ThinkerCon 2018

ThinkerCon 2018

ThinkerCon 2018 is this November, 17th at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL. If you can make it I will see you there!

This event will be a night full of thought-provoking conversation and fun hosted by some of your favorite educational content creators. 

Five years ago Destin, Grey, DiannaHenry, and Derek did this live event that had a huge turnout. They are doing it again this year, but this time to the tune of nearly 100 educational content creators. YouTube, HaptX, ULA, and some other great companies are sponsoring it!

There are only 1000 tickets so if it is something you can attend then don’t delay!

I can’t wait for Destin’s “chemical fireworks show”!
(Thanks to MSI Chicago for the image.)

ReactorForge Web Store

RF-HD2 Hybrid Driver Kit

It finally happened or is happening or… whatever. I spend about  30 hours over the weekend and set up the ReactorForge web store, or shop. Web store sounds silly to me but that is was it is. I added the four products that are available now including those that were part of the Patreon give away. 

Plans (How-tos)

I’ve taken all the photos needed for the Hybrid Driver Plans and am finishing that so it will be ready by the time the first kit hits your bench.

RF-HD2 Hybrid Driver

The store and the first written set of plans lays an essential foundation. To “rinse and repeat” for each component and system in this formidable induction heater!

The Patreon Giveaway

Some of you have already sent your shipping address, but I’m switching things up a bit for the better. Rather than just shipping the parts out to those addresses manually, I’ve sent each of you a coupon code good for the exact value of those components to use in the web store as you like.

Since some of you have asked for extra items, this will also make it easier for you to add on what you like. If you select just the items in the giveaway and use the “Standard: Free” shipping option your cart total will be zero, and no payment info will be required. If you add anything extra, you can currently select from the following payment options.

  • Stripe (prominent credit card processor)
  • Amazon Pay
  • PayPal
  • Apple Pay (if you are on an Apple device).

Web Store

It looks like I have the kinks worked out of the web store. If you do happen to notice anything, please let me know. For now, it’s back to the important work, improving the design, documenting and sharing it! Thank you all for your patience and support during its development.

New Post Notifications & Web Store Setup

New Post Notifications

If you subscribe to new post notifications, you may have seen a few come in this afternoon as I’m clearing out old language translations in preparation for the web store. In the past, I used the Lingotek and Polylang plugins to auto-translate pages and post to all major languages since there was so much interest in this overseas. However, I have noticed some very irritating issues and bugs with the two plugins.

In the process of setting up a web store, I had to get rid of them entirely. While working on it, WordPress decided that all the existing posts were new and set out notifications. How irritating, I apologize for any unnecessary emails you may have received if you subscribe to new post notifications.

Web Store

ReactorForge Webstore

The good news is all those bugs are gone, and the new ReactorForge web store is set working. I’m currently only supporting payments through PayPal but I do plan on adding at least one other payment gateway as I add more items. PayPal does, however, cover most everything even if you want to check out as a guest (not make an account on ReactorForge or PayPal).

Right now there are only two items in the store, the Matching Transformer Ferrite Core and the IGBT Hybrid Driver Kit. As soon as I finish installing the theme, I’ll open it up. I will also be sending out a coupon to each of the patrons that fall into this group to handle the giveaway more professionally.

I have received all the passive components for the Hybrid Driver kit, and I am putting together a PDF manual for assembly and use that will be freely available on the Plans page. As soon as the packing materials show up, I can start shipping.

Trade War
Boo Tariffs

I honestly didn’t think it would affect this much. Back in June, the United States announced it was set to impose a 25% tariff on over 800 categories of Chinese goods. A BOM that I had loaded into Digi-Key before June for another kit was about $320, now with prominent red tariff adjustment notifications all over, it is at $412. That’s a big chunk for a small project! It just means I’ll have to work a little harder on the supply chain moving forward.

The Heart of an Induction Heater

Heart of an Induction Heater
Hello everyone! I started this morning out with a beautiful walk along the gulf coast for the American Heart Association. I wanted to share two things with you today, a couple photos from the event and one more thing (keep reading).
Gulf Coast Heart Walk American Heart Association American Heart Association Heart Walk American Heart Association

Generosity Begets Generosity

All the giving got me thinking, after all, you know what they say about giving. Generosity Begets Generosity. Generosity is a gift that keeps on giving—so many of the gifts we receive in life turn us into givers.
I wanted to show my appreciation to the Patrons who continue to believe in this project even when life slows its progress way more than I’d like! I was reminded today that I actually did not start this project for myself. I am not a blacksmith, I have no immediate need for an induction heater, but I am a creator. Each and every human has this incredible capacity to imagine and to change things. I wanted to bring a tool within the reach of others that remained out of reach for most. Not a wimpy, “doesn’t deliver on what the box said kind of tool”, but one of a caliber that is not matched in the consumer market at all today.

The Heart of an Induction Heater

I would like to offer the “heart of an induction heater” to all of my existing Patrons (as of today September 22, 2018).
U-I Core Set
E/I Core from two U/I cores
U-I Core Set
At about twice the size of a human heart and just about as difficult to source, the matching transformer is by far the most critical, specialized component of the induction heater. Coolant flows around its core in two directions keeping it cool as huge amounts of energy flow through it, making it possible to pump power from your wall outlet into your workpiece. Without it, the IH is just an inverter with some other not really all that exciting electronics. It would be akin to a truck without a transmission. You can’t just connect the crankshaft to the wheels and expect anything good!
I’m including two massive U & I core sets. The same ones that make up the large E/I matching transformer in the newest revision.
Material: 3C85
  • Single U-I core set AL: ~8400
  • Single U-I core set µe: ~2000
  • Single U-Core Dimensions: 93mm x 76mm x  30mm thick
  • Single I-Core Dimensions: 93mm x 28mm x 30mm thick
  • Overall Dimensions: U-I Set: 104mm x 93mm
  • Opening Dimensions: 47mm x 36mm
3C85 Material Technical Data:
  • Optimal frequency: < 200kHz
  • Permeability ui:           2000 +/- 20%
  • Induction at 100kHz, 250 A/m, Bs:   > 400mT
Heart of an Induction Heater

But Wait There’s More

Since driving your IGBT properly is a big deal and kind of important for the whole setup, I’m also including a new driver PCB with two Powerex VLA504-01 Hybrid IC Gate Drivers and two Powerex VLA106-15242 DC to DC Converters. Just those four components are about a $70 value alone if you buy them from Digi-Key. The remaining components on the board are just a few dollars worth of passives. an entire Hybrid Driver kit! The full schematics and bill of materials for the Hybrid Driver board can be found here:
For more info on the driver board be sure to read this:
As well as this post:
Recap, what I’m giving my Patrons:
  • 2 x 93mm x 76mm x  30mm 3C85 Ferrite U Cores
  • 2 x 93mm x 28mm x 30mm 3C85 Ferrite I Cores
  • 1 x New Hybrid Driver Kit including all parts in the BOM above and a PCB

That is a $106.85 value. Thank you for your support!

If you would like to purchase an additional driver kit or U/I core set I’ve included info on that in the FAQs below.

Send Me Free Stuff!

If you are currently a Patron as of the date of this post and would like me to send you this thank you gift, just drop me a private message on Patron saying hello and include your shipping address. The only thing I would ask is that you only request this gift if you are going to use it. We’ll go on the honor system here. 🙂
I look forward to working on this project more and hearing your feedback as well, as you either work on your own or use an IH I’ve built for you in the future.
Q: Is it possible to drive a tank circuit in an Induction Heater with one IGBT?
A: Yes.  This is actually how my brothers old IH is set up now. Here is a quick schematic. The capacitors were all off eBay for cheap.

Single IGBT Inverter
Matching transformer and coupling caps

Single IGBT Inverter
Filter Cap & Coupling Caps

Single IGBT Inverter
Single IGBT driver and brick

Single IGBT Inverter Schematic
Single IGBT inverter schematic

Q: Can you share more details on the matching transformer?
A: Of course but I need some more space to do it properly. I’m working on a post about just that. In the meantime here is a photo and a short explanation to give you something to start with.
  • The Matching transformer is wound with 1/4″OD inch copper tubing.
  • All windings are wrapped in x2 overlapping Scotch Professional Grade Vinyl Electrical Tape Super 88. Meaning as you spiral down the length of the copper tube the electrical tape covers 50% of the layer before it resulting in a 50%+50% overlap (no gaps) and a 200% layer thickness overall (better electrical and mechanical isolation).
  • The primary winding (connected to the inverter) is composed of 13-14 turns. It has terminals made of copper soldered near the ends to accommodate a high current connection while leaving the ends of the tube free to hook up to the cooling system.
  • The secondary winding (connected to the tank cap and work coil) is a single turn composed of 4 individual 1/4″ copper tubes connected on each end with a 1/2″ manifold. One side of the manifold connects to one side of the tank capacitor, the other connects to one side of the work coil via a copper plate. The other side of the work coil connects back to the other side of the tank capacitor via another copper plate in close proximity to the first plate. This whole set up ensure the flux is fully enclosed in the system. Were it not you would heat up surrounding metal and loose usable power. (An issue in the first model with the toroidal matching transformer and large tank setup.)
Matching Transformer
Q: If I’m not currently a Patron or I would like an additional hybrid driver kit could I just purchase one?
A: Yes. I’m not set up to do this formally yet but I can accept Paypal, just drop me a message. For this small batch I made, I’m selling them for $54.95 flat (free shipping to the 48 states, at cost everywhere else). That’s half the cost of buying all the parts yourself or a similar evaluation board (the BG2B). I’ll be able to get this even lower in the future on larger orders for inclusion in the full IH kit. Done! –> I’m also still working on a bulk order for the passives to get the entire driver kit complete. The price difference with and without the passives will likely be less than a couple bucks, keep that in mind if ordering those parts would be an issue for you.
Here is the full excel pricing sheet with individual component pricing info from Digi-Key current as the date of this post.
Q: If I’m not currently a Patron or I would like an additional set of ferrite U/I cores could I just purchase one?
A: Yes. These are quite heavy and require careful packing since they are a fragile ceramic. I’m selling them for $25.95 a set (1 x U core and 1 x I core) flat (free shipping to the 48 states, at cost everywhere else).
Q: What shipping method are you using for the free shipping option?
A: Whichever is the lowest cost at the time of shipping to your location. Usually either USPS first class, priority, or FedEx ground. If you would like to choose a specific method I can do that and just pass on the exact cost to you, no markup.
Q: What about the other parts of the system like the main board, AC rectification & filtering, liquid cooling setup, etc. Can I get one of those?
A: Although I do have fairly complete designs worked out on the rest of the system I don’t have a stock on the parts. I am going to start making posts on the individual components starting with the matching transformer to give you what you need to duplicate each part. The main board schematic and board design are on GitHub although I will be making some changes to it on the next go around.

Happy March!

Jeremiah's Knives
Good morning and can you believe it’s March already? Wow! Now that Chinese New Year is past the last of the packaging materials for the IGBT Hybrid Driver kits have shipped. I’m now looking forward to getting it all packaged up. I have some fun and unique ideas for the packaging as well. 🙂
Between ice and snow days, three kids with the flu, then me with it for a couple of days and throw some travel in there I’ve been working on the guide for the kit a bit more. It is coming together beautifully, and I enjoy working on it. But to be honest, I’m most excited to get back to work on finishing the main code. However since the drivers are a crucial part of the overall kit, this is time well spent.

Forging Ahead

On another note, while my brother Daniel is in the process of moving I let a friend, Jeremiah borrow the original induction heater. Jeremiah has been making knives for the better part of last year using stock blanks and handcrafting the handles from various materials. He wanted to get his feet wet forging his own blades from scratch but doesn’t have the area or set up for a flame forge. Maybe we’ll get some nice pictures or even a video or three. He is new to forging but has been studying the last few months, so he was ready for the IH!
Here is some of Jeremiah’s recent work. I believe he said these were Christmas presents this past year. 
 Jeremiah's Knives
I’ve met others with impressive talents in blade crafting like Larry Fahnoe, check out his creations too! I am truly excited to see more people with access to induction heating and what they’ll do with it.

Driver Kit Update & $400 AA Battery Accident

Broken MacBook Pro LCD

Driver Kit Update

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, both with my day job and working with suppliers to get the best price and quality on parts for the hybrid driver but I do have a driver kit update. I have finalized the supply chain and received all but the passive components and packaging materials. I expect everything to be here by the end of January. Once I have all the parts I’ll take the photographs for the plans, which will be available for free.
I also want to make a test rig for the hybrid driver ICs and the isolated DC to DC converters. They are critical components and cost a decent amount. I want to know that they are performing as expected before they go out in the kits or machines. I have a couple of ideas for building a simple but detailed and accurate Arduino based performance curve profiler similar to those used for testing transistors, diodes, and other electronic components. In the meantime, I’m getting back into the code using the two new driver boards I build from the spare components.
 

$400 AA Battery Accident

I dropped a harmless little AA on my desk while changing the batteries in my mouse. The battery bounced and rolled away, I didn’t think much about it. A few minutes later I noticed my screen took a hit… awesome. The outer glass isn’t even cracked. It was one of the substrate layers that broke and let out all the magic liquid crystals. Looking around for a replacement LCD for my MacBook Pro Retina, 15-inch, Mid 2014 it seems like $300-$390 is the price range, ouch! I saw some cheaper off brands but this is a beautiful Retina display, and I don’t want to change it out for some knockoff junk LCD.
I have been looking at the new MacBook Pros, but I genuinely don’t like them. The taskbar is a POS gimmick, and the keyboard feels like a toy. I switched to using MacBooks around 2009 when I got fed up with Windows interfering with my work. An [NTFS file system error] blue screen of death the night of a large network activation for AT&T Lightspeed/U-verse was the last straw. I went out and bought my first Mac the next day.
Yes, Mac hardware is costly, but it JUST WORKS! It is always something with Windows. I was tired losing valuable time fixing issues, updating, reinstalling, etc. The MacBooks I have used have ALWAYS worked rock solid. I run CleanMyMac to keep things tidy and a Time Machine at home which is the most intuitive and real world usable backup system ever, for a personal computer at least.
I didn’t mean for this to be a MacBook fanboy review or a windows roasting session, I still use windows too. Personal my favorite OS is Debian, maybe I’ll get a Linux computer. Probably not though, I just run VMware when I need it locally. Besides, I do love the integration between all my devices that Apple affords i.e., desktop, laptop, tablet, phone, TV, etc… It’s just that this is the first physical problem I’ve ever had with a Mac and honestly I’m sort of surprised how easy it broke considering how rough I’ve been on them over the years.
I’m going to order a screen today. I just tell myself, “Don’t worry, you can sell this Mac for about a grand when you upgrade!” Still, what a disappointing accident.

IGBT Driver – Out With The Old, In With The New (Year)

IGBT Driver PCB

First off, happy New Year! I hope that everyone is doing well in 2018. The first batch of IGBT Driver boards (Hybrid Driver v1.3) from PCBWay came in today, and they look great! 🙂

IGBT Driver Old And New - PCBWay

PCBWay Manufacturer

This order was my first time using PCBWay and I am blown away by how seamless from end to end the entire process is! I love the technological process tracking, it’s funny, but it reminds me a bit of how some pizza places track the progress of your pizza. My order was accepted, manufactured, shipped and in my shop in no time at all!

The quality of the boards, through-hole plating, silkscreen, bottom side tinning, and everything is a definite A+. I received excellent communication and engineering cooperation from the beginning. Although there are other PCB manufacturers that I like, I am going to use these guys going forward! I’d recommend them for prototyping or production.

PCBWay Technological Process Tracking

Open Source Advocate

I especially like that they encourage open source projects by allowing you to share your board designs, schematics, and project details after ordering. Here is the Hybrid Driver v1.3 in PCBWay’s project sharing section.  They make it easy for others to order boards since all the Gerber files are already there and pre-approved. They even give a 10% back to the project creator. Check it out and take a look at there projects, there are some impressive ones. I like OpenReflow, a control board to convert a simple toaster oven into an accurate reflow oven for soldering SMD components.

IGBT Driver

The new driver boards look great. I like the high gloss black solder mask and the highly visible white silkscreen over it. The slots for the IGBT gate connections turned out great. The board edges are clean and completely burr free. The only mistake I’ve found is that I forgot to set the OSH logo font to vector, so it expanded a bit and overlapped the G2 silkscreen. I also tweaked a few device name silkscreen positions to improve visibility.

IGBT Hybrid Driver v1.3

I’m waiting for the bulk orders of the VLA106-15242 isolated DC to DC converters and the M57962L gate drivers. After that, I’ll stuff the boards and get them in the ReactorForge to continue refining the firmware.


IGBT Driver Stuff Board

The First Kit

I’m planning on making the IGBT Driver (Hybrid Driver v1.3) the first complete kit. Of course, it will be standalone, apart from the rest of the induction heater. I’m ok with having the major components of the induction heater available individually as well as part of the whole machine kit.

I have never made a kit like this, but I am entirely confident that I can put together a great one. Still, this will give me the chance to test that confidence on a smaller scale. I’ve already established a supply chain for the parts and the PCB. What’s left is ordering consumables such as antistatic shielding bags, labels, and packaging. Then, of course, the written plans or instructions for the kit.

Mad Coding & Housekeeping!

Coding
I’ve been working on getting the Development Environment setup and coding over the last week. Doing things setting up the new file structure and weeding out coding errors with the old libraries. I’m about to fire up the ReactorForge and flash over the old code with the new! Then I will start moving the old chunks of commented code out of main.c and get the induction heater up and running with ReactorGraph to begin optimization and clean up of the working code.

Coding is Important but so is Hardware

Also in the photo is a seven wire DIN connection I’m considering. For simplicity, I initially chose a standard power barrel connector like this one from DigiKey, to connect the foot pedal. On the final model, I want one port to cover all the possible accessories, not just the foot pedal. One I’m most excited about is a DIY optical pyrometer to measure the temperature of your near molten chunks of metal. But that’s for after we tackle CriticalMass.

BTW, Audible Rocks!

On my way back from the break I listened to this book and wanted to share it. If you ACTUALLY WANT to work smarter, not harder doing things like coding for example, then I highly recommended you read or listen to this book. It is packed full of insight and detailed information on how to use your brain to it’s fullest capacity.
 
That link above is using my affiliate link. Audible is a great way to support the creators you enjoy following, and you get two free books! I signed up under Destin over at Smarter Every Day and never looked back! I love listening to a new book on every long drive I make or when I’m doing something that doesn’t require my full attention. I especially like the speed feature. I find 1.5x to be the perfect speed to absorb information at a pace that doesn’t leave me tapping my foot saying ok ok get on with it. 🙂
If you love using Amazon as much as I do, or just use it every once and a while, consider changing your Amazon shortcut to use my affiliate link. https://www.amazon.com/?tag=reactorforge-20 When you do this, everything works the same as usual on your end, and a small portion of everything you do on Amazon goes to help support this project! Awesome and Thank You! 😀

 

Bluetooth Telemetry Link

Bluetooth Telemetry

This Bluetooth serial link is nothing new. I had it working on the existing setup to send data from the ReactorForge control board to the Processing visualization program. The HC-06 Bluetooth module enabled me to see the live telemetry coming from the ReactorForge. That helps you to understand what is going on and tweak parameters such as the PID settings.

Consolidation of Development Process

I’m excited to get the entire development process in one operating system. Before, I was bouncing between macOS, Windows in VMWare Fusion on the Mac, and a separate Windows machine. It’s a long story, but this was partly due to the Windows-only compiler I used at the time. Other shortcuts I made early in the process just to get things working enough to get the induction heater to Daniel’s shop also helped put me in that spot.

Problems Connecting to the HC-06 Bluetooth Module on Mac

Getting the HC-06 Bluetooth to Serial module working on macOS wasn’t hard, but I did have one issue. The HC-06 seemed to just disconnect randomly after a minute or two of being connected. Then when I would try to reconnect to it, the port would be busy. I knew it wasn’t busy or open using lsof | grep HC-06 or whatever your’s is named, Reactor-Link in my case.

I fired up Windows in VMware Fusion and paired the HC-06 Bluetooth module. Then I opened a connection to it using a terminal program. I also began a screen session (terminal) on the Mac side with a USB to serial adapter. The USB serial adapter was connected to the HC-06 Bluetooth module to monitor it (and send data from it).

Anyway, this worked fine, and the HC-06 Bluetooth module never lost connection on the Windows side. I did notice that on the Windows side, the HC-06 Bluetooth module asked me for asked me for the pin number during the pairing process, but it did not ask on the Mac side. I removed the device from on the Mac side in the Bluetooth manager and re-Paired it. To my annoyance and relief, this fixed the disconnecting issue. Maybe I changed the pin in the past since the last time it had been connected to the Mac.

Bluetooth on macOS

So this is the simple test setup. The photos say it all I think.

Bluetooth Telemetry

Bluetooth Telemetry

Bluetooth HC-06.pdf

Libraries, Drivers, Etc.

With that working, I’m going to work on the libraries now. I’m looking at whether or not to get the existing libraries working in the new environment or use new libraries.  I’m leaning toward new libraries because there are quite a few compiler warnings and even some errors from the old ones. I’ll have to update function names and setup code, but I’d prefer to start with something cleaner and updated. I’m pushing it all to GitHub as I go!

Addition Terminal Jargon

The astute reader might notice that I am using the /dev/tty.* version of the device rather than the /dev/cu.* version. So, what’s the difference? TTY devices are for calling into UNIX systems, whereas CU (Call-Up) devices are for calling out from them (e.g., modems). We want to call-out, so /dev/cu.* is the correct device to use.

The technical difference is that /dev/tty.* devices will wait (or listen) for DCD (data-carrier-detect) e.g., someone calling in, before responding. /dev/cu.* devices do not assert DCD, so they will always connect (respond or succeed) immediately. Since neither the HC-06 Bluetooth module or the USB to serial adapter support DCD it’s not an issue. Still, following best practice, you should use the correct port.

So why did I use the wrong one in the photos? I switched to /dev/tty.* when I was having the connection issue and just forgot to switch back before documenting it.