the brand he used, but any two-part epoxy, like JB Weld, should work. One side of the hole was covered with tape and the epoxy was smeared into the hole, and after a week of curing and a little cleanup, it was ready for duty. The components were placed into freshly drilled holes, missing traces were replaced with wire, and it seems to be working fine.

This seems like a great tip to keep in mind for when catastrophe strikes your boards. There are more extreme ways to do it, of course, but perhaps none so flexible. After all, epoxy is versatile stuff.

Arduino Trivia Box is a Gift Unto Itself

There’s something about impressing strangers on the Internet that brings out the best in us. Honestly, we wouldn’t be able to run this site otherwise. A perfect example of this phenomenon is the annual Reddit Secret Santa, where users are challenged to come up with thoughtful gifts for somebody they’ve never even met before.

For his entry into this yearly demonstration of creativity, [Harrison Pace] wanted to do something that showcased his improving electronic skills while also providing something entertaining to the recipient. So he came up with a box of goodies which is unlocked by the successful completion of a built-in trivia game tailored around their interests. If this is how he treats strangers, we can’t wait to see what he does for his friends.

Hardware packed into the lid so the box itself remains empty.

There’s quite a bit of hardware hidden under the hood of this bedazzled gift box. The primary functions of the box are handled by an Arduino Nano; which runs the trivia game and provides user interaction via a 16×2 LCD, three push buttons, and a buzzer. Once the trivia game is complete, a servo is used to unlock the box and allow the recipient access to the physical gifts.

But that’s not the only trick this box has hidden inside. Once the main trivia game is complete, a ESP8266 kicks into action and advertises an access point the user can connect to. This starts the second level of challenges and gifts, which includes a code breaking challenge and gifted software licenses.

The project wasn’t all smooth sailing though. [Harrison] admits that his skills are still developing, and there were a few lessons learned during this project he is unlikely to forget in the future. Some Magic Smoke managed to escape when he connected his 5V Arduino directly to the 3.3V ESP8266, but at least it was a fairly cheap mistake and he had spares on hand to get the project completed anyway.

This project is reminiscent of reverse geocache boxes which only open when moved to a certain location, but the trivia aspect makes it perfect even for those of us who don’t want to put pants on just to receive our Internet gifts.

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Fail Of The Week: How I Killed The HiPot Tester

Have you ever wired up a piece of test equipment to a circuit or piece of equipment on your bench, only to have the dreaded magic smoke emerge when you apply power? [Steaky] did, and unfortunately for him the smoke was coming not from his circuit being tested but from a £2300 Clare H101 HiPot tester. His write-up details his search for the culprit, then looks at how the manufacturer might have protected the instrument.

[Steaky]’s employer uses the HiPot tester to check that adjacent circuits are adequately isolated from each other. A high voltage is put between the two circuits, and the leakage current between them is measured. A variety of tests are conducted on the same piece of equipment, and the task in hand was to produce a new version of a switch box with software control to swap between the different tests.

This particular instrument has a guard circuit, a pair of contacts that have to be closed before it will proceed. So the switch box incorporated a relay to close them, and wiring was made to connect to the guard socket. At first it was thought that the circuit might run at mains voltage, but when it was discovered to be only 5V the decision was made to use a 3.5mm jack on the switch box. Inadvertently this was left with its sleeve earthed, which had the effect of shorting out a DC to DC converter in the HiPot tester and releasing the smoke. Fortunately then the converter could be replaced and the machine brought back to life, but it left questions about the design of the internal circuit. What was in effect a logic level sense line was in fact connected to a low current power supply, and even the most rudimentary of protection circuitry could have saved the day.

We all stand warned to be vigilant for this kind of problem, and kudos to [Steaky] for both owning up to this particular fail and writing such a good analysis of it.

Our Fail Of The Week series has plenty to entertain the reader who is not of a nervous disposition. This isn’t the first fail to feature a suspect bit of connector wiring, not an unexpected short or even some magic smoke.

Driving A Brushless DC Motor Sloooooooowly

Driving a brushless DC (gimbal) motor can be a pain in the transistors. [Ignas] has written up a nice article not only explaining how to do just this with an Arduino, but also explaining a little bit on how the process works. He uses a L6234 Three Phase Motor Driver, but points out that there are other ways to interface the BLDC motor with the Arduino.

warningA warning is warranted – this is not for the faint of heart. You can easily destroy your microcontroller if you’re not careful. [Ignas] added several current limiting resistors and capacitors as advised in the application note (PDF warning) to keep things safe.

Everything worked well at high speeds, but for slower speeds the motor was choppy. [Ingus] solved this riddle by changing over to a sine wave to drive the motor. Instead of making the Arduino calculate the wave, he used a look up table.

Be sure to check out his blog for full source and schematics. There is also a video demonstrating just how slow he can make the motor move below.

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Faulty ESP8266s Release Smoke, Then Keep Working?

[Ray] is in a bit of a pickle. All appeared well when he began selling an ESP8266-based product, but shortly thereafter some of them got hot and let the smoke out. Not to worry, he recommends ignoring the problem since once the faulty components have vaporized the device will be fine.

The symptom lies in the onboard red power indicator LED smoking. (Probably) nothing is wrong with the LED, because upon testing the batch he discovered its current limiting resistor is sometimes a little bit low to spec. Off by a hair of, oh, call it an even 1000x.

HAD - HotESPY3Yep, the 4700 ohm resistor is sometimes replaced with a 4.7 ohm. Right across the power rail. That poor little LED is trying to dissipate half a watt on a pinhead. Like a sparrow trying to slow a sledgehammer, it does not end well. Try not to be too critical, pick ‘n place machines have rough days now and then too and everyone knows those reels look practically the same!

The good news is that the LED and resistor begin a thermal race and whoever wins escapes in the breeze. Soon as the connection cuts the heat issue disappears and power draw drops back to normal. Everything is fine unless you needed that indicator light. Behold – there are not many repairs you can make with zero tools, zero effort, and only a few seconds of your time.

[Ray] also recommends measuring and desoldering the resistor or LED if you are one of the unlucky few, or, if worst comes to worst, he has of course offered to replace the product too. He did his best to buy from authentic vendors and apologizes to the few customers affected. As far as he knows no one else has had this problem yet so he wanted to share it with the community here on Hackaday as soon as possible. Keep an eye out.

If you have never seen smoke ISO9001-certified electronics repair before, there is a short video of this particular disaster upgrade caught live on tape after the break.

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Fail of the Week: CPLDs That Release Blue Smoke

The card you see above is a floppy drive emulator for Macintosh. [Steve Chamberlain] has been hand assembling these and selling them in small runs, but is troubled by about a 4% burn-out rate for the CPLD which has the red ‘X’ on it. He settled into figure out what exactly is leading to this and it’s a real head-scratcher.

He does a very good job of trouble-shooting, starting with a list of all the possible things he thinks could be causing this: defective part, bad PCB, bad uC firmware, damage during assembly, solder short, tolerance issues, over-voltage on the DB connector, or bad VHDL design. He methodically eliminates these, first by swapping out the part and observing the exact same failure (pretty much eliminates assembly, solder short, etc.), then by measuring and scoping around the card.

The fascinating read doesn’t stop with the article. Make sure you work your way through the comments thread. [Steve] thinks he’s eliminated the idea of bad microcontroller code causing damage. He considers putting in-line resistors on the DB connector but we wonder if clamping diodes wouldn’t be a better choice (at least for testing purposes)? This begs the question, why is he observing a higher voltage on those I/O lines during power-up? As always, we want to hear your constructive comments below.


2013-09-05-Hackaday-Fail-tips-tileFail of the Week is a Hackaday column which runs every Wednesday. Help keep the fun rolling by writing about your past failures and sending us a link to the story — or sending in links to fail write ups you find in your Internet travels.

Fail of the Week: Inaugural Edition

We’re sure you’ve all been waiting on the edge of your seats to see whose project makes it as the first Hackaday Fail of the Week. Wait no longer, it’s [Mobile Will] with his woeful tale about monitoring AC current usage.

He had been working on a microcontroller actuated mains outlet project and wanted an accurate way to measure the AC current being used by the device connected to it. The ADE7753 energy metering IC was perfect for this so he designed the board above and ordered it up from OSH Park. After populating the components he hooked it up to his Arduino for a test run, and poof! Magic blue smoke arose from the board. As you’ve probably guessed — this also fried the Arduino, actually melting the plastic housing of the jumper wire that carried the rampant current. Thanks to the designers of the USB portion of his motherboard he didn’t lose the computer to as the current protection kicked in, requiring a reboot to reset it.

We can’t wait to hear the conversation in the comments. But as this is our first FotW post we’d like to remind you: [Mobile Will] already knows he screwed up, so no ripping on his skills or other non-productive dibble. Let’s keep this conversation productive, like what caused this? He still isn’t completely sure and that would be useful information for designing future iterations. Update: here’s the schematic and board artwork.

We’ve got a bit more to share in this post so keep reading after the break.

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