Monthly Archives: November 2012

2013 Christmas light controller :: Part 2

The controller portion of this project will be based off an Arduino Mega 2650.  Of that the intent is to use 30 of the available digital channels.  The target for 30 is arrived that for each remote board I can get 6 channels pretty easily.  That is driven by 8 wires in an rj-45, with 2 being used for power – leaving 6.  Based off how many lights we actually wanted to hang, we decided 5 groups of 6 channels should fit the bill.  Getting to the design on the Arduino shield I quickly discovered I was limited by the 4×3 inch area provided by the freeware version of Eagle PCB design.  In hindsight I should have just ponied up the credit card and purchased the hobbyist version.  I will probably end up getting that for next years’ inevitable growth.

With the working limitations I had, I needed to break the shield up into two pieces, as I could not fit everything in the 4×3 working area.  I ended up making one board for 18 channels, and another for 12.  Here is a zip with the eagle files.  I warn you in advance the .sch files are not pretty… 🙂  They are free to use for non-commercial purposes.

Overall its a pretty simple design.  Arduino pin goes high, opens the gate on an NPN transistor.  This grounds the led on board lighting it, as well as proving a ground leg for the remote board which turns on the remote LED and Optocoupler which in turn flips the triac on.  Simple daisy chain effect.

master board

Turning that into a working board was a bit trickier, as I couldn’t get it designed as a single sided board.  That mean I had to get the board aligned perfectly after milling one side and flipping it over.  After the first board which I got close but not quite (pictures below) I figured it out on the second board.  It turned out to be much easier than I was making it..

Of importance is the get the board aligned straight along the x axis.  I did this by routing a .1″ deep square the board fit in.  The square was oversized, I just wanted a straight x-axis line.  I then mounted the board against that axis with double-sided tape.  make sure there is 100% coverage on the board.. don’t leave tape gaps as board will flex down on z axis in those spots.  I then aligned the x/y corner and etched the bottom of the board, and drilled the bottom.  The gcode for these operations were created through pcbgcode which I wrote about in another article.

To get the top of the board, flip, re-tape, and align to the x axis.  Then jog the CNC to line up on a few selected holes from the previous drilling operation.  In eagle, hover your  mouse over these holes and you will see the x,y location.  Enter these in your machine, and validate a few other holes.  You should be good to go for etching on the top!

eagle xy

First attempt with trying to measure offsets for the front/back operations.  This created some offset holes, which had to be managed a bit with a dremel grinder.  Still a usable board.

offset2offset1

Second attempt using the eagle offsets described above, which came out very nice.

master1master2

Next update will show assembled boards, and hopefully a video of everything operational.

2013 Christmas light controller :: Part 1

I really don’t like hanging or taking down Christmas lights.  I generally do the bare minimum my wife requires to get through the holidays.  I HAVE always been intrigued with the computer controlled lighting displays that are synced to music.  Last year I got into a fun partnership with one of my neighbors.  He wanted to do the whole music shebang, but didn’t know how to do the hardware side of the equation.  Mmmm.. symbiotic relationship.

Last years’ system was a 12 channel deal controlled by a basic arduino.  Worked well enough, built on perfboard and stuffed into a 2-gang junction box.  Downsides were it was not engineered well at all, with the 5v logic intermixed with the 110v ac.  It also required a lot of extension cords as all 12 channels/outlets were combined at the same location (in his garage).

So, we are at it again this year.  The objectives are:

  • increase to 30 channels (arduino mega)
  • hub/spoke design.. with centralized control and 6-channel remote boards to minimize extension cord usage
  • add LEDs to show when channels are on/off for easier programming/debugging
  • safer design.. with better isolation between logic and 110v.  also include little things like fusing on board.
  • waterproof enclosures as we are approaching this as a modular multi-year initiative

So with that in mind, I first created one of the satellite boards.  I designed this in eagle, with a goal of keeping it a single-sided board for easy machining.  The initial trial board machined out well (see previous posts showing generation of gcode from eagle-cad).

First run was pretty good, and soldered up into a usable board.  I did have to hand-dremel a joined trace.  Improvements identified were:

  • Increase the amount of cnc routing around the traces to improve isolation
  • fix the 110v connector pin sizing.  I had them at .1 and they are really .2, so my screw terminal connector wont fit
  • Add a fuse which I forgot to add
  • Increase trace size where possible.  Mid-trace holes sometimes cut the whole trace, so had to bridge with solder.

Did solder up ok into a usable board though:

After a few eagle cad changes and some modifications to the cnc gcode generator you can see the a/b comparison of the boards.  With the original run on the right, and the new one of the left.  Machine time takes about 30 minutes/board.  Using a 60 degree v-carve bit… probably not the best tool for the job.  If you have recommendations on bits please let me know.

CNC sign from Plywood

My neighbor is starting to brew his own beer, which is a great boon to me.  In an attempt to curry additional favor I offered to make him a sign for his garage.  My intent was to do a trial run in plywood, then do a final in maple with walnut letters.  While doing a clearing operation the main portion of the sign, I got into a layer of plywood that had a very nice grain/color.  I am no real wood expert, so I don’t know what it is, but it was very pleasing overall.

Got off easy on this project, just routed the letters down into the next layer of lighter colored wood, and I was set.  Few coats of rubbed poly and off to the neighbors.

Lesson learned – look at the edges of plywood when routing, you may be able to use the various layers to your benefit!