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Sony HVF-2000P Viewfinder Teardown & Composite Video Hack

Rating Plate
Rating Plate

Well, it’s time for another viewfinder hack! I’ve been after one of these for a while, this is from an early 1980’s era Sony Trinicon camera, and instead of the tiny ½” round CRT display, these have a 1.5″ square CRT – a Matsushita 40CB4. Luckily I managed to score a pair of these from eBay for very little money. Update: The second camera’s viewfinder module turned out to have a dead flyback transformer, but at least I have a good spare CRT & the rest of the support components. More to come later on the teardown of the camera itself.

Mirror & Eyecup Assembly
Mirror & Eyecup Assembly

The eyecup assembly with the magnifying lens & turning mirror is easy to remove, with clips & a single screw holding it onto the CRT holder sticking out of the side of the main casing.

Top Cover Removed
Top Cover Removed

Removing some screws around the case allows the top cover to be removed, revealing the electronics. There’s certainly more in here than the later camera viewfinders, in this unit there are two boards slotted together with a board-to-board interconnect at the bottom. The CRT is at the top of the photo, hiding inside the plastic housing & deflection yoke assembly.

Bare PCBs & CRT
Bare PCBs & CRT

Here’s the CRT & one of the control boards removed from the case, having been stripped of the heatshrink tube that held the final anode lead in place. Just like on larger CRTs, this viewfinder has the final anode on a cavity connector fused into the bell, instead of being led out to a pin on the base. This is probably due to the much higher anode voltage of 5kV, a big jump from the 2kV on the ½” round tubes.

40CB4 CRT Label
40CB4 CRT Label

Yup, it’s definitely the elusive 40CB4. Apparently these CRTs are still manufactured to this day for professional camera viewfinders, as the resolution of this small vacuum tube is still better than similarly sized modern tech such as LCDs or OLEDs. The phosphor used is type P4 – ZnS:Ag+(Zn,Cd)S:Ag, with an aluminized overcoat.

Bare 40CB4 CRT
Bare 40CB4 CRT

After the base connector & deflection yoke are removed from the tube, the very long neck can be seen, this long glass neck apparently giving better focus & resolution than the stubbier tubes.

Electron Gun
Electron Gun

The electron gun is the usual single unit as usually found in monochrome tubes.

Deflection Board
Deflection Board

The bottom board in the assembly has all the control circuitry for the CRT, including the HA11244 deflection IC, composite sync separator & vertical deflection drive circuit. There are also circuits here to display a video waveform on the CRT, along with iris & white balance markers.

Horizontal Board
Horizontal Board

The other board has the horizontal drive circuitry, along with the video input amplifier. Despite the attempt to miniaturize the entire assembly, these are still well packed boards. Some of the resistors & diodes are bussed together in custom SIL hybrid modules to save PCB space. Like all the other CRT viewfinders, these units are meant for viewing via a mirror – the horizontal deflection coil connections need to be reversed to show a correct image without the mirror. The Red & Blue wires to the yoke need to be swapped here.

Flyback Transformer
Flyback Transformer

The horizontal board on this unit also supports the flyback transformer, which is massive compared to the other viewfinder circuits. Biasing, focus & filament supplies for the CRT are also derived from this transformer, via auxiliary windings.

Boards Connected
Boards Connected

The boards slot together in the centre to form the fully operational circuit.

Video Input
Video Input

Out of the 3 plugs emerging from the cable feeding the viiewfinder, only this one is important, on the horizontal drive board. Black is ground, Brown +8.5v & red is composite video input. There’s also a resistor tied into the positive rail to the video input pin, which pulls it high to 8.5v – this is R1 right next to this connector. Desolder this 22K resistor to help protect anything feeding a signal into the unit, like a RPi, it’s not needed for normal operation.

Fallout!
Fallout!

As usual for a CRT post, the Fallout loading screen on the display. The picture quality isn’t as good as it should be, probably due to the noisy buck-converter I have rigged up for testing. If it doesn’t get better with a linear regulator, I’ll start replacing the 39 year old electrolytic capacitors. Current draw is 130mA at 7.5v. Schematics for this unit & the CRT datasheet are available below:



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Goodmans Quadro 902 Composite Video Mod

CRT Module
CRT Module

Here’s the CRT & it’s drive board removed from the main chassis. Nicely modular this unit, all the individual modules (radio, tape, TV), are separate. This is effectively a TV itself, all the tuner & IF section are onboard, unlike in other vintage units I’ve modified, where the tuner & IF has been on a separate board. There’s a 3-pin header bottom centre for the tuning potentiometer, and external antenna input jack. The internal coax for the built in antenna has been desoldered from the board here. here a the usual controls on the back for adjusting brightness, contrast & V Hold, all the other adjustments are trimmers on the PCB.
Unfortunately after 30+ years of storage, this didn’t work on first power up, neither of the oscillators for vertical or horizontal deflection would lock onto the incoming signal, but a couple of hours running seemed to improve things greatly. The numerous electrolytic capacitors in this unit were probably in need of some reforming after all this time, although out of all of them, only 21 are anything to do with the CRT itself.

Anode Cap
Anode Cap

Here’s the anode side of the unit, with the small flyback transformer. The rubber anode cap has become very hard with age, so I’ll replace this with a decent silicone one from another dead TV. The Horizontal Output Transistor (a 2SC2233 NPN type) & linearity coil are visible at the bottom right corner of the board. Unfortunately, the disgusting yellow glue has been used to secure some of the wiring & large electrolytics, this stuff tends to turn brown with age & become conductive, so it has to be removed. Doing this is a bit of a pain though. It’s still a little bit flexible in places, and rock hard in others. Soaking in acetone softens it up a little & makes it easier to detach from the components.

Neck PCB
Neck PCB

There’s little on the neck board apart from a few resistors, forming the limiting components for the video signal, and the focus divider of 1MΩ & 470KΩ feeding G3. No adjustable focus on this unit. There’s also a spark gap between the cathode line & ground, to limit the filament to cathode voltage. The flyback transformer is nestled into the heatsink used by the horizontal output transistor & a voltage regulator transistor.

Tube Details
Tube Details

The CRT is a Samsung Electron Devices 4ADC4, with a really wide deflection angle. It’s a fair bit shorter than the Chinese CRT I have which is just a little larger, with a neck tube very thin indeed for the overall tube size.
Unusually, while the filament voltage is derived from the flyback transformer as usual, it’s rectified into DC in this unit, passing through a 1Ω resistor before the filament connection. I measured 5.3v here. The glow from the filament is barely visible even in the dark.

Electron Gun 1
Electron Gun 1

The electron gun is the usual for a monochrome tube, with 7 pins on the seal end.

Electron Gun 2
Electron Gun 2

The electrodes here from left are Final Anode, G3 (Focus Grid), Accelerating Anode, G2 (Screen Grid), G1 (Control Grid). The cathode & filament are hidden inside G1. In operation there’s about 250v on G2, and about 80v on G3.

Chipset
Chipset

The chipset used here is all NEC, starting with a µPC1366C Video IF Processor, which receives the IF signal from the tuner module to the left. This IC outputs the standard composite signal, and a modulated sound signal.
This then splits off to a µPC1382C Sound IF Processor & Attenuator IC, which feeds the resulting sound through the two pin header at the right bottom edge of the board to the audio amplifier in the chassis.
The composite video signal is fed through a discrete video amplifier with a single 2SC2229 transistor before going to the CRT cathode.
The remaining IC is a µPC1379C Sync Signal Processor, containing the sync separator, this is generating the required waveforms to drive the CRT deflection systems from another tap off the composite video line.
From this chip I can assume the unit was built around 1986, since this is the only date code on any of the semiconductors. Besides these 3 ICs, the rest of the circuit is all discrete components, which are well-crammed into the small board space.
There are 5 trimmer potentiometers on the board here, I’ve managed to work out the functions of nearly all of them:

  • SVR1: IF Gain Adjust
  • SVR2: H. Hold
  • SVR3: V. Size
  • SVR4: B+ Voltage Adjust
  • SVR5: Tuner Frequency Alignment? It’s in series with the tuning potentiometer in the chassis.
PCB Bottom
PCB Bottom

The PCB bottom shows the curved track layout typical of a hand taped out board. The soldermask is starting to flake off in places due to age, and there a couple of bodge wires completing a few ground traces. Respinning a board in those days was an expensive deal! Surprisingly, after all this time I’ve found no significant drift in the fixed resistors, but the carbon track potentiometers are drifiting significantly – 10KΩ pots are measuring as low as 8KΩ out of circuit. These will have to be replaced with modern versions, since there are a couple in timing-sensitive places, like the vertical & horizontal oscillator circuits.

Anode Cap Replaced
Anode Cap Replaced

Here the anode cap has been replaced with a better silicone one from another TV. This should help keep the 6kV on the CRT from making an escape. This was an easy fix – pulling the contact fork out of the cap with it’s HT lead, desoldering the fork & refitting with the new cap in place.

Here I’ve replaced the important trimmers with new ones. Should help stabilize things a little.

Composite Injection Mod
Composite Injection Mod

Injecting a video signal is as easy as the other units. Pin 3 of the µPC1366C Video IF Processor is it’s output, so the track to Pin 3 is cut and a coax is soldered into place to feed in an external signal.

CRT In Operation
CRT In Operation

After hooking up a Raspberry Pi, we have display! Not bad after having stood idle for 30+ years.

Datasheets for the important ICs are available below:
[download id=”5690″]
[download id=”5693″]
[download id=”5696″]

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Camping Support Trolley – Some Build Progress

Since I do festivals every year, along with a couple of other camping trips if the weather is good enough, I’ve been taking equipment with me for years in flight cases to make things more comfortable. Things like a large battery to power lights & device charging, an old Eberspacher diesel heater for the times when the weather isn’t great, and an inverter to run the pumps built into airbeds.

Red Diesel / Heating Oil is my fuel of choice for camping purposes, as it’s about the safest fuel around, unlike Butane/LPG it is not explosive, will not burn very readily unless it’s atomized properly & it’s very cheap. Paraffin is an alternative fuel, but it’s expensive in the UK, at about £12 per 5L.
The Hexamine-based tablet fuels the UK festivals promote is nasty stuff, and the resulting combustion products are nastier still. (Things like Hydrogen Cyanide, Formaldehyde, Ammonia, NOX). They also leave a sticky black grok on every cooking pot that’s damn near impossible to remove. Meths / Trangia stoves are perfectly usable, but the flame is totally invisible, and the flammability of alcohol has always made me nervous when you’ve got a small pot of the stuff boiling while it’s in operation in the middle of a campsite filled with sloshed festival goers. A single well-placed kick could start a massive fire.

Previous System
Previous System

Over the years the gear has evolved and grown in size, so I decided building everything into one unit on wheels would be the best way forward. I’ve been working on this for some time, so it’s time to get some of the details on the blog! Above you can see the system used for last year’s camping, the heater is separate, with a 25L drum of heating oil, the battery is underneath the flight case containing all the power components, and it’s currently charging All The Things.

Overview
Overview

Above is the new unit almost finished, the bottom frame is a standard eBay-grade 4-wheel trolley with a few modifications of my own, with a new top box built from 12mm hardwood marine plywood. This top is secured in place with coach bolts through the 25mm angle iron of the trolley base. The essential carbon monoxide detector is fitted at the corner.

Internal View
Internal View

The inside gets a bit busy with everything crammed in. The large Yuasa 200Ah lead-acid battery is at the far end, with it’s isolation switch. Right in the middle is the Eberspacher heater with it’s hot air ducting. I’ve fitted my usual 12/24v dual voltage system here, with the 24v rail generated from a large 1200W DC-DC converter.

Heater Vent
Heater Vent

The hot air duct for the heater is fed out through a standard vent in the front. Very handy for drying out after a wet day.

Main Bus Bars & Solar Controller
Main Bus Bars & Solar Controller

Here’s a closeup of the distribution bus bars, with both negative rails tied together in the centre to keep the positives as far away from each other as possible, to reduce the possibility of a short circuit between the two when working on the wiring. The EpEver Tracer 4210A MPPT Solar Charge Controller is on the left, tucked into the corner. This controller implements the main circuit protection for the battery, having a 40A limit. Individual circuits are separately fused where required. Solar input on this unit is going to be initially provided by a pair of 100W flexible panels in series for a 48v solar bus, the flexible panels are essential here as most of the festivals I attend do not allow glass of any kind onsite, not to mention the weight of rigid panels is a pain.

DC Output Sockets
DC Output Sockets

I’ve stuck with the 3-pin XLR plugs for power in this design, giving both the 12v rail, 24v rail & ground.

Inverter Outputs
Inverter Outputs

Tucked under the DC outputs are a pair of panel sockets for the 600W inverter. This cheapo Maplin unit is only usually used to pump up air beds, so I’m not expecting anyone to pull anything near max output, but a warning label always helps.

Power Socket Wiring
Power Socket Wiring

Behind the front panel is the hardwiring for the power sockets. The DC jacks are connected together using 2mm solid copper wire, bent into bus bars.The mains wiring underneath is a simple radial circuit straight from the inverter. The large cylinder on the left is a hydraulic pump from a BMW Z3, which runs a hydraulic cylinder for lifting the lid of the top box, used simply because I had one in the box of junk.

Fuel Pump
Fuel Pump

External fuelling is dealt with by a small gear pump, this is used to fuel up the Optimus Stove & Petromax Lantern. This is in fact a car windscreen wash pump, but it has coped well with pumping hydrocarbons, it currently has a small leak on the hose connections, but the seals are still entirely intact.

Remote Relays
Remote Relays

There’s a small remote relay module here, for switching the DC output for lighting & the heater from afar. Very useful when it’s dark, since there’s no need to fumble around looking for a light switch. A car-style fob on my keyring instead.

Heater Timer
Heater Timer

Since the Eberspacher 701 controller I have is an ex-BT version, it’s very limited in it’s on time, a separate timeswitch is fitted to control the heater automatically. Being able to return to a nice warm tent is always a bonus.
Just to the left can be seen the top ball joint for the hydraulic cylinder that lifts the top of the box.

Battery Charger
Battery Charger

The final large component is the battery charger. This unit will maintain the battery when the trolley isn’t being used.

Router Motherboard
Router Motherboard

On the left side is the old Atom motherbaord used to provide a 4G router system. This unit gets it’s internet feed from a UMTS dongle & provides a local WiFi network for high speed connectivity. The bottom of the hydraulic cylinder is visible in the bottom right corner.

Fuel Tank Completed
Fuel Tank Completed

Since the Eberspacher obviously needs fuel, a tank was required. In previous years I’ve used jerry cans for this purpose, but this trolley is supposed to have everything onboard, for less setup time. The tank is constructed from 3mm steel plate, MIG welded together at the seams to create a ~40L capacity. The filler neck is an eBay purchase in Stainless Steel. No photos of the tank being welded together, as I was aiming to beat sunset & it’s very difficult to operate a camera with welding gauntlets on 😉

The tank is the same width as the trolley frame, so some modification was required, having the wheels welded directly to the sides of the tank. This makes the track wider at the rear, increasing stability.

Fuel Dip Tubes
Fuel Dip Tubes

A quick view inside the tank through the level sender port shows the copper dip tubes for fuel supply to the heater, and an external fuel hose for my other fuel-powered camping gear. These tubes stop about 10mm from the bottom of the tank to stop any moisture or dirt from being drawn into the pumps.

Fuel Feeds & Level Sender Port
Fuel Feeds & Level Sender Port

The top of the tank is drilled for the fuel fittings & the level sender and has already been painted here. The 1mm base plate has yet to be painted.

Level Sender Installed
Level Sender Installed

Touching up the paint & fitting the sender is the last job for this part. The mesh bottom of the trolley has been replaced by a 1mm steel sheet to support the other parts, mainly the heater. Fuel lines are run in polyurethane tubing to the fuel pumps.

All the instruments & controls are on a single panel, with the Eberspacher thermostat, external fuelling port & pump switch, inverter control, the solar controller monitor panel, cover buttons, router controls, compressed air & fuel gauges.

Panel Wiring
Panel Wiring

As is usual behind instrument panels, there’s a rat’s nest of wiring. There’s still the pressure gauge to connect up for the compressed air system, and the nut on one of the router buttons is such a tight fit I’ve not managed to get it into place yet.

Eberspacher Fuel Pump
Eberspacher Fuel Pump

The support components for the Eberspacher heater are mounted underneath the baseplate, with the fuel dosing pump secured to a rail with a pair of cable ties, and some foam tape around to isolate the constant clicking noise these pumps create in operation. The large black cylinder is the combustion air intake silencer, with the stainless steel exhaust pipe to the left of that. Silencing these heaters is essential – they sound like a jet engine without anything to deaden the noise. Most of this is generated from the side-channel blower used in the burner.

Eberspacher Exhaust
Eberspacher Exhaust

Bolted to the underside are a pair of exhaust silencers, one is an Eberspacher brand, the other is Webasto, since the latter type are better at reducing the exhaust noise. Connections are sealed with commerical exhaust assembly paste, the usual clamps supplied do not do a good enough job of stopping exhaust leaks.

Next update to come when I get the parts in for the air compressor system.

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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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Chinese “1200W” DC-DC Boost Converter DOA Fix

1200W DC-DC Converter
1200W DC-DC Converter

Ah the curse of the Chinese Electronics strikes again. These large DC-DC boost converters have become very common on the likes of AliExpress & eBay, and this time my order has arrived DOA… On applying power, the output LED lights up dimly, and no matter how I twiddle the adjustment pots, the output never rises above the input voltage.

Boost Converter Topology
Boost Converter Topology

From the usual topology above, we can assume that the switching converter isn’t working, so the input voltage is just being directly fed through to the output. The switching IC on these converters is a TL494,

Control Circuitry
Control Circuitry

The switching IC on these converters is a TL494,with it’s surrounding support components, including a LM358 dual Op-Amp. Power for this lot is supplied from the input via a small DC-DC converter controlled by an XL Semi XL7001 Buck Converter IC. Some testing revealed that power was getting to the XL7001, but the output to the switching controller was at zero volts.

Inductor
Inductor

The 100µH inductor for this buck converter is hidden behind the output electrolytic, and a quick prod with a multimeter revealed this inductor to be open circuit. That would certainly explain the no-output situation. Luckily I had an old converter that was burned out. (Don’t try to pull anything near their manufacturer “rating” from these units – it’s utter lies, more about this below).

Donor Converter
Donor Converter

The good inductor from this donor unit has been desoldered here, it’s supposed to be L2. This one had a heatsink siliconed to the top of the TL494 PWM IC, presumably for cooling, so this was peeled off to give some access.
After this inductor was grafted into place on the dead converter, everything sprang to life as normal. I fail to see how this issue wouldn’t have been caught during manufacture, but they’re probably not even testing them before shipping to the distributor.
The sensational ratings are also utter crap – they quote 1.2kW max power, which at 12v input would be 100A. Their max input rating is given as 20A, so 240W max input power. Pulling this level of power from such a cheaply designed converter isn’t going to be reliably possible, the input terminals aren’t even rated to anywhere near 20A, so these would be the first to melt, swiftly followed by everything else. Some of these units come with a fan fitted from the factory, but these are as cheaply made as possible, with bearings made of cheese. As a result they seize solid within a couple of days of use.
Proper converters from companies like TDK-Lambda or muRata rated for these power levels are huge, with BOLTS for terminals, but they’re considerably more expensive. These Chinese units are handy though, as long as they are run at a power level that’s realistic.

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First Alert CO-FA-9B Carbon Monoxide Alarm Teardown

CO-FA-9B Alarm
CO-FA-9B Alarm

Here’s another domestic CO Alarm, this one a cheaper build than the FireAngel ones usually use, these don’t have a display with the current CO PPM reading, just a couple of LEDs for status & Alarm.

Rear
Rear

This alarm also doesn’t have the 10-year lithium cell for power, taking AA cells instead. The alarm does have the usual low battery alert bleeps common with smoke alarms though, so you’ll get a fair reminder to replace them.

Internals
Internals

Not much at all on the inside. The CO sensor cell is the same one as used in the FireAngel alarms, I have never managed to find who manufactures these sensors, or a datasheet for them unfortunately.

PCB Top
PCB Top

The top of the single sided PCB has the transformer for driving the Piezo sounder, the LEDs & the test button.

PCB Bottom
PCB Bottom

All the magic happens on the bottom of the PCB. The controlling microcontroller is on the top right, with the sensor front end on the top left.

Circuitry Closeup
Circuitry Closeup

The microcontroller used here is a Microchip PIC16F677. I’ve not managed to find datasheets for the front end components, but these will just be a low-noise op-amp & it’s ancillaries. There will also be a reference voltage regulator. The terminals on these sensors are made of conductive plastic, probably loaded with carbon.

Sensor Cell & Piezo Disc
Sensor Cell & Piezo Disc

The expiry date is handily on a label on the back of the sensor, the Piezo sounder is just underneath in it’s sound chamber.

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Contec CMS-50F Pulse Oximeter Teardown

Rear Case
Rear Case

The rear has the specifications, laser-marked into the plastic. The serial numbers are just sticky labels though, and will come off easily with use.

Contec CMS-50F
Contec CMS-50F

This is the Contec CMS-50F wrist-mounted pulse oximeter unit, which has the capability to record data continuously to onboard memory, to be read out at a later time via a USB-Serial link. There is software supplied with the unit for this purpose, although it suffers from the usual Chinese quality problems. The hardware of this unit is rather well made, the firmware has some niggles but is otherwise fully functional, however the PC software looks completely rushed, is of low quality & just has enough functionality to kind-of pass as usable.

Top Cover Removed
Top Cover Removed

A total of 4 screws hold the casing together, once these are removed the top comes off. The large colour OLED display covers nearly all of the board here. The single button below is the user interface. The connection to the probe is made via the Lemo-style connector on the lower right.

Lithium Cell
Lithium Cell

Power is provided by a relatively large lithium-ion cell, rated at 1.78Wh.

Main Processor
Main Processor

All the heavy lifting work of the LCD, serial comms, etc are handled by this large Texas Instruments microcontroller, a MSP430F247. The clock crystal is just to the left, with the programming pins. I’m not sure of the purpose of the small IC in the top left corner, I couldn’t find any reference to the markings.

Aux Processor
Aux Processor

The actual pulse oximetry sensor readings seem to be dealth with by a secondary microcontroller, a Texas Instruments M430F1232 Mixed-Signal micro. This has it’s own clock crystal just underneath. The connections to the probe socket are to the right of this µC, while the programming bus is broken out to vias just above. The final devices on this side of the board are 3 linear regulators, supplying the rails to run all the logic in this device.

Main PCB Rear
Main PCB Rear

The rear of the PCB has the SiLabs CL2102 USB-Serial interface IC, the large Winbond 25X40CLNIG 512KByte SPI flash for recording oximetry data, and some of the power support components. The RTC crystal is also located here at the top of the board. Up in the top left corner is a Texas Instruments TPS61041 Boost converter, with it’s associated components. This is probably supplying the main voltage for the OLED display module.

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103RS GPS Tracker Teardown

Rewire Security 103RS Tracker
Rewire Security 103RS Tracker

I thought it was time to add a bit of security to the gear I take camping, so this GPS tracker unit was sourced from eBay. This is a Rewire Security 103RS, a slightly customised version of the common Chinese TK103 GPS tracker.

Input Connections
Input Connections

The small module has all it’s power connections on one end of the unit, on a Molex multi-way block. The white connector is for a piezo-shock sensor – this interfaces with the alarm functionality of the unit. There’s an indicator LED for both the GPS & GSM status, and a switch for the backup battery.

Antenna Connections
Antenna Connections

The other end has the antenna connections, microphone connection for the monitor function, along with the SIM & SD card slots.

PCB Top
PCB Top

Once the end panel is removed, the PCB just slides out of the aluminium extruded casing. It’s pretty heavily packed with components in here. A switching regulator deals with the 12v input from the vehicle battery, and is protected by a polyfuse on the right. The GSM module is hiding under the Li-Po backup cell, unfortunately the sticky pad used to secure this wouldn’t come off without damaging something. The pigtails for both the GPS & GSM antennas are permanently soldered to the board here.

PCB Bottom
PCB Bottom

The bottom of the PCB has the GPS module, and mainly input protection & bypassing components. There is a FNK4421 Dual P-Channel MOSFET here as well, probably used for switching the external relay or alarm siren. The SIM socket for the GSM modem is located here in the corner.

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EpEver Tracer 4210A MPPT Solar Charge Controller Teardown

Tracer 4210A MPPT Solar Controller
Tracer 4210A MPPT Solar Controller

Here’s the solar charge controller to go with the MT50 from the last post. This is the 40A version of the EpEver Tracer A series, the 4210A. This unit is large, and very heavy. Most of this weight comes from the enormous heatsink which doubles as the mounting plate for all the other components, and the large inductors that are going to be required for the DC-DC conversion that MPPT requires.

Front Panel
Front Panel

The front panel has a basic LCD, which shows various stats, such as PV Volts & Amps, and battery bank Volts & Amps. The pair of buttons are used to navigate the basic menu to configure some options, along with switching the load terminals ON/OFF.

Specifications
Specifications

There’s a specs label on the top, with a slight difference here vs the manual, which states the max. PV volts as 92v.

Main PCB Overview
Main PCB Overview

Removing 4 machine screws from the bottom of the unit allows the top to come off. Like the MT50 remote panel, this unit also has moulded-in brass thread inserts in the plastic parts. The PCB in here is heavily comformal coated, which stops me from reading the laser-etched numbers on the semiconductor devices, so there will be few details there.

Main PCB Lower
Main PCB Lower

Here’s the bottom section of the main PCB, with the enormous screw terminals, which will easily take cables up to about 16mm². The RJ-45 jack which hosts the unit’s RS-485 bus is to the right, and a smaller 2-pin connector on the left sorts out the battery temperature sensor.
The DC output MOSFET switches are hiding just behind the right-hand terminals, there’s a pair of them in this unit to handle the output current. Some beefy diodes polarity-protect both the battery & PV inputs.

Board Centre
Board Centre

Moving up the board shows two 35A automotive blade fuses soldered into the board – these would be a real pain to replace if they ever blew, however with the electronic load current protection built into this unit, it’s an unlikely situation, unless something went hideously wrong. The main switching devices for the DC-DC converter are hidden – they’re clamped to the heatsink with the bars at right angles in the photo, I’m not going to dig any deeper into this just for those though – they’re just TO220 devices.
Under a load of thermal gunk on the right are 4 current shunt resistors, and the amplifiers for reading their values. These 1206-size SMD resistors looked a bit small for the power rating to me, but they’re heatsinked in operation to a small heatsink mounted in the top cover.

Board Upper
Board Upper

The upper section of the PCB hosts the main microcontroller, and the connections over to the front panel LCD & buttons. Couldn’t really get much info from these chips, due to the conformal coating.

Toroidal Inductors
Toroidal Inductors

Right at the top of the unit are these toroidal inductors, potted into aluminium housings. The copper windings of these is very heavy – at least 2.5mm². They’re electrically in parallel, the 20A version would only have a single inductor.

Current Shunt Heatsink
Current Shunt Heatsink

This small heatsink sits inside the top cover, and provides some cooling to the current shunts.

Display Board
Display Board

Not much to say for the display board, there’s going to be nothing here apart from an I²C LCD driver & the pair of front panel buttons, so I won’t bother removing this from the case.

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Tenda S105 5-Port 10/100 Ethernet Switch

Top
Top

Here’s a tiny ethernet switch from the great fle market that is eBay – the Tenda S105. This unit has 5 ports, but only supports 10/100M. Still, for something so small it’s not bad.

Bottom
Bottom

Not much on the bottom, there’s a pair of screw hooks for mounting this to a surface.

Ports
Ports

The 5 ports on the front actually have the pins for the unused pairs of the ethernet cables removed – saving every penny here.

PCB Top
PCB Top

The casing just unclips, revealing the small PCB. Nothing much on the top, just the connectors, isolating transformers & the crystal for the switch IC.

PCB Bottom
PCB Bottom

The bottom of the PCB is a little more busy, mainly with decoupling components. There’s a 3.3v linear regulator to step down the 5v input for the switch IC.

Switch IC
Switch IC

The IC doing all the data switching is an IP175G 5-Port 10/100 Switch from IC+ Corp. No datasheet available for this, but it’s going to be a bog-standard switch.

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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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nb Tanya Louise – Oil Cooling Improvements

Temperature Gauges
Temperature Gauges

Since the engine & hydrostatic transmission were installed in the boat a few years back, the hydraulic oil cooler has been in the same fresh water circuit as the engine’s water cooling system, however this has been causing some heat issues with the engine & hydraulic system under a heavy load, such as when I’m using the onboard generator to run the welding gear. The hydraulic oil temp would rise to over 80°C during the course of a long day’s cruising – such temperatures will degrade the oil very quickly, and in turn will cause premature wear of the very expensive hydraulic pumps. (Not to mention increasing the requirement for hydraulic oil changes, which are very expensive). The engine oil has been cooled by a standard automotive oil radiator, with air forced over the matrix by two large fans. This is also pretty inefficient, so another cooler will be added to replace the automotive one.
This cooling requirement is caused by the inefficiency of hydraulic systems – a simple variable displacement piston pump driving a bent-axis piston motor has an overall efficiency of roughly 80%. Given our engine’s max power of 76HP (56.7kW), this gives an energy loss of 15.2HP (11.33kW) at maximum power. This extra heat overloaded the skin tank, resulting in a cooling system that didn’t really work all too well once the engine was hot.

To solve this issue, we’ve decided to run a raw water circuit using the canal to remove the waste heat from the hydraulic system & engine oil, putting less of a heat load on the skin tank to bring the temperatures down to something reasonable. The image above show the system at running temperature after I installed the monitoring instruments. The top gauge is measuring engine oil temperature, at the point where it’s being fed to the bearings. The bottom one is measuring hydraulic oil temperature.

The engine oil temperature does have to be higher than any other cooling circuit on board, to boil off any condensate from the cylinders. Overcooling the oil in the sump will eventually cause sludging as the oil tries to absorb the resulting water. I’m aiming for a system temperature in the engine oil circuit of 95°C-120°C when the engine is under load & at operating temperature.

Raw Water Suction
Raw Water Suction

Water from the canal is drawn from a skin fitting installed at the last drydock visit, pulling water through a strainer to remove all the large bits of muck. The large slotted screen on the suction skin fitting keeps larger objects out of the intake.

Raw Water Pump
Raw Water Pump

A flexible impeller pump provides the power to move water through the system, in this case about 25L/Min. This pump is a cheap copy of a Jabsco pump from eBay. So far it’s been pretty reliable.

Temperature Senders
Temperature Senders

The temperature senders are standard automotive parts, and some adaptors were required to graft them into the oil lines of both systems. The senser’s 1/8″ NPT threads are here fitted into 1/2″ BSP hydraulic fittings.

Hydraulic Temperature Sender
Hydraulic Temperature Sender

Here’s the hydraulic oil sender installed in the drain line from the main propulsion pump, this should give me a pretty good idea of the temperature of the components in the system, the sender is earthed through the steel hydraulic oil tank.

Engine Oil Temperature Sender
Engine Oil Temperature Sender

The oil temperature sender is installed in the return line to the engine from the heat exchanger. This is measuring the oil temperature the bearings in the engine are being fed with.

Hydraulic Oil Heat Exchanger
Hydraulic Oil Heat Exchanger

The stack of heat exchangers is located on the starboard side of the engine bay, the large one here is cooling the hydraulic oil, the auxiliary pump is continually circulating the oil from the tank through this, then into the return filter on the top of the tank.

Engine Oil Heat Exchanger
Engine Oil Heat Exchanger

The engine oil is fed through this much smaller heat exchanger mounted on the back of the large hydraulic cooler, the last in the circuit before the water is discharged back overboard through a skin fitting.

Remote Oil Filter
Remote Oil Filter

As we’ve got the diverter block on the side of the engine where the oil filter should be, a remote oil filter is fitted above the fuel tank. The thermostat strapped on operates the main engine bay ventilation fans, switching them on once the engine oil reaches 60°C.

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nb Tanya Louise Heating System – Oxide Sludge

I wrote a few weeks ago about replacing the hot water circulating pump on the boat with a new one, and mentioned that we’d been through several pumps over the years. After every replacement, autopsy of the pump has revealed the failure mode: the first pump failed due to old age & limited life of carbon brushes. The second failed due to thermal shock from an airlock in the system causing the boiler to go a bit nuts through lack of water flow. The ceramic rotor in this one just cracked.
The last pump though, was mechanically worn, the pump bearings nicely polished down just enough to cause the rotor to stick. This is caused by sediment in the system, which comes from corrosion in the various components of the system. Radiators & skin tanks are steel, engine block cast iron, back boiler stainless steel, Webasto heat exchanger aluminium, along with various bits of copper pipe & hose tying the system together.
The use of dissimilar metals in a system is not particularly advisable, but in the case of the boat, it’s unavoidable. The antifreeze in the water does have anti-corrosive additives, but we were still left with the problem of all the various oxides of iron floating around the system acting like an abrasive. To solve this problem without having to go to the trouble of doing a full system flush, we fitted a magnetic filter:

Mag Filter
Mag Filter

This is just an empty container, with a powerful NdFeB magnet inserted into the centre. As the water flows in a spiral around the magnetic core, aided by the offset pipe connections, the magnet pulls all the magnetic oxides out of the water. it’s fitted into the circuit at the last radiator, where it’s accessible for the mandatory maintenance.

Sludge
Sludge

Now the filter has been in about a month, I decided it would be a good time to see how much muck had been pulled out of the circuit. I was rather surprised to see a 1/2″ thick layer of sludge coating the magnetic core! The disgusting water in the bowl below was what drained out of the filter before the top was pulled. (The general colour of the water in the circuit isn’t this colour, I knocked some loose from the core of the filter while isolating it).

If all goes well, the level of sludge in the system will over time be reduced to a very low level, with the corrosion inhibitor helping things along. This should result in much fewer expensive pump replacements!

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nb Tanya Louise Heating Upgrades – The Pumps

 

Pierburg WUP1
Pierburg WUP1

With some recent upgrades to the boat’s heating system, the hot water circulation pumps we’ve been using are becoming far too small for the job. After the original Johnson Marine circulation pump died of old age (the brushes wore down so far the springs ate the commutator) some time ago, it was replaced with a Pierburg WUP1 circulation pump from a BMW. (As we’re moored next to a BMW garage, these are easily obtainable & much cheaper than the marine pumps).

WUP1 Cutaway
WUP1 Cutaway

These are also brushless, where as the standard Johnson ones are brushed PM motors – the result here is a much longer working life, due to fewer moving parts.

The rated flow & pressure on these pumps is pretty pathetic, at 13L/min at 0.1bar head pressure. As the boat’s heating system is plumbed in 15mm pipe instead of 22mm this low pressure doesn’t translate to a decent flow rate. Turns out it’s pretty difficult to shove lots of water through ~110ft of 15mm pipe ;). Oddly enough, the very low flow rate of the system was never a problem for the “high output” back boiler on the stove – I suspect the “high output” specification is a bit optimistic.
This issue was recently made worse with the addition of a Webasto Thermo Top C 5kW diesel-fired water heater, which does have it’s own circulation pump but the system flow rate was still far too low to allow the heater to operate properly. The result was a rapidly cycling heater as it couldn’t dump the generated hot water into the rest of the system fast enough.

The easiest solution to the problem here is a larger pump with a higher head pressure capability. (The more difficult route would be completely re-piping the system in 22mm to lower the flow resistance). Luckily Pierburg produce a few pumps in the range that would fit the job.

Pierburg CWA-50
Pierburg CWA-50

Here’s the next size up from the original WUP1 pump, the CWA50. These are rated at a much more sensible 25L/min at 0.6bar head pressure. It’s physically a bit larger, but the connector sizes are the same, which makes the install onto the existing hoses easier. (For those that are interested, the hose connectors used on BMW vehicles for the cooling system components are NormaQuick PS3 type. These snap into place with an O-Ring & are retained by a spring clip).
The CWA50 draws considerably more power than the WUP1 (4.5A vs 1.5A), and are controllable with a PWM signal on the connector, but I haven’t used this feature. The PWM pin is simply tied to the positive supply to keep the pump running at maximum speed.

Once this pump was installed the head pressure immediately increased on the gauge from the 1 bar static pressure to 1.5 bar, indicating the pump is running at about it’s highest efficiency point. The higher water flow has so far kept the Webasto happy, there will be more to come with further improvements!

CWA-50 Pump Teardown

CWA50 Cutaway
CWA50 Cutaway

Above is a cutaway drawing of the new pump. These have a drilling through the shaft allows water to pass from the high pressure outlet fitting, through the internals of the pump & returns through the shaft to the inlet. This keeps the bearings cool & lubricated. The control & power drive circuitry for the 3-phase brushless motor is attached to the back & uses the water flowing through the rotor chamber as a heatsink. Overall these are very well made pumps.

Impeller
Impeller

Here’s the impeller of the pump, which is very small considering the amount of power this unit has. The return port for the lubricating water can be seen in the centre of the impeller face.

3-Phase Driver
3-Phase Driver

Inside the back of the pump is the control module. The main microcontroller is hiding under the plastic frame which holds the large power chokes & the main filter electrolytic.

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Honda GX35 Clone – Are They Any Good?

In a word, no they aren’t any good. As usual, cheap doesn’t equal good, and in this case the cheapo clones are a total waste of money. Read on for the details!

I’ve been looking into using a cheap Chinese clone Honda GX35 engine to drive an automotive alternator as a portable battery charging & power unit. These engines are available very cheaply on eBay, aimed at the mini-bike/go-kart market.
For those not in the know, the Honda GX25/35 4-strokes are strimmer-type engines that traditionally were always of 2-stroke construction. Honda worked out how to have a wet-sump engine without the need to keep the engine always in the “upright” position. They do not require mixing of oil into the fuel for lubrication as 2-strokes do, so should be much cleaner running.

So far I’ve had two of these cheap engines, as the first one died after only 4 hours run time, having entirely lost compression. At the time the engine was idling, no load, having been started from cold only a few minutes before. Having checked the valve clearances to make sure a valve wasn’t being held partially open, I deduced that the cause was broken piston rings. This engine was replaced by the seller, so I didn’t get a chance to pull it to bits to find out, but I decided to do a full teardown on the replacement to see where the cloners have cut corners.

Oil Return Hose
Oil Return Hose

I’ve already stripped off the ancillary components: exhaust, carburettor, fuel tank, cowlings, as these parts are standard to any strimmer engine. The large black hose here is the oil return feed back to the rocker cover from the crankcase. The oiling system in these engines is rather clever. The main engine block is made of light alloy, probably some permutation of Aluminium. There is much flashing left behind between the cylinder fins from the die-casting process, and not a single engine manufacturer’s logo anywhere. (From what I’ve read, the genuine Honda ones have their logo on the side of the crankcase).

Rocker Box
Rocker Box

Here’s the top of the engine with valves, rockers & camshaft. All the valve gear up here, minus the valves themselves & springs, are manufactured from sintered steel, there are no proper “bearings”, the steel shafts just run in the aluminium castings. The cam gear is of plastic, with the sintered steel cam pressed into place. The cam also has the bearing surface for the pin that the whole assembly rotates on. The timing belt runs in the oil & is supposed to last the life of the engine, and while I’d believe that in the original Honda, I certainly wouldn’t in this engine. The black grommet is the opening of the oil return gallery.

Cam
Cam

Here’s the cam on the back of the plastic pulley. A single cam is used for both intake & exhaust valves for space & simplicity.

Intake Valve Stem Seal
Intake Valve Stem Seal

Just visible under the intake valve spring is a simple stem seal, to hopefully prevent oil being sucked down the valve guide into the cylinder by intake vacuum. Running these cheap engines proves this seal to be ineffective, as they blow about as much blue oil smoke as a 2-stroke when they’re started cold. 😉

Starter Side
Starter Side

The starter side is where the oil sump is located on these engines, along with the dipstick.

Flywheel Side
Flywheel Side

The flywheel end of the engine is the usual fare for small engines. Ignition is provided by a magneto, with a magnet in the flywheel. This is no different from the 2-stroke versions. As these ignitions fire on every revolution of the crankshaft, the spark plug fires both on compression, igniting the fuel for normal operation, and again into the exhaust stroke, where the spark is wasted.
One thing I have noticed about these engines is an almost total lack of cooling air coming through the cowling over the cylinder cooling fins. Plenty was flowing over the exhaust silencer side, I believe bad housing design would be what causes this problem. A lack of cooling certainly wouldn’t help engine longevity!

Engine "Sump"
Engine “Sump”

Separating the bottom of the engine was a little difficult, as there is a significant bead of sealant used instead of a gasket. Inside the sump of the engine are a pair of paddles, which stir up the oil into a mist. As the piston moves in the cylinder, it acts as a pump, creating alternating pulses of pressure & vacuum in the crankcase. Oil mist flows through a drilling in the crank from the sump, into the crankcase where it (hopefully) lubricates the bearings & the cylinder wall. Incidentally, the only main bearings are on the crankcase – the far end of the shaft that carries the oil paddles & timing belt is just flapping in the breeze, the only support being the oil seal in the outer housing. The crank itself isn’t hardened – a file easily removes metal from all parts that I could get at. The big end journal pin might be, but these cranks are pressed together so I can’t access that part.

Lubrication Gallery
Lubrication Gallery

The oil mist feeds into the crankcase through this hollow section of shaft, there’s a drilling next to the timing belt pulley to connect the two spaces together.

Lower Crankcase
Lower Crankcase

The lower crankcase is just a simple die casting, there’s a check valve at the bottom under the crankshaft to transfer oil to the rocker cover, through the rubber tube on the outside of the engine. After the oil reaches the rocker box, it condenses & returns to the sump via the timing belt cavity.

Piston Crown
Piston Crown

Removing the crankshaft from the engine block gives me a look at the piston. The factory couldn’t even be arsed to machine the crown, it’s still got the rough finish from the hot-forging press. This bad finish will pick up much carbon from combustion, and would probably cause detonation once enough had accumulated to become incandescent in the heat of combustion. Only the centre is machined, just enough for them to stamp a number on.

Cylinder Bore
Cylinder Bore

A look up the cylinder bore shows the valves in the cylinder head. These engines, like their 2-stroke cousins have a single casting instead of a separate block & head, so getting at the valves is a little more of a pain. The cylinder bore itself is a cast-in iron liner and it’s totally smooth – like a mirror finish. There’s not a single sign of a crosshatch pattern from honing. If the first engine that died on me was the same – I’d be surprised if it wasn’t, this could easily cause ring breakage. The usual crosshatch pattern the cylinder hone produces holds oil, to better help lubricate the piston & rings. Without sufficient lubrication, the rings will overheat & expand far enough to close the end gap. Once this happens they will break.

Engine Valves
Engine Valves

Finally, here’s the valves with their springs removed from the cylinder. These are the smallest poppet valves I’ve ever seen, a British penny is provided for scale.

In all, these engines share many components with the older 2-stroke versions. The basic crankshaft & connecting rod setup is the same as I’ve seen in many old 2-strokes previous, the addition of the rather ingenious oiling system by Honda is what makes these tiny 4-strokes possible. I definitely won’t be trusting these very cheap copies in any of my projects, reliability is questionable at the least. The apparent lack of cooling air flow over the cylinder from the flywheel fan is concerning, along with the corner-cutting on the cylinder finishing process & piston crown, presumably to reduce factory costs.

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Thorn Ultra 6816 B&W CRT TV Teardown

Thorn Ultra 6816
Thorn Ultra 6816 (Stock Photo)

The other day at the local canal-side waterpoint, this TV was dumped for recycling, along with another later model Colour TV. This is a 1970’s Black & White mains/battery portable made by Thorn. It’s based on a common British Radio Corporation 1590 chassis. Having received a soaking from rain, I didn’t expect this one to work very well.

Tuner
Tuner

Being so old, there is no electronic control of the tuner in this TV, and only has the capability to mechanically store 4 different channels. The tuner itself is a cast box with a plastic cover.

Tuning Lever
Tuning Lever

The mechanical buttons on the front of the TV push on this steel bar, by different amounts depending on the channel setting. This bar is connected to the tuning capacitor inside the tuner.

Tuner Compartments
Tuner Compartments

Unclipping the plastic cover, with it’s lining of aluminium foil for shielding reveals the innards of the tuner module.

Tuner Input Stage
Tuner Input Stage

Here’s the tuner front end RF transistor, which has it’s can soldered into the frame, this is an AF239 germanium UHF transistor, rated at up to 900MHz.

Tuner IF Mixer Stage
Tuner IF Mixer Stage

As the signal propagates through the compartments of the tuner, another transistor does the oscillator / IF mixing, an AF139 germanium, rated to 860MHz.

Tuning Capacitor
Tuning Capacitor

As the buttons on the front of the set are pushed, moving the lever on the outside, the tuning capacitor plates intermesh, changing the frequency that is filtered through the tuner. The outer blades of the moving plates are slotted to allow for fine tuning of the capacitance, and therefore transmitted frequency by bending them slightly.

Mains Transformer
Mains Transformer

Being a dual supply TV that can operate on either 12v battery power or mains, this one has a large centre tapped mains transformer that generates the low voltage when on AC power. Full wave rectification is on the main PCB. The fuse of this transformer has clearly been blown in the past, as it’s been wound with a fine fuse wire around the outside to repair, instead of just replacing the fuse itself.

Chassis Rear
Chassis Rear

The back of the set has all the picture controls on the bottom edge, with the power input & antenna connections on the left just out of shot. The CRT in this model is an A31-120W 12″ tube, with a really wide deflection angle of 110°, which allows the TV to be smaller.

Main PCB
Main PCB

The bottom of the mainboard has all the silkscreen markings for the components above which certainly makes servicing easier 😉 This board’s copper tracks would have been laid out with tape, obviously before the era of PCB design software.

Components
Components

The components on this board are laid out everywhere, not just in square grids. The resistors used are the carbon composition type, and at ~46 years old, they’re starting to drift a bit. After measuring a 10K resistor at 10.7K, all of these would need replacing I have no doubt. Incedentally, this TV could be converted to take a video input without the tuner, by lifting the ferrite beaded end of L9 & injecting a signal there.

Flyback Primary Windings
Flyback Primary Windings

The flyback (Line Output Transformer) is of the old AC type, with the rectifier stack on top in the blue tube, as opposed to more modern versions that have everything potted into the same casing. The primary windings are on the other leg of the ferrite core, making these transformers much more easily repairable. This transformer generates the 12kV required for the CRT final anode, along with a few other voltages used in the TV, for focussing, etc.

Rectifier Stack
Rectifier Stack

The main EHT rectifier stack looks like a huge fuse, inside the ceramic tube will be a stack of silicon diodes in series, to withstand the high voltage present.

Horizontal Output Transistor
Horizontal Output Transistor

This is the main switching transistor that drives the flyback, the HOT. This is an AU113, another germanium type, rated at 250v 4A. The large diode next to the transistor is the damper.

I’ve managed to find all the service information for this set online, link below!
[download id=”5616″]
More to come if I manage to get this TV working!

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eSynic 2-Way HDMI Signal Splitter

HDMI Splitter
HDMI Splitter

Time for another random teardown, a signal splitter for HDMI. These units are available very cheap these days on eBay. This one splits the incoming signal into two to drive more than one display from the same signal source.

Main PCB
Main PCB

The stamped alloy casing comes apart easily with the removal of a few screws. The PCB inside is rather densely packed with components.

Chipset
Chipset

The main IC on the incoming signal is a Silicon Image Sil9187B HDMI Port Processor, with a single input & 4 outputs. In this case the chip is used as a repeater to amplify the incoming signal. the signal path then gets fed into a Pericom PI3HDMI412 HDMI Demux, which then splits the signal into two for the output ports.

Microcontroller
Microcontroller

The main pair of ICs processing the video signals are controlled over I²C, with this STM32 microcontroller. The 4 pads to the lower left are for the STLink programmer. The main 3.3v power rail is provided by the LM1117 linear regulator on the right.

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Tenma 72-10405 DMM Teardown

Tenma DMM
Tenma DMM

Well it’s time for a new DMM. After the last pair of eBay El-Cheapo Chinese meters just didn’t last very well, I decided a proper meter was required. This one is a Tenma 72-10405, stocked by Farnell for under £60. Not quite as many festures as the cheapo Chinese meters, but I expect this one to be a bit more reliable.

PCB Rear
PCB Rear

Since I can’t have anything without seeing how it’s put together, here’s the inside of the DMM. (Fuse access is only possible by taking the back cover off as well. The 9v PP3 battery has a seperate cover).

PCB Rear Bottom
PCB Rear Bottom

He’s the input section of the meter, with the 10A HRC fuse & current shunt for the high-amps range. The other fuse above is for the mA/µA ranges. The back cover has a wide lip around the edge, that slots into a recess in the front cover, presumably for blast protection if the meter should meet a sticky end. The HRC fuses are a definite improvement over the cheap DMMs, they only have 15mm glass fuses, and no blast protection built into the casing.
There are some MOVs for input protection on the volts/ohms jack, the jacks themselves are nothing more than stampings though.

PCB Rear Top
PCB Rear Top

Not much at the other side of the board, there’s the IR LED for the RS232 interface & the beeper.

PCB Front
PCB Front

Most of the other components are on the other side of the PCB under the LCD display. The range switch is in the centre, while the main chipset is on the left.

DMM Chipset
DMM Chipset

The chipset of this meter is a FS9922-DMM3 from Fortune Semiconductor, this is a dedicated DMM chipset with built in ADCs & microcontroller.

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OLED Pulse Oximeter Teardown

OLED Pulse Oximeter
OLED Pulse Oximeter

Here’s a piece of medical equipment that in recent years has become extremely cheap, – a Pulse Oximeter, used to determine the oxygen saturation in the blood. These can be had on eBay for less than £15.

Powered On
Powered On

This one has a dual colour OLED display, a single button for powering on & adjusting a few settings. These cheap Oximeters do have a bit of a cheap plastic feel to them, but they do seem to work pretty well.

Pulse Oximeter
Pulse Oximeter

After a few seconds of being applied to a finger, the unit gives readings that apparently confirm that I’m alive at least. 😉 The device takes a few seconds to get a baseline reading & calibrate the sensor levels.

Main PCB Top
Main PCB Top

The plastic casing is held together with a few very small screws, but comes apart easily. here is the top of the main board with the OLED display panel. There appears to be a programming header & a serial port on the board as well. I’ll have to poke at these pads with a scope to see if any useful data is on the pins.

Main PCB Bottom
Main PCB Bottom

The bottom of the board has all the main components of the system. The microcontroller is a STM32F03C8T6, these are very common in Chinese gear these days. There’s a small piezo beeper & the main photodiode detector is in the centre.
There is an unpopulated IC space on the board with room for support components. I suspect this would be for a Bluetooth radio, as there’s a space at the bottom left of the PCB with no copper planes – this looks like an antenna mounting point. (The serial port on the pads is probably routed here, for remote monitoring).
At the top left are a pair of SGM3005 Dual SPDT analogue switches. These will be used to alternate the red & IR LEDs on the other side of the shell.
A 4-core FFC goes off to the other side of the shell, bringing power from the battery & supplying the sensing LEDs.

Battery Compartment
Battery Compartment

Power is supplied by a pair of AAA cells in the other shell.

Dual LED
Dual LED

The sensor LEDs are tucked in between the cells, this dual-diode package has a 660nm red LED & a 940nm IR LED.

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Sony Watchman FD-280 Teardown

Sony FD-280
Sony FD-280

Here’s another Sony Flat CRT TV, the FD0280. This one was apparently the last to use CRT technology, later devices were LCD based. This one certainly doesn’t feel as well made as the last one, with no metal parts at all in the frame, just moulded plastic.

CRT Screen
CRT Screen

Being a later model, this one has a much larger screen.

Autotuning
Autotuning

Instead of the manual tuner of the last Watchman, this one has automatic tuning control, to find the local stations.

Spec Label
Spec Label

The spec puts the power consumption a little higher than the older TV, this isn’t surprising as the CRT screen is bigger & will require higher voltages on the electrodes.

Certification Label
Certification Label

The certification label dates this model to May 1992.

External Inputs
External Inputs

Still not much in the way of inputs on this TV. There’s an external power input, external antenna input & a headphone jack. No composite from the factory. (Hack incoming ;)).

Power / Band
Power / Band

The UHF/VHF & power switches are on the top of this model.

Back Cover Removed
Back Cover Removed

Removing some very tiny screws allows the back to be removed. There’s significant difference in this model to the last, more of the electronics are integrated into ICs, nearly everything is SMD.

RF Section
RF Section

There’s the usual RF tuner section & IF, in this case the VIF/SIF is a Mitsubishi M51348AFP.

Tuner Controller
Tuner Controller

The digital control of the tuner is perfomed by this Panasonic AN5707NS.

Deflection / Sync
Deflection / Sync

The deflection & sync functions appear to be controlled by a single Sony branded custom IC, the CX20157. Similar to many other custom Sony ICs, a datasheet for this wasn’t forthcoming.

PCB Top
PCB Top

There’s very little on the top side of the board, the RF section is on the left, there’s a DC-DC converter bottom centre next to the battery contacts. This DC-DC converter has a very unusual inductor, completely encased in a metal can. This is probably done to prevent the magnetic field from interfering with the CRT.

CRT
CRT

Here’s the CRT itself, the Sony 03-JM. The back of this CRT is uncoated at the bottom, the tuning scale was taped to the back so it lined up with the tuning bar displayed on the screen.

Electronics
Electronics

Here’s the electronics completely removed from the shell. There’s much more integration in this model, everything is on a single PCB.

Phosphor Screen
Phosphor Screen

The curve in the phosphor screen can clearly be seen here. This CRT seems to have been cost-reduced as well, with the rough edges on the glass components having been left unfinished.

Electron Gun
Electron Gun

Here’s the electron gun end of the tube. There isn’t a separate final anode connection to the bell of the tube unlike the previous model. Instead the final anode voltage is on a pin of the electron gun itself. This keeps all the wiring to the tube at one end & shortens the high voltage cable.

Electron Gun
Electron Gun

Here’s the gun in the neck of the tube. Again this is pretty much standard fare for CRT guns. It’s more similar to a viewfinder tube in that the anode connection is running from the pins at the back. (It’s the line running up the right side of the tube). I’m guessing the anode voltage is pretty low for this to work without the HV flashing over, probably in the 2-4kV range.

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Eco-Light 4W LED Bulb Teardown

Components
Damaged Bulb
Damaged Bulb

Here’s a modern LED bulb, that unfortunately decided to disassemble itself within a few minutes of being installed in a light fitting! The base plastic snapped off the main aluminium body at the screw posts!

Input Rectifier
Input Rectifier

The PCB in the base holds nothing but the input components. Above is the bridge rectifier.

Fusible Resistor
Fusible Resistor

The other side of the PCB has a 10Ω fusible resistor, for protection.

LED PCB
LED PCB

The LED PCB itself has the driver IC, which is a CYT3000A linear constant current IC, that runs direct from full-wave rectified mains. The single resistor sets the LED current, but there aren’t any smoothing capacitors on the DC rail, so this bulb would flicker a lot.

Power Requirements for He-Ne Lasers

Power for a He-Ne laser is provided by a special high voltage power supply and consists of two parts (these maximum values depend on tube size – a typical 1 to 10 mW tube is assumed):

  • Operating voltage of 1,000 to 3,000v DC at 3 to 8mA.Like most low current discharge tubes, the He-Ne laser is a negative resistance device. As the current *increases* through the tube, the voltage across the tube *decreases*. The incremental magnitude of the negative resistance also increases with decreasing current.
  • Starting voltage of 5 to 12 kV at almost no current.In the case of a He-Ne tube, the initial breakdown voltage is much greater than the sustaining voltage. The starting voltage may be provided by a separate circuit or be part of the main supply.Often, you may find a wire or conductive strip running from the anode or ballast resistor down to a loop around the tube in the vicinity of the cathode. (Or there may be a recommendation for this in a tube spec sheet.) This external wire loop is supposed to aid in starting (probably where a pulse type starter is involved). There may even be some statistical evidence suggesting a reduction in starting times. I wouldn’t expect there to be much, if any, benefit when using a modern power supply but it might help in marginal cases. But, running the high voltage along the body of the tube requires additional insulation and provides more opportunity for bad things to happen (like short circuits) and may represent an additional electric shock hazard. And, since the strip has some capacitance, operating stability may be impaired. I would probably just leave well enough alone if a starting strip is present and the laser operates without problems but wouldn’t install one when constructing a laser head from components.

    With every laser I’ve seen using one of these strips, it has either had virtually or totally no effect on starting OR has caused problems with leakage to the grounded cylinder after awhile. Cutting away the strip in the vicinity of the anode has cured erratic starting problems in the latter case and never resulted in a detectable increase in starting time.

  • With a constant voltage power supply, a series ballast resistor is essential to limit tube current to the proper value. A ballast resistor will still be required with a constant current or current limited supply to stabilize operation. The ballast resistor may be included as part of a laser head but will be external for most bare tubes. (The exceptions are larger Spectra-Physics He-Ne lasers where the ballast resistors are also inside a glass tube extension, electrically connected but sealed off from the main tube.In order for the discharge to be stable, the total of the effective power supply resistance, ballast resistance, and tube (negative) resistance must be greater than 0 ohms at the operating point. If this is not the case, the result will be a relaxation oscillator – a flashing or cycling laser!
  • Power supply polarity is important for He-Ne tubes. Electrical behaviour may be quite different if powered with incorrect polarity and tube damage (and very short life) will likely be the result from prolonged operation.
    • The positive output of the power supply is connected to a series ballast resistor and then to the anode (small) electrode of the He-Ne tube. This electrode may actually be part of the mirror assembly at that end of the tube or totally separate from it. The distance from the resistors to the electrode should be minimized – no more than 2 or 3 inches.
    • The negative output of the power supply is connected to the cathode (large can) electrode of the He-Ne tube. This electrode may be electrically connected to the mirror mount at that end of the tube but is a separate aluminium cylinder that extends for several inches down the tube. CAUTION: Some He-Ne tubes use a separate terminal for the cathode and sometimes the anode as well, not the mirror mount(s). Powering one of these via the mirror mounts may result in lasing but will also result in tube damage.

    Note: He-Ne tube starting voltage is lower and operating voltage is higher when powered with reverse polarity. With some power supply designs, the tube may appear to work equally well or even better (since starting the discharge is easier) when hooked up incorrectly. However, this is damaging to the anode electrode of the tube (and may result in more stress on the power supply as well due to the higher operating voltage) and must be avoided (except possibly for a very short duration during testing).

  • Every He-Ne tube will have a nominal current rating. In addition to excessive heating and damage to the electrodes, current beyond this value does not increase laser beam intensity. In fact, optical output actually decreases (probably because too high a percentage of the helium/neon atoms are in the excited state). You can easily and safely demonstrate this behaviour if your power supply has a current adjustment or you run an unregulated supply using a Variac. While the brightness of the discharge inside the tube will increase with increasing current, the actual intensity of the laser beam will max out and then eventually decrease with increasing current. (This is also an easy way of determining optimal tube current if you have not data on the tube – adjust the ballast resistor or power supply for maximum optical output and set it so that the current is at the lower end of the range over which the beam intensity is approximately constant.) Optical noise in the output will also increase with excessive current.
  • The efficiency of the typical He-Ne laser is pretty pathetic. For example, a 2 mW HeNe tube powered by 1,400 V at 6mA has an efficiency of less than 0.025%. More than 99.975% of the power is wasted in the form of heat and incoherent light (from the discharge)! This doesn’t even include the losses of the power supply and ballast resistor.

A few He-Ne lasers – usually larger or research types – have used a radio frequency (RF) generator – essentially a radio transmitter to excite the discharge. This was the case with the original He-Ne laser but is quite rare today given the design of internal mirror He-Ne tubes and the relative simplicity of the required DC power supply.

Demonstration He-Ne Lasers, Weatherproofing

Putting Together a Demonstration He-Ne Laser

For a classroom introduction to lasers, it would be nice to have a safe setup that makes as much as possible visible to the students. Or, you may just want to have a working He-Ne laser on display in your living room! Ideally, this is an external mirror laser where all parts of the resonator as well as the power supply can be readily seen. However, realistically, finding one of these is not always that easy or inexpensive, and maintenance and adjustment of such a laser can be a pain (though that in itself IS instructive).

The next best thing is a small He-Ne laser laid bare where its sealed (internal mirror) He-Ne tube, ballast resistors, wiring, and power supply (with exposed circuit board), are mounted inside a clear Plexiglas case with all parts labelled. This would allow the discharge in the He-Ne tube to be clearly visible. The clear insulating case prevents the curious from coming in contact with the high voltage (and line voltage, if the power supply connects directly to the AC line), which could otherwise result in damage to both the person and fragile glass He-Ne tube when a reflex action results in smashing the entire laser to smithereens!

A He-Ne laser is far superior to a cheap laser pointer for several reasons:

  • The discharge and mirrors are clearly visible permitting the lasing process to be described in detail. Compared to this, a diode laser pointer is about as exciting as a flashlight even if you are able to extract the guts.
  • The beam quality in terms of coherence length, monochromaticy, shape, and stability, will likely be much higher for the He-Ne laser should you also want to use it for actual optics experiments like interferometry. (However, the first one of these – coherence length – can actually be quite good for even the some of the cheap diode lasers in laser pointers.)
  • For a given power level, a 632.8nm He-Ne laser will appear about 5 times brighter than a 670 nm laser pointer. 635 nm laser pointers are available but still more expensive. However, inexpensive laser pointers with wavelengths between 650 and 660 nm are becoming increasingly common and have greater relative brightness.

Important: If this see-through laser is intended for use in a classroom, check with your regulatory authority to confirm that a setup which is not explicitly CDRH approved (but with proper laser class safety stickers) will be acceptable for insurance purposes.

For safety with respect to eyeballs and vision, a low power laser – 1 mW or less – is desirable – and quite adequate for demonstration purposes.

The He-Ne laser assembly from a barcode scanner is ideal for this purpose. It is compact, low power, usually runs on low voltage DC (12 V typical), and is easily disassembled to remount in a demonstration case. The only problem is that many of these have fully potted “brick” type power supplies which are pretty boring to look at. However, some have the power supply board coated with a rubbery material which can be removed with a bit of effort (well, OK, a lot of effort!).

He-Ne Tube and Power Supply
He-Ne Tube and Power Supply

For example, this is from a hand-held barcode scanner. A similar unit was separated into its component parts:

Melles Griot He-Ne Tube
Melles Griot He-Ne Tube
He-Ne Laser Power Supply IC-I1
He-Ne Laser Power Supply IC-I1

The power supply includes the ballast resistors. These could easily be mounted in a very compact case (as little as 3″ x 6″ x 1″, though spreading things out may improve visibility and reduce make cooling easier) and run from a 12v DC, 1 A wall adapter. Used barcode scanner lasers can often be found for $20 or less.

An alternative is to purchase a 0.5 to 1 mW He-Ne tube and power supply kit. This will be more expensive (figure $5 to $15 for the He-Ne tube, $25 to $50 for the power supply) but will guarantee a circuit board with all parts visible.

The He-Ne tube, power supply, ballast resistors (if separate from the power supply), and any additional components can be mounted with standoffs and/or cable ties to the plastic base. The tube can be separated from the power supply if desired to allow room for labels and such. However, keep the ballast resistors as near to the tube as practical (say, within a couple of inches, moving them if originally part of the power supply board). The resistors may get quite warm during operation so mount them on standoffs away from the plastic. Use wire with insulation rated for a minimum of 10 kV. Holes or slots should be incorporated in the side panels for ventilation – the entire affair will dissipate 5 to 10 Watts or more depending on the size of the He-Ne tube and power supply.

When attaching the He-Ne tube, avoid anything that might stress the mirror mounts. While these are quite sturdy and it is unlikely that any reasonable arrangement could result in permanent damage, even a relatively modest force may result in enough mirror misalignment to noticeably reduce output power. And, don’t forget that the mirror mounts are also the high voltage connections and need to be well insulated from each other and any human contact! The best option is probably to fasten the tube in place using Nylon cable ties, cable clamps, or something similar around the glass portion without touching the mirror mounts at all (except for the power connections).

Provide clearly marked red and black wires (or binding posts) for the low voltage DC or a line cord for AC (as appropriate for the power supply used), power switch, fuse, and power-on indicator. Label the major components and don’t forget the essential CDRH safety sticker (Class II for less than 1 mW or Class IIIa for less than 5 mW).

See:

Sam's Demo He-Ne Laser
Sam’s Demo He-Ne Laser

Above, as an example (minus the Plexiglas safety cover), contructed from the guts of a surplus Gammex laser (probably part of a patient positioning system for a CT or MRI scanner). The discrete line operated power supply is simple with the HV transformer, rectifier/doubler, filter, multiplier, and ballast resistors easily identified. This would make an ideal teaching aid.

See the suppliers listed in the chapter: Laser and Parts Sources.

The Ultimate Demonstration He-Ne Laser

Rather than having a see-through laser that just outputs a laser beam (how boring!), consider something that would allow access to the internal cavity, swapping of optics, and modulation of beam power. OK, perhaps the truly ultimate demo laser would use a two-Brewster tube allowing for interchangeable optics at both ends, be tunable to all the He-Ne spectral lines, and play DVD movies. 🙂 We’ll have to settle for something slightly less ambitious (at least until pigs fly). Such a unit could consist of the following components:

  • One-Brewster He-Ne laser tube or head. This can be something similar to the Melles Griot 05-LHB-570 tube or the Climet 9048 head which contains this tube. These have a Brewster window at one end and an internal HR mirror with a 60 cm Radius of Curvature (RoC) at the other. Their total length is about 10.5 inches (260 mm).
  • Adjustable mirror mount with limited range to permit easy mirror tweaking but with minimal chance of getting alignment really messed up. A basic design using a pair of plates with X and Y adjustment screws and a common pivot with lock washers for the compliance springs would be adequate.
  • Interchangeable mirrors of RoC = 60 cm and reflectance of 98% to 99.5% (OC) and 99.999% (HR in place of OC to maximize internal photon flux). These may be salvaged from a dead 3 to 5 mW He-Ne laser tube. Those from a tube like the Spectra-Physics 084-1 would be suitable. It would be best to install the mirrors in protective cells for ease of handling.
  • Baseplate to mount the laser and optics with the internal HR of the one-Brewster tube/head about 60 cm from the external mirror to create a confocal cavity – about one half of which is external and accessible. An option would be to put the external mirror mount on a movable slide to allow its position to be changed easily.
  • Power supply with adjustable current and modulation capability. This would provide the ability to measure output power versus current and to use the laser as an optical transmitter with a solar cell based receiver.
  • Plexiglas box to house and protect the laser and power supply (as well as inquisitive fingers from high voltage) with part of one side open to allow access to the internal photons.

Everything needed for such a setup is readily available or easily constructed at low cost but you’ll have to read more to find out where or how as each of the components are dealt with in detail elsewhere in Sam’s Laser FAQ (but I won’t tell you exactly where – these are all the hints you get for this one!).

A system like this could conceivably be turned into an interactive exhibit for your local science museum – assuming they care about anything beyond insects and the Internet these days. 🙂 There are some more details in the next section.

Guidelines for a Demonstraton One-Brewster He-Ne Laser

The following suggestions would be for developing a semi-interactive setup whereby visitors can safely (both for the visitor and the laser) adjust mirror alignment and possibly some other parameters of laser operation. The type of one-Brewster (1-B) He-Ne laser tube like the Melles Griot 05-LHB-570. Note that the 05-LHB-570 is a wide bore tube that runs massively multi (transverse) mode with most mirrors configurations unless an intracavity aperture is added. This is actually an advantage for several reasons:

  1. The multi-transverse mode structure is interesting in itself and provides additional options for showing how it can be controlled.
  2. Mirror alignment is easier and the tube will lase over a much wider range of mirror orientation.
  3. Output power is higher for its size and power requirements.

Here are some guidelines for designing an interactive exhibit:

  • Mount the 1-B tube in a clear plastic (Plexiglas) enclosure with some ventilation holes to allow for cooling but make sure any parts with high voltage (anode, ballast resistors if not insulated) are safely protected from the curious. Provide a small hole lined up with the Brewster window for the intracavity beam. However, even if the B-window is at the cathode-end of the tube, don’t allow it to be accessible as the first fingerprint will prevent lasing entirely.
  • Put the power supply in a safe place inside another clear plastic box if desired. I’d recommend controlling it with a time switch that will turn it on for perhaps 10 minutes with a push of a button. This is a tradeoff between wear from running the laser all the time and wear from repeated starts. Don’t forget the fuse!!!
  • Orient the tube so the B-windows is either on the side or facing down. This will minimize dust collection and permit the rig to operate for many hours or days without the need for even dusting.
  • Use an output mirror with an RoC from 50 cm to planar and reflectivity of 98 to 99.5 percent at 632.8 nm. The specific parameters and distance will affect the beam size, mode structure, and output power. A shorter RoC will limit the distance over which lasing will take place but will be somewhat easier to align.
  • Use a decent quality mirror mount like a Newport MM-1 for the output mirror. Once it’s secured, arrange for the adjustment screws to be accessible to visitors but limit the range of rotation to less than one turn and mark the location of each screw where lasing is peaked. That way, no amount of fiddling will lose lasing entirely.
  • The distance between the mirror and tube can be fixed or adjustable:
    • For a fixed location, a distance of a few inches between the laser enclosure and mirror mount is recommended. This is enough space to install an aperture or Brewster plate. Or a hand to show that the beam is only present with the resonator is complete, not just a red light inside! But, it’s short enough that alignment is still easy.
    • For added excitement, put the mirror mount on a precision rail to permit the distance to be varied from 0 to at least 45 cm from the B-window. Then, it will be possible to see how the mode structure changes with distance. This will depend on the RoC of the mirror as well.
  • Another option is to provide various things like an iris diaphragm, thin wires and/or a cross-hair, adjustable knife edge, Brewster plate that can be oriented, etc. However, some care will be needed in making these useful without a lot of hand holding.

Weatherproofing a He-Ne Laser

If you want to use a He-Ne laser outside or where it is damp or very humid, it will likely be necessary to mount the tube and power supply inside a sealed box. Otherwise, stability problems may arise from electrical leakage or the tube may not start at all. There will then be several additional issues to consider:

  • Heat dissipation – For a small He-Ne tube (say 1 mW), figure this is like a 10 to 15 W bulb inside a plastic box. If you make the box large enough (e.g., 3″ x 5″ x 10″), there should be enough exterior surface area to adequately remove the waste heat.
  • Getting the beam out – A glass window (e.g., quality microscope slide) mounted at a slight angle (to avoid multiple reflections back to the He-Ne tube output mirror) is best. However, a Plexiglas window may be acceptable (i.e., just pointing the laser at a slight angle through the plastic case). A Brewster angle window should be used only if the He-Ne tube is a linearly polarized type (not likely for something from a barcode scanner) and then the orientation and angle must be set up for maximum light transmission.
  • Condensation on the optics and elsewhere – This may be a problem on exposed surfaces if they are colder than the ambient conditions. Let the entire laser assembly warm up before attempting to power it up!

Magnets in High Power or Precision He-Ne Laser Heads

Effects of Magnetic Fields on He-Ne Laser Operation

If you open the case on a higher power (and longer) He-Ne laser head or one that is designed with an emphasis on precision and stability, you may find a series of magnets or electromagnetic coils in various locations in close proximity to the He-Ne tube. They may be distributed along its length or bunched at one end; with alternating or opposing N and S poles, or a coaxial arrangement; and of various sizes, styles, and strengths.

Magnets may be incorporated in He-Ne lasers for several reasons including the suppression of IR spectral lines to improve efficiency (such as it is!) and to boost power at visible wavelengths, to control its polarization, and to split the optical frequency into two closely spaced components. There are no doubt other uses as well.

The basic mechanism for the interaction of emitted light and magnetic fields is something called the ‘Zeeman Effect’ or ‘Zeeman Splitting’. The following brief description is from the “CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics”:

“The splitting of a spectrum line into several symmetrically disposed components, which occurs when the source of light is placed in a strong magnetic field. The components are polarized, the directions of polarization and the appearance of the effect depending on the direction from which the source is viewed relative to the lines of force.”

Magnetic fields may affect the behaviour of He-Ne tubes in several ways:

  • He-Ne tubes with long discharge paths will tend to amplify the (generally unwanted) IR wavelengths (probably the one at 3.39µm which is one of the strongest, if not the strongest of all lines) at the expense of the visible ones. The purpose of these magnets is to suppress spectral lines that do not contribute to the desired lasing wavelength (usually the visible red 632.8nm for these long tubes). As a result of the Zeeman Effect, if a gas radiates in a magnetic field, most of its spectral lines are split into 2 or sometimes more components. The magnitude of the separation depends on the strength of the magnetic field and as a result, if the field is also non-uniform, the spectral lines are broadened as well because light emitted at different locations will see an unequal magnetic field. These ‘fuzzed out’ lines cannot participate in stimulated emission as efficiently as nice narrow lines and therefore will not drain the upper energy states for use by the desired lines. The magnitude of the Zeeman splitting effect is also wavelength dependent and therefore can be used to control the gain of selected spectral lines (long ones are apparently affected more than short ones on a percentage basis).The Doppler-broadened gain bandwidth of neon is inversely related to wavelength. At 632.8nm (red) it is around 1.5 to 1.6 GHz; at 3,391nm (the troublesome IR line), it is only around 310MHz. A magnetic field that varies spatially along the tube will split and move the gain curves at all wavelengths equally by varying amounts depending on position. However, a, say, 100 or 200MHz split and shift of the gain curve for the 632.8nm red transition won’t have much effect, but it will effectively disrupt lasing for the 3,391nm IR transition.Without the use of magnets, the very strong neon IR line at 3.39µm would compete with (and possibly dominate over) the desired visible line (at 632.8nm) stealing power from the discharge that would otherwise contribute to simulated emission at 632.8 nm. However, the IR isn’t wanted (and therefore will not be amplified since the mirrors are not particularly reflective at IR wavelengths anyhow). Since the 3.39nm wavelength is more than 5 times longer than the 632.8 nm red line, it is affected to a much greater extent by the magnetic field and overall gain and power output at 632.8nm may be increased dramatically (25 percent or more). The magnets may be required to obtain any (visible) output beam at all with some He-Ne tubes (though this is not common).

    The typical higher power Spectra-Physics He-Ne laser will have relatively low strength magnets (e.g., like those used to stick notes to your fridge) placed at every available location along the exposed bore along the sides of the L-shaped resonator frame. They will alternate N and S poles pointing toward the bore. Interestingly, on some high mileage tubes, brown crud (which might be material sputtered off the anode) may collect inside the bore – but only at locations of one field polarity (N or S, whichever would tend to deflect a positive ion stream into the wall). The crud itself doesn’t really affect anything but is an indication of long use. And on average, tubes with a lot of brown crud may be harder to start, and require a higher voltage to run, and have lower output power.

    I do not know how to determine if and when such magnets are needed for long high power He-Ne tubes where they are not part of an existing laser head. My guess is that the original or intended positions, orientations, and strengths, of the magnets were determined experimentally by trial and error or from a recipe passed down from generation to generation, and not through the use of some unusually complex convoluted obscure theory. 🙂

    The only thing I can suggest other than contacting the manufacturer (like any manufacturer now cares about and supports He-Ne lasers at all!) is to very carefully experiment with placing magnets of various sizes and strengths at strategic locations (or a half dozen such locations) to determine if beam power at the desired wavelength is affected. Just take care to avoid smashing your flesh or the He-Ne tube when playing with powerful magnets. Though the magnets used in large-frame He-Ne lasers with exposed bores aren’t particularly powerful, to produce the same effective field strength at the central bore of an internal mirror He-Ne tube may require somewhat stronger ones, though even these needn’t be the flesh squashing variety. And, magnets that are very strong may affect other characteristics of the laser including polarization, and starting and running voltage. Enclosing the He-Ne tube in a protective rigid sleeve (e.g., PVC or aluminium) would reduce the risk of the latter disaster, at least. 🙂 If there is going to be any significant improvement, almost any arrangement of 1 or 2 magnets should show some effect.

    There may be an immediate effect when adding or moving a magnet. However, to really determine the overall improvement in (visible) output power and any reduction in the variation of output power with mode sweep, the laser should be allowed to go through several mode sweep cycles for 3.39 µm. These will be about 5.4 times the length of the mode sweep for 632.8 nm.

    CAUTION: For soft-seal laser tubes in less than excellent health (i.e., which may have gas contamination), changing the magnet configuration near the cathode may result in a slow decline in output power (over several hours) which may or may not recover. I have only observed this behaviour with a single REO one-Brewster tube, but there seems to be no other explanation for the slow decline to about half the original power, and then subsequent slow recovery with extended run time after the magnets were removed entirely. Possibly simply leaving the magnets in the new configuration would have eventually resulted in power recovery, but at the time the trend was not encouraging.

    (From: Lynn Strickland (stricks760@earthlink.net).)

    “They’ve pretty much nailed the 3.39 micron problem on red He-Ne tubes these days so magnets really aren’t needed on them. Even the new green tubes don’t have much of a problem – especially since the optic suppliers have perfected the mirror coatings. All of the good green mirrors are now done with Ion Beam Sputtering (IBS), as opposed to run-of-the-mill E-Beam stuff.However, you’ll probably see a benefit from magnets to suppress the 3.39µm line on the older He-Ne tubes.”

  • While most inexpensive He-Ne tubes that produce linearly polarized light do so because of an internal Brewster plate and lasers with external mirrors have Brewster windows on the ends of the plasma tube, it is also possible to affect the polarization of the beam with strong magnets again using the Zeeman Effect.Where the capillary of the plasma tube is exposed as with many older lasers, and the magnets can be placed in close proximity to the bore, their strength can be much lower. A few commercial lasers (like the Spectra-Physics model 132) offered a polarization option which adds a magnet assembly alongside the tube. In this case, what is required is a uniform or mostly uniform field of the appropriate orientation rather than one that varies as for IR spectral line suppression though both of these could be probably be combined. However, the polarization purity with this approach never came anywhere close to that using a simple Brewster window or plate, found in all modern polarized He-Ne lasers.Also see the section: Unrandomizing the Polarization of a Randomly Polarized HeNe Tube.
  • Two-frequency He-Ne lasers are used in precision interferometers for making measurements to nanometer accuracy. With these, the Zeeman effect is exploited to split the output of a single frequency He-Ne laser into a pair of closely spaced optical frequencies so that a difference or “split” frequency can be obtained using a fast photodiode. The most common are axial Zeeman lasers that use a powerful magnetic field oriented along the axis of the tube. For these, the “split” frequency is typically between 1.5 and 7.5 MHz (though it could be much lower but not much higher). Transverse Zeeman lasers use a moderate strength field oriented across the tube and have split frequencies in the 100s of kHz range. To stabilize these lasers, either a heater or piezo element is provided to precisely control cavity length.

In principle, varying fields from electromagnets could be used for intensity, polarization, and frequency modulation. I do not know whether any commercial He-Ne lasers have been implemented in this manner.

But if magnets were not originally present, the only situation where adding some may make sense is for older longer or “other colour” He-Ne tubes where a series of weak magnets may actually boost output power by 10 to 25 percent or more. On the other hand, most non-Zeeman stabilized He-Ne lasers do NOT like magnets at all. Even a relatively weak stray magnetic field from nearby equipment may result in a significant change in behaviour. However, unless ferrous metals are used in the laser’s construction, any change will likely not be permanent.

Typical Magnet Configurations

Here are examples of some of the common arrangements of magnets that you may come across. In addition to those shown, magnets may be present along only one side of the tube (probably underneath and partially hidden) or in some other peculiar locations. I suspect that for many commercial He-Ne lasers, the exact shape, strength, number, position, orientation, and distribution of the magnets was largely determined experimentally. In other words, some poor engineer was given a bare He-Ne tube, a pile of assorted magnets, a roll of duct tape, and a lump of modelling clay, and asked to optimize some aspect(s) of the laser’s performance. 🙂

  • Transverse (varying field) – These will most likely be permanent magnets in pairs, probably several sets.Polarity may alternate with North and South poles facing each other across the tube forming a ‘wiggler’ so named since such a they will tend to deflect the ionized discharge back and forth though there may be no visible effects in the confines of the capillary:

    For some including the Spectra-Physics 120, 124, 125, and 127, the magnets are actually below and on one side. The objective is usually IR (3.39µm) suppression and the magnets are generally relatively weak (refrigerator note holding strength). Alternatively, North and South poles may face each other:

    With either of these configurations, after long hours of operation, there may be very pronounced brown deposits inside the bore that correlate with the pole positions.
  • Transverse (uniform field). Here, the objective is to achieve a constant field throughout the entire discharge:

    This configuration is found in two very different situations. Strong magnets were used in laser like the Spectra-Physics 132P to polarize the beam. Weaker magnets are used in transverse Zeeman two-frequency He-Ne lasers.
  • Axial – These will most likely be permanent magnet toroids (similar to magnetron magnets), though an electromagnetic coil (possibly with adjustable or selectable field strength) could also be used. Thus, the North and South poles will be directed along the tube axis:

    Other axial configurations with opposing poles or radially oriented poles may also be used or there may be a single long solenoid type of coil or cylindrical permanent magnet as for a two-frequency laser interferometer.
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eBay High Voltage DC-DC Converter Module

High Voltage DC-DC
High Voltage DC-DC

Going through eBay recently looking for parts for a couple of CRT-based projects, I came across these DC-DC converters.
Apparently rated from 45-390v DC output at 200mA, these should be ideal for driving some of the electrodes (focus, screen, grid) in a CRT.
Above is the top of the board, input voltage header on the left, output voltage adjust in the centre & output voltage header on the right.
This module has a mini-automotive fuse, at 10A for input protection.
On the heatsink is mounted the main switching MOSFET, a RU7088R from Ruichips. This FET is fairly heavily rated at 70v 80A, with 6.5mΩ on-resistance.

PCB Bottom
PCB Bottom

The bottom of the board has the control components, with a pair of ICs. Unfortunately the numbers have been scrubbed off, so no identification here. The output from the transformer is rectified with a single large SMD diode on the left side of the board.
There’s also plenty of isolation gap between the HV output trace & the low voltage logic side of the circuit, the two being bridged only by a resistive divider for output voltage measurement.