Have JBC Soldering Handle, Will USB-C Power Deliver

Frequent converter-of-tools-to-USB-C [Jan Henrik] is at it again, this time with a board to facilitate using USB Power Delivery to fuel JBC soldering iron handles. Last time we saw [Jan] work his USB-C magic was with the Otter-Iron, which brought Power Delivery to the trusty TS100 with a purpose built replacement PCBA. This time he’s taking a different approach by replacing the “station” of a conventional soldering station completely with one tiny board and one giant capacitor.

If you’ve been exposed to the “AC fire starter” grade of soldering iron the name JBC might be unfamiliar. They make tools most commonly found with Metcal’s and high end HAKKOs and Wellers on the benches of rework technicians and factory floors. Like any tool in this class each soldering station comes apart and each constituent piece (tips, handles, base stations, stands, etc) are available separately from the manufacturer and on the used market at often reasonable prices, which is where [Jan Henrik] comes in.

The Otter-Iron PRO is a diminutive PCBA which accepts a USB-C cable on one side and the connector from a standard JBC T245-A handle on the other. JBC uses a fairly typical thermistor embedded in the very end of the iron tip, which the Otter-Iron PRO senses to provide closed loop temperature control. [Jan Henrik] says it can reach its temperature setpoint from a cold start in 5 seconds, which roughly matches the performance of an original JBC base station! We’re especially excited because this doesn’t require any modification to the handle or station itself, making it a great option for JBC users with a need for mobility.

Want to make an Otter-Iron PRO of your own? Sources are at the link at the top. It sounds like v3 of the design is coming soon, which will include its own elegant PCB case. Check out the CAD render after the break. Still wondering how all this USB-PD stuff works? Check out [Jason Cerudolo’s] excellent walkthrough we wrote up last year.

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A Nano With An Otter’s Bite

The would-be microcontroller experimenter is now faced with a bewildering array of choices when it comes to a tiny development board for their projects. Everything from descendants and clones of the original Arduino through to full-fat Linux powerhouses such as the Raspberry Pi Zero and similar boards can be had, and often for a reasonable price.

A new entrant has now joined the fray, the OtterPill is an STM32F072-based board with an Arduino-Nano-like pinout, and it comes from the bench of [Jan Henrik]. With so many competitors you might ask yourself what it can offer, and it would be a valid point given that a Nano clone can be had for relative pennies. Aside from the Nano shield compatibility and extra power of the ARM Cortex M0 then, it’s an open source development board with USB-PD included from its USB-C socket, and with some elite BoM wizardry he’s managed to get the cost of its components to below three dollars. A USB-PD example firmware is available and a blank firmware is on its way. For now the board exists only in prototype form, but he’s putting together a production run if you would like one too. We saw an early development of it at eth0 back in the autumn, and given the progress since then we’re sure that we won’t have to wait for long.

Regular readers will recognise [Jan Henrik]’s work, because otter-themed boards have made their way to these pages before. Our most recent ones were the USB-C replacement board bringing USB-PD to the TS-100 soldering iron, and  a nifty little USB board for addressable LEDs.

Adding USB-C To The TS100, But Not How You Think

USB-C has its special Power Delivery standard, and is capable of delivering plenty of juice to attached hardware. This has led many to modify their TS-100 soldering irons to accept the connector. [Jan Henrik] is the latest, though he’s taken rather a different tack than you might expect.

[Jan] didn’t want to modify the original hardware or hack in an adapter. Instead, he struck out on his own, developing an entire replacement PCB for the TS-100 iron. The firmware is rough and ready, and minimal work has been done on the GUI and temperature regulation. However, reports are that functionality is good, and [Jan]’s demonstration shows it handling a proper desoldering task with ease.

Files are on Github for those that wish to spin their own. The PCB is designed to snap neatly inside the original case for a nice fit and finish. Power is plentiful too, as the hardware supports USB Power Delivery 2.0, which is capable of running at up to 100W. On the other hand, the stock TS-80 iron, which natively supports USB-C, only works with Quick Charge 3.0, and thus is limited to a comparatively meager 36W.

We’ve seen plenty of TS-100 hacks over 2019. Some have removed the standard barrel jack and replaced it with a USB-PD board. Meanwhile, others have created adapters that plug in to the back of the iron. However, [Jan] is dictating his own terms by recreating the entire PCB. Sometimes it pays to go your own way!

[Thanks to elad for the tip!]

A USB-C Bench Power Supply

A bench power supply is one of those things that every hacker needs, and as the name implies, it’s intended to occupy a place of honor on your workbench. But with the addition of USB-C support to his DPH5005 bench supply, [Dennis Schneider] is ready to take his on the road should the need ever arise.

The build started with one of the common DPH5005 bench power supply kits, which [Dennis] says he was fairly happy with aside from a few issues which he details in the post on his blog. Even if you aren’t looking to modify your own kit with the latest and greatest in the world of Universal Serial Bus technology, it’s interesting to read his thoughts on the power supply kit if you’ve been considering picking one up yourself.

Under normal circumstances you are supposed to give the DPH5005 DC power via the terminals on the back panel of the supply, which in turn is regulated and adjusted via the front panel controls. To add support for USB-C, all [Dennis] had to do was install a USB-PD trigger module configured to negotiate 20 VDC in the back of the case and connect it to the DC input. To hold it in place while isolating it from the metal case, he used a piece of scrap PCB carefully cut and wrapped in Kapton tape.

This actually isn’t the first portable bench power supply we’ve seen. Last year we saw one that got its input power from Makita portable tool batteries, but we think all things considered, the USB-C option is probably a bit more convenient.

Adding USB-C To The TS100

The TS100 is a popular entry into the new breed of small temperature-controlled soldering irons that, at least for some of us, have started to replace the bulky soldering stations of old. Unfortunately, one downside of this particular model is the need to plug it into a fairly ungainly laptop-style power supply, which certainly hinders its otherwise portable nature. But [Dennis Schneider] has come up with a very slick solution to that problem by adding a USB-PD module to his TS100.

The idea here is very simple: just remove the original DC barrel connector, and in its place install a USB-PD trigger module. In practice it took more than a little fiddling, cutting, persuasion, and creative soldering (ironically, with a soldering station), but the end result does look quite professional.

It helps that the USB-PD module [Dennis] used was almost the exact same width as the TS100 PCB, meaning that the modified iron could go back into its original case. Though as we saw not so long ago, there’s a growing community of 3D printed replacement cases should you select a trigger module that doesn’t so neatly fit the footprint of the original board. Or if you didn’t want to modify the iron at all, you could always just make an external adapter.

Those that have some experience with these irons might be wondering what the point of modifying the TS100 to take USB-C is when we already have the TS80. As it turns out, while the TS80 is using a USB-C connector it doesn’t actually use USB-PD, so its not taking advantage of the enhanced power delivery capabilities. We know, it’s all kind of confusing.

USB Power Delivery For All The Things

The promise of USB Power Delivery (USB-PD) is that we’ll eventually be able to power all our gadgets, at least the ones that draw less than 100 watts anyway, with just one adapter. Considering most of us are the proud owners of a box filled with assorted AC/DC adapters in all shapes and sizes, it’s certainly a very appealing prospect. But [Mansour Behabadi] hasn’t exactly been thrilled with the rate at which his sundry electronic devices have been jumping on the USB-PD bandwagon, so he decided to do something about it.

[Mansour] wanted a simple way to charge his laptop (and anything else he could think of) with USB-PD over USB-C, but none of the existing options on the market was quite what he wanted. He looked around and eventually discovered the STUSB4500, a a USB power delivery controller chip that can be configured over I2C.

With a bit of nonvolatile memory onboard, it can retain its settings so he didn’t have to include a microcontroller in his design: just program it once and it can be used stand-alone to negotiate the appropriate voltage and current requirements when its plugged in.

The board that [Mansour] came up with is a handy way of powering your projects via USB-C without having to reinvent the wheel. Using the PC configuration tool and an Arduino to talk to the STUSB4500 over I2C, the board can be configured to deliver from 5 to 20 VDC to whatever device you connect to it. The chip is even capable of storing three seperate Power Delivery Output (PDO) configurations at once, so you can give it multiple voltage and current ranges to try and negotiate for.

In the past we’ve seen a somewhat similar project that used USB-PD to charge lithium polymer batteries. It certainly isn’t happening overnight, but it looks like we’re finally starting to see some real movement towards making USB-C the standard.

The Not Quite USB-C Of Nintendo Switch Accessories

Historically gaming consoles are sold at little-to-no profit in order to entice customers with a low up-front price. The real profits roll in afterwards from sales of games and accessories. Seeking a slice of the latter, aftermarket accessory makers jump in with reverse-engineered compatible products at varying levels of “compatible”.

When the Nintendo Switch was released with a standard USB-C port for accessories, we had hoped those days of hit-or-miss reverse engineering were over, but reality fell short. Redditor [VECTORDRIVER] summarized a few parts of this story where Nintendo deviated from spec, and accessory makers still got things wrong.

Officially, Nintendo declared the Switch USB-C compliant. But as we’ve recently covered, USB-C is a big and complicated beast. Determined to find the root of their issues, confused consumers banded together on the internet to gather anecdotal evidence and speculate. One theory is that Nintendo’s official dock deviated from official USB-C dimensions in pursuit of a specific tactile feel; namely reducing tolerance on proper USB-C pin alignment and compensating with an internal mechanism. With Nintendo playing fast and loose with the specs, it makes developing properly functioning aftermarket accessories all the more difficult.

But that’s not the only way a company can slip up with their aftermarket dock. A teardown revealed Nyko didn’t use a dedicated chip to manage USB power delivery, choosing instead to implement it in software running on ATmega8. We can speculate on why (parts cost? time to market?) but more importantly we can read the actual voltage on its output pins which are too high. Every use becomes a risky game of “will this Switch tolerate above-spec voltage today?” We expect that as USB-C becomes more common, it would soon be cheapest and easiest to use a dedicated chip, eliminating the work of an independent implementation and risk of doing it wrong.

These are fairly typical early teething problems for a new complex technology on their road to ubiquity. Early USB keyboard and mice didn’t always work, and certain combination of early PCI-Express cards and motherboards caused damage. Hopefully USB-C problems — and memories of them — will fade in time as well.

[via Ars Technica]

[Main image source: iFixit Nintendo Switch Teardown]