In my shack, 99% of my gear is all 12v powered, which is good for a few reasons:
- Single Power Supply – This increases efficiency, as I’m only getting the losses of a single supply.
- Safety – Mains voltages are dangerous, I’m not fond of working on such equipment.
- Portability – I can power everything pretty much no matter were I am from a convenient car battery.
- Convenience – Since everything is single supply, with all the same plugs, I don’t have to think about what goes where. This is more important due to my forgetfulness ;).
The one piece of equipment I regularly use that isn’t 12v is my soldering station. This is a Maplin A55KJ digital unit, which uses a 24v heating element.
While the soldering wand works OK when hooked direct to a 12v power supply (only at half power though), this removes the convenience of having temperature control.
The circuitry inside the unit is PIC microcontroller based, and doesn’t even bother rectifying the AC from the supply transformer before it’s sent to the heater. Because of this there are several reasons why I can’t just hook a DC-DC converter up to it to give it 24v.
It’s sensing the zero-crossing for the triac switch, to reduce heat dissipation, so it refuses to work at all with DC.
On looking at the Great Google, I found a project on Dangerous Prototypes, an Arduino based PID controller for soldering irons.
This requires that the soldering wand itself contains a thermocouple sensor – as the Maplin one I have is a cheap copy of the Atten 938D, it doesn’t actually use a thermocouple for temperature sensing. It appears to read the resistance of the element itself – Nichrome heating elements change resistance significantly depending on temperature.
I’ve managed to find a source of cheap irons on eBay, with built in thermocouples, so I’ve got a couple on order to do some testing with. While I wait for those to arrive, I’ve prototyped up the circuit on breadboard for testing:
I’ve remapped some of the Arduino pins, to make PCB layout less of a headache, but the system is working OK so far, with manual input for the sensed temperature.
I’m using an IRL520N logic-level HEXFET for the power switching, rated at 10A. As the irons only draw a max of 4.5A, this is plenty beefy enough.
To come up with the +24v supply for the heater, a small DC-DC converter will be used.
More to come when the components for the thermocouple amplifier arrive, and the soldering irons themselves!