Tag Archive | "numitron"

Arduino and FFD51 Incandescent Displays

In this article we examine another style of vintage display technology – the incandescent seven-segment digital display. We are using the FFD51 by the IEE company (data sheet.pdf) – dating back to the early 1970s. Here is a close-up of our example:

You can see the filaments for each of the segments, as well as the small coiled ‘decimal point’ filament at the top-right of the image above.  This model has pins in a typical DIP format, making use in a solderless breadboard or integration into a PCB very simple:

It operates in a similar manner to a normal light bulb – the filaments are in a vacuum, and when a current is applied the filament glows nicely. The benefit of using such as display is their brightness – they could be read in direct sunlight, as well as looking good inside.  At five volts each segment draws around 30mA. For demonstration purposes I have been running them at a lower voltage (3.5~4V), as they are old and I don’t want to accidentally burn out any of the elements.

Using these with an Arduino is very easy as they segments can be driven from a 74HC595 shift register using logic from Arduino digital out pins. (If you are unfamiliar with doing so, please read chapters four and five of my tutorial series). For my first round of experimenting, a solderless breadboard was used, along with the usual Freetronics board and some shift register modules:

Although the modules are larger than a DIP 74HC595, I like to use these instead. Once you solder in the header pins they are easier to insert and remove from breadboards, have the pinouts labelled clearly, are almost impossible to physically damage, have a 100nF capacitor for smoothing and a nice blue LED indicating power is applied.

Moving forward – using four shift register modules and displays, a simple four-digit circuit can be created. Note from the datasheet that all the common pins need to be connected together to GND. Otherwise you can just connect the outputs from the shift register (Q0~Q7) directly to the display’s a~dp pins.

Some of you may be thinking “Oh at 30mA a pin, you’re exceeding the limits of the 74HC595!”… well yes, we are. However after several hours they still worked fine and without any heat build-up. However if you displayed all eight segments continuously there may be some issues. So take care. As mentioned earlier we ran the displays at a lower voltage (3.5~4V) and they still displayed nicely. Furthermore at the lower voltage the entire circuit including the Arduino-compatible board used less than 730mA with all segments on –  for example:

 For the non-believers, here is the circuit in action:

Here is the Arduino sketch for the demonstration above:

Now for the prototype of something more useful – another clock. 🙂 Time to once again pull out my Arduino-compatible board with onboard DS1307 real-time clock. For more information on the RTC IC and getting time data with an Arduino please visit chapter twenty of my tutorials. For this example we will use the first two digits for the hours, and the last two digits for minutes. The display will then rotate to showing the numerical day and month of the year – then repeat.

Operation is simple – just get the time from the DS1307, then place the four digits in an array. The elements of the array are then sent in reverse order to the shift registers. The procedure is repeated for the date. Anyhow, here is the sketch:

and the clock in action:

So there you have it – another older style of technology dragged into the 21st century. If you enjoyed this article you may also like to read about vintage HP LED displays. Once again, I hope you found this article of interest. Thanks to the Vintage Technology Association website for background information.

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, or join our 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 arduino, electronics, ffd51, incandescent, lesson, tutorial, vintageComments (2)

Clock Kit Round-up – December 2011

Hello Readers

If there’s one thing that I really like it’s a good clock kit. Once constructed, they can be many things, including:

  • a point of differentiation from other items in the room;
  • a reminder of the past (nixie tubes!) or possible visions of the future;
  • the base of something to really annoy other people;
  • a constant reminder to get back to work;
  • a source of satisfaction from having made something yourself!

So just for fun I have attempted to find and list as many interesting and ‘out of the ordinary’ kits as possible, and ignored the simple or relatively mundane kits out there. If you are in the clock kit business and want a mention, let me know. So in no particular order, we have:

adafruit industries “ice tube” clock

Based around a vintage Soviet-era vacuum IV-18 type fluorescent display, the ice tube clock is a rare kit that includes a nice enclosure which keeps you safe from the high voltages as well as allowing the curious to observe your soldering skills. I reviewed this kit almost a year ago and the clock is still working perfectly. Here is a video of the ice tube clock in action:

After some travelling meeting various people it seems that quite a few of us have an ice tube clock. There is something quite mesmerising about the display, perhaps helping to recall memories of our youth in the 1970s and 80s.

nootropic design Defusable Clock Kit

As recently reviewed, this kit allows you to build a simulated ‘countdown’ timer for a hypothetical explosive device that also doubles as a clock with an alarm. For example:

Whatever you do, don’t make a ‘fake bomb’ and leave it out in public! Only bad things could happen 🙂

ogilumen nixie tube kits

Not a clock kit as such, however they have made doing it yourself very easy with their power supply and IN-12A nixie board kits. We made one ourselves in a previous review, as shown below:

Alan Parekh’s Multimeter Clock Kit

This is certainly one from left field – using the analogue multimeters to display hours, minutes and seconds. See Alan describe his kit in this video:

Certainly something different and would look great on the wall of any electronics-themed area or would easily annoy those who dislike the status-quo of clock design.

akafugu VFD Modular Clock

The team at akafugu have created a modular baseboard/shield kit which holds a shield containing four IV-17 alphanumeric nixie tubes to create your own clock or display system:


Unlike some of the other nixie tube kits the firmware has been made public and can be modified at will. In the future different display shields will be available to extend the use of the kit.

tubeclock.com kits

This site has two kits available, one using either four or six Soviet-era IN-12 type nixie tubes:


… and another kit using the Soviet-era IN-14 nixie tubes:

You have to hand it to the former Soviet Union – they knew how to over-produce nixie tubes. One rare example where we can benefit from a command economy!

evil mad science clocks

The certainly not evil people have two clock kits, the first being the Bulbdial Clock Kit:

This uses a unique ring of LEDs around the circumference of the clock face to create shadows to mark the time. It is also available in a range of housing and face styles. Their other kit of interest is the Alpha Clock Five:

The photo of this clock doesn’t do it justice – the alphanumeric displays are 2.3″ tall, making this one huge clock. It also makes use of a Chronodot real-time clock board, which contains a temperature-controlled oscillator  which helps give it an accuracy of +-/ 2 minutes per year. Furthermore you can modify this easily using an FTDI cable and the Arduino IDE with some extra software. Would be great for model railways (or even a real railway station) or those insanely conscious about the time.

Kabtronics Clock Kits

This organisation has several clock kits which span a range of technology from the later part of the twentieth century. These guys can only be true clock enthusiasts! Starting with the 1950s, they have their Nixie-Transistor Clock:


Look – no integrated circuits, leaving the kit true to the era. If you need to hide from someone for a weekend, building this would be a good start. Next we move onto the 1960s and the Transistor Clock:


The 1960s brought with it LEDs so they are now used in this kit, however the logic is still all analogue electronics. However next we can move to the 1970s, and finally save some board space with the TTL Clock:


This would still be fun to assemble but somewhat less punishing for those who don’t enjoy solder fumes that much. However you still have a nice kit and something to be proud of. Finally, the last in the line is the 1980s-themed Surface-Mount Technology Clock:


So here we have a microcontroller, SMT components, and a typical reduction in board size. Their range is an excellent way of demonstrating the advances in technology over the years.

The GPS FLW Display Clock

Wow – this clock makes use of huge Burroughs B7971 15-segment nixie tube displays and a GPS receiver to make a huge, old-style/new-tech clock. Check out the demonstration video:

This thing is amazing. And it is actually cheaper to buy a fully-assembled version (huh). The same organisation also offers another GPS-controlled clock using IN-18 nixie tubes:


Again, it isn’t inexpensive – however the true nixie tube enthusiasts will love it. This clock would look great next to a post-modern vintage hifi tube amplifier. Moving forward to something completely different now, we have the:

adafruit industries monochron®

Almost the polar opposite of the nixie-tube clocks, the monochron uses an ATmega328 microcontroller and a 128 x 64 LCD module to create some interesting clock effects. For example:

Many people have created a variety of displays, including space invaders and the pong game simulation. The clock also includes the laser-cut acrylic housing which provides a useful and solid base for the clock.

Spikenzie Labs Solder : Time™ watch kit

Technically this is a watch kit, however I don’t think that many people would want to walk around wearing one – but it could be used in more permanent or fixed locations. Correct me if I’m wrong people. However in its defence it is a very well designed kit that is easy to solder and produces a nice clock:

It uses a separate real-time controller IC to stay accurate, and the design However this would be a great suggestion as a gift for a younger person to help them become interesting in electronics and other related topics. The asm firmware is also available for you to modify using Microchip MPLAB software if that takes your fancy.

Velleman Kits

The Velleman company has a range of somewhat uninspiring clock kits, starting with the Scrolling/Rolling LED Clock:

… the 2¼” 7-Segment Digital Clock:

This clock includes the housing and also accepts an optional temperature sensor, and therefore can display this as well. There is also the aptly-named – Digital LED Clock:


It tells the time and would be useful in a 1980s-era idea of the future movie set. The final velleman clock kit is the Jumbo Single-Digit Clock:

In all fairness this one looks quite interesting – the LED display is 57mm tall and the time is display one digit at a time. It is powered by a PIC16F630 however the firmware is proprietary to velleman.

Nocrotec Nixie Clocks

This company has a range of kits using nixie tubes and numitrons (low voltage incadescent displays in tubes). One particularly lovely kit is their IN-8 Blue Dream kit:


The blue glow at the base of the nixie tubes is due to an LED mounted at the bottom of the tube. Another aesthetically-pleasing kit is their Little Blue Something nixie clock. Check out their demonstration video:


More IN-12 nixie clocks from Germany, the first being the Manuela_HR. You can buy the kit without an enclosure, or choose from the ‘office’ style:

… or this funky number:

You can specify it with RGB LEDs which colour-cycle to provide the effect shown above. For those not too keen you can also buy the kits pre-assembled. Their other kit is the Sven:


It is available with IN-8 or IN-14 nixie tubes. The design quality of the enclosure is outstanding, a lot of effort has been made to produce a complete kit that “won’t look like a kit” when completed.

Minty Time

This is a small binary clock kit that fits in an Altoids tin:

This is a nice little kit as it is inexpensive, easy to make and very well documented. You could also mount this in a variety of flat surfaces, limited only by your imagination.

The Chronulator

Here we find a unique design that uses analogue panel meters in a similar method to the multimeter clock detailed previously. Here is an example of the completed kit:


The kit contains the electronics and meters (or you can delete the meters for a discount if you already have some) however the housing is up to you. Furthermore, this kit has some of the best instructions (.pdf) I have ever seen. They are a credit to the organisation. Our final clock kit is the …


This is another clock kit in the style of ‘suspicious bomb timer’-looking – and it pulls this off quite well. Consider the following video demonstration:

As well as a normal clock it can function as an alarm, stopwatch, countdown timer and lap counter. The instructions (.pdf) are well written and easy to follow. Furthermore the Denkimono is also well priced for the kit and delivery.

Hopefully this catalogue of clock kits was of interest to you. If you have found some other kits to add to the list, or wish to disagree or generally comment about this article please do so via the comment section below. This article was not sponsored in any way.

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, or join our 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 clocks, kit review, nixie, review, TTL, VFDComments (8)

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