2011 August 5

Board (partially) populated and tested

My 4-up board about to be cut apart on the board shears. The adjustable railing for the back edge of the board and a railing along the bottom make it fairly easy to line up boards for repeated identical cuts (which I did not need). The bottom rail was useful for making sure that the cut was square, though.

Yesterday, I went to the basement shop where the support team for the enginineering teaching labs have their offices, and used their board shears to cut my PC board up. The shears are like a souped-up paper cutter. The noise they make when cutting through the PC board is a bit scary, though as it it sounds like you are crushing the board, rather than cutting. It makes a pretty clean cut, despite how it sounds.

HexMotor rev1.3 board with one H-bridge installed.

This morning I woke up early and decided to populate the board. I soldered in the switching power supply (and associated resistors and capacitors) first, and checked that there were no shorts and that it produced the correct output voltage. I then added the digital logic, the sockets for connecting to the Arduino, and the various headers.

It turned out that most of the headers did lock in place nicely with the Sparkfun offset-hole header design, making soldering much easier. A few of my 3-pin headers seem to have slightly smaller posts, and they did not lock in place as nicely. The hardest thing to solder in place were the 0.1″ jumper wires (which are not part of the next design). I may want to leave another 1–2 mm for the resistor, also, as I found it a bit difficult to fit the resistor I had into a 5mm spacing. Perhaps I should go with a 7mm spacing.

I only put in one H-bridge for testing, as I did not want to unsolder H-bridges if the board did not work.  If I’d been really careful, I would have waited on the switching regulator as well, since it is not really needed when there are no servos and the Arduino is powered over the USB line.

I spent most of the day writing driver code for the Arduino.  I came up with a pretty simple interface (much simpler than the AFMotor library for the Adafruit motor shield—I may want to extend the library to cover that board as well).

There is one global declaration of a HexMotorBoard to explain how the board is configured. As a minimum, you need to specify for each motor whether it is configured for Antiphase, Sign-Magnitude, or On-Off control. I suppose that if you connected the boards with ribbon cables, you could control several HexMotorBoards from a single Arduino Mega board, though with a standard Arduino there’s not  much point to having more than one HexMotorBoard, as there are only 6 PWM pins (unless you just need  full-on Forward/Backward and brake).

In the setup() procedure, you call the setup() member function of the HexMotorBoard.  To control a motor, you just use a single function: motor_name.run(speed).  The speed is always in the range -256 to 255, with a speed of 0 meaning brake. The software takes care of translating the speed into appropriate commands for the H-bridge, depending on how the H-bridge is jumpered.  (For convenience, I provided an inline function for motor_name.brake() that just expands to motor_name.run(0).)

I couldn’t come up with a much simpler user interface: declare the board, declare each motor, one setup() call for the board, and one function (run) to control each motor.  I suppose that I could get rid of the setup() function, since all it currently does is set the appropriate pins to be output pins and that could be folded into the run() function, but I’ll have to think about the value of keeping the HexMotorBoard::setup() function around to provide a place for consistency checks (like whether the configured pins are capable of PWM output).

Because I’m using the standard analogWrite() and digitalWrite() commands, and not fussing with the PWM frequency, very little code is needed to run on any Arduino.

I tested the board with its single H-bridge using a 12v door-lock actuator, and it worked in all three modes (antiphase, sign-magnitude, and on/off).  I did notice that the TLE-5206 got quite hot when the actuator was run for a few seconds, so I’m definitely going to need a heat sink.  I was planning on using a shared heat sink for the 6 H-bridges, but the electrolytic capacitors get in the way a little.  I’ll make sure to leave more clearance for heat sinks in the next revision.

I don’t have much time over the next few days, but on Sunday I hope to bring the board up to 4 or 6 H-bridges and make and  hook up the heat sink. Hmm—I don’t have any thermal grease—yet another thing to order.




2011 August 2

Boards arrived

The hexmotor rev 1.3 boards before cutting them apart.

The printed circuit boards for hexmotor rev1.3 came today from 4pcb.com. I ordered the boards on July 21, so the total turnaround time from order to delivery was only 12 days. No wonder the company is so popular for student projects—low prices and fast service will do that!

The boards looked pretty good, so the first thing I did was to check some crucial dimensions:

  • I put headers into the holes for the connection to the Arduino board and checked that it would plug in.  No problem!
  • I checked that I could spread the pins of the TLE-5206-2S chips to fit the holes where they were supposed to plug in.  No problem!  In fact, it was surprisingly easy to get the right spacing, by using the board itself as a tool for bending the pins.
  • I checked that I could put in both the MTR2 TLE-5206-2 chip and capacitor C5 without conflict (as I’d noticed that the silk screen outlines overlapped only after I’d sent in the order).  This also turned out not to be a problem
  • I checked that the mounting holes on the board lined up with those on the Arduino.  Only 2 out of 3 do.  What is going on???I got the hole placement from the Adafruit library for Eagle, and it has 3 holes, but they are not in the same places as the Arduino board.  It turns out that two of the holes correspond to holes on the Arduino board, and two to holes on the Arduino Mega board, which has holes in different locations.  Neither pair corresponds to the holes on the  Adafruit motor shield, which has only 2 diagonally opposite holes, the two holes that are actually in common between the Arduino and the Arduino Mega footprints.  For the next revision of the boards, I have to decide whether to use the 3-hole design of this board, or to go with the pair of diagonally opposite holes.  Or put in 4 holes, so that either Arduino or Arduino Mega can be securely attached with 3 screws. I think that there is room for the fourth hole, if I move one of the electrolytic capacitors.
  • I also did some continuity checks on the power lines.  The power and ground lines connect to the right pins on the TLE-5206-2 footprints, and they aren’t shorted.  The 6.25v and 5v lines also seem fine.
  • I had to make some Eagle library components for the screw terminal blocks I was using, and they seem to be fine, except for two little problems: I put a silkscreen mark for the bump on the side of the 5mm block on the wrong side, and the holes specified by the manufacturer seem a bit too big for the pins.  I’ll specify a smaller drill hole (closer to the spec for the pin size) in the next revision.  Neither of these little problems will interfere with functionality.
  • I checked out the Sparkfun header pattern, with the slightly staggered holes to hold the headers while soldering.  The holes must be a bit bigger than Sparkfun gets from their manufacturer, or my headers smaller, because the headers were not held by the staggered holes.  They fit fine, but the holes are loose enough that they aren’t held.

Tonight, I’ll fix up my Eagle library to have a 4-hole Arduino template and to have a better 5mm screw terminal component.

Here's a 12" board shear that costs $379 from Circuit Specialists.

Tomorrow I’ll go up to campus and see if I can cut the boards apart with the board shears.

I took a look at  printed circuit board shears on the web (you need to include “printed circuit” if you search, or you get book-binding equipment), and they range in price from $125 to $500, depending on size and quality.  I don’t plan to buy one for myself, but it seems like the sort of low-price, special-purpose tool that a place like Makers Factory ought to get.

2011 July 26

Time to start doing software

The PC board for the hexmotor H-bridge is ordered and supposedly going to arrive soon, and I’ve ordered all the components from Digi-Key. The total coast of the project is looking like about $180 (including the PC board and shipping) for 2 fully populated boards (not counting an enormous amount of my time). I’ve already started designing a revised board (rev 2.0) that will be designed around the TLE-5206-2 from the beginning, and will have more versatility. I’m thinking that I’ll populate one rev 1.3 board for testing, finalize the rev 2.0 design, and send it out for fab, rather than populating a second rev 1.3 board.

Here is a preview of what my panel of 4 boards should look like.

In addition to the 6 TLE-5206-2 H-bridges, both boards have 74HC594 serial-to-parallel converters for control signals and 74HC86 XOR gates. The serial-to-parallel conversion is similar to that of the Adafruit Industries motor shield (which I have, but which does not have enough current capacity as it uses L293D H-bridges, which only support 0.6A per channel, and I need at least 2.5A per channel).

Copying the choices on the Adafruit board, I made the pin mapping LATCH=Arduino pin 12, DATA=Arduino pin 8, CLOCK=Arduino pin 4. I was wondering at first why they did not use the built-in SPI interface (which would simplify the programming of the serial output), but then realized that the output bit of the SPI interface (MOSI=pin 11) is also OC2A, one of the PWM outputs. Since there are only 6 PWM outputs (one per motor), and the serial interface does not need to be very fast, using software control of other pins is a good idea.

I’ve also brought out all the PWM signals to 3-wire servo connections, so that I can use each PWM signal as either a servo control or a motor speed control. All the connections to the Arduino digital pins are jumpered, so I can reconfigure the board if needed. For example, if I just want forward/backward/brake control of a motor, without speed control, I can rewire the input that would normally be to a PWM bit to be to a different digital pin, and free up that PWM bit for servo control.

On the hexmotor rev 2.0 board I added another 74HC594 chip (in series) so that I have 16 control bits available. Six of them are used for motor control, as on the rev 1.3 board. Another 6 are brought out to header pins adjacent to the speed control pins, so that those pins can be jumpered either to the Arduino PWM pins or to the shift register outputs, allowing 6 motors and 6 servos to be controlled by the board, as long as only 6 continuous values are needed, and the servos don’t exceed the 1.5A capacity of the switching regulator. The remaining 4 of the 16 parallel bits of the rev 2.0 will be brought out to individual header pins, so that they can be used as arbitrary digital outputs. (Also, the hexmotor 2.0 board will have an LED to indicate that 5v power is properly being provided—if the board is used as intended, with the Arduino powered from the switching regulator on the hexmotor board, this tests that all the power connections are made and the Arduino board plugged in.

I will have to start writing software for the hexmotor board soon. I’ll probably base some of the software on the Adafruit AFMotor package, to make it easier for the robotics club to switch between the Adafruit motor shield and the hexmotor board, but there will be some important differences. Since the hexmotor board has several jumpers that can customize it, but no way for the Arduino to read that configuration, I need an easy way to tell the software how the board is configured. I want software that will work with either revision of the hexmotor board. Since the rev 2.0 board has more possibilities for configuration than the rev 1.3 board (thanks to the 8 extra output bits), I’ll design the software for that, making sure that the rev 1.3 board is covered as a special case.

I’m going to have to dive into both the ATMega328 data sheet and the Arduino code to find out how to get access to all 6 PWM signals.  I already know that the Arduino initialization messes with the PWM frequencies, so the AFMotor.h control for the PWM frequencies doesn’t work.  It may turn out that using OC1A and OC2A (which the Adafruit board does not use, but which I use for motors 4 and 5) interacts in some unpleasant way with other Arduino functions.  I may have to put up with some constraints on PWM frequency, as I want to retain clock and analog input capabilities.

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