A lot of the electronics I use & projects I construct use batteries, mainly of the lithium variety. As charging this chemistry can be a little explosive if not done correctly, I decided a proper charger was required. This charger is capable of handling packs up to 6 cells for Lithium, and up to 20v for lead-acids.
The usual DC input barrel jack on the left, with an external temp sensor for fast charging NiCd/NiMH chemistry batteries. The µUSB port registers under Linux as USB HID, probably so drivers aren’t required. Unfortunately the software is Windows only, but it doesn’t provide anything handy like charging graphs or stats. Just a way to alter settings & control charging from a PC. On other versions of this charger there’s a setting to change the temp sensor port into a TTL serial output, which would be much handier.
The other side of the charger has the main DC output jacks & the pack balancing connections.
Here’s the top cover removed from the charger, showing most of the internals. A standard HD44780 LCD provides the user interface, the CPU & it’s associated logic is hidden under there somewhere.
The PCB has nice heavy tracks to handle the 6A of current this charger is capable of.
The output side of the board. Here the resistive pack balancing network can be seen behind the vertical daughter board holding the connectors, along with the output current shunt between the DC output banana jacks & the last tactile button.
Unfortunately the LCD is soldered directly to the board, and my desoldering tool couldn’t quite get all the solder out, so time to get a bit violent. I’ve gently bent the header so I could see the brains of the charger. The main CPU is a Megwin MA84G564AD48, which is an Intel 8081 clone with USB support. Unfortunately I was unable to find a datasheet for this part, and the page on Megwin’s site is Chinese only.
I was hoping it was an ATMega328, as I have seen in other versions of this charger, as there are custom firmwares available to increase the feature set of the charger, but no dice on this one. I do think the µUSB port is unique to this version though, so avoiding models with that port probably would get a hackable version.
There’s some glue logic for controlling the resistor taps on the balancing network, and a few op-amps for voltage & current readings.
All the power diodes & switching FETs for the DC-DC converter are mounted on the bottom of the PCB, and clamped against the aluminium casing when the PCB is screwed down. Not the best way to ensure great contact, but Chinese tech, so m’eh.
In my shack, 99% of my gear is all 12v powered, which is good for a few reasons:
Single Power Supply – This increases efficiency, as I’m only getting the losses of a single supply.
Safety – Mains voltages are dangerous, I’m not fond of working on such equipment.
Portability – I can power everything pretty much no matter were I am from a convenient car battery.
Convenience – Since everything is single supply, with all the same plugs, I don’t have to think about what goes where. This is more important due to my forgetfulness ;).
The one piece of equipment I regularly use that isn’t 12v is my soldering station. This is a Maplin A55KJ digital unit, which uses a 24v heating element.
While the soldering wand works OK when hooked direct to a 12v power supply (only at half power though), this removes the convenience of having temperature control.
The circuitry inside the unit is PIC microcontroller based, and doesn’t even bother rectifying the AC from the supply transformer before it’s sent to the heater. Because of this there are several reasons why I can’t just hook a DC-DC converter up to it to give it 24v.
It’s sensing the zero-crossing for the triac switch, to reduce heat dissipation, so it refuses to work at all with DC.
On looking at the Great Google, I found a project on Dangerous Prototypes, an Arduino based PID controller for soldering irons.
This requires that the soldering wand itself contains a thermocouple sensor – as the Maplin one I have is a cheap copy of the Atten 938D, it doesn’t actually use a thermocouple for temperature sensing. It appears to read the resistance of the element itself – Nichrome heating elements change resistance significantly depending on temperature.
I’ve managed to find a source of cheap irons on eBay, with built in thermocouples, so I’ve got a couple on order to do some testing with. While I wait for those to arrive, I’ve prototyped up the circuit on breadboard for testing:
I’ve remapped some of the Arduino pins, to make PCB layout less of a headache, but the system is working OK so far, with manual input for the sensed temperature.
I’m using an IRL520N logic-level HEXFET for the power switching, rated at 10A. As the irons only draw a max of 4.5A, this is plenty beefy enough.
To come up with the +24v supply for the heater, a small DC-DC converter will be used.
More to come when the components for the thermocouple amplifier arrive, and the soldering irons themselves!
The latest addition to my radio shack is the GY561 frequency & power meter, which has already come in useful for measuring the output power of all my radios.
It’s a small device, roughly the same size & weight as a stock UV-5R. Power is provided by 3 AAA cells.
The display is a standard HD44780 8×2 module. The display on this unit isn’t backlit, so no operating in the dark.
The cover pops off easily to allow access to the internals, without having to remove any screws!
The 4 screws on the back of the unit hold the heatsink plate for the 50W 50Ω dummy load resistor.
Removing the cover reveals a couple of adjustments, for frequency & RF power calibration.
There are also 3 tactile switches that aren’t on the front panel. According to the manual (which in itself is a masterpiece of Chinglish), they are used to software calibrate the unit if an accurate RF power source is available. I will attempt to do a reasonable translation when time allows.
Disassembly further than this involves some desoldering in awkward places, so a search of the internet revealed an image of the rest of the internal components. In the case of my meter, all the part numbers have been scrubbed off the ICs in an attempt to hide their purpose. While it’s possible to cross-reference IC databooks & find the part numbers manually, this process is a time consuming one. Luckily the image I managed to locate doesn’t have the numbers scrubbed.
Under the LCD is some 74HC series logic, and a prescaler IC as seen in the previous frequency counter post. However in this unit the prescaler is a MB506 microwave band version to handle the higher frequencies specified.
In this case however the main microcontroller is an ATMEGA8L.
This is complemented by a SN54HC393 4-bit binary counter for the frequency side of things. This seems to make it much more usable down to lower frequencies, although the manual is very generous in this regard, stating that it’s capable of reading down to 1kHz. In practice I’ve found the lowest it reliably reads the frequency input is 10MHz, using my AD9850 DDS VFO Module as a signal source.
It did however read slightly high on all readings with the DDS, but this could have been due to the low power output of the frequency source.
Just like the other frequency counter module, this also uses a trimmer capacitor to adjust the microcontroller’s clock frequency to adjust the calibration.
The power supply circuitry is in the bottom left corner of the board, in this case a small switching supply. The switching regulator is needed to boost the +4.5v of the batteries to +5v for the logic.
Also, as the batteries discharge & their terminal voltage drops, the switching regulator will allow the circuit to carry on functioning. At present I am unsure of the lower battery voltage limit on the meter, but AAA cells are usually considered dead at 0.8v terminal voltage. (2.4v total for the 3 cells).
When turned on this meter draws 52mA from the battery, and assuming 1200mAh capacity for a decent brand-name AAA cell, this should give a battery life of 23 hours continuous use.
On the back of the main PCB is a 5v relay, which seems to be switching an input attenuator for higher power levels, although I only managed to trigger it on the 2m band.
Finally, right at the back attached to an aluminium plate, is the 50Ω dummy load resistor. This component will make up most of the cost of building these, at roughly £15.
On my DVM, this termination reads at about 46Ω, because of the other components on the board are skewing the reading. There are a pair of SMT resistors, at 200Ω & 390Ω in series, and these are connected across the 50Ω RF resistor, giving a total resistance of 46.094Ω.
This isn’t ideal, and the impedance mismatch will probably affect the calibration of the unit somewhat.
The heatsinking provided by the aluminium plate is minimal, and the unit gets noticeably warm within a couple of minutes measuring higher power levels.
High power readings should definitely be limited to very short periods, to prevent overheating.
The RF is sampled from the dummy load with a short piece of Teflon coax.
There’s a rubber duck antenna included, but this is pretty useless unless it’s almost in contact with the transmitting antenna, as there’s no input amplification. It might be handy for detecting RF emissions from power supplies, etc.
For the total cost involved I’m not expecting miracles as far as accuracy is concerned, (the manual states +/-10% on power readings).
The frequency readout does seem to be pretty much spot on though, and the ability to calibrate against a known source is handy if I need some more accuracy in the future.
I’ve also done an SWR test on the dummy load, and the results aren’t good.
At 145.500 MHz, the SWR is 3:1, while at 433.500 it’s closer to 4:1. This is probably due to the lower than 50Ω I measured at the meter’s connector.
These SWR readings also wander around somewhat as the load resistor warms up under power.
I’ll probably also replace the AAA cells with a LiPo cell & associated charge/protection circuitry, to make the unit chargeable via USB. Avoiding disposable batteries is the goal.