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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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eBay Chinese Chassis Power Supply S-400-12 400W 12v 33A

S-400-12 PSU
S-400-12 PSU

Here’s a cheap PSU from the treasure trove of junk that is eBay, rated at a rather beefy 400W of output at 12v – 33A! These industrial-type PSUs from name brands like TDK-Lambda or Puls are usually rather expensive, so I was interested to find out how much of a punishment these cheap Chinese versions will take before grenading. In my case this PSU is to be pushed into float charging a large lead acid battery bank, which when in a discharged state will try to pull as many amps from the charger as can be provided.

Rating Label
Rating Label

These PSUs are universal input, voltage adjustable by a switch on the other side of the PSU, below. The output voltage is also trimmable from the factory, an important thing for battery charging, as the output voltage needs to be sustained at 13.8v rather than the flat 12v from the factory.

Input Voltage Selector
Input Voltage Selector
Main Terminal Block
Main Terminal Block

Mains connections & the low voltage outputs are on beefy screw terminals. The output voltage adjustment potentiometer & output indicator LED are on the left side.

Cooling Fan
Cooling Fan

The cooling fan for the unit, which pulls air through the casing instead of blowing into the casing is a cheap sleeve bearing 60mm fan. No surprises here. I’ll probably replace this with a high-quality ball-bearing fan, to save the PSU from inevitable fan failure & overheating.

PCB Bottom
PCB Bottom

The PCB tracks are generously laid out on the high current output side, but there are some primary/secondary clearance issues in a couple of places. Lindsay Wilson over at Imajeenyus.com did a pretty thorough work-up on the fineries of these PSUs, so I’ll leave most of the in-depth stuff via a linky. There’s also a modification of this PSU for a wider voltage range, which I haven’t done in this case as the existing adjustment is plenty wide enough for battery charging duty.

Bare PCB
Bare PCB

The PCB is laid out in the usual fashion for these PSUs, with the power path taking a U-route across the board. Mains input is lower left, with some filtering. Main diode bridge in the centre, with the voltage selection switch & then the main filter caps. Power is then switched into the transformer by the pair of large transistors on the right before being rectified & smoothed on the top left.

Main Switching Transistors
Main Switching Transistors

The pair of main switching devices are mounted to the casing with thermal compound & an insulating pad. To bridge the gap there’s a chunk of aluminium which also provides some extra heatsinking.

SMPS Drive IC & Base Drive Transformer
SMPS Drive IC & Base Drive Transformer

The PSU is controlled by a jelly-bean TL494 PWM controller IC. No active PFC in this cheap supply so the power factor is going to be very poor indeed.

Input Protection
Input Protection

Input protection & filtering is rather simple with the usual fuse, MOV filter capacitor & common mode choke.

Main Output Rectifiers
Main Output Rectifiers

Beefy 30A dual diodes on the DC output side, mounted in the same fashion as the main switching transistors.

Output Current Shunt
Output Current Shunt

Current measurement is done by these large wire links in the current path, selectable for different models with different output ratings.

Hot Glue Support
Hot Glue Support

The output capacitors were just floating around in the breeze, with one of them already having broken the solder joints in shipping! After reflowing the pads on all the capacitors some hot glue as flowed around them to stop any further movement.

This supply has now been in service for a couple of weeks at a constant 50% load, with the occasional hammering to recharge the battery bank after a power failure. at 13A the supply barely even gets warm, while at a load high enough to make 40A rated cable get uncomfortably warm (I didn’t manage to get a current reading, as my instruments don’t currently go high enough), the PSU was hot in the power semiconductor areas, but seemed to cope at full load perfectly well.

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Chicom “500W” ATX PSU

Cover Removed
Cover Removed

Here is a cheapo 500W rated ATX PSU that has totally borked itself, probably due to the unit NOT actually being capable of 500W. All 3 of the switching transistors were shorted, causing the ensuing carnage:

AC Input
AC Input

Here is the AC input to the PCB. Note the vapourised element inside the input fuse on the left. There is no PFC/filtering built into this supply, being as cheap as it is links have been installed in place of the RFI chokes.

Input Side
Input Side

Main filter capacitors & bridge rectifier diodes. PCB shows signs of excessive heating.

Filter Caps Removed
Filter Caps Removed

Filter capacitors have been removed from the PCB here, showing some cooked components. Resistor & diode next to the heatsink are the in the biasing network for the main switching transistors.

Heatsinks Removed
Heatsinks Removed

Heatsink has been removed, note the remaining pin from one of the switching transistors still attached to the PCB & not the transistor 🙂

Transformers
Transformers

Output side of the PSU, with heatsink removed. Main transformer on  the right, transformers centre & left are the 5vSB  transformer & feedback transformer.

Output Side
Output Side

Output side of the unit, filter capacitors, choke & rectifier diodes are visible here attached to their heatsink.

Comparator
Comparator

Comparator IC that deals with regulation of the outputs & overvoltage protection.