Cheap, quick and dirty reflow oven

I got this cheap toaster in a “crap shop” for 11 Euros. It’s perfect for reflowing PCBs and small enough to fit in my lab:

Reflow-ToasterI tried to use only components I had at hand, including:

  • a DIP PIC 18F2450 (total overkill to control a heater, I know)
  • a relay from a timer AC socket
  • a small USB iPhone charger for the +5V supply
  • a K-thermocouple and a MAX6675 for the conversion (quite expensive chip, but very simple to use and I had it in a drawer)
  • a small LCD screen, two buttons and two LEDs

The PIC is running from the internal RC oscillator. Very slow, but enough for what it’s used for.

The relay comes from this timer I bought some time ago at Conrad:

It’s rated for 2000W, the PCB is easy to re-use and fuse protected. I added an opto-coupler, so the PIC and user interface are fully isolated from the 220V mains (also convenient for debugging). I thought about re-using the timer’s LCD and microcontroller, but it’s directly bonded on the upper PCB and difficult to hack.

I managed to squeeze everything into the toaster’s plastic flange. (Unfortunately the temperature can increase a lot inside, so I think I’ll move the electronics into a box, outside the toaster)

For now, I just have two functions:

Drying – keeps the oven at 100°C

Reflow – follows the standard leaded solder paste curve (2 minutes@150°C – 2minutes@200°C – 1minute@250°C)

The LEDs also act as switches to select between the two functions. I’m still looking for a good method to cut plastic in a clean way. It’s not so easy with my Dremel.

It took me more or less one day to build everything (I wasted some time for the LCD display control).

I’m only using the heating elements from the upper “toast hole”. The bottom stays cool enough for the toaster to sit on a table without the need of extra feet or thermal protection.

And of course, the oven works just fine for the small PCBs I have to solder!


I did an interview for You can read it here (and see the face behind this blog).

Right now, I don’t have much time to write new posts, as I found a job (I’m adapting my USB temperature logger for current and voltage logging). Very interesting project, with great people and for greater good :-).

I’ll write about it as soon as I have some time!!!

QJ1502C – 15V 2A Power supply review (Labornetzgerät Test) – Mastech HY1502D

Looking for a variable power supply for my bench, I stumbled upon this eBay offer: QJE branded 0..15V 0..2A lab power supply for 35 Euros, including shipping and taxes on German eBay (It looks very similar to the Mastech HY1502D on, for $55).

I bought it form eBay shop. Ordered Sunday evening, it was sitting on my bench already on Tuesday.

There are some other models that do 0..30V 0..5A but they are more expensive (75-90 Euros) and bigger. As I’m usually not working with voltages over 12V, I thought 15V max would be enough. And for 35Euros more, I can buy a second one and have -15..+15V by putting the supplies in series.

The supply arrived in a well protected package, being itself in a cardboard, with the instructions and a pair of crocodile-banana wires.

The front panel has the essentials of a lab power supply: voltage and current knobs, two LEDs indicating the mode (Constant Current – Constant Voltage), two banana sockets (you can unscrew them to connect bare wires) an on/off switch (directly connected to the mains) and two LCD displays, for the voltage and current. A button to switch the supply between the CC and CV mode would be cool, but I guess you can’t ask that much for the price.

The labels are in German (Spannung: Voltage, Strom: Current). As I live in Berlin now, I better get used to it. 🙂

The LCDs have a nice greenish backlight but unfortunately the angles of vision aren’t so great, the digits start to fade if the unit is 40cm on your right or your left side. But they’re ok if you put the unit on a shelf above your head.

(the backlight is actually easy to see even in daylight)

Another thing I noticed is how hard the knobs were to turn, the low efficiency of the green CV LED, the digital dot being hard to see and the poor LCD refresh rate. More on this later.

Let’s crack it open!

The case is made of metal except the front panel, which is plastic (OK-quality). Everything is held together by eight screws on the sides, plus four on the bottom, two for the front panel and two for the back one.

The design is quite standard: Control/display PCB on the front, power regulation PCB on the back and multi-tap transformer in the middle. There’s a lot of room left. My unit is the bottom-of-the-line one, so the manufacturer probably uses the same case for the more powerful models. Anyway, more room, less heat!

The cabling is clean, with double-insulated-heat-proofing for the mains (from the mains cable to the fuse and to the transformer, from the mains cable to the front power switch). Unfortunately, no double insulation from the power switch to the transformer.

Also, the transformer secondary cables insulation could have been cleaner.

The screws attaching the transformer, the heat sink and the ground lead have split washers. Good.

The front PCB is attached to the front panel by four screws and by the potentiometers. It looks like if it was bathed several times in flux. I think it’s the reason why the pots were so hard to turn. I cleaned them with a flux remover and they went back to normal once dry.

Apart from the flux-terrorism and that yellow wire for output transistor bias being directly soldered on a 1206 capacitor (come on, guys, what’s the point putting connectors for the other cables and doing that for that one wire?!), the PCB design is OK. I like the via-stitches and big planes to help the two voltage regulators dissipate heat.

[Edit: I just noticed there’s a footprint for a connector for the yellow cable, but they decided to solder a capacitor parallel to it and the wire directly on the cap.]

As you can guess, the LCD displays are actually directly driven by the output voltage/current, not by the pots setting. Which means that the unit goes to 16,3V and 2,1A. It also means that what you read on the LCDs is what you’re getting on the output.

This task is done by two identical ICs, the CS7106GN, an obscure piece of silicon, [As Bernhard D. commented: The CS7106GN isn’t really “a obscure piece of silicon, designed and made in china”. It is a chinese copy of the Intersil ICL7106, available since roundabout 1978.] designed and made in china (datasheet here, Chinese-only). It’s basically a voltmeter/LCD driver:

An interesting thing is the oscillator circuit. I said the LCDs’ refresh rate was poor. In the datasheet, the default capacitor value on OSC3 is 100pF. I replaced it with a 33pF and… Success! the refresh rate is now more than acceptable, without any precision/resolution loss.

I also replaced the green CV led by a more efficient one.

The voltage/current command is entirely analog (the two dual op-amps on the front PCB). It would be interesting to replace the front panel potentiometers by digital encoders commanding two digital potentiometers driven by a microcontroller. Add some USB/Serial capability, two ADC and voilà, you have a remote-controlled lab power supply. Quite tempting!

The output banana connectors are mounted on a PCB with a common mode filter and a protection diode, plus the current shunt. Unfortunately, they’re not bolted but only soldered, as are the output cables:

The voltage/current regulation is made by a TIP3055 power NPN transistor on the other PCB. It’s rated for 90W/70V/15A, so it won’t be screaming with the 15V/2A it’s asked for. The heatsink is also generous (passive cooling only):

The transistor is actually mounted on the other side of the PCB ad directly bolted to the heatsink, with a thermal pad. Simple-but-ok construction.

(The other hole is to hold the PCB. There’s a plastic spacer between the heatsink and the PCB. The transistor mounting hole is isolated too)

Even if this second PCB looks way cheaper than the front one, the manufacturer make the effort of glueing the filtering cap. The rectifier diodes could be further from the relay due to heat, but I’m not sure they dissipate so much power.

Now, what about the performances?

I compared the LCD readings with the ones on my Fluke 79III (calibrated) multimeter. They’re within 50mV range. The output voltage ripple is below 5mV for all current/voltage combinations.

The unit is within specs, before or after warming up. The relay clicks-in between 4.2V and 4.3V (to switch in the transformer second tap) without any peaks on the output voltage.

The start-up voltage ramp is nice, without any overshooting (and I tried several times, with several voltage settings):


I must say I’m very surprised by the quality and performance vs. price ratio of this lab power supply. For 35 Euros, I’m not sure you can get even the case from Farnell. Here, you get a very nice 0..15V 0..2A power supply, with digital display, good accuracy and enough for most of the everyday needs. Plus, it begs to be modded!

Sense of humour in datasheet.

I wasn’t expecting to find humour in one of Microchip’s Application Notes, especially one about 48 applications with the CTMU. (AN1375, “See what you can do with the CTMU”):

Ok, not as great as “The Polish OpAmp”, from National Semiconductor, but it’s always nice to find something like that nowadays!

2D positioning: hacking an optical mouse!

For my next project, I will need to know the relative position of a moving (<10cm/s) object above (+/- 10 cm ) a surface (flat, but of any quality). After playing with accelerometers, I realized it won’t work (damn you, gravity) so I took the other option I thought of: an optical mouse.

A regular optical mouse contains a chip, usually from avagotech (Agilent company) with a small 16*16 CCD sensor, taking pictures at high rate of what’s under the mouse. It calculates the “travelled distance” by looking for differences from several pictures and outputs the value via an i2c bus or QAM pins. A microcontroller interfaces the first chip with the USB or PS/2 port and also decodes the buttons/scroll wheel.

I found a cheap second hand USB mouse at my local flea market for 2 Euros:

The “Mini Notebook Mouse”, from the Typhoon brand gave her body to (my) science.

Luckily, it contains the A2051 sensor. The datasheet is freely downloadable on Avagotech’s website (link) [EDIT: Not anymore. But you can get it here]. The electronics are just two PCBs, stacked and connected with two 6-pin headers (easy to separate). The bottom one has the sensor and its red LED, the buttons and the encoder for the scroll wheel. The upper one, the chip with the USB capabilities.

On the left: My USB dev board with a PIC18F87J50. In the middle: the sensor PCB. On the right: the desoldered PCB for interfacing the sensor and buttons with the PC.

Closer look at the sensor:

It has 400/800 cpi resolution , with a two-wire SPI interface. The CCD is on the other side.

The main problem is that the focus distance of this kind of sensor assembly is very narrow, about +/- 3mm. I needed more.

All the optical mouse sensors have a function to get the actual image of the surface below the mouse.

I wrote a small software to get that image. The sensor is connected to the USB dev board, via the SPI interface.

A software to get the image of the CCD (256 pixels with 64 values of gray, up-scaled so each pixel for the sensor is 8 pixels on the screen)

It allowed me to try various combinations of lenses in front of the sensor to get a bigger focus zone and a higher minimal focus distance (I wanted 10cm +/- 5cm)

I used these small lenses for security cameras/babyphones, like this one: Mini 12mm Lens  (but you can find cheaper ones on eBay, I saw some for $7). They’re easily opened unscrewing the front part (need to heat the glue on the thread sometimes) and contain between two and four small optical elements that can be re-arranged to get different magnifications/view angles).

After a lot of try-and-error, I managed to get a good combination of optical elements. The positioning is really precise, but depends of the contrast of surface the sensor “is looking at”.

Here’s some of the code I use (Microchip MCC18):

Two functions to read/write to the A2051 optical sensor.

void WriteSensor(unsigned int address, unsigned int data)
    unsigned int bitcounter;

    bitcounter = 0;
    address = address | 0b10000000; //Set the MSB of the adress to 1
    SDIO_LAT  = 1;
    SDIO_TRIS = 0; //Output
    SCLK_TRIS = 0;
    SCLK = 1;
    while(bitcounter <8)
        SCLK = 0; //Lower Clock
        if(address & 0b10000000 )
            SDIO_LAT  = 1;
            SDIO_LAT  = 0;
        SCLK = 1; //High pulse on clock
        Nop();  //Let the sensor read the sent bit.
        address = address <<1;
    bitcounter = 0;
    while(bitcounter <8)
        SCLK = 0; //Lower Clock
        if(data & 0b10000000 )
            SDIO_LAT  = 1;
            SDIO_LAT  = 0;
        SCLK = 1; //High pulse on clock
        Nop();  //Let the sensor read the sent bit.
        data = data <<1;
} //end WriteSensor

unsigned int ReadSensor(unsigned int address)
    unsigned int bitcounter;
    unsigned int res;
    res = 0;
    bitcounter = 0;
    address = address & 0b01111111; //Set the MSB of the adress to 0 (read)
    SDIO_LAT  = 1;
    SDIO_TRIS = 0; //Output
    SCLK = 1;
    //Start to write the address of the register we want to read from
    while(bitcounter <8)
        SCLK = 0; //Lower Clock
        if(address & 0b10000000 )
            SDIO_LAT  = 1; //Change the output to match the bit we want to send
            SDIO_LAT  = 0;
        SCLK = 1; //High pulse on clock
        address = address <<1; //Shift the next bit to send
        bitcounter++; //Inc the bit counter
    //We have to wait at least 100us
    SDIO_TRIS = 1;
    //Configure the SDIO pin as an input
    SDIO_LAT  = 1;
    SDIO_TRIS = 1; //Input
    SDIO_TRIS = 1; //Input
    while(bitcounter <8)
        SCLK = 0; //Lower the Clock line
        //Nop(); //Works without the Nop
        SCLK = 1; //Set the Clock line
        res = res <<1; //Shift the received bit in
        if(SDIO_PORT )
            res  = res | 0b00000001; //Read the current bit
            res  = res & 0b11111110;
    SDIO_TRIS = 0;
    SDIO_LAT  = 1;
    SCLK = 1;
    return (res); //Return with the read byte
}//End ReadSensor

With I/O declared as such:

#define SDIO_PORT               PORTCbits.RC4
#define SDIO_LAT                LATCbits.LATC4
#define SDIO_TRIS               TRISCbits.TRISC4
#define SCLK                    LATCbits.LATC3
#define SCLK_TRIS               TRISCbits.TRISC3
#define PD                      LATCbits.LATC5
#define PD_TRIS                 TRISCbits.TRISC5

(PD is the sensor Power Down pin. Used to reset the A2051 at board’s power-up. You can use any pin of you PIC to communicate with the sensor, as long as there’s a pull-up resistor)

To dump the sensor image:

int ptr = 0;
WORD_VAL LowerB,UpperB;
unsigned char Buffer[256];
WriteSensor(0x0A,0b00001001); //Configuration register: Dump the pixels, no power saving
while(ptr <0xFF)
   LowerB.Val = ReadSensor(0x0C);//"LowerData" Contains the pixel value, 6bits.
   UpperB.Val = ReadSensor(0x0D);//"UpperData" The MSB indicates if the pixel in LowerData is valid. 
                                 //The seven other bits are the pixel address (form 0 to 0xFF)
   if(!(LowerB.bits.b7)) //Check if data valid
     Buffer[UpperB.Val] = ((LowerB.Val)&0b00111111);

The Buffer will contain the image from the sensor. I send it via USB to my mac application.

The next steps will be to build a frame around the PCB, integrate it to my project and see how good the positioning gets with different surfaces. I’ll probably still use an accelerometer to measure the tilt angle of the optical sensor and to provide a backup continuity in the displacement measurement in the case the surface contrast gets too bad for the sensor.

Inspiration from this article: Sprites mods.

Measuring small currents in battery-powered systems

This is a simple method for measuring small currents (μA/nA).

I wanted to see how much current my temperature logger is consuming while in various sleep modes for the various components on the board. I have a good multimeter but unfortunately, its smallest DC current range is 400mA. Even if the burden voltage isn’t that big, it’s impossible to measure anything below 10μA.

As I’m not lucky enough to own one of Dave Jones’ μCurrent I tried to find an other method. I inspired myself of a Microchip App note (AN1416).

The idea is to power a circuit with a charged capacitor and measure the discharge time, thus the current:

I = C*(Vd/t)

Where I is the current(A), C the capacity(F), Vd the voltage drop(V) and t, the time (s).

The method can be easily set up on a breadboard and it’s ideal for measuring small currents that don’t change over time (typically, microcontroller’s sleep modes):


Measuring small currentsIt’s better to use a nomally-opened switch, so a push on it will disconnect the power supply and allow the capacitor to discharge.


Measuring small currents breadboardIn my setup, I’m using a LM317 voltage regulator to have 3,00V (coin cell battery voltage) at the Vd point when my microcontroller is connected and the switch closed.

At the same time I open the circuit with the switch, I start a timer and usually stop it when the capacitor voltage dropped 0,2V  (2,8V at the capacitor)

For example, with a capacitor of 6600uF (measured), a Vd of 0,2 Volts and 50 seconds to reach it:

I=6600*(0,2/50) = 26,4μA

The value of the capacitor can be adjusted, so you don’t need to wait too long when dealing with nA currents. ex:

Vd=0,1V ; C=10uF ; t=30s : I=33nA

And so on..

To make sure the capacitor internal leakage is not affecting the measure too much, repeat it with no load connected to see how fast the current is dropping. It also allows you the see if the voltmeter impedance isn’t too high.

As soon as I get my temperature logger new PCB, I’ll measure the current in sleep / deep sleep mode for the PIC18F26J50, the EEPROM, the temperature sensor and I’ll post them here.