Rare Diode Threatens Coast Guard’s Arctic Ambitions

The United States Coast Guard heavy icebreaker Polar Star is literally a one-of-a-kind ship. After its sister Polar Sea was deactivated in 2010 it became the most powerful icebreaker in the fleet, and one of only two US icebreakers capable of operating in the treacherous polar regions. The vessel is critical to protecting America’s scientific and economic interests in the Arctic, but according to a recent article in Business Insider, the ship’s age and scarcity of spare parts is making an already difficult mission even harder.

In the article, Captain William Woityra specifically mentions that the ship’s diesel-electric propulsion system is running on borrowed time as the diodes used in its AC/DC rectifier are no longer manufactured. With none remaining in the Coast Guard’s inventory, the crew has had to turn to eBay to source as many spares as possible. But once their hoard runs out, Captain Woityra fears his ship will be dead in the water:

We’ve got a few dozen of these in a box on a shelf, when they’re gone, the ship will not be able to run anymore. It’s really kind of disconcerting … that this ship, and this operation, and the US’s icebreaking presence in the Arctic is reliant on a box of spare parts that … there are no more of.”

The 45 year old ship received a $60 million refit in 2013, but that was only expected to extend the hard-working vessel’s life by 8 to 10 years. There was a proposal for a far more thorough overhaul, one which potentially would have keep the Polar Star in service until nearly 2040; but with an estimated cost of $400 million, Congress decided to go with the more economical stop-gap refit.

Polar Security Cutter

This story comes just days after the Air Force announced it’s looking for a few good hackers to help reverse engineer components on its aging fleet of B-2 bombers. Much like the Polar Star’s vintage rectifier diodes, spare parts for the the stealthy aircraft are getting increasingly difficult to find.

While the Air Force has enough money in the budget to get replacements made, the Coast Guard will just have to hope their stock of diodes holds out a little while longer. Congress has already approved the Polar Security Cutter Program, a fleet of next-generation icebreakers designed to be comparable to newer Russian and Chinese vessels. The first of these ships could set sail by 2024, providing the Polar Star some much-needed backup.

[Thanks to Chuckz for the tip.]

Spare SMD Storage, With Stacking SMT Tape Reels

[Kadah]’s solution for storing short tapes of SMT parts is as attractive as it is clever. The small 3D-printed “tape reels” can double as dispensers, and stack nicely onto each other thanks to the sockets for magnets. The units come in a few different sizes, but are designed to stack in a consistent way.

We love the little touches such as recessed areas for labels, and the fact that the parts can print without supports (there are a couple of unsupported bridges, but they should work out fine.) Also, the outer dimensions of the units are not an accident. They have been specifically chosen to nestle snugly into the kind of part drawers that are a nearly ubiquitous feature of every hardware hacker’s work bench.

STLs are provided for handy download but [Kadah] also provides the original Fusion 360 design file, with all sizes defined as easily-customized parameters. In addition, [Kadah] thoughtfully provided each model in STEP format as well, making it easy to import and modify in almost any 3D CAD program.

Providing 3D models in STEP format alongside STLs is nice to see, because it gives more options to people if things need some tweaking, because editing the STL file can be done if needed, but isn’t optimal.┬áThankfully the ability to export STEP files is still open to hobbyists using Fusion 360, since Autodesk decided to leave that feature available to personal use licenses.

Nintendo Switch Built Completely From Replacement Parts

It seems that everybody around us is playing Animal Crossing New Horizons, and we’re not alone in this. But a new Nintendo Switch can’t be had for love nor money, and second hand ones have fallen victim to price gouging. It seems if you’re not playing the game, you’re out of luck, or are you?

What’s to be done? [Sarbaaz37] found the hardware hacker’s solution to that question: Build a Nintendo Switch entirely from spare parts, of course! It took a month to source the parts and it’s not a project for the fainthearted, but it provides us with a look at all the parts they pack into the handheld. All told, there’s about 22 part numbers in the bill of materials.

Anyone who has peeked inside a laptop recently will be familiar with the arrangement of this type of device. An array of extremely snug-fitting and fragile electronics laid out like a TV dinner has to be carefully assembled in a specific order and this is no different. Along the way [Sarbaaz37] has some pro tips, like cleaning off the stock thermal compound and using a higher quality. The eventual result is a working Switch, which for $200 is not a bad deal, though they do note that the pandemic has since led to a price rise in Nintendo parts as well as consoles.

This is, we think, the first home-made Switch we’ve seen, but it’s not the first desirable piece of consumer electronics made from grey market parts we’ve seen. Who could forget the Shenzhen electronics markets adventure of sourcing all the parts that go into an iPhone?

Thanks [Roel] for the tip.