Hackaday Podcast Ep18: Faxploitation! Ikea RFID Hacking, Space Ads, Hydrogen Dones, And Blinkies

Hackaday editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys gather round the microphone to spin tales from a week of hacks. All the rage are fax-machine-based malware, a hydrogen fuel cell drone, and bringing color to the monochrome world of the original Super Mario Land. There are at least three really cool LED hacks this week, plus Tom’s been exploring space advertising, Maya’s debunking solder myths, and Elliot goes ga-ga for a deep Ikea electronics hack. Closing out the show is an interview with Bart Dring about his exquisitely-engineered string art robot.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

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Get To Know The Physics Behind Soldering And The Packaging Of ICs

Often it feels as if soldering is deemed to be more of an art form than something that’s underpinned by the cold, hard reality of physics and chemistry. From organic chemistry with rosin, to the material properties of fragile gold bond wires and silicon dies inside IC packages and the effects of thermal stress on the different parts of an IC package, it’s a complicated topic that deserves a lot more attention than it usually gets.

A casual inquiry around one’s friends, acquaintances, colleagues and perfect strangers on the internet usually reveals the same pattern: people have picked up a soldering iron at some point, and either figured out what seemed to work through trial and error, or learned from someone else who has learned what seemed to work through trial and error. Can we say something scientific about soldering?

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3D Printer Becomes Soldering Robot

What do you do if you have to solder thousands of through-hole parts? The expensive, professional way of doing this is running the boards through a wave soldering machine, or a machine with a fancy CNC solder fountain. The amateur way of soldering thousands of through-hole joints is putting some boards on the workbench and sitting down with a soldering iron. There is nothing in between; you’re either going to go with full automation for a large soldering job, or you’re doing it completely manually. That’s the problem this soldering robot solves. It’s a small, cheap, but still relatively capable soldering robot built out of a 3D printer.

This project is a solution to the development hell of the OpenScan project. This project is built around a small, simple printed circuit board that uses several 0.1″ female headers to connect an Arduino and motor drivers. Soldering them by hand is simply boring, and 3D printers are cheap, so the great mind behind this project decided to use a printer to pump out solder.

The modifications to the printer include a mount for a TS100 soldering iron and a modified filament extruder that pushes a spool of solder through a PTFE tube. The GCode for this soldering job was created manually, but you could also use a slicer instead. After 20 hours of development, the ‘success rate’ – however that is defined – is between 60-80%. That needs to get up to four or five nines before this DIY soldering robot is practical but this is a decidedly not-bad result for a few hours of tinkering.

This printer mod works great for the use case of stuffing a few 0.1″ headers into a board and letting a robot automatically solder the joints, but this printer will run into a problem with the general case of soldering a lot of randomly-shaped through hole parts. You need to actually hold the parts up against the board while soldering. There’s an easy solution to this problem: just flip the 3D printer upside down. This hack of a cheap 3D printer is so, so close to being a great solution to soldering thousands of through-hole parts quickly and easily, and we’re looking forward to seeing where the community takes this idea. You can check out the video demo below.

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A USB -C Soldering Iron For Weller Tips

There was a time when a decent temperature controlled soldering iron took the form of the iron itself and a box of electronics, but now it’s just as likely to be a miniaturised affair with the temperature controller built into a slim and lightweight handle. Irons such as the Miniware TS series have become firm favourites, displacing a traditional soldering station for many.

[Thomas.lepi] has combined the best of both worlds, with a TS-style microprocessor-driven handle driving the familiar Weller RT elements. Its interface is very simple, but through its USB power socket a serial port provides opportunities for adjustment. Providing control is an STM32F042G6U6 ARM Cortex M0 microcontroller, with USB power control coming from an STUSB4500QTR .

If you are used to irons such as the Miniware TS100 then this one with its smartly 3D-printed case will be very straightforward to use. Whether or not the ready availability of the TS100 or its USB-C sibling would remove the need to build this iron is up to you, but then again that’s hardly the point. The Weller tips are some of the better ones of their type, so perhaps that might make this project worth a second look.

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DIY Reflow Oven is Heavily Documented

[DJ Legion] decided he wanted a reflow oven so he bought a toaster oven and an assortment of parts including a solid state relay, a Teensy, a display, and a thermocouple. What makes this a different project is the amount of video documentation. The four videos below encompass about 50 minutes of information and he’s promising more to come.

We haven’t found his software — probably because he’s still working on it, but we’re watching his GitHub page expectantly. We really liked the 3D printed faceplate that integrated the controller into the oven. It almost looks like a commercial unit. The use of the woodgrain paper over the 3D printed parts was a nice touch.

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The Craziest Live Soldering Demo is the Cyborg Ring

You can define the word crazy in myriad ways. Some would say using SMD resistors and QFN microcontrollers as structural elements is  crazy. Some would say hand soldering QFN is crazy, much less trying to do it on edge rather than in the orientation the footprint is designed for. And of course doing it live on stage in front of people who eat flux for breakfast is just bonkers. But Zach did it anyway and I’m delighted he did.

This is the cyborg ring, and it’s a one-of-a-kind leap in imagination — the kind of leap people have come to expect from Zach Fredin who modeled neurons on PCBs, depopulated an SMD LED matrix and airwired it, and replaced his ThinkPad fingerprint reader with an ARM debugger port. The construction leverages the precise nature of manufactured parts: the ATtiny85 that drives the ring is exactly twice the width of an 0805 component. This means he can bridge the two circuit boards that make up the ring with the QFN microcontroller, and then use two 10M Ohm resistors as structural spacers in a few places around the ring. The jewels in this gem of a project are red LEDs that can be addressed in an animated pattern.

There’s an adage that all live talk demos are doomed to fail, and indeed the uC in this project doesn’t want to speak to the programmer at the end of the 9-minute exhibition. But Zach did manage to solder the two halves on the ring together live on stage, and it’s worth enduring the camera issues and low starting volume at the start of this livestream to watch him perform some crazy magic. Good on you Zach for putting yourself out there and showing everyone that there’s more than one way to stack resistors.

If this demo leaves you wanting to hear more of what Zach’s adventures, we recommend checking out his 2016 Supercon talk on the Neurobytes development and manufacturing process.

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Soldering Like It’s 205 BC

Did you ever stop to think how unlikely the discovery of soldering is? It’s hard to imagine what sequence of events led to it; after all, metals heated to just the right temperature while applying an alloy of lead and tin in the right proportions in the presence of a proper fluxing agent doesn’t seem like something that would happen by accident.

Luckily, [Chris] at Clickspring is currently in the business of recreating the tools and technologies that would have been used in ancient times, and he’s made a wonderful video on precision soft soldering the old-fashioned way. The video below is part of a side series he’s been working on while he builds a replica of the Antikythera mechanism, that curious analog astronomical computer of antiquity. Many parts in the mechanism were soldered, and [Chris] explores plausible methods using tools and materials known to have been available at the time the mechanism was constructed (reported by different historians as any time between 205 BC and 70 BC or so). His irons are forged copper blocks, his heat source is a charcoal fire, and his solder is a 60:40 mix of lead and tin, just as we use today. He vividly demonstrates how important both surface prep and flux are, and shows both active and passive fluxes. He settled on rosin for the final joints, which turned out silky smooth and perfect; we suspect it took quite a bit of practice to get the technique down, but as always, [Chris] makes it look easy.

If you’d like to dig a bit deeper into modern techniques, we’ve covered the physics of solder and fluxes in some depth. And if you need more of those sweet, sweet Clickspring videos, we’ve got you covered there as well.

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