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  1. Last week
  2. Time to wrap things up. The welding controller was an interesting project. And It took more time to complete than I dare admit. But I learned some new tricks, so that is all the reward I need. Epilogue: ======= Sparky introduced me to client side Bluetooth Low Energy communication. This has a lot of potential for my battery operated IoT projects. Hopefully a developer comes along and patches BLE's library bugs. I also enjoyed using the ESP32 XT DAC Audio 4.1.0 library from Steve at www.xtronical.com. All of Sparky's sounds are handled by this library. It deserves to be officially integrated into the Arduino library ecosystem. But keep in mind that I have customized the XT DAC library; You must use the version provided in my project files (don't use the public downloads). And best of all, I finally have a DC stick welder with custom features. Cost was about $200 US for everything, including helmet and leather protection. My setup isn't something that a serious metalworker would dare own. But it's a good match for my hobby/household projects. Of course I need more practice before I try to build something. So please pardon the sparks and smoke while I burn some rods. Project files are available on Github: https://github.com/thomastech/Sparky
  3. Sparky's real-time current measurements verified some disappointing news. It appears the actual welding current is 45A to 100A. Certainly not what was advertised, but not a huge surprise. The measured min/max currents match the information reported in the unboxing video shown earlier. I noticed the DC-DC inverter circuit's primary side filter has insufficient capacitance for a "200A" welder. It could be a partial explanation for the under-performing welding current. While searching for IGBT inverter welder schematics I found the patent to one of the first Chinese designed IGBT inverter stick welders. The reference schematic has four 470uF/400V caps, whereas my welder has a single 680uF. There's not enough room in the primary circuit region to install enough caps (high voltage electrolytics are big beasts). But I was able to squeeze in a 330uF/450V next to the factory installed cap. Unfortunately this small increase in capacitance was wasted effort; There was no noticeable improvement. What does this all mean? For sure some code changes will be required so the current setting more closely matches the inverter's capabilities. Or perhaps the Amps measurement should show peak current rather than average current. But digging deeper into this can wait since I've gotten used to using the welder as-is. And since this will be an open source project, perhaps another project builder will roll up their sleeves and make improvements in this area.
  4. Sparky's remote Amps Adjust feature requires a Bluetooth Low Energy "lost key finder." This device is officially named iTAG, but I refer to it as a FOB since it can attach to a key chain. It was intended to be used to find lost keys and has a button for taking selfie photos from a smart phone. The FOB device is sold by online Chinese retailers for about $1. That's about the same price as the CR2032 coin cell that powers it. Although it is a low energy device, I've burned through three batteries playing with it. OK, not all of button presses were fun and games; Hundreds of presses occurred during code development. The button has an on/off feature. To turn it off, press and hold the button until you hear a long beep. To turn it on, press the button until two short beeps are heard. If it is used with a smart phone the pairing must disabled before it can be used it with Sparky. During power-up (boot) Sparky will search for the FOB button. If it is found a pairing will be performed. If not found during the boot scan the Bluetooth function will be disabled and no further scans will be attempted. But you can use Sparky's Setting menu to perform a manual scan. The Bluetooth connection can be lost during use. Especially if the FOB is moved too far away from the Welder. When this occurs several periodic connection retries will be attempted before giving up; If pairing is not successful a manual scan will be required to restore the lost connection. The Lolin D32 Pro ESP32 microcontroller includes all necessary Bluetooth hardware (no additional hardware is needed). The "ESP32 BLE for Arduino" software library is used in the firmware. I have customized this library to improve reliability (the updated lib files are included in the source code package). But it remains buggy and occasionally will cause the ESP32 to lockup during a device scan. Sparky's heart-beat icon (lower right corner of screen) will stop blinking when the CPU is locked-up. Do NOT attempt to weld if the icon is frozen (not blinking). A power cycle reboot is required to restore full operation.
  5. IMPORTANT: The provided STL files must be re-scaled to account for filament shrinkage; 101% works well for typical ABS filaments. Sparky is housed in two 3D printed parts. The Front Chassis holds the TFT, ESP32, and Perfboard assembly. Seven M2x6 self-tapping screws are used to hold these in place. The Rear Chassis holds the two speakers and PAM8403 audio amplifier. Hot Melt glue is used to mount them. Don't forget to add the two resistors and two capacitors to the audio amp (see schematic). The Front and Rear Chassis are held together by two self-tapping M2x10 screws. A 3D printed Clip slides into the slot at the far-end of the Rear Chassis. It locks the plastic housing to the metal cabinet. A single M2x12 screw holds it in place. The 3D printed strain relief can be used if the power cord is upgraded to 12/3 (12AWG) SJTO cable. See image below. Apply rubber adhesive (shoe glue), plus cinch zip tie wraps around the cable on the front and back sides of the strain relief.
  6. This is a good place to stop and talk about the digital POT chip that is controlled by the ESP32. In case it wasn't obvious, it replaces the front panel mounted Welding Current POT that was removed earlier. But it's no ordinary digital POT. Unlike common digital POTs, Microchip Technology's MCP45HV51 can handle the higher voltages used in the Welder's closed-loop PWM current control circuitry. That is to say, the feedback signal voltages are high enough to damage a typical digital POT. So don't attempt to go rogue and substitute it. And you may have noticed that the original front panel mounted POT was 1K ohms and the digital POT is 5K. In a perfect world we would use a 1K digital POT. But that value is not offered by the chip maker. Fortunately there's no harm in using the 5K substitute. BTW, during design validation I installed a "mechanical" 5K POT on the Welder. Testing confirmed that the wiper voltages were correct and welding operation was not affected. I rarely experience a lucky break like this one, so please join me in thanking the silicon gods for their mercy.
  7. The MCP45HV51 digital pot IC is a tiny TSSOP14 SMD component. A 14-Pin DIP adapter board is used to make installation a bit easier. The INA219 module, MCP45HV51 (with DIP adapter), and PS2501 optocoupler are installed on a piece of Perfboard. See images below. IMPORTANT: A previous post mentioned that the INA219 module requires shunt resistor removal and the installation of a filter network. So be sure to do that BEFORE soldering the module to the Perfboard.
  8. The ESP32 microcontroller is a Lolin D32 Pro. It has 16MB FLASH and 4MB PSRAM. It saves us from some tedious wiring by including a TFT port connector. Attaching the TFT color touchscreen is as simple as plugging in a 10-Pin cable. But there's some soldering needed on the ESP32. A 0.47uF cap is added to Pin-3 and a 10K ohm resistor is installed on Pin-5. Then all the I/O wiring is added, per the schematic. See photos below.
  9. As shown in the previous post, a pair of resistors are used to attenuate the welding voltage that is applied to PIN-3 of the ESP32 (see schematic). These are soldered on a piece of perfboard and protected with heatshrink. This assembly is mounted to the motherboard with double-sided foam tape. See image below. The new circuitry is powered by a small adjustable DC-DC buck voltage regulator (VReg). A 100uF cap is added to its output and everything is protected in heatshrink. It's mounted on the Welder's motherboard with double-sided foam tape. The VReg's input is connected to the 15V supply, as shown below. Important: Adjust the output to 5.25V BEFORE connecting any circuitry to it. Otherwise the factory set voltage will be too high and will destroy Sparky. During the voltage calibration I recommend temporarily loading the output with 1K ohms.
  10. Sparky can measure the arc's welding current in real-time. It uses a low cost INA219 DC High Side Current Sensor module. The module is equipped with a 3A rated shunt resistor. But we need to measure up to 200A. Fortunately there's already a 200A shunt inside the Welder. But it's a low side shunt and the INA219 is a high side sensor. After some datasheet spelunking, I convinced myself that it could be adapted for low side current measurements. I'm pleased to report full success with the unconventional configuration. Here's a close-up photo of the shunt bar inside the Welder (images are screenshots from the video posted earlier). The shunt is on the motherboard. Here's another photo. The INA219 module's shunt resistor needs to be removed. A filter network must be added to the INA219 board (PCB cuts are required). Filter details are found in the component datasheet. Or skip the technical education and incorporate the filter by following the basic schematic shown below: Small gauge (26AWG) twisted pair wiring was used to connect the sense signal pads (VIN+, VIN-) to the Welder's 200A shunt resistor. These are the Orange/Brown wire pair shown in the image below. Note: The Brown & Black wires are connected together at the EDC- side of the Perfboard mounted attenuator resistors. The sense wires' solder locations at the Welder's motherboard are critical to ensure accurate measurements. That is because the full shunt resistance is comprised of the shunt bar *and* the adjacent PCB copper plane areas. It is important to precisely copy the sense wire solder locations seen in the photo below. Also shown are other useful wiring locations used in the project. Calibrating the INA219 with its upgraded shunt resistor would have been easy if I had a DC clamp-on ammeter. But let me remind you that I don't have one (and the reason this project began). Instead, I grabbed a household electric frying pan and a waffle maker. They provided a high wattage non-inductive load that I used to calibrate the current measurements. A Fluke 8040A milli-ohmmeter was used to measure the hot resistance and a DMM provided the Welder's loaded voltage. Apply basic math, done. Here's a photo of my current sensor calibration test setup. Unsophisticated but effective.
  11. I originally intended to replace the front panel's current adjust POT with a big manly knob attached to a digital rotary encoder. Just like high-end welding machines use. But there wasn't room for it, so my "mechanical" control idea was abandoned. Instead, the current adjustment is on the touch screen. Which is too bad since I'm not a huge fan of touch entry. But throughout this project I had to remind myself that this hobby welder isn't going into the hands of a professional user. On a positive note, the touch screen looks nice and is small enough to fit within the Welder's front panel area. Touch entry is very reliable with bare fingers. Welding gloves can remain on if you touch it with a tablet stylus or eraser end of a pencil. The original current adjust POT plugs into the Welder's motherboard via a 7-pin plug. The over-temperature LED is wired to this plug too. The POT is simply unplugged and an identical 7-pin plug (wired to a digital POT) goes in its place. Save the old POT assembly in case you need to restore the welder back to stock configuration. The removed POT's empty mounting hole is a convenient place to pass wires to Welder's interior. A new plastic bezel will cover it up. All of the new components are mounted in the 3D Printed Bezel housing. Including two small speakers. It's a tight fit but with good cable management it all fits like a glove. Here's a photo of an early prototype. Here's a front view photo of the final housing design (printed in yellow ABS). It slides into the Welder's metal cover and is securely attached by two *existing* screws. This image below shows the snug fit of the new circuitry. The three cables are routed to the Welder's motherboard. All the long cables will be passed into the Welder via the big hole that was exposed after the current adjustment POT was removed.
  12. The Sparky project is intended for experienced electronic circuit builders. So step-by-step build instructions and "Heathkit" wire placement drawings will not be provided. Along with the schematic I will be posting several photos that can be used for reference. I'll provide some written commentary to further explain what is shown in photos. The schematic includes some useful notes. The second page provides images of the various components to assist with your online purchases. To avoid compatibility issues you should confirm your component choices are EXACT matches to the images. IMPORTANT: Fully test your new welding machine BEFORE you start the modifications. Burn as many rods as you can and confirm that it is working correctly. Do NOT start any disassembly until you are satisfied the welder is working. Immediately contact the seller if the Welder has problems.
  13. This is a good time to talk about safety. An inverter welder is a potentially dangerous machine. Lethal primary voltages (>300 volts) are present inside the cabinet, even after power is turned off. There are bleeder resistors in the welder's power supply, but never rely on them. And don't forget that the involved currents have more than enough energy to vaporize misplaced wiring (and misguided hand tools) in a dangerously hot explosive flash. This is NOT a beginner build! If you're not well versed in working with electronic designs that have hazardous circuitry then STOP, turn around, and walk away. HARDWARE: =========== The required hardware is summarized below. Estimated cost is about $40 USD. Lolin D32 Pro ESP32 Microcontroller, V2.0.0 16MB Flash Lolin 2.4-inch TFT Color Touchscreen Shield SH1.0 Double Headed 10-Pin Cable for TFT Microchip Technology MCP45HV51-502E 5K Ohm I2C Digital Potentiometer, TSSOP14 INA219 Current Sensor Module PS2501-1 Optocoupler IC PAM8403 3W Audio Amplifier MP1584EN DC-DC Power Supply Module TSSOP14 to DIP PCB Adapter JST XH 2.54mm Wire-Cable with 7-Pin Female Plug, 30cm long Ultra Thin profile (<13mm deep) 50mm diameter speaker, Qty 2 Bluetooth FOB Button Key Finder You'll need a small (30 x 62mm) piece of Perfboard and a few resistors and capacitors (see schematic). I recommend having a variety of JST SH1.0 plugs/connectors on hand to connect things together. 3D PRINTED PARTS: ================= There are several 3D Printed parts. The STL files will be available on Github. You'll need some ABS Filament (PLA not recommended). Print time is about 15 hours. A 160mm or larger heated build plate is required. Small self-tapping screws are needed for assembly (7 pcs M2x6, 2 pcs M2x10, 1 pc M2x12). SOFTWARE: ========== The software source code will be available to download on Github. For code development the VSCode/Platformio IDE is required. The custom modified Arduino libraries are provided in the download zip file. Please don't ask for a project package that works with the Arduino IDE since I have no plans to create that.
  14. It's time to get into the build. Let's start by summarizing the features: Color TFT Screen displays welding current, arc voltage, and menus. Touch Screen for selecting features. Built-in help screens display useful welding tips too. Programmable Pulse current mode for enhanced stick welding. Helmet mounted Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) Button for remote Amps control. Audio for announcing Amps and over-temp alerts. Flash memory for saving power-up defaults. Low Cost hardware based on ESP32 (Lolin D32 Pro with 16MB Flash). Non invasive design, no permanent changes to the welder. The last bulleted item is a safeguard. I prefer hacks that are easily reversible because sometimes a project hits a wall and needs to be abandoned. So there were no changes to the sheet metal or existing circuitry. Reverting it back to a stock unit would be a ten minute task. But I like what my little welder has become so there's no need to undo the makeover.
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