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Sterling ProCharge Ultra PCU1210 Teardown & Repair

The Sterling charger we’ve had on board nb Tanya Louise since Feb 2014 has bitten the dust, with 31220 hours on it’s internal clock. Since we’re a liveaboard boat, this charger has had a lot of use while we’re on the mooring during winter, when the solar bank isn’t outputting it’s full rate. First, a bit of a teardown to explore the unit, then onto the repair:


Active PFC Section
Active PFC Section

There’s the usual mains input filtering on the left, with the bridge rectifier on it’s heatsink.
Underneath the centre massive heatsinks is the main transformer (not visible here) & active PFC circuit. The device peeking out from underneath is the huge inductor needed for PFC. It’s associated switching MOSFET is to the right.

Logic PSU Section
Logic PSU Section

On the other side of the PFC section is the main DC rail filter electrolytic, a 450v 150µF part. Here some evidence of long-term heating can be seen in the adhesive around the base, it’s nearly completely turned black! It’s not a decent brand either, a Chinese CapXon.
The PCB fuse just behind it is in the DC feed to the main switching supply, so the input fuse only protects the filter & Active PFC circuitry. Luckily this fuse didn’t blow during the failure, telling me the fault was earlier in the power chain.
The logic circuits are powered by an independent switching supply in the centre, providing a +5v rail to the microcontroller. The fan header & control components are not populated in this 10A model, but I may end up retrofitting a fan anyway as this unit has always run a little too warm. The entire board is heavily conformal coated on both sides, to help with water resistance associated with being in a marine environment. This has worked well, as there isn’t a single trace of moisture anywhere, only dust from years of use.
There is some thermal protection for the main SMPS switching MOSFETS with the Klixon thermal fuse clipped to the heatsink.

DC Output Section
DC Output Section

The DC output rectifiers are on the large heatsink in the centre, with a small bodge board fitted. Due to the heavy conformal coating on the board I can’t get the ID from this small 8-pin IC, but from the fact that the output rectifiers are in fact IRF1010E MOSFETS, rated at 84A a piece, this is an synchronous rectifier controller.
Oddly, the output filter electrolytics are a mix of Nichicon (nice), and CapXon (shite). A bit of penny pinching here, which if a little naff since these chargers are anything but cheap. (£244.80 at the time of writing).
Hiding just behind the electrolytics is a large choke, and a reverse-polarity protection diode, which is wired crowbar-style. Reversing the polarity here will blow the 15A DC bus fuse instantly, and may destroy this diode if it doesn’t blow quick enough.

DC Outputs
DC Outputs

Right on the output end are a pair of large Ixys DSSK38 TO220 Dual 20A dual Schottky diodes, isolating the two outputs from each other, a nice margin on these for a 10A charger, since the diodes are paralleled each channel is capable of 40A. This prevents one bank discharging into another & allows the charger logic to monitor the voltages individually. The only issue here is the 400mV drop of these diodes introduce a little bit of inefficiency. To increase current capacity of the PCB, the aluminium heatsink is being used as the main positive busbar. From the sizing of the power components here, I would think that the same PCB & component load is used for all the chargers up to 40A, since both the PFC inductor & main power transformer are massive for a 10A output. There are unpopulated output components on this low-end model, to reduce the cost since they aren’t needed.

Front Panel Control Connections
Front Panel Control Connections

A trio of headers connect all the control & sense signals to the front panel PCB, which contains all the control logic. This unit is sensing all output voltages, output current & PSU rail voltages.

Front Panel LEDs
Front Panel LEDs

The front panel is stuffed with LEDs & 7-segment displays to show the current mode, charging voltage & current. There’s 2 tactile switches for adjustments.

Front Panel Reverse
Front Panel Reverse

The reverse of the board has the main microcontroller – again identifying this is impossible due to the heavy conformal coat. The LEDs are being driven through a 74HC245D CMOS Octal Bus Transceiver.


Now on to the repair! I’m not particularly impressed with only getting 4 years from this unit, they are very expensive as already mentioned, so I would expect a longer lifespan. The input fuse had blown in this case, leaving me with a totally dead charger. A quick multimeter test on the input stage of the unit showed a dead short – the main AC input bridge rectifier has gone short circuit.

Bridge Rectifier Removed
Bridge Rectifier Removed

Here the defective bridge has been desoldered from the board. It’s a KBU1008 10A 800v part. Once this was removed I confirmed there was no longer an input short, on either the AC side or the DC output side to the PFC circuit.

Testing The Rectifier
Testing The Rectifier

Time to stick the desoldered bridge on the milliohm meter & see how badly it has failed.

Yep, Definitely Shorted
Yep, Definitely Shorted

I’d say 31mΩ would qualify as a short. It’s no wonder the 4A input fuse blew instantly. There is no sign of excessive heat around the rectifier, so I’m not sure why this would have failed, it’s certainly over-rated for the 10A charger.

Testing Without Rectifier
Testing Without Rectifier

Now the defective diode bridge has been removed from the circuit, it’s time to apply some controlled power to see if anything else has failed. For this I used a module from one of my previous teardowns – the inverter from a portable TV.

Test Inverter
Test Inverter

This neat little unit outputs 330v DC at a few dozen watts, plenty enough to power up the charger with a small load for testing purposes. The charger does pull the voltage of this converter down significantly, to about 100v, but it still provides just enough to get things going.

It's Alive!
It’s Alive!

After applying some direct DC power to the input, it’s ALIVE! Certainly makes a change from the usual SMPS failures I come across, where a single component causes a chain reaction that writes off everything.

Replacement Rectifier
Replacement Rectifier

Unfortunately I couldn’t find the exact same rectifier to replace the shorted one, so I had to go for the KBU1010, which is rated for 1000v instead of 800v, but the Vf rating (Forward Voltage), is the same, so it won’t dissipate any more power.

Soldered In
Soldered In

Here’s the new rectifier soldered into place on the PCB & bolted to it’s heatsink, with some decent thermal compound in between.

Input Board
Input Board

Here is the factory fuse, a soldered in device. I’ll be replacing this with standard clips for 20x5mm fuses to make replacement in the future easier, the required hole pattern in the PCB is already present. Most of the mains input filtering is also on this little daughterboard.

Fuse Replaced
Fuse Replaced

Now the fuse has been replaced with a standard one, which is much more easily replaceable. This fuse shouldn’t blow however, unless another fault develops.

Full Load Test
Full Load Test

Now everything is back together, a full load test charging a 200Ah 12v battery for a few hours will tell me if the fix is good. This charger won’t be going back into service onboard the boat, it’s being replaced anyway with a new 50A charger, to better suit the larger loads we have now. It won’t be a Sterling though, as they are far too expensive. I’ll report back if anything fails!

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PowerAdd Pilot X7 20,000mAh Powerbank & Fast Charging Mod

PowerAdd Pilot X7
PowerAdd Pilot X7

Here’s the biggest portable USB powerbank I’ve seen yet – the PowerAdd Pilot X7, this comes with a 20Ah (20,000mAh) capacity. This pack is pretty heavy, but this isn’t surprising considering the capacity.

USB Ports & LED
USB Ports & LED

The front of the pack houses the usual USB ports, in this case rated at 3.4A total between the ports. There’s a white LED in the centre as a small torch, activated by double-clicking the button. A single click of the button lights up the 4 blue LEDs under the housing that indicate remaining battery capacity. Factory charging is via a standard µUSB connector in the side, at a maximum of 2A.

PCB Front
PCB Front

The front of the PCB holds the USB ports, along with most of the main control circuitry. At top left is a string of FS8025A dual-MOSFETs all in parallel for a current carrying capacity of 15A total, to the right of these is the ubiquitous DW01 Lithium-Ion protection IC. These 4 components make up the battery protection – stopping both an overcharge & overdischarge. The larger IC below is an EG1501 multi-purpose power controller.

This chip is doing all of the heavy lifting in this power pack, dealing with all the DC-DC conversion for the USB ports, charge control of the battery pack, controlling the battery level indicator LEDs & controlling the torch LED in the centre.

EG1501 Example
EG1501 Example

The datasheet is in Chinese, but it does have an example application circuit, which is very similar to the circuitry used in this powerbank. A toroidal inductor is nestled next to the right-hand USB port for the DC-DC converter, and the remaining IC next to it is a CW3004 Dual-Channel USB Charging Controller, which automatically sets the data pins on the USB ports to the correct levels to ensure high-current charging of the devices plugged in. This IC replaces the resistors R3-R6 in the schematic above.
The DC-DC converter section of the power chain is designed with high efficiency in mind, not using any diodes, but synchronous rectification instead.

PCB Back
PCB Back

The back of the PCB just has a few discrete transistors, the user interface button, and a small SO8 IC with no markings at all. I’m going to assume this is a generic microcontroller, (U2 in the schematic) & is just there to interface the user button to the power controller via I²C.

Cells
Cells

Not many markings on the cells indicating their capacity, but a full discharge test at 4A gave me a resulting capacity of 21Ah – slightly above the nameplate rating. There are two cells in here in parallel, ~10Ah capacity each.

XT60 Battery Connector
XT60 Battery Connector

The only issue with powerbanks this large is the amount of time they require to recharge themselves – at this unit’s maximum of 2A through the µUSB port, it’s about 22 hours! Here I’ve fitted an XT60 connector, to interface to my Turnigy Accucell 6 charger, increasing the charging current capacity to 6A, and reducing the full-charge time to 7 hours. This splits to 3A charge per cell, and after some testing the cells don’t seem to mind this higher charging current.

Battery Connector Wiring
Battery Connector Wiring

The new charging connector is directly connected to the battery at the control PCB, there’s just enough room to get a pair of wires down the casing over the cells.

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eBay Special – LED Disco Light With Built In MP3 Player

Here’s an eBay oddity – it’s got the same light & lens mechanism as the cheap “disco light” style bulbs on eBay, but this one is battery powered & has a built in MP3 player.

MP3 Disco Light
MP3 Disco Light

This device simply oozes cheapness. The large 4″ plastic dome lens sits on the top above the cheap plastic moulding as a base, which also contains the MP3 player speaker.

Controls
Controls

There are few controls on this player, the volume buttons are combined with the skip track buttons, a long press operates the volume control, while a short press skips the tracks. Several options for getting this thing to play music are provided:

  • Bluetooth – Allows connection from any device for bluetooth audio
  • USB – Plugging in a USB flash drive with MP3 files
  • SD Card – Very similar to the USB flash drive option, just a FAT32 formatted card with MP3 files
  • Aux – There’s no 3.5mm jack on this unit for an audio input, instead a “special” USB cable is supplied that is both used to charge the built in battery & feed an audio signal. This is possible since the data lines on the port aren’t used. But it’s certainly out of the ordinary.
Top Removed
Top Removed

The top comes off with the removal of a single screw in the centre of the lens. The shaft in the centre that holds the lens is attached to a small gear motor under the LED PCB. There’s 6 LEDs on the board, to form an RGB array. Surprisingly for a very small battery powered unit these are bright to the point of being utterly offensive.

Mainboard
Mainboard

Here’s the mainboard removed from the plastic base. There’s not much to this device, even with all the options it has. The power switch is on the left, followed by the Mini-B USB charging port & aux audio input. The USB A port for a flash drive is next, finishing with the µSD slot. I’m not sure what the red wire is for on the left, it connects to one of the pins on the USB port & then goes nowhere.

Audio Amplifier
Audio Amplifier

The audio amplifier is a YX8002D, I couldn’t find a datasheet for this, but it’s probably Class D.

Main Chipset
Main Chipset

Finally there’s the main IC, which is an AC1542D88038. I’ve not been able to find any data on this part either, it’s either a dedicated MP3 player with Bluetooth radio built in, or an MCU of some kind.The RF antenna for the Bluetooth mode is at the top of the board.
Just behind the power switch is a SOT23-6 component, which should be the charger for the built in Lithium Ion cell.

Lithium Ion Cell
Lithium Ion Cell

The cell itself is a prismatic type rated in the instructions at 600mAh, however my 1C discharge test gave a reading of 820mAh, which is unusual for anything Li-Ion based that comes from eBay 😉
There is cell protection provided, it’s under the black tape on the end, nothing special here.

The main issue so far with this little player is the utterly abysmal battery life – at full volume playing MP3s from a SD card, the unit’s current draw is 600mA, with the seizure & blindness-inducing LEDs added on top, the draw goes up to about 1200mA. The built in charger is also not able to keep up with running the player while charging. This in all only gives a battery life of about 20 minutes, which really limits the usability of the player.