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Monday, June 20, 2022

The VBA Curve Tracer

 The VBA Curve Tracer

Following is a description of the final version for the VBA Curve Tracer instrument.
The name VBA is derived from the surnames of the three main contributors:
  • Paul Versteeg
  • Bud Bennett
  • Mark Allie

The VBA CT is the culmination of a project that spans several years, and started with my design of the first version, which was actually a working prototype. This is described in the post with also a detailed Theory of Operation.

There is also a description of the second generation, based on the first prototype. This is a fully functional CT that has been build by a few, but has some problems and shortcomings that we're addressing in V3.

The following post shows some of the stumbles and falls in addition to discoveries and improvements made during the design process of the Version 3, we now call the VBA Curve Tracer.

Finally, there is also a blog post with a list of measurements we can make with the VBA Curve Tracer.

All the files (schematics, 2D and 3D board layout pictures, BOM's, build instructions, calibration & verification and the Gerber files) that are needed to build this instrument are added to a dedicated public Github project:
We will not publish the native Altium formats, only PDF or PNG files to preserve our ability to control the quality and protect ourselves from unauthorized manufacturing. Contact us if you have plans to do so.

Note also that we may upload newer files when we see the need to update schematics or documents. We will overwrite older version, so there will be no version control. You can use the dates to see if changes were made. 

We have now uploaded the latest files to the Github project, and incorporated the latest schematics in this Blog.

Ordering PCB's
We have asked two board houses if they would consider allowing the ordering of 1 set of the 4 boards in one order. Unfortunately, at this moment, both JLCPCB and PCBWAY cannot handle this order type.
You need to order the boards in sets of 5. You could provide or sell the other boards to other users, something we currently will not do ourselves.
In case you will have extra boards available, you can use the following blog to offer that possibility to other users (this blog is not suitable-please keep it clean):

PCB Assembly
PCBWAY can also populate one or more of the Main and Front boards for you. The few parts on the Front panel do not warrant this due to the high setup costs. The minimum that JLCPCB will produce is two. 

Mark has worked with PCBWAY to let them manufacture and populate 10 Main and 10 Front boards for him with only the SMD parts that they normally carry (so no specials).
That required changes to our BOM's to make that more straighforward. We also needed to produce Centroid files for each side with the part coordinates for the pick&place machines. The required information has been added to the Github project. 

"Design is easy, production is hell"
At this moment, we're finding out what this means. While going through the process of having PCBWAY produce the boards, we have found several issues with our BOM's due to part end-of-life, shortages, prices and some hard to get resistor values. Part availabilty and end-of-life situations will continue to effect this project. At this moment we do not update the BOM's with that information. Please search for applicable replacements yourself.

The sets of 10 boards that Mark ordered will be used to build 10 Curve Trace instruments by the students of his university. The instruments will eventually be used in the university labs. We will report the findings here. 

Ordering parts/shortages:
We have found that the main capacitor C6 of 2200uF/250V is no longer in stock. Even the 4-pin alternative is now out of stock. It seems that it will take until 2023 before stock levels will replenish. As an alternative, you can use a 1500uF/250V version like the  380LX152M250A052 that Mark will be using for his 10 instruments. This capacitor has a specification for the ripple current of 4A @ 120Hz, which should be good enough. This is added to the BOM.

Because the ordering process with parts can be picky, you can reference the two orders for the two sets of 10 each for the Main board and the Front board as they were ordered by Mark and manufactured by PCBWay:
Main board order number for PCB and parts: T-U517W12659A
Front board order number for PCB and parts: T-U519W12659A

Stay tuned...