Dec 142018
 

So recently, I had a melt-down with some of the monitor wiring on the cluster… to counteract that, I have some parts on order (RS Components annoyingly seem to have changed their shipping policies, so I suspect I’ll get them Monday)… namely some thermocouple extension cable, some small 250mA fast-blow fuses and suitable in-line holders.

In the meantime, I’m doing without the power controller, just turning the voltage down on the mains charger so the solar controller did most of the charging.

This, isn’t terribly reliable… and for a few days now my battery voltage has just sat at a flat 12.9V, which is the “boost” voltage set on the mains charger.

Last night we had a little rain, and today I see this:

Battery voltage today… the solar charger is doing some work.

Something got up and boogied this morning, and it was nothing I did to make that happen.  I’ll re-instate that charger, or maybe a control-only version of the #High-power DC-DC power supply which I have the parts for, but haven’t yet built.

Oct 212018
 

So, I placed an order to Mouser the other day to actually get some parts into my hands so I can better design the boards.

In that, I discovered the screw terminals I was planning on using, are discontinued.  So, I found something that was able to take the same gauge wire: Phoenix 1017526s.  Turns out, these will not fit along side the current shunts on the board as planned.

There’s just no way I’ll be fitting these on a 5×5cm board and have room to spare for a shunt in between.  Since this is really application-specific, it might be better off board.  We’ll put the INA219 and PCA9615 together on the board so we have a nice self-contained sensor board that can be mounted close to the current shunt, wherever that lives, and have nice noise-resistant links back to the controller.

This does mean I can do things like put a current shunt in the fuse box where the solar panels connect, and run CAT5 down to the controller from there.

To make routing easier, I’ve gone to a 4-layer board.  The board has solder-jumpers for setting the I²C address of the INA219, and I’ve documented all the termination and pull resistors.  I’m not sure what ones are needed yet, so there’s space at every point where I could envisage one being needed.

There’s two power planes in the inner layers, one for VCC the other for 0V.

Next step, I’ll print out the board designs and test fit everything before ordering the boards, which I hope to have ordered this afternoon.

Oct 062018
 

So, I’ve designed the sensor board, this is basically a break-out of an INA219 coupled with a PCA9615, for extended I²C range.  If I was to use one of these on the cluster, it’s theoretically possible for me to put one up in the fuse box on the back deck, and run CAT5e down to the server rack to help measure voltage drop across that long run.  Doing that with regular I²C would be insane.

Again, I’ve gone crazy with pull-up, pull-down and termination resistances, not knowing what would be needed.  The schematic is nothing special.

The board wound up bigger than I’d expected, but largely because it had to accommodate fairly heavy power traces.  I think I’ve got the footprint for the screw terminal blocks right.  I’ve managed to cram it onto a 5cm×5cm board (two layer).

As always, you’ve got two ways of dealing with the current shunt, either hook one up externally, which means you don’t bother with the beefy power connection footprints, or you fit a surface-mount shunt on.

You’ve got full flexibility there, as well as what address to set the board to via the jumpers.

I’ll probably order some of the connectors and other parts in question, print out the board layout and test-fit everything.  I’m not happy about the fact that NXP only make the PCA9615 in TSSOP, but I guess I should be thankful the part has legs.

Oct 012018
 

So, I’ve done the driver board.  This is bigger than I thought it would be, at first I thought it’d just be the LVDS receiver, MOSFET driver, and a few capacitors/resistors, and the connectors.  Ideally I wanted something that could be slipped over the pins of the MOSFETs, allowing the drain and source to be connected to other connections which could take the current.

I had just laid everything out on a 5×3.5cm board, two-layer (so dirt cheap).  Nice and tidy.  For the receiver I ended up using the DS90C402: it was already in Kicad.  All looked good, until I saw this in the datasheet (highlighting mine):

In short, if the cable gets unplugged, the receiver will effectively drive both MOSFETs hard on 100%.  Kaboom!

So, I had to introduce an inverter into the circuit.  A bit more propagation delay, and another component, it’s the biggest part on the board (they don’t make SOIC-8 inverters).  I’ve chosen a 74AHC family part like I did for the driver board so it should have the speed needed.

I’m not sure if this is needed for LVDS, but I’ve added a number of pull-up and pull-down resistors as well as the 100R terminations.  These are underneath.

Likewise, I realised I had omitted doing the same on the controller.  There were some for I²C, but I’ve re-located these to the bottom.  So I’ve made some room for them.  Better to do it now than find out I need them later.

Like the driver board, I’ve documented resistors used for pull-up, pull-down and termination.  I’m not exactly sure which ones are needed or what values they should be, but fixing a silk-screen isn’t a big issue.

The LVDS outputs have resistors too, you can see those near the relevant sockets.  I suspect the answer is they are needed at the receiver, not the driver.

Sep 302018
 

So this is what I’ve come up with for the core controller.

There’s provisions for two versions on this board, one with an ATTiny861 which does high-speed (250kHz) PWM and can drive a buck, boost or buck-boost DC-DC converter.  It features differential I²C interfaces for the input and output INA219 boards, and LVDS for controlling the MOSFET boards.

The other version is built around the ATTiny24A, and just features the ability to turn on and off MOSFETs.  It can drive two statically, or PWM one (at a much lower speed), with the user supplying the driver logic.  Due to the the fact that this device does not do high-speed switching, I’ve forgone the LVDS control over a simple current loop.  The I²C is still differential though as that could be some distance away and is still somewhat high frequency.

The layout of the board is a small 5×5cm 4-layer PCB.