There is a looming spectre of doom hovering over the world of electronics manufacturing. It’s getting hard to find parts, and the parts you can find are expensive. No, it doesn’t have anything to with the tariffs enacted by the United States against Chinese goods this last summer. This is a problem that doesn’t have an easy scapegoat. This is a problem that strikes at the heart of any economic system. This is the capacitor and resistor shortage.
When we first reported on the possibility of a global shortage of chip capacitors and resistors, things were for the time being, okay. Yes, major manufacturers were saying they were spinning down production lines until it was profitable to start them up again, but there was relief: parts were in stock, and they didn’t cost that much more.
One of the first things anyone with an interest in electronics learns is the resistor colour code. The colour of the first band reveals the first figure, the second the subsequent figure, and the third a power-of-ten multiplier. At first you learn these colours, but eventually you just recognise the values through familiarity. You don’t have to think about multipliers when you see orange-orange-red, you just know that it’s a 3K3 resistor.
[Plusea] has come up with an entertaining interface for an ohmmeter, which instead of displaying the resistance on an LCD or a meter shows it as the colours of the code, via a set of addressable LEDs. The work is done by an ATtiny85 microcontroller, and the whole thing is mounted on a flexible PCB (fabrication of which is itself interesting, placing cut copper traces on a sheet of kapton and covering with a second kapton layer cut to be the solder mask). There is even a clever integration of a CR2032 battery holder from the PCB itself, though they admit that it could be made more compact with the use of SMD components instead of through-hole.
The write-up and associated photo album tells us a lot about the project, but is missing a crucial detail: a shot of it working. We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on that front though, because we like the idea and its execution.
Strangely, this isn’t the first ohmmeter to use the resistor colour code in this way, we’ve previously brought you one featuring a light-up giant resistor.
The build is actually cribbed from earlier work by a gang called [oomlout]. Parts for these cutters are made with either lasercut or CNC milled sheet stock. A stepper motor is used to transport the resistor tape, and the cutting blades are moved by standard hobby servos. The use of servos for the blades allows the action to be controlled precisely without having to go to the effort of implementing extra limit switches and circuitry.
Control is by an Arduino Uno, with an A4988 driver controlling the stepper. Servo control is achieved with the Uno’s onboard peripherals. There’s a video below of the machine in operation, which shows it to be a simple and efficient tool for the job.
Current. Too little of it, and you can’t get where you’re going, too much and your hardware’s on fire. In many projects, it’s desirable to know just how much current is being drawn, and even more desirable to limit it to avoid catastrophic destruction. The humble current shunt is an excellent way to do just that.
To understand current, it’s important to understand Ohm’s Law, which defines the relationship between current, voltage, and resistance. If we know two out of the three, we can calculate the unknown. This is the underlying principle behind the current shunt. A current flows through a resistor, and the voltage drop across the resistor is measured. If the resistance also is known, the current can be calculated with the equation I=V/R.
This simple fact can be used to great effect. As an example, consider a microcontroller used to control a DC motor with a transistor controlled by a PWM output. A known resistance is placed inline with the motor and, the voltage drop across it measured with the onboard analog-to-digital converter. With a few lines of code, it’s simple for the microcontroller to calculate the current flowing to the motor. Armed with this knowledge, code can be crafted to limit the motor current draw for such purposes as avoiding overheating the motor, or to protect the drive transistors from failure.
In fact, such strategies can be used in a wide variety of applications. In microcontroller projects you can measure as many currents as you have spare ADC channels and time. Whether you’re driving high power LEDs or trying to build protection into a power supply, current shunts are key to doing this.
The passive component industry — the manufacturers who make the boring but vital resistors, capacitors, and diodes found in every single electronic device — is on the cusp of a shortage. You’ll always be able to buy a 220 Ω, 0805 resistor, but instead of buying two for a penny like you can today, you may only get one in the very near future.
Yageo, one of the largest manufacturers of surface mount (SMD) resistors and multilayer ceramic capacitors, announced in December they were not taking new chip resistor orders. Yageo was cutting production of cheap chip resistors to focus on higher-margin niche-market components for automotive, IoT, and other industrial uses, as reported by Digitimes. Earlier this month, Yaego resumed taking orders for chip resistors, but with 15-20% higher quotes (article behind paywall, try clicking through via this Tweet).
As a result, there are rumors of runs on passive components at the Shenzhen electronics market, and several tweets from members of the electronics community have said the price of some components have doubled. Because every electronic device uses these ‘jellybean’ parts, a decrease in supply or increase in price means some products won’t ship on time, margins will be lower, or prices on the newest electronic gadget will increase.
The question remains: are we on the brink of a resistor shortage, and what are the implications of manufacturers that don’t have the parts they need?
Through-hole assembly means bending leads on components and putting the leads through holes in the circuit board, then soldering them in place, and trimming the wires. That took up too much space and assembly time and labor, so the next step was surface mount, in which components are placed on top of the circuit board and then solder paste melts and solders the parts together. This made assembly much faster and cheaper and smaller.
Now we have embedded components, where in order to save even more, the components are embedded inside the circuit board itself. While this is not yet a technology that is available (or probably even desirable) for the Hackaday community, reading about it made my “holy cow!” hairs tingle, so here’s more on a new technology that has recently reached an availability level that more and more companies are finding acceptable, and a bit on some usable design techniques for saving space and components.
Through-hole resistors come on tape that we’re now calling bandoliers. Since [Spencer] is selling a boatload of his RC2014 backplane computer kits on Tindie, he’s been chopping up a lot of resistor bandoliers. It’s a boring and monotonous job.
Fortunately, a lot of people have had a bandolier cutting problem over the years, and there are some hobbyist-grade robots that will do this work for you. One of the more popular robots tasked for bandolier cutting is a laser cut robot. However, if you already have a laser cutter, why not just use the laser to cut the bandoliers? It’s brilliant in its simplicity.
[Spencer] spent a little bit of time designing a template to turn his laser cutter into a cutter for through hole resistors. No, he’s not trimming the leads — this is just a device to cut resistors into groups mini bandoliers of a handful of resistors. The tool is made out of plywood, with a smaller top piece held down with magnets to keep the resistors aligned.
The entire template is up on Thingiverse, and it’s great if you need to cut hundreds of resistors to kit dozens of projects. If you’re only doing one or two, scissors will be the way to go, but if you’re cursed with the monotony of trimming hundreds there’s no better way to get things done than to put a robot to work.
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