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Test Equipment Upcycling – Variable Attenuator Module

A while back I found myself in the need of an adjustable RF attenuator capable of high-GHz operation. As luck would have it I had an old Spectrum analyser on the shelf at work, which we had retired quite some time ago.

Spectrum analysers being quite capable test instruments, I knew that the input attenuation would be done with a standalone module that we could recover for reuse without too much trouble.

The attenuator module

Here’s the module itself, with the factory drive PCB removed from the bottom, showing the solenoids that operate the RF switches. There are test wires attached to them here to work out which solenoid switches which attenuation stage. In the case of this module, there are switches for the following:

  • Input select switch
  • AC/DC coupling
  • -5dB
  • -10dB
  • -20dB
  • -40dB

For me this means I have up to -75dB attenuation in 5dB steps, with optional switchable A-B input & either AC or DC coupling.

Drive is easy, requiring a pulse on the solenoid coil to switch over, the polarity depending on which way the switch is going.

Building a Control Board

Now I’ve identified that the module was reusable, it was time to spin up a board to integrate all the features we needed:

  • Onboard battery power
  • Pushbutton operation
  • Indication of current attenuation level

The partially populated board is shown at right, with an Arduino microcontroller for main control, 18650 battery socket on the right, and control buttons in the centre. The OLED display module for showing the current attenuation level & battery voltage level is missing at the moment, but it’s clear where this goes.

As there weren’t enough GPIO pins for everything on the Arduino, a Microchip MC23017 16-Bit I/O expander, which is controlled via an I²C bus. This is convenient since I’m already using I²C for the onboard display.

Driving the Solenoids

A closer view of the board shows the trip of dual H-Bridge drivers on the board, which will soon be hidden underneath the attenuator block. These are LB1836M parts from ON Semiconductor. Each chip drives a pair of solenoids.

Power Supplies

The bottom of the board has all the power control circuitry, which are modularised for ease of production. There’s a Lithium charge & protection module for the 18650 onboard cell, along with a boost converter to give the ~9v rail required to operate the attenuator solenoids. While they would switch at 5v, the results were not reliable.

Finishing off

A bit more time later, some suitable firmware has been written for the Arduino, and the attenuator block is fitted onto the PCB. The onboard OLED nicely shows the current attenuation level, battery level & which input is selected.

Ferguson A10RWH Portable Colour TV Teardown

Back Removed

Back Removed

Here’s the other TV that was picked up from the local water point having been put of to be recycled. This one is much newer than the Thorn TV, a 10″ colour version from Ferguson.

RCA 27GDC85X CRT

RCA 27GDC85X CRT

The colour CRT used is an RCA branded one, 27GDC85X.

Power Inputs

Power Inputs

Like the other TV, this one is dual voltage input, mains 240v & 12v battery. This TV is a factory conversion of a standard 240v AC chassis though.

HV PSU

HV PSU

The 12v power first goes into this board, which looked suspiciously like an inverter. Measuring on the output pins confirmed I was right, this addon board generates a 330v DC supply under a load, but it’s not regulated at all, under no load the output voltage shoots up to nearly 600v!

Live Chassis

Live Chassis

I’ve not seen one of these labels on a TV for many years, when back in the very old TV sets the steel chassis would be used to supply power to parts of the circuitry, to save on copper. Although it doesn’t have a metal chassis to actually become live, so I’m not sure why it’s here.

Main PCB

Main PCB

The main PCB is much more integrated in this newer TV, from the mid 90’s, everything is pretty much taken care of by silicon by this point.

Main Microcontroller

Main Microcontroller

This Toshiba µC takes care of channel switching & displaying information on the CRT. The tuner in this TV is electronically controlled.

PAL Signal Processor

PAL Signal Processor

The video signal is handled by this Mitsubishi IC, which is a PAL Signal Processor, this does Video IF, Audio IF, Chroma, & generates the deflection oscillators & waveforms to drive the yoke.

CRT Adjustments

CRT Adjustments

There are some adjustments on the CRT neck board for RGB drive levels & cutoff levels. This board also had the final video amplifiers onboard, which drive the CRT cathodes.

TS100 12-24v Soldering Iron

Handle

Handle

When I ordered the tiny USB soldering iron, I decided a proper iron upgrade would be a good idea. Looking around for something that didn’t require AC mains power turned up the TS100, a Chinese design, that unusually is actually very good! Above is the handle itself, with it’s small OLED display & two operation buttons.
This iron is controlled by a STM32 ARM microcontroller, the firmware & schematics are completely open-source.

DC Input Jack / USB Port

DC Input Jack / USB Port

The bottom end of the iron has the main DC input jack, designed with laptop chargers in mind (DC input range from 10v-24v). Above that is the micro USB port for programming.

Heating Element Socket

Heating Element Socket

The iron tips slot into the other end, many different tip types & shapes are available. The one supplied was the simple conical tip.

Standby Screen

Standby Screen

Plugging the iron into some power gets a standby screen – it doesn’t just start heating immediately, for safety.

Heating

Heating

The left hand button starts the heater, which on a 24v input voltage gets to operating temperature well within 10 seconds.

Temperature Stable

Temperature Stable

The right hand screen icon changes when the temperature has stabilized. The control PCB has an integrated accelerometer, leaving the iron hot for a few minutes triggers a timeout & it powers down. Once picked up again, the heater instantly restarts.
The operating temperature is adjustable with the pair of buttons, from 100°C to 400°C.

Different Bits

Different Bits

Here’s a selection of bits for the iron. The design is very similar to the Hakko T15 series of irons, but these are a much shorter version. Like the Hakko versions, the actual tips aren’t replaceable, once the bit burns out, the entire assembly is replaced.

TS100 Soldering Iron

TS100 Soldering Iron

Here’s the iron fully assembled. The entire device is about the same length as just the heating element from a Hakko T15!