Well, the replacement stepper controller chips arrived early this morning. Didn’t take too long to replace them and connect everything up for a test.
The good news is that after a slight adjustment of VR2 the stepper appeared to be controlled by the rotary encoder. It made the right noises.
Try as I may, I wasn’t able to carry out the initial setup procedure as outlined by Loftur. I couldn’t find a peak in the noise.
After applying a portable SWR analyser directly to the loop when I thought I was at the lowest frequency point the loop would tune, I discovered there was a dip around 23 MHz! I was nearer the other extreme of what I think this loop’s range should be. So I’m thinking I may have the stepper motors wired wrongly with the result that the stepper goes in the opposite direction to what the controller thinks it should be.
After switching one pair of wires at the controller end, the stepper made a terrible noise as it hit the end of the capacitor’s travel. Checking it tentatively it didn’t seem to distinguish between clockwise and counterclockwise movement of the encoder. Whatever you did, the stepper turned in the same direction.
Time for further closer inspection of the wiring around the newly re-oriented common mode chokes and their associated bypass capacitors. This kind of behaviour may have something to do with a missing or failed connection in this part of the circuit.
Stepper only appears to turn CCW which turns the VVC CW. I’m now hoping the glitch is pretty obvious in this part of the board or associated wiring.
Finally found some time to re-orientate the two transformers. I decided to remove the eight bypass 10nF capacitors to give my soldering iron more wriggle room to remove the transformers. The solder on the transformer pads needed some encouragement – in the form of more molten solder – to loosen up. This allowed me to use solder wick to take away most of what was holding them in place. The corners of the transformer are pretty fragile and would not tolerate much heat. Wasn’t too hard to lift them. Much more complicated was cleaning up the holes where the eight capacitors had been. I managed to destroy one of the pads. Decided to stop destroying the PCB and to re-install the bypass capacitors on the other side of the board.
I was actually able to use most of the capacitors I had removed and checked every connection a couple of times at least, especially a couple of the tiny pads for the caps that are near the larger choke pads.
Soldered the transformers back in properly this time, again checking every step over and over again.
Taking a few deep breaths now and having a break before reassembling the whole device and connecting it to the radio and the loop for the moment of truth and to find out if the A4975 stepper driver ICs can come back to life after having both their two outputs accidentally connected together! Normally they are connected across one of the stepper motor windings.
Well, because there is still no response from the stepper motor, the answer, unfortunately, is no, they probably need replacement. At least this time they’re not red hot. I have a pair of A4975 chips due to arrive sometime on Monday. Essentially $4.90 a pop, no shipping charge.
And reading the datasheet on the A4975 I see on page 10 mention of the thermal protection circuitry that shuts off the output transistors when the junction temperature reaches +165 degrees C. “This is intended only to protect the device from failures due to excessive junction temperatures and should not imply that output short circuits are permitted.” And I reckon the tiny choke winding is close enough to a short circuit.
At least we are still at three out of four. Looking forward to being able to control the stepper to tune the vacuum variable capacitor and calibrating the controller, and perhaps opening myself up to a new level of complications. At least the well-commented code should be a smart guide.
In the meantime – getting way ahead of myself now – I’m thinking about drilling two holes in the loop to take the stepper wiring, possibly via a length of CAT 5 cable. People seem to think the twisted pairs work well with stepper windings. Not sure what type of connector to use in VVC part and lower down alongside the feed loop SO-237.
I also need to get a couple of plastic pipe ends to fit the PVC tube cover Henrik gave me to weatherproof the stepper and the tuning capacitor.
Then I need to think about a rotator and maybe a tripod roof mounting. And a way of remotely controlling the rotator. Anthony K3NG most probably.
At least it looks like it might be ready to take away to Tooraweenah for a field test in March!!!
Maybe my mistake has been not to refer more directly to the actual code. Over the last 24 hours I have been steadily working through the last two years of email conversations. Loftur keeps the group informed of each new version of the firmware and the newly added features. Sometimes he jumps the gun, but then releases a newer version shortly afterwards.
Well, well well! I think I have discovered why the final part of the loop controller is not working and perhaps why the A4975 stepper motor driver ICs are running so hot. I have just been doing some continuity testing working back from the stepper motor connector, K1 and noticed that there is continuity between C11 and C12 and also between C15 and C16, and there is no continuity between the legs of say C16 and C14 connected T2 etc, all of which implies that I have oriented the common mode chokes, T1 and T2 exactly 90 degrees out from where they should be – I think and I hope… They are both surface mount with four points of contact(!!!!), so there might be some interesting re-working to be done. I actually have one spare if I bugger one up. Also I may need to replace the eight 10nF ceramic bypass caps nearby. But this is progress of a kind.
I wonder what made me install them this way. Surely not simply the orientation of the writing on the package!?!?!?, or the oblong shaped pads on the PCB?!?!?!?! Two visual cues to be misled by!
I suppose I should be optimistic about the transformers being okay if they still show continuity… There’s a big lesson here about using the schematic during the construction and not simply populating the board. And maybe even being curious enough to actually turn the component over to see its magic revealed and be inspired to orient it correctly.
And now of course when I look back to page 8 of the BOM and building instructions I can clearly see the correct orientation of the transformers. Oh me oh my!
And I have just noticed during my rapid review of the emails on the Loop Controller list that on 8 May last year, while advising someone about testing the sense of the stepper winding connections, Loftur dropped this comment, “Also, have a careful look at the circuitry around the A4975 stepper controllers. One fairly common mistake is to mount a common mode choke incorrectly.” I’ll say!