Kit review – Altronics/SC PIC Logic Probe Kit

Introduction

Every month Australian electronics magazine Silicon Chip publishes a few projects, and in this quick kit review we’ll look at an older but still current example from September 2007 – the 3-state PIC Logic Probe Kit. This is an inexpensive piece of test equipment that’s useful when checking digital logic states and as a kit, a challenging hand-soldering effort.

Assembly

The kit is packaged in typical form, without any surprises:

kitpack

As mentioned earlier this kit is an interesting challenge due to the size of the PCB and the use of surface-mount components. The designer’s goal was to have the entire unit fit inside a biro housing (without the ink!). Thus the entire thing is using SMT parts.

Thankfully the LEDs are packaged individually into labelled bags, as alone they’re identical to the naked eye. Although the kit wasn’t expensive, it would have been nice for one extra component of each type – beginners tend to lose the tiny parts. The cost could perhaps be offset by not including the usual solder which is too thick for use with the kit.

parts

Nevertheless with some care assembly can begin. After cleaning the PCB with some aerosol cleaner, it was tacked it to the desk mat to make life a little easier:

pcb

If you want one of those rulers – click here. Before building the kit it occurred to me that the normal soldering iron tip would be too large, so I ordered a tiny 0.2mm conical tip for the Hakko:

newtip

The tip on your average iron may be too large, so take this into account when trying to hand solder SMT components. The instructions include a guide on SMT hand-soldering for the uninitiated, well worth reading before starting.

Moving forward, soldering the parts was a slow and patient process. (With hindsight one could use the reflow soldering method to take care of the SMT and then carefully fit the links to the PCB). The instructions are quite good and include a short “how to solder SMT” guide, a PCB layout plan:

instructions

… along with an guide that helps identity the components:

instructionssmt

When soldering, make sure you have the time and patience not to rush the job. And don’t sneeze – after doing so I lost the PIC microcontroller for a few moments trying to find where it landed. Once the LEDs have been soldered in and their current-limiting resistors, it’s a good time to quickly test them by applying 5V and GND. I used the diode test feature of the multimeter which generates enough current to light them up.

Due to the PCB being single-sided (!) you also need to solder in some links. It’s best to do these before the button (and before soldering any other parts near the link holes), and run the wires beneath the top surface, for example:

links

… and after doing so, you’ll need more blu-tack to hold it down!

gettingthere

One of the trickiest parts of this kit was soldering the sewing needle at the end of the PCB to act as the probe tip – as you can see in the photo below, solder doesn’t take to them that well – however after a fair amount it does the job:

needle

At this point it’s recommended you solder the wires to the PCB (for power) and then insert the probe into the pen casing. For the life of me I didn’t have a spare pen around here so instead we’re going to cover it in clear heatshrink. Thus leaving the final task as soldering the alligator clips to the power wires:

finished

Operation

What is a logic probe anyway? It shows what the logic level is at the probed point in a circuit. To do this you connect the black and red alligator clips to 0V and a supply voltage up to 18V respectively – then poke the probe tip at the point where you’re curious about the voltage levels. If it’s at a “high” state (on, or “1” or whatever you want to call it) the red LED comes on.

If it’s “low” the green LED comes on. The third (orange) LED has two modes. It can either pulse every 50 mS when the logic state changes – or in “latch mode” it will come on and stay on when the mode changes, ideal for detecting infrequent changes in the logic state of the test point.

The kit uses a Microchip PIC12F20x microcontroller, and also includes the hardware schematic to make a basic RS232 PIC programmer and wiring instructions for reprogramming it if you want to change the code or operation of the probe.

Conclusion

The PIC Logic Probe is a useful piece of equipment if you want a very cheap way to monitor logic levels. It wasn’t the easiest kit to solder, and if Altronics revised it so the PCB was double-sided and changed the parts layout, there would be more space to solder some parts and thus make the whole thing a lot easier.

Nevertheless for under $17 it’s worth it. You can purchase it from Altronics and their resellers, or read more about it in the September 2007 edition of Silicon Chip. Full-sized images available on flickr. This kit was purchased without notifying the supplier. And if you made it this far – check out my new book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.

LEDborder

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in altronics, K2587, kit review, logic probe, SMT, soldering, test equipment, tronixstuff2 Comments

Review – Schmartboard SMT Boards

In this article we review a couple of SMT prototyping boards from Schmartboard.

Introduction

Sooner or later you’ll need to use a surface-mount technology component. Just like taxes and myki* not working, it’s inevitable. When the time comes you usually have a few options – make your own PCB, then bake it in an oven or skillet pan; get the part on a demo board from the manufacturer (expensive); try and hand-solder it yourself using dead-bug wiring or try to mash it into a piece of strip board; or find someone else to do it. Thanks to the people at Schmartboard you now have another option which might cost a few dollars more but guarantees a result. Although they have boards for almost everything imaginable, we’ll look at two of them – one for QFP packages and their Arduino shield that has SOIC and SOP23-6 areas.

boards

QFP 32-80 pin board

In our first example we’ll see how easy it is to prototype with QFP package ICs. An example of this is the Atmel ATmega328 microcontroller found on various Arduino-compatible products, for example:

atmega

Although our example has 32 pins, the board can handle up to 80-pin devices. You simply place the IC on the Schmartboard, which holds the IC in nicely due to the grooved tracks for the pins:

atmegabefore

The tracks are what makes the Schmartboard EZ series so great – they help hold the part in, and contain the required amount of solder. I believe this design is unique to Schmartboard and when you look in their catalogue, select the “EZ” series for this technology. Moving forward, you just need some water-soluble flux:

fluxpen

then tack down the part, apply flux to the side you’re going to solder – then slowly push the tip of your soldering iron (set to around 750 degrees F) down the groove to the pin. For example:

Then repeat for the three other sides. That’s it. If your part has an exposed pad on the bottom, there’s a hole in the centre of the Schmartboad that you can solder into as well:

qfpheat

After soldering I really couldn’t believe it worked, so probed out the pins to the breakout pads on the Schmartboard to test for shorts or breaks – however it tested perfectly. The only caveat is that your soldering iron tip needs to be the same or smaller pitch than the the part you’re using, otherwise you could cause a solder bridge. And use flux!  You need the flux. After soldering you can easily connect the board to the rest of your project or build around it.

Schmartboard Arduino shield

There’s also a range of Arduino shields with various SMT breakout areas, and we have the version with 1.27mm pitch SOIC and a SOT23-6 footprint. SOIC? For example:

soicic

This is the AD5204 four-channel digital potentiometer we used in the SPI tutorial. It sits nicely in the shield and can be easily soldered onto the board. Don’t forget the flux! Although the SMT areas have the EZ-technology, I still added a little solder of my own – with satisfactory results:

The SOT23-6 also fits well, with plenty of space for soldering it in. SOT23? Example – the ADS1110 16-bit ADC which will be the subject of a future tutorial:

ads1110

Working with these tiny components is also feasible but requires a finer iron tip and a steady hand.

sot236

Once the SMT component(s) have been fitted, you can easily trace out the matching through-hole pads for further connections. The shield matches the Arduino R3 standards and includes stacking header sockets, two LEDs for general use, space and parts for an RC reset circuit, and pads to add pull-up resistors for the I2C bus:

otherparts

Finally there’s also three 0805-sized parts and footprints for some practice or use. It’s a very well though-out shield and should prove useful. You can also order a bare PCB if you already have stacking headers to save money.

Conclusion

If you’re in a hurry to prototype with SMT parts, instead of mucking about – get a Schmartboard. They’re easy to use and work well.  Full-sized images available on flickr.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

The boards used in this article were a promotional consideration supplied by Schmartboard.

*myki

Posted in arduino, product review, review, safety, schmartboard, SMD, SMT, soic, soldering, sot-23, tqfp, tronixstuff, tutorial2 Comments

Adventures with SMT and a POV SMT Kit

Introduction

There’s a lot of acronyms in the title for this article – what I wanted to say was “Adventures with surface-mount technology soldering with the Wayne & Layne Blinky Persistence-of-vision surface-mount technology reprogrammable light emitting diode kit…” No, seriously. Anyhow – after my last attempt at working with hand soldering surface-mount components couldn’t really be called a success, I was looking for something to start again with. After a little searching around I found the subject for today’s review and ordered it post-haste. Delivery from the US to Australia was twelve calendar days – which is pretty good, so you know the organisation is shipping quickly once you paid.

The kit is by “Wayne and Layne” which was founded by two computer engineering graduates. They have a range of open-source electronics kits that look like fun and a lot of “blinkyness”. Our POV kit is a simple persistence-of-vision display. By using eight LEDs in a row you can display words and basic characters by waving the thing through the air at speed, giving the illusion of a larger display. An analogy to this would be a dot-matrix printer that prints with ink which only lasts a fraction of a second. More on that later, first – putting it together.

Assembly

Like most other kits it arrived in an anti-static bag, with a label clearly telling you where the instructions are:

Upon opening the amount of items included seemed a little light:

However the instructions are detailed:

… and upon opening, reveal the rest of the components:

… which are taped down to their matching description on the cardboard. When cutting the tape to access the parts, do it slowly otherwise you might send them flying off somewhere on the bench and spend ten minutes looking for it. Finally, the PCB in more detail:

After reviewing the instructions, it was time to fire up my trusty Hakko and get started. At this point a few tools will come in handy, including SMT tweezers, some solder wick and a piece of blu-tac:

Following the instructions, and taking your time are the key to success. When mounting the two-pad components – put a blob of solder on one pad, then use tweezers to move the component in whilst keeping that pad of solder molten, remove the iron, then let go with the tweezers. Then the results should resemble capacitor C1 on the board as shown below:

Then a quick blob at the other end seals it in. This was easily repeated for the resistors. The next step was the pre-programmed PIC microcontroller. It is in the form of a SOIC package type, and required some delicate work. The first step was to stick it down with some blu-tac:

… then solder down one pin at each end. Doing so holds it in place and you can remove the blu-tac and solder the rest of the pins in. I couldn’t solder each pin individually, so dragged solder across the pins then tried to soak up the excess with solder wick. I didn’t find this too successful, so instead used the solder sucker to mop up the excess:

suckersmall

If you solder, you should get one of these – they’re indispensable. Moving forward, the PIC finally sat well and looked OK:

Next was the power-switch. It clicks neatly into the PCB making soldering very easy. Then the LEDs. They’re tiny and some may find it difficult to identify the anode and cathode. If you look at the top, there is a tiny dot closer to one end – that end is the cathode. For example, in the lineup:

Soldering in the LEDs wasn’t too bad – however to save time do all the anodes first, then the cathodes:

At this point all the tricky work is over. There are the light-sensor LEDs and the reset button for the top:

And the coin-cell battery holder for the bottom. The battery is also included with the kit:

Operation

Once you’ve put the battery in, turn it on and wave it about in front of yourself. There are some pre-programmed messages and symbols already loaded, which you can change with the button. However you’ll want to put your own messages into the POV – and the process for doing so is very clever. Visit the programming page, and follow the instructions. Basically you enter the text into the form, set the POV to programming mode – and hold it up against two squares on your monitor. The website will then blink the data which is received by the light-sensitive LEDs. Once completed, the POV will inform you of success or failure. This method of programming is much simpler than having to flash the microcontroller every time – well done Wayne and Layne. A pin and connector is also included which allows you to wear the blinky as a badge. Maybe at a hackerspace, but not in public.

Once programmed some fun can be had trying out various speeds of waving the blinky. For example, here it is with the speed not fast enough at all:

… and a little bit faster:

And finally with me running past the camera:

Furthermore, there is an ‘easter egg’ in the software, which is shown below:

Conclusion

We had a lot of fun with this simple little kit, and learned a thing or two about hand-soldering SMT. It can be done with components that aren’t too small – however doing so was an interesting challenge and the results were quite fun. So it met our needs very well. Anyone can do it with some patience and a clean soldering iron. You can order the Blinky POV SMT kit directly from Wayne & Layne. Full-sized images available on flickr. This kit was purchased without notifying the supplier.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in blinky pov, kit review, review, SMT, soldering, tutorial, wayne and layne1 Comment


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