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Multifunction LCD Power Meter MHF-8020P

LCD Unit
LCD Unit

I recently came across these on eBay, so I thought I’d grab one to see how they function, with all the metrics they display, there’s potential here for them to be very useful indeed.
One of the best parts is that no wiring is required between the sensor board & the LCD head unit – everything is transmitted over a 2.4GHz data link using NRF24L01 modules.
Above is the display unit, with it’s colour LCD display. Many features are available on this, & they appear to be designed for battery powered systems.

Monitor PCB
Monitor PCB

Another PCB handles the current & voltage sensing, so this one can be mounted as close to the high current wiring as possible.

Monitor PCB Microcontroller
Monitor PCB Microcontroller

The transmitter PCB is controlled with an STM8S003F3 microcontroller from ST Microelectronics. This is a Flash based STM with 8KB of ROM, 1KB of RAM & 10-bit ADC. The NRF24L01 transceiver module is just to the left.
There’s only a single button on this board, for pairing both ends of the link.

Output MOSFET
Output MOSFET

The high current end of the board has the 0.0025Ω current shunt & the output switch MOSFET, a STP75NF75 75v 75A FET, also from ST Microelectronics. A separate power source can be provided for the logic via the blue terminal block instead of powering from the source being measured.

LCD Unit Rear
LCD Unit Rear

Here’s the display unit, only a pair of power terminals are provided, 5-24v wide-range input is catered for.

LCD Unit PCB
LCD Unit PCB

Unclipping the back of the board reveals the PCB, with another 2.4GHz NRF24L01 module, and a STM8S005K6 microcontroller in this case. The switching power supply that handles the wide input voltage is along the top edge of the board.

Unfortunately I didn’t get any instruction manual with this, so some guesswork & translation of the finest Chinglish was required to get my head round the way everything works. To make life a little easier for others that might have this issue, here’s a list of functions & how to make them work.

LCD Closeup
LCD Closeup

On the right edge of the board is the function list, a quick press of the OK button turns a function ON/OFF, while holding it allows the threshold to be set.
When the output is disabled by one of the protection functions, turning that function OFF will immediately enable the output again.
The UP/DOWN buttons obviously function to select the desired function with the cursor just to the left of the labels. Less obviously though, pressing the UP button while the very top function is selected will change the Amp-Hours display to a battery capacity icon, while pressing DOWN while the very bottom function is selected will change the Watts display to Hours.
The round circle to the right displays the status of a function. Green for OK/ON Grey for FAULT/OFF.

  • OVP: Over voltage protection. This will turn off the load when the measured voltage exceeds the set threshold.
  • OPP: Over power protection. This function prevents a load from pulling more than a specified number of watts from the supply.
  • OCP: Over current protection. This one’s a little more obvious, it’ll disable the output when the current measured exceeds the specified limit.
  • OUT: This one is the status of the output MOSFET. Can also be used to manually enable/disable the output.
  • OFT: Over time protection. This one could be useful when charging batteries, if the output is enabled for longer than the specified time, the output will toggle off.
  • OAH: Over Amp-Hours protection. If the counted Amp-Hours exceeds the set limit, the output will be disabled.
  • Nom: This one indicates the status of the RF data link between the modules, and can be used to set the channel they operate on.
    Pairing is achieved by holding the OK button, selecting the channel on the LCD unit, and then pressing the button on the transmitter board. After a few seconds, (it appears to scan through all addresses until it gets a response) the display will resume updating.
    This function would be required if there are more than a single meter within RF range of each other.

I’ve not yet had a proper play with all the protection functions, but a quick mess with the OVP setting proved it was very over-sensitive. Setting the protection voltage to 15v triggered the protection with the measured voltage between 12.5v-13.8v. More experimentation is required here I think, but as I plan to just use these for power monitoring, I’ll most likely leave all the advanced functions disabled.

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Maplin 3W LED Torch Charger Fail

A member of the family recently bought one of these torches from Maplin electronics, and the included chargers for the 18650 lithium-ion cells leave a lot to be desired.

Torch
Torch

Here’s what’s supplied. The torch itself is OK – very bright, and a good size. Me being cynical of overpriced Chinese equipment with lithium batteries, I decided to look in the charging base & the cigar-lighter adaptor to see if there was any actual charging logic.

Charger
Charger

Answer – nope. Not a single active component in here. It’s just a jack connected to the battery terminals. There’s all the space there to fit a proper charging circuit, but it’s been left out to save money.

OK then, is it inside the cigarette lighter adaptor?

Lighter Adaptor
Lighter Adaptor

Nope. Not a single sign of anything resembling a Lithium-Ion charger IC. There’s a standard MC34063A 1.5A Buck converter IC on the bottom of the PCB, this is what’s giving the low voltage output for the torch.

Charger Bottom
Charger Bottom

Here’s the IC – just a buck converter. The output voltage here is 4.3v. This is higher than the safe charging voltage of a lithium ion cell, of 4.2v.

The cells supplied are “protected” versions, having charge/discharge protection circuitry built onto the end of the cell on a small PCB, this makes the cell slightly longer than a bare 18650, so it’s easy to tell them apart.
The manufacturers in this case are relying on that protection circuit on the cell to prevent an overcharge condition – this isn’t the purpose they’re designed for, and charging this way is very stressful for the cells. I wouldn’t like to leave one of these units charging unattended, as a battery explosion might result.

More to come shortly when I build a proper charger for this torch, so it can be recharged without fearing an alkali metal fire!

73s for now folks!

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12v Temperature Controlled Soldering Iron

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:

Prototype
Prototype

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!